Issue #221 / February 2023
I was recently listening to “Hollywood” and finally recognized the connection between the “cougar that roams these parts / with a terrible engine of wrath for a heart” and P-22, the real mountain lion who was born in the mountains and crossed highways before settling in Griffith Park in Los Angeles. Beloved by Angelenos, he was famously captured on film prowling under the Hollywood sign.
As you likely know, P-22’s reign ended in December when he was euthanized after sustaining injuries when struck by a car. A celebration of his life was held last Saturday. I became fascinated by his story and how much he meant to the city of Los Angeles – a kind of “folk hero.”
Why did P-22 become the basis for such a powerful metaphor in your song?
In light of his death, do you have any lines you’d like to share about this rare, wild creature?
KAT, CUYAHOGA FALLS, OHIO, USA
Susie and I had left our home in Brighton, running away from our separate and entangled sorrows, and moved to Los Angeles, renting a house high up in the hills overlooking the Griffith observatory. At night we would sit and listen to packs of coyotes yipping and howling out there in the dark, and sometimes we would see them in broad daylight skulking around the streets of the neighbourhood looking for food. We were told of a cougar that lived in Griffith Park and were awed by all this wild nature that lived within Hollywood itself.
At the time, I was just beginning to bring together the series of haunted images that would make up the album, Ghosteen. Somehow, in my mind, I saw the mountain lion and my wife as a terrifying conflation, two sorrowing, wounded creatures, each navigating the alien landscapes of their different griefs, both searching for a way back home. I wrote the words –
I’m gonna buy me house up in the hills
With a tear shaped pool and a gun that kills
Because they say there is a cougar that roams these parts
With a terrible engine of wrath for a heart
That is white and rare and full of all kinds of harm
And stalks the perimeter all day long
But at night lays trembling in my arms
These words were the first I wrote for the album. It was clear to me that in those seven tormented lines there was enough to build a record on, and this verse became the central image of the record and the ‘engine of wrat ’hthat powered through the epic song, ‘Hollywood’.
Both Susie and I were genuinely saddened to hear about the euthanising of P-22. The life and death of this magnificent beast was one of countless impossible stories that are woven into the melancholy fabric of Los Angeles. Indeed, the death of P-22 seemed to break the city’s heart, as if it had lost an essential part of its untamed and mystical soul.