Let’s take a brief break from “Mondo Hollywood” to discuss one of Hollywood’s least public group of residents: coyotes.
Hollywood Boulevard is, strictly speaking, in the foothills of the Hollywood Hills — the Hills end at about Sunset Boulevard — and, as you arc further and further up toward the summit, the Hills become wilder and wilder. This is especially encouraged by Griffith Park, which is larger than people often realize. At 4,310 acres, it’s the second-largest city park in California, and is more than four times as large as Central Park. Some of the residents of Griffith Park are human — there is a long history of homeless people camping out in the park, and porn shoots will set up makeshift, cardboard tented exterior shoots off the main trails. But the Park teems with wildlife as well, including mule deer, Pacific rattlesnakes, Cooper’s hawks, skunks, opossums, an occasional mountain lion, and, of course, coyotes.
In fact, there are an estimated 5,000 coyotes in Los Angeles, many of them clustered around the foothills of the Hollywood Hills. Unlike the coyotes’ distant cousin the wolf, coyotes readily adapt to environments where humans have encroached — particularly suburban environments, which describes much of Los Angeles. They’re small, quick to scavenge, and skittish around humans but sometimes uncommonly bold (in 2007, a coyote, for some reason, went into a Quizno’s in Chicago’s South Loop along with the lunch crowd, perhaps intrigued by their pepper bar.) And while it’s almost impossible to domesticate a coyote, they can become habituated to humans, accepting well-meant but poorly considered gifts of food directly from residents who want to feed them. As is often the case when people feed wild animals, this tends to lead to coyotes being comfortable enough around people to misbehave toward them, stealing from garbage cans and nipping at children, which inevitably results in the city sending out animal control to kill a few dozen coyotes.
Even without humans to encourage them, coyotes can be troublemakers. Aside from their scavenging habits, coyotes prey on small animals, and this sometimes includes cats and small dogs. Notoriously, Jessica Simpson’s Maltese-poodle mix, named Daisy, was snatched by coyotes outside her LA home in 2009. Coyotes tend to go wherever food is, so if there are a lot of coyote sightings in an area, it’s typically because humans are feeding them, inadvertently or deliberately. Unlidded garbage cans and Dumpsters will attract coyotes, as will pet food or water left out in the open. Even still, the city tends to leave these animals alone unless they become a nuisance, at which point they’ll typically cull the population under the assumption that scarce resources are making coyotes bolder. Some argue for trapping and releasing, but, as adaptable as coyotes are, they’re reportedly not adaptable enough to get thrust into a new environment without starving to death.
Hollywood’s coyote population has been the subject of two songs that I can find. The first is in the theme music to a 1965 Disney short called “A Country Coyote Goes Hollywood,” narrated by cowboy actor/singer Rex Allen, who may also have sung the Western swing theme song (although there’s a certain unprofessional roughness to the singing; it may simply have been sung by its writers, Jack Speirs and George Bruns, or by some uncredited Disney employees.) The short film itself is an enjoyable live-action featurette about a desert coyote who hitches a ride in a moving truck to Los Angeles. He ends up in the Hills with a group of city coyotes, doing what they do, which is mostly scavenging for food.
As is often the case with Disney films about animals, the coyotes find themselves threatened by a forest fire, after which our country coyote lights out for New York, perhaps eventually becoming the coyote who wandered around Central Park for a few days in 2010 The Disney film is not great zoology, as Disney shorts tended to anthropomorphize their animal characters and preferred fabricated narratives over documentary filmmaking, but it does get a lot of details about coyotes right, including their tendency to travel in loosely affiliated packs and their sometimes unnerving intelligence in dealing with traps. The song is quite a lot of fun, starting with a fast, jazzy intro that plays over images of Hollywood Boulevard, and then launches into a rollicking, accordion-backed vocal duet that parallels Hollywood scenes with classic western tropes (“The coyotes howl in Hollywood when the neon is in bloom / there’s a silver light on the water hole from an all-electric moon.”)
The second song I found is the first many ever heard by The Red Hot Chili Peppers, a band that is about as Hollywood as any, in that it was originally made up of people who moved to Hollywood and its surrounding neighborhoods from elsewhere. I have mentioned that about 50 percent of Hollywood residents are immigrants, and that was exactly the case for the band: Guitarist Hillel Slovak was from Israel and bass player Flea was born in Australia. The band met in Hollywood’s Fairfax High School, and they managed to land a record deal shortly after high school (although the lineup shifted considerably for the first album). The first song on their eponymous debut LP was called “True Men Don’t Kill Coyotes,” which was also reportedly the name lead singer Anthony Kiedis wanted to give the album.
The song has an unusual, almost Ennio Morricone quality to it, especially Flea’s slapped bass, which works its was through a minor-key riff that you could imagine playing behind a high noon gunfight. Kiedis’ lyrics offer up a psychedelic gloss on western themes. Kiedis claims some Native American ancestry, and has a number of Native American-themed tattoos, and here he seems to be taking the role of a brave riding the Hills on a “sabre tooth horse,” paralleling himself with a coyote murderously stalking a “pale face.”
The song was also the source of the Chili Pepper’s first music video, a day glo set piece in which the band erupts from the poisoned ground beneath a bright green Hollywood sign, and ends with a post-nuclear farmer cuddling a collie that’s acting as a stand-in for a coyote. It’s an odd image, and odder still when you consider that this coyote would now inevitably start invading backyards and eating chihuahuas. If true men don’t want to kill coyotes, they shouldn’t canoodle with them either.