Posts tagged ‘nathanael west’

October 29, 2008

“…Cole Coonce’s pornographic love letter to Los Angeles…”

Evan George on “Come Down from the Hills & Make My Baby”


By Cole Coonce

Los Angeles, they say, is a siren. Calling all of us not born in this in this city, like the Whore of Babylon to an end-of-the-world orgy. It’s easy for those of us recent additions to this freakshow-sex party to ignore that this city is followed by an immense history that still lingers along the streets (and the gutters) we walk everyday.

New Angelenos truly enthralled with their home have years of reading ahead of them, starting with the apocalyptic Day of the Locust. For the slackers just mildly interested in getting some head from Los Angeles, there is only one book: Come Down From the Hills and Make My Baby.

Reading Cole Coonce’s pornographic love letter to Los Angeles is like skipping ahead in the history textbook straight to the Rodney King beating. After all, those of us here and now really cannot do without a little knowledge of the decade from which our city has not recovered.

Loosely factual, this novel follows the indifferent musical career of the experimental-punk-noise outfit Braindead Soundmachine, the drunken exploits of the band members in East Hollywood when it was actually seedy, and the narrator’s post-modern love for Los Angeles as he watches it burn on TV during the L.A. riots from a sports bar in Oregon. This book is worth picking up for its sexy, nihilistic description of transvestite strippers alone. But as a historical document, it’s priceless. (Evan George)


May 15, 2008



by Cole Coonce

(excerpted from PULL THE PIN: The K-Bomb Reader; an extract of COME DOWN FROM THE HILLS AND MAKE MY BABY)


I meet BZ the Screenwriter for a cup of jake and some lemon meringue at a place called the House of Pies on Franklin and Vermont in East Hollywood. The HOP’s habitues are old folks, the last vestiges of another Los Angeles, another Hollywood. Or maybe another lifetime on another planet. They are from an era when folks dressed in suits and put on a hat just in anticipation of a trip out of the house to get a piece of banana crme pie. In The House of Pies. Its architectural design is a weird, flattened variation on the Googi architecture that dominated the landscape in Southern California back when the car culture really took root in the 1950s and 60s. Sharp, salient and pointy, Googi would puncture the sky and catch the attention of passing motorists by its very shape.


Except for the House of Pies and some forgotten car washes in the ghetto, Googi has all but disappeared. Los Angeles has always possessed a real hankering to obliterate its past. It has no sense of history, and doesn’t want one. What earthquakes and fires fail to accomplish, the limited intellect and attention span of Los Angeles does. Most examples of Googi architecture were razed and bulldozed long ago, but somehow — perhaps because it was a muted variation on the style — the House of Pies survived the purge. In that tradition, the House of Pies angles are smashed two-dimensional and obtuse. It is one of the few buildings left that survived LA’s architectural purge of the 1980s, when boxy mini-malls, industrial complexes and 99¢ stores infiltrated the landscape like a virus.

BZ fits right in at the House of Pies. There is something about the old gomers there that makes him feel right at home. BZ is also not of this time. He considers this modern era — the Infotainment Age — a mistake.


I am late and when I get there he is already working on his pie as well as a weathered copy of the Nathanael West novel, The Day of the Locust. I order a cup of jake and a piece of pie. I ask about the plot and the theme of the book, which BZ tells me debuted in 1939 and scandalized Hollywood as an expose on the damaging effects of the motion picture industry.

“West not only tapped into the hubris of this town, but how the Dream Factory creates not just illusion, but its logical byproduct, disillusionment.”

BZ stabs the air with a forkful of gooey pie foodstuff. “It’s not that different from the people who make this pie filling.” Jump-started by gobs of processed sugar and caffeine, BZ is off to the races, kicking into high gear on a soliloquy on the Entertainment Industry as the New Military Industrial Complex.

“Hollywood is a self-perpetuating cottage industry,” he continues, “that must churn out more and more entertainment in order to survive. To grow. To flourish. Its insidious nature is such that it has to convince the Locusts, the consumers that they need to purchase and absorb this stuff in order to make their lives meaningful. Which was a lie worthy of Goebbels, who was just beginning to reach his stride in the Third Reich when The Day of the Locust was written. West was prescient in that he knew that entertainment is merely cultural fascism.”

“Are you telling me that there was little difference between, say, Irving Thalberg, Paramount Picture, pie filling and the Third Reich?”

My coffee and rhubarb arrive.

“The manufacture and distribution of pie filling is the least problematic. There is very little difference between what product is coming out of the studios and what propaganda was issued from the Politburo or the Reichstag after the fire.”

“But isn’t a screenwriter such as yourself equally complicit? Aren’t you as evil as, say, some Kraut in a guard tower at Dachau?”

“That is where you are wrong, sir. It all boils down to self-awareness. Read this book. No one in it is exempt from West’s wrath. But the protagonist-slash-anti-hero, Tod Hackett, shows uncanny and astute self-awareness that makes him the least dubious character in the entire manuscript.”


“Yes, self-awareness. It makes all the difference. Tod Hackett shows such traits in a painting he calls ‘The Burning of Los Angeles.’ Hackett finishes this painting just as Locust reaches it denouement in the form of a holocaust of fire on Hollywood Boulevard.”

“So this book is about the Apocalypse?”

“Yes. Rapture. The Judgment.”

“So you’re saying Hackett’s self-awareness spares him somehow? Umm, I still don’t see how self-awareness gives any of us an exemption.”

“Of course you don’t. You do not possess any. You are lost in East Hollywood and you happen to play guitar, the most reductive form of expression since the Sex Pistols immolated in San Francisco in 1978. You have this delusional idea that music is somehow different from the other forms of electronic media that corrupt the sanctity of the human spirit.”

“I am trying to reconcile this with your script, Zombie Cop.”

“You are missing the point then. As an artist, you are fucked but you do not know that you are fucked. Therefore, you are truly fucked. On the other hand, I am fucked, but I know that I am fucked. Therefore, I am not truly fucked.

“Do you see the difference? Of course not, because you are truly fucked.”