Henry Rollins: Joe Cole and American Gun Violence
[Look for your weekly fix from the one and only Henry Rollins right here on West Coast Sound every Thursday, and come back tomorrow for the awesomely annotated playlist for his Saturday KCRW broadcast.]
Editor's note: Joe Cole was a friend and roommate of Henry Rollins' as well as a roadie for Black Flag and Rollins Band.
On April 10 of this year, a man named Joe Cole would have been 52 years old. On 12/19/91, this man was shot and killed in Venice while being robbed at gunpoint. I was a few feet away. Even though it has been more than 20 years since he was killed, I think of him often.
Joe Cole's murder gave me a powerful tutorial on guns and America. The United States is full of some of the most resourceful, generous and hardworking people I have ever encountered. Yet statistically, America is a nation of killers and the killed.
We Americans have a familiarity and fascination with guns, murder and those who kill. From soldiers to serial killers, we study, immortalize, fanaticize and fear them. Try driving the streets of Los Angeles without seeing a billboard depicting a film with a lead actor holding a gun. It's almost as if guns are harmless props used to bring out the cheekbones and jawline of the screen star. It is hard to think of a leading man who hasn't at one time posed with a gun. Guns are part of the American identity.
While guns are constantly in the hands of wealthy actors, their more meaningful use is often by those several rungs down the fiscal ladder. These are the people who live in the other America, the one that Wayne LaPierre warns you about and implores you to arm yourself against.
You can pass all the gun legislation you want. None of it will make me feel any more or less safe than I do right at this moment. The murder of my friend taught me that America is a 50-state-wide killing field. None of that red state/blue state bullshit means a damn thing to me. As soon as I leave my house, I am on the kill grid. If I am anywhere in America, as far as I'm concerned, it's game on for Murder One.
Dead bodies at crime scenes sometimes look ridiculous. People often fall and land in positions reminiscent of a game of Twister gone awry. They look lonely and small, like the punchline of an elaborate and incredibly cruel joke.
The morning after the murder, I was released by the police after being held overnight, as apparently is common with witnesses. I went back to the front lawn of the house I was renting, where Joe Cole was killed. I had to clean up his remains before his parents arrived. There I was, my friend's blood and brains all over my hands, trying to figure out what to do with this human matter. Do I throw out the bloody towel? Wash it? Bury it? What about the water in the bucket or the bucket itself? I felt completely stupid and worthless at that moment.
Joe Cole, who spent the last several seconds of his short life in pathetic, animal panic, had perfect taste in music. He was completely connected to the main stem. Hendrix, Stooges, Sabbath, Coltrane -- like that. He was a way out guy, a total Space Brother. He had a lot of friends yet was very alone. His killer has never been caught.