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August 16, 2012


(excerpted from The Ketamine Sun by Cole Coonce)

The sun didn’t care about stink. It didn’t care about money. It didn’t care about beauty. It didn’t care about tranquility. It was oblivious to its own reflection glimmering off the placid water, even if the ocean was the only element that could salve an otherwise stifling atomic fury that spoke of the new, inexorable radiation. I drove in to see Toshiro Kamiokande at his post-opulence palace in the Palisades, on an October Tuesday before noon in the heat of an all too obligatory Indian Summer. The planet was melting. The yellow fireball in the sky hadn’t yet crested, yet its sting cracked paint and melted the molded faces of gorgeous people stuck in traffic in West Los Angeles. When beauty gets sticky, it gets macabre and smells of chemicals and decaying flesh. The sun didn’t care about pulchritude either.

I wasn’t stuck in traffic nor was I wearing makeup, so the weather was no bother. Even in the heat and the haze, I felt cool and clean as penguin shit at absolute zero. My sport coat was pressed, my black slacks creased and my powder blue fedora kept my eyes from squinting.

It wasn’t always like today. I wasn’t always like today. Today, I was totally together. Today, I was Blackie Carbon, fit and working and in demand. I had been sought out by corporate Nipponese money to help control a pair of half-Japanese girls whose exploits were besmirching the family name.

I pulled off Pacific Coast Highway and dropped the transmission in low moan, softly careering up a desolate road that led to a secluded bluff buttressed by wrought iron. After sorting out security codes, passing the scrutiny of a cavalcade of private cops and finally parking, I walked past a chauffeur on his knees, detailing the chrome wheels on a neutrino black Cadillac Escalade. He was as overdressed as I was. After climbing a handful of marble steps, I was greeted by a soft-boned Caucasian man in stocking feet and whose suit fit. I introduced myself.

“Greetings Mr. Carbon. I am Simon Drake, Mr. Kamiokande’s personal assistant and the family’s life coach.” His hand was half-limp and wet. His expensive skin had begun to fall and had the tone and sallow consistency of a beached whale.

“‘Personal assistant and life coach?’ In another words, a go-fer with better public relations?”

“That would be a common and uniformed interpretation.”

It was his way of telling me he had heard it all before. In this town, we had all heard it all before. Everything was an echo, but one could suppose that repetitions beat silence—if only barely.

“Please remove your shoes, Mr. Carbon, and I’ll tell Mr. Kamiokande you are here,” Drake demurred and made himself scarce, his words bouncing between opposing 50-foot glass windows in an edifice that was part-Tuscany mansion, part split-level beach motel. The life coach’s words were still echoing in a hallway as wide as a hangar when a door cracked under a staircase.

A pair of hands with ten Kool-Aid fingernails grasped the door’s edge. A black-Japanese girl with metallic dreads and skin the color of green-tea ice cream poked her head around the door. It was a tease designed to paralyze a man like me, as if I had just bitten into the wrong gland of fugu. The hidden meaning of her soft sell being that whatever was still concealed behind the door was tantalizingly toothsome—and lethal.

I said nothing. I contemplated giving my wristwatch a cursory glance, but didn’t as that would be acknowledging the efficacy of her tease and her allure as sure as if I dropped on one knee and cited verses of John Donne from memory. Instead, I turned my back and feigned studying a Rothko on the wall. There was nothing to analyze. It was as blank as anything else in this town. I pretended to look anyway.

I heard the bombastic clacking of heels and caught a ghostly sight of the girl behind the door through a series of chiaroscuro reflections ping-ponging between the panes of the parallel glass. I turned around as she entered the room with a Newtonian bang, bouncing off the glass and then slamming against the door all equal and opposite-like. She wore a firehouse-red skirt whose abbreviated hemline said she was between parties. She looked old enough to drink or at least old enough to know she had the curves and the color to charm some under-sexed university-age geek into Photoshopping a California driver’s license. If there was any doubt about the dubious document, her 36C-cups would sway law enforcement, if not a nightclub doorman.

I went back to studying the Rothko. It was red.


(excerpted from The Ketamine Sun by Cole Coonce)


July 18, 2012

by Cole Coonce

(excerpted from Sex & Travel & Vestiges of Metallic Fragments)

They were in the middle of nowhere. Having heard no news for a couple of days, it wasn’t like they could make informed decisions about travel plans back to Los Angeles.

Iggy suggested they drive back in his silver Chrysler on Sunday night, as Jack had a flight to catch out of Burbank to Seattle the next afternoon and why thrash to catch a plane tomorrow, if they can make time now? Yes, leaving Death Valley late Sunday evening seemed like a good idea at the time. But seeing as how they had no access to weather reports—there were no newspapers nor TV nor radio nor cell reception in their motel in Stovepipe Wells, and the parallel mountain ranges of the Sierras and the Panamints that had sheltered them from the inclement weather that had been soaking these hapless flatlanders two hundred miles away in Los Angeles County—it was not an informed decision, really.

“I can have us back in LA in three and a half hours,” Iggy told Jack. He felt confident. So they blew off the ninety bucks they had already spent on another night’s sleep at the Stovepipe Wells motel and hit the road.

As soon as they crested Towne Pass at 5000’, they entered the mother of all storms. The raindrops started innocuously enough, all right, and seemed to trickle down and tickle the windshield with no more malevolence than soap bubbles out of a corncob pipe. During their descent into the Panamint Valley, however, the shit began to hit the Osterizer…

Instantaneously, the rain kicked with the ferocity of a burro peaking on angel dust and Iggy switched off the vintage punk rock on the CD player and switched on the AM radio. They needed weather information, so he began keying the “up” and “down” arrows from KFWB to KFI, the two stations with enough wattage to possibly penetrate hundreds of miles of a hostile ionosphere and dense mountain ranges that would work as earthly reflectors and bounce the radio signal back to Los Angeles like Marconi’s personal funhouse mirror.

In a word, they got static, and he cranked up the intensity on the Chrysler’s windshield wiper system until it threatened to swivel out of its socket. They were a mile high and descending a wet mountain buried in clouds, the radio told them nothing and Iggy used the transmission as a brake. Jack, meanwhile, was freaking. He had lost his glasses that afternoon during an unpleasant encounter with a park ranger at Zabriskie Point, and he couldn’t see squat except the blurry bounce of headlights off of soaked asphalt, or if he put on his prescription sunglasses, he could at least focus on the darkness by Braille.

They took the left turn to Trona, and it really got desolate. They were on the desert floor, in the country where the mass-murdering Manson family had been discovered thirty years ago and where flyboys from China Lake crank up the afterburners on their military jets and pretend the specks on the highway are rogue, bandit Sunnis or Shiites or whoever it is America is mad at this week in Mesopotamia.

As a Seattle boy, Jack had never been to Death Valley before and knew very little of its mythology. Filling him in on the local folklore—whether the exploits of the old silver miner Seldom Seen Slim or the gunplay of inept hippie assassins like Squeaky Fromme—seemed to Iggy like a necessary device of distraction from how hairy it would be driving to Los Angeles in the mother of all rainstorms. Iggy was, after all, traveling with a blind man who was justifiably afraid of drowning. In the desert. In a car. It was that kind of night. Read more…

BRAKES OPTIONAL: A speedy two-wheeled journey into an L.A. summer night with the ‘Wolfpack’

July 18, 2011

(excerpted from Sex & Travel & Vestiges of Metallic Fragments)

It’s Monday night outside of Tang’s Donuts, on the isosceles point of an East Hollywood minimall. At pigeon shit-spackled hard plastic tables, a coterie of immigrants of varying and indiscriminate green card status drink coffee al fresco and play games of chess and backgammon. In the bushes beyond the wrought iron that defines Tang’s boundaries, a handful of homeless guys have pissed themselves – or so it smells. Meanwhile, in a parking space adjacent to the bums and their shopping carts, a 40-something Japanese guy removes a deconstructed carbon fiber bicycle from his mini-pickup bed and begins re-assembling. As he works, he becomes randomly flanked by a slow gathering of lean, night-owl urban bicyclists who pedal up pell-mell from all five points of the city.

10 p.m. Monday at Tang’s is the staging point-slash-launch pad for a gonzo, nocturnal 40-mile bike ride known as the “Wolfpack Hustle.” What exactly is the “Wolfpack Hustle?” In cycling terms, a “hustle” is described as any ride other than a race where one is pedaling as fast and as furiously as one’s cogs and wheels allow. The “Wolfpack,” as defined by one of its members, is “an insurgent militia of bicycle creeps in perpetual training, pushing ourselves to ride stronger and to assert our rights to these gritty streets.”

Thus spake “Roadblock,” one of the ride’s pseudonymous organizers. When interviewed, Roadblock insists on “no real names, please” and his nom de guerre is apt: The young man towers over his road bike and is an absolute concrete Armco barrier of a human being (albeit vertical), and a reasonable ringer for L.A. Laker Luke Walton.

When I ask Roadblock what is the itinerary for the evening’s Hustle, he gets laconic and covert; the ride’s co-organizer “Wolfrider1” – slighter build, dark complexion, with a mug maybe reminiscent of Subcomandante Marcos – is within earshot and interrupts Roadblock’s silence with this stolid proffering: “Tonight’s coordinates are on a strictly need-to-know basis.”

Meaning, the Hustle is free-from, impromptu, and improvisational – and neither journalists nor anybody else needs to know the destination. They just need to see if they can keep up.

Anyway, soon enough a decision of sorts is reached: After heading east on Sunset to reconnoiter at an old transvestite bar, the ride will 180 and head west to Beverly Hills. First stop: Sunset and Doheny.

And just like that, the ride is on. Rocket launches are more sluggish. The peloton powers up Sunset at almost 30mph, and riders jockey for position and leapfrog each other like leptons in a particle accelerator. The pack’s percolations use all of the bike lane and more, spilling onto the boulevard.

Later, Roadblock summed up the plight of the cyclist in L.A., in a riff that was part Nathanael West, part Alvin Toffler: “It is especially harsh conditions here in the car capital of the world,” he said. “Every one that moves here has a dream and that dream for the most part involves ‘striking it big.’ So this whole city’s culture is based on bigger – better – more – money … and riding a bicycle doesn’t exactly fit that image. So people tend to feel embarrassed or shy about riding a bicycle. That’s just silly. What’s not silly is how ignorant most motorists are about giving cyclists a hard time.”

Read more…

A May Mo(u)rning at the Indy 500 with Chris Economaki

May 3, 2011

In 1997, moments before the start of the Indy 500, legendary and seminal automotive journo Chris Economaki took Cole Coonce on an impromptu tour of Gasoline Alley. In his remembrance of that epochal encounter, Coonce eulogizes the print version of Economaki’s iconic and necessary weekly publication, National Speed Sport News.

Read it here: “Lid, Can, and Libel: Gasoline Alley Weeps As National Speed Sport News is Dead As Troy Ruttman and Stiff as Dennis Vitolo”

Lid, Can and Libel: Cole Coonce on the Nathan Bedford Forrest-Mississippi license plate controversy

February 22, 2011

Cole Coonce has a new monthly column at, entitled Lid, Can and Libel. His debut essay takes on the controversy about the Sons of the Confederacy and their proposal for the State of Mississippi to issue license plates commemorating the infamous Civil War General, Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Because of the ridiculous amounts of research necessary to produce The Devil’s Own Day, Coonce’s recent book on Third Reich Field Marshall Erwin Rommel’s alleged retracing of Forrest’s footsteps, Coonce’s musing on Forrest’s signifigance in modern Mississippi seemed inevitable.

The issue is remarkably contentious, and just like in the times of secession, on and the stories comments section, the battle lines have been drawn.


January 19, 2011

by Cole Coonce

Ahhh, the Mentors! 4our guys with black leather hoods playing a highly disturbing, yet grinding variety of strip-club gutter-metal in the dark, back alleys of Los Angeles (mostly) in the 1980s.

At one show I remember Mentor’s drummer/vox El Duce  rabidly blathering from behind the skins, “While you’re backstage giving me head, the rest of the band is gonna’ be going through your p-u-r-s-e.” (And who said where have all the Noel Cowards gone?) He then passed out behind his dime-store drum kit and his hooded-noggin was flailed with a ride cymbal by the Mentors’ ace guitar player, Sickie Wifebeater.

The penultimate anecdote I heard about ol Duce was that he was living under the Santa Monica Blvd. overpass at the Hollywood Freeway. The ultimate anecdote was that he stepped in front of an oncoming train last year in  Riverside, CA.

One can only hope that there is another oncoming engine with the  words “Limp Bizkit and their ilk” in its destination window.-30-

(from Sex & Travel & Vestiges of Metallic Fragments. Originally published on, 6/03)

Sex & Travel & Vestiges Of Metallic Fragments cover


August 24, 2010

One Man’s Tale of Fleeing New Orleans on the Eve of Katrina


“The worst thing was riding in one of those Greyhound Scenicrusiers… Do you remember that time I went to Baton Rouge in one of those? I vomited several times. The driver had to stop the bus somewhere in the swamps to let me off and walk around for a while. The other passengers were rather angry. They must have had stomachs of iron to ride in that awful machine. Leaving New Orleans also frightened me considerably. Outside of the heart of darkness, the true wasteland begins.” —Ignatius Reilly in A Confederacy of Dunces

On the Saturday night and into the Sunday morning before Katrina landed, the hotel bar kept its shutters open and the libation flowing well after the bartender’s shift had ended. All the televisions were tuned to the Weather Channel and workers buttressed the hotel’s smoked-glass windows with sheets of plywood. BAMM-BAMMM-BAMMM-BAMMM. Through the discord, I was telling a pal about the statue of Jefferson Davis on Canal Street, and how it was covered in pigeon shit, and none of the ghettoized disenfranchised seemed in any hurry to clean it up. News reached the bar that a) rental cars were now nonexistent and b) the airlines had canceled the remaining flights out of Louis Armstrong Airport and c) that tourists, travelers and townsfolk were on their own. A besotted patron began bellowing a truck-driving song with the lyric, “Roll truck roll/take me to baby/gotta’ get back, Donner Summit is closed.” The song ended with a refrain of “I’ll be late getting home.” Between sips of her mint julep, some saucy siren at the bar asked the tipsy troubadour where Donner Summit was and why it was closed. Suddenly, the conversation became a drunken history lesson about cannibalism, which became a grim metaphor for the dark turns humanity takes when it is trumped by the awesome power of Nature.

At that point, Katrina was no longer a cable news abstraction—it had morphed into a supercollider. Those who could not get out of town would be swimming with the cottonmouths or tossed to the moon. I was among the fortunate. My travel agent booked me on a bus leaving Sunday morning to the nearest airport out of harm’s way, and one that had the ability to get a bird in the air to LAX, George Bush Intercontinental in Houston, Texas.

I left New Orleans early Sunday. As I checked out of my hotel, I asked the clerk when he planned on getting out. “Oh, we’re planning on staying. The hotel is staying open, and I’ll be here until we decide to close.” I had a mental flash-forward of pinwheeling shards of glass flying through the hotel lobby at 170 mph and cutting bellhops in two. The clerk’s selflessness struck me as noble and yet somehow misguided. Would this young man running my credit card even be alive by the time the transaction found its way to my bank statement?

It was a twenty-hour bus ride to Houston. Before we even got off Convention Center Boulevard, it was clear as a clarinet that Ignatius was right: This was a ride out of the heart of darkness and into the wasteland. We climbed onto Interstate 10 West somewhere between the Confederate Museum and the Superdome, and immediately the road was pinched and gridlocked and pointless. Only half the interstate was being used—and it wasn’t like there was any great demand to get into the city at this point. Frustrated, our busman got off I-10 and double-clutched down onto surface streets before making a right on Highway 61. There the exodus ground to a halt again. Motors idled, and tailpipes puffed and nobody was going anywhere.

The first ten miles took six hours. The skies continued to darken over the Mississippi River. The winds began to gust. We were stuck on the flip side of downtown’s steel and smoked-glass Convention Center and Vegas-inspired mega-mall Riverwalk. The windows offered a relentless montage of a Dickensian underclass, a panorama of the doomed, the tableaux the Chamber of Commerce doesn’t want you to see: strip malls strewn with broken glass; rusting automobiles and ramshackle liquor stores stocked only with pork rinds, cigarettes and the cheap stuff. Poor people lined the sidewalks. It was like a tracking shot from the dreariest of Russian movies.

New Orleans is a complete two-class society, with the middle class having hot-lapped out of there to tract homes on the north side of the Causeway before the masters of chain-casino gaming could prop up a Harrah’s between the Convention Center and Pat O’Brien’s. With the middle-class vacuum, the only jobs left are those serving the tourists: restaurant and casino work, drug dealing and private security. The industry is dressed up real pretty, and thrives because of the exotic crustaceans endemic to Lake Pontchartrain— even though, locally speaking, serving crawfish étouffée in N’Awlins is just a gussier version of supersizing a Big Mac.

When the same homeless guy passed our bus for the third time, I thought: Looting is just a matter of time.

Once we passed the shuttered airport, our bus driver bailed on the interstates and took parish highways through swamps, plantation country and sugar cane fields, which allowed for a lengthy meditation on the duality of the South as well as the imminent devastation. Thirty-six hours later, while my plane was stuck on the tarmac in Houston, floodwaters began washing up the Confederate dead in Mississippi, floating Civil War coffins over coastal highways. –Cole Coonce (from LA Weekly, 9/05)

Sex & Travel & Vestiges of Metallic Fragments


August 12, 2010

It’s no secret that the footprint of mankind is getting more pervasive by the day: the water table is dwindling, the roads are clogged, the population is constantly rutting and perpetuating, urban sprawl has infiltrated once vacant deserts and the continuous coal-fired glow of big, tall cities is ubiquitous. It is more and more difficult to escape the lights.

And the brighter the planet gets, the harder it is for some of us to enjoy one of nature’s most awe-inspiring phenoms: the free fireworks show known as The Perseids, the mother of all meteor showers.

The Perseid cloud is a stream of broken pieces of space gunk and detritus – made of gas and dust and other stuff (think of it as some sort of interplanetary mucus) — exiting out of its mothership, the Comet Swift-Tuttle, as it passes our orbit every 136 years…

Its lights are remnants of cosmic history fighting their way into earth’s atmosphere, creating such intense heat from the ram pressure that they burst into balls of fire.

Like boxes of Christmas lights inadvertently falling out of the back of a UPS truck, every August the Perseids light up for a couple of nights right about the time that the bars close, and then dims sometime before the dawn’s rising sun adjusts the hue, saturation and contrast of the earth’s ionosphere. For a glimpse of the meteors, the amateur astronomer can set the alarm for 2 am and walk out to the porch and look to sporadic bursts of shooting stars. Which is kind of like taking a bath with yer socks on, cosmologically speaking… Because of the nocturnal ambient glow of this great city of ours (between the street lamps, teevee sets tuned to Craig Ferguson, office lights, and the fluorescents of Taco Bells and Tommy’s Burgers) extends to Mt. Baldy, Victorville and beyond, it takes some doing to get the Perseids full effect… To really appreciate the magnitude of the meteor shower’s sizzling explosions of color, the LA-based fireball aficionado must do more than just fill up a thermos with 40 weight coffee, open up the deck chairs and get out the opera glasses, while waiting for the heavens to light up like God’s slow motion arc welder. You gotta get in the car Jake, and drive beyond the darkness on the edge of town…

Darkness is a function of distance. Once yer going through the gears, your enjoyment of the Perseids is directly proportional to your ambition and the amount of time you want to spend in the automobile. The further you drive, the more the lights of Los Angeles are in your rear view mirror, and the more flashes of the sky will light up your retinas and infiltrate your brain….

Here’s some advice: On the nights that these fireballs are really gonna sing, take the I-5 to the 14 to Pearblossom Highway to Highway 18 and exit on Sheep Ranch Road to the dry lake bed of El Mirage. The dusty glass surface of El Mirage’s playa is rather out-of-this-world and not unlike the surface of the moon, and acts like a synergistic platform to observe and digest the cosmic aberration bursting at random for your enjoyment. Elapsed time from Los Angeles: Two hours or so, depending on your relationship to posted speed limits. Take a sleeping bag. If that is too involved for your hectic schedule, quick as you can sing “Calling Sister Midnight,” you can hot lap your steed up the mountain roads of Angeles Crest Highway – out by Jet Propulsion Laboratories, off of the 210 Freeway between La Canada and Pasadena — and climb your way up to the Mt. Wilson Observatory. (Caveat motorer: After midnight, Angeles Crest is a popular off-ramp and route to watching the Perseids. Invariably, there is a traffic jam getting off of the 210 freeway… Still, from LA to Mt. Wilson is little more than half an hour in the car…)

For the more ambitious observer, take a hike up Telescope Peak near Death Valley and claim a bitchin’ vantage point for soaking in a relentless barrage of the Perseids’ orgy of light… actually, one could drive four hours, open up a lawn chair anywhere in Death Valley, break out the flask or the thermos and ooh and ahhh until the sun comes up. Your appreciation of the heavens will never be so profound – at least until you join them, anyway. –-Cole Coonce

(originally published in LA City Beat, 8/2006)


August 7, 2010

(originally published in LA CityBeat’s 2004 “Best of LA” issue)

Okay, this was in New York and not Los Angeles, but ever since 2001 when those crafty A-rab rug-riders commandeered a couple of airplanes and deconstructed twin towers of commerce and steel into mere ash and corrugated, spindled metal, a nation mourned, civil liberties were set on fire in the name of a greater good and we’re all in this together now, yeah?

Two years and four day s later, Chinese meta-artist and pyrotechnician Cai Guo-Qiang has a brainstorm. Get a government grant; come to America and light off something called The Light Cycle Over Central Park. The basic idea was thus: Set off a sequential battery of timed explosions in the heavens above Central Park, and allow the smoke to congeal in a halo of atonement (?!) and benediction. It would be an epic gesture in the form of a giant smoke ring shadowing the entire perimeter of Central Park.

Whatever. This correspondent is always a fan of gratuitous explosions, even when it is in the name of healing and a city coming together. So: Guo-Qiang is going to detonate his fireworks display at 7:45, come overcast skies, hell or high water. The official word — via the Village Voice and Channel 7 news — is that he will abort the show only if it rains.

At 7:41, four minutes before show time, it rains. Nay, it pisses. It pours. The skies open up. Art-damaged horn-rimmed culcha’ chimps dressed in black reach for umbrellas and run out of Central Park and seek shelter under the awning of the Plaza Hotel or the trees lining Fifth Avenue. Likewise, couples, singles and families oblivious to any benediction stop strolling and cycling through Central Park and attempt to get out of the rain.

Some of the stragglers notice thunder and lightning booming and flashing over muted skies, and kinda go, “Wow.” But the thunder and lightning suddenly gathers momentum, velocity and intensity. BOO-UUHHMM. (beat… beat… beat… ) BOO-UUHHMM. (beat… beat… ) BOO-UUHHMM. It was immediately all too apparent this wasn’t nature doing its thing.

Those tapped into the arts realized that the light cycle healing was a “go” anyway, damn the weather, the clouds and the torrential downpour. Others, who were just cruising Central Park and were unexpectedly caught in a squall, just heard explosions going off and went “Holy Fucking Shit!” and ran and ran and ran. For five minutes on 9/15, 2003, the Central Park area of New York was terrorized in a twisted echo of the very event that attempted to come to terms with This Millennium’s First True Cataclysm.

Because of the wet and the clouds, there was no smoke ring to be seen. Which underscored this point: This whole Benediction and Healing gag ain’t gonna be easy. And irony still ain’t dead. — Cole Coonce


April 7, 2010

Sex & Travel & Vestiges Of Metallic Fragments cover

Sex & Travel & Vestiges of Metallic Fragments is an anthology of essays probing and deconstructing modern and historical concerns, from Katrina to Antietam to Hollywood to Irwindale; be it luscious low-rent lap dancers or land speed record losers; reactionary rock stars or genocidal Confederate Generals; Death Valley meth-heads or Japanese drifters; Teutonic milfs in swimsuits or Ashcroft informants; anarchic adrenaline-addled urban bicyclists or Scientologists; from Mark E. Smith and Merle Haggard to Kathie Lee Gifford, Courtney Love and the chick from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Cole Coonce’s collection is of the zeitgeist and the cosmological constant. This is literary journalism for the fast, the inquisitive and the appalled.