by Joseph Hirsch
Holloway House has sold more than five-million copies of Goines’ books as of this writing, but a lot of those copies have been sold in barbershops, beauty salons, in ghettos, and from secondary markets (like the trunks of cars and in prisons) where not a lot of white people besides process servers and bail-bondsmen show their pale faces. There are certain black writers who chronicle the plight of the inner-city for a white audience, or to shine a light on harsh living conditions in the hopes that change might be affected, but Donald Goines is not counted among their number. He talked about the ghetto, to the ghetto. If you’re white and you want to read his work, fine, but we’re eavesdropping interlopers in this case, not the intended audience.
Goines’ view of women is problematic for the modern reader, to put it mildly. Next to him, Charles Bukowski seems like a social justice warrior. One of Goines’ road dogs willing to speak of his old friend talked to a biographer about how Goines saw everything through the lens of pimpology. While watching his favorite show Bewitched at his girlfriend’s house, he would shout at the television. He called the milquetoast husband of Samantha a punk and a trick. He heaped abuse on the character played by Dick York while smoking reefer in his girlfriend’s pad and blowing so many shotgun hits to his lady’s bird that he eventually suffocated the thing in its cage.
I don’t want to spoil the plot for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie, so a basic summary should suffice: King David (played by DMX) is a hustler who is returning from the West Coast to his old stomping grounds back East. He stole some dope from his old employer, who gives him two options upon his return: pay me back or get bodied. King David (whose last name is never revealed) agrees to pay what he owes, and meets two of the black don’s bagmen outside of a small bar where a struggling writer (played by David Arquette) is also knocking back a few. The two heavies show up to collect from King David in front of the bar. The only problem is that the guys the kingpin sent to get the money are young hotheads. Words are exchanged and one of the thugs gets wounded by King David, who also manages to deal the DMX character a mortal blow. The bagboys flee, licking their wounds. King David is left to bleed out into the gutter in front of the bar, at least until David Arquette shows up and helps the black man to the hospital. King David dies in the OR, but he is so grateful to his intervening white angel that before he dies he tells the hospital staff he wishes to will his effects to the journalist. David Arquette leaves the ER splattered in blood, carrying a wad of money, the keys to a pimpmobile, and most intriguingly, a series of cassettes on which King David narrates his life of crime and misdeeds in unapologetic tones.
As the credits rolled after the final plot twist (which I did not see coming) I surprised myself with my own conclusion. Shit, that wasn’t bad. It was actually even kind of good. I wonder what Goines would have thought of the movie? If I had to guess, I think he would be flattered to know that it even existed.
At one point in his career Donald Goines had relocated from his native Detroit to Los Angeles. He’d made the move in part to be closer to his publisher’s headquarters, but also in the hopes that he could break into the film industry and get something of his adapted. It was not to be. The furthest he got in Tinsel Town was a small part as a cop in the futuristic thriller Soylent Green.
The film was a box-office bomb, and got a critical drubbing on Rotten Tomatoes and other online aggregators. And yet, there are others out there who saw whatever I saw in the movie . Watch it for yourself and see if it works for you. What Goines would think of the movie is of course a rhetorical exercise at this point. He has been dead for a long time now, and his murder remains unsolved.
Whoever the killers were, they at least had the decency to leave the children alive, one of whom recounts being shepherded away by the gunmen, who assured her, “We don’t kill little girls” before blasting both of the adults into the hereafter. Other children descended from the Goines’ bloodline weren’t so lucky. In late March of 1992, Donnie’s grandson was murdered, the sixth of six children killed in Detroit in the span of six days. For years the rumor persisted that Goines was killed while seated at his typewriter, and that he had been shot in the act of composition. The coroner’s report doesn’t bear this story out, but it’s easy enough to understand why this apocryphal tidbit survives into the present day.
Rolling Country, Kentucky Bestiary and Veterans' Affairs. His latest, Touch No One, will be published in spring 2017.