Be they the private ramblings of an uncertain mind trying to make sense of what has just happened to them, or deeply introspective musings on life, the universe and everything else, it’s easy to read them out of context and conclude that the author was a dickhead.
But, when placed in the context of a tragedy, diaries can take on new meanings.
The son of actor Dennis Cole, Joe is remembered for being a roadie for Black Flag and a friend of Henry Rollins. In December 1991, Joe was murdered in a robbery gone wrong (which Rollins narrowly escaped). A year later, this book emerged as a small tribute to Joe and to his fledging artistic credentials (supposedly, he had filmed hours of interviews with homeless people in the Venice area).
Set between December 1985 and June 1987, Planet Joe focuses on Cole’s time being a roadie for Black Flag and the first version of the Rollins Band. As a compendium to Rollins’ Get in the Van, it’s a neat add on which confirms that touring as a roadie takes a certain type of person. As a tribute to Cole, it shows him to be a deeply curious human interested in what life could offer, but also one who had self-esteem issues. It’s easy to see why him and Rollins took to each other the way they did, as they seemed to share similar outlooks on art, music and humanity. Take this extract as an example:
I am filled with emptiness. I look deep inside searching for some reason. I feel useless and dead. I find no satisfaction in the things I do. Am I trapped to live this way forever…Life is shit. It’s a worthless waste of time and I can’t wait for mine to end. I have no intention of…reproducing…My spirit wants to soar into the heavens but all I do is crawl across the ground.
Read with the knowledge of how he died, it invokes a myriad of thoughts within the reader: grim irony, desolate gloom and teenage angst. Ultimately, it reveals him to be a flawed person, fumbling through life like the rest of us. Hence why diaries are often unflattering. Likewise, his writings about hooking up with nubile punk “chicks” (he was from California after all) are undoubtedly honest, but are a tad embarrassing as they reveal a man who seemed to have an overly simplistic outlook on sex and little to do with the power and pathos that can be part and parcel in attraction. Nowadays, it would be classed as ‘misogyny’, but that would be too simplistic a label. Some would probably describe his outlook as mechanical and functional, which fits his general misanthropic worldview.
Who was Joe Cole? Based on this, someone from a typical Californian background trying to find his place in the world through music, human interaction, drugs and art. He would be brimming with confidence some days, while crippled with self-loathing other days. Although Rollins remains a peripheral (albeit an influential one) character, there is a sense that his influence helped Cole outgrow his shell and face the world, only to be cut down in a senseless murder.
In short, it’s a deeply human portrayal.
Joe Cole, 1992, Planet Joe, 2.13.61 Publications ISBN-13: 978-1880985090
⏩ Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland. He is currently the TPQ Friday columnist.