I’m going to go out on a limb and say a lot of readers won’t like Cole Coonce’s new book, Come Down From The Hills & Make My Baby. And while I’m out here, I’m also going to say I did like this book and will probably read it again.
On the surface, this is the story of a punk rock band, Braindead Soundmachine, that is so committed to its anti-rock punk-rock ethos that it can’t really get a hell of a lot accomplished. (The novel’s name refers to an album name in the book.) Or, depending on how success is measured, the band actually gets a lot done, including albums, shows, a tour and a lot of drugs and women, which, when you think about it, is pretty industrious in comparison to many punk rock bands. Financial success comes in a far second place to artistic integrity, although making enough money to continue the band is occasionally deemed important. Artistic integrity for this band means, at its most basic, survival, no chord changes, and “there are no mistakes.”
The story is told in a fragmented, first-person narrative style, a series of anecdotes pieced together into chapters told in roughly sequential order, although there is plenty of space given to various flashbacks, tangents and besides-the-points.
Does it seem like I’m having a hard time laying out the salient aspects of this book? The fact is, it’s got so many things going on that I am having a tough time. If I was looking for an overarching theme, I guess it would be “All things tend toward crapification,” and this book is just a long indictment of societal trends—and society itself for that matter. Anything from gender to music making to friendship to Los Angeles to technology is fodder for deconstruction, and if I want to be really modernist, I’d say the concept of the “novel” itself is being deconstructed. Hell, I guess that’s safe to say since I’m not absolutely sure that this is a novel at all. It might be a straight retelling of historic fact with the band and album names changed to decrease liability, and Come Down From The Hills & Make My Baby may be closer to non-fiction than fiction.
And there’s, I think, the fulcrum upon which I balance my liking of this book: its memoir quality. This book feels really real to me. The screwed-up, cracked characters remind me of people I know. The ancillary acquaintances who are called by descriptions rather than names—Purple Haired Girl, Missing Eyebrow, Tour Manager—remind me of the “types” of people I run into in the hours when the bartenders start upending chairs onto tables and wiping out ashtrays.
Aside from his ability to nail down characters without devoting a lot of words to their characterizations, Coonce writes in a fun-to-read energetic, industrial, pre-Apocalyptic fashion. Kind of like a mescaline hangover. You’ve got to hand it to him, at least he has style—just don’t pay too much attention to punctuation and grammar and such.
As long as I am spending time on limbs, I’d guess it’s safe to say that Coonce is well aware of the parallels that can be drawn between the non-commercial punk-rock band and the novelist who forsakes the conservative, familiar narrative style in favor of an integritous, anecdote-based plotting structure.
But if Coonce doesn’t care, then I don’t either. The book can be purchased at www.kerosenebomb.com for $14.95.