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An old friend of mine has a birthday today, April 10. His name was Joe Cole. He would have been 53 years old. He got shot to death at the end of 1991.
It has become a ritual of mine on this day, to wonder what he would be like had he lived, what he would have made of himself. Although this speculation is just empty rattling, I can't help it.
Joe and I were alike in many ways and, in as many, very different. We both had a curiosity about people yet felt alien and quite vulnerable to what they got up to. This simultaneous attraction/revulsion was frustrating and confusing and led to epic conversations.
We had the time, too. Joe was part of the road crew on the last Black Flag tour in 1986. We drove the gear truck all over America. We talked so much bullshit to pass the time and stay awake, we should have been given an award. We reveled in our idiotic nihilism. We took everything to its nonsensical end.
One of our favorite themes was the total inconvenience of the human race. At one point, Joe proposed that everyone needs to get in “solar shuttles” and be sent, one way, to the sun. I countered by saying that included us and we were too awesome to be destroyed. Joe pulled back slightly, and said that he would consent to a “1 million person guest list” that exempted “hot chicks and people we think are cool.” We started working on the list. I think Bill Murray and Harold Ramis were the first people on it. I don't remember the rest. It hardly mattered. We were just getting to the next venue for that night's negativity fest.
At some point, we were facing a night off on the East Coast and were given an opportunity to rent out our sound system to the City Gardens, a venue in Trenton, N.J., and also get paid to be the opening act for Overkill and Venom.
We played an opening-length set to a fair reception from several hundred New Jersey metal maniacs. All I remember of Overkill was that they requested that all the 18-inch cabinets, which delivered the considerable low end, be turned off. That told us all we needed to know about them.
Soon enough, it was time for the band that everyone was waiting for, Venom, the black-metal act from Newcastle, England. Venom were Cronos on bass and vocals, Abaddon on drums and Mantis on guitar. They were into it and the songs were cool/hilarious. Cronos said really rock & roll things between songs, like, “You're pretty fuckin' loud, New Jersey!”
After the show, we were tasked with taking down the system and putting it back into the truck. The Venom members were still milling around inside the venue. In between hauling gear, Joe Cole had drawn a pentagram on his palm, à la serial killer Richard Ramirez, aka the Night Stalker. Joe ran at Cronos, who was a pretty fearsome guy, and put his inked palm in Cronos' face and yelled, “Hail Satan!” in his best version of Ramirez. Cronos perhaps thought Joe was just an overzealous fan, but Cronos was no doubt troubled. He backed up, smiled painfully, gestured uncomfortably and took off. It was definitely a high point of the tour.
Thankfully, the Venom show was recorded by our soundman. The tape, which I still have, made the rounds. Joe Cole passed it to Sonic Youth, Thurston Moore made a single of all the between-song raps, the Beastie Boys incorporated it into at least one of their tracks and, to this day, it can still be found online. Legend!
Years later, Joe and I thought we should check in with Ramirez and spent a surreal few hours downtown in a courtroom, at a day of his trial. We stood in line to go through the metal detector and met a few Ramirez groupies. Joe asked the girls all kinds of questions, which they were more than happy to answer. As Joe asked them more questions, the girls got more excited, like they were talking about a rock star or a famous actor. I was tempted to interject that Ramirez was a monster and what could their attraction possibly be, but Joe's line of inquiry was far more interesting. Finally, we were allowed into the courtroom. Soon after, a side door opened and Ramirez, all chained up, short-stepped in. He sat down, turned in his chair and looked at the girls, who all squealed.
When the session was over, we were two of the first at the door. We walked out to see press people gathered to get statements from the legal teams. We walked up to them, introduced ourselves and asked them what they wanted to know. They told us to get the fuck out of there. We retreated to Millie's and ate lunch.
Around that time, a girl we knew asked us to take her and her friend out on a date for her friend's birthday. After dinner, we get in Joe's car and start driving. I ask Joe where we were going. He looks at the birthday girl, and in a loud voice, replies in his best Dennis Hopper/Frank Booth imitation, “It's your birthday, so we're going on a joy ride!” He doesn't say another word until we're deep in South Central.
At one intersection, a car full of guys pulls up next to us and looks us over. I figure this might not end well. Joe, seemingly oblivious, pulls over a few blocks later. He gets out of the car, picks up a stop sign that was torn from its post and lying on the street, gets back in the car and gives it to her. “Here's your present!” We drive back to Silver Lake and drop the girls off at their car. That's when Joe asks the birthday girl if she would want to go out with him again. Timing is everything.
I really miss that guy.
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