Charles Bukowski – probably one of the most influential, controversial and misunderstood writers of the 20th century. His work was banned, lambasted, vilified and ultimately celebrated by the end of his life. But even in the end, he wasn’t without his many detractors; those critics who chafed over the gritty, raw and uncensored vision Charles Bukowski revealed.
His work was considered pornographic – his view of the world dystopian at best. But most failed to realize that Charles Bukowski was, deep in his heart, a hopeless romantic – there’s evidence of it everywhere. I have often thought Bukowski had an unrequited love of life, and glimpses and flashes of it permeate his work; from his poetry and short stories to his novels.
And maybe that’s because, while he was alive, he was a fixture around Hollywood and we’d see him all the time. He had a weekly column at the L.A. Free Press; Notes From A Dirty Old Man. And we’d see him, shuffling around, wrapped in a boozy gaze. Or we’d see him performing periodically at The Troubadour, because Doug Weston, the owner who started the club, was a Bukowski fan. He would take up residence on stage – a single spotlight and Bukowski at a reading desk – an office-sized refrigerator within arms distance, stocked with Heinekens. And how some of the audience heckled him, which he was more than adept at heckling back. But how most everyone sat transfixed – his unmistakable voice – the voice that always sounded wounded or seemingly ambivalent; but the voice which conveyed a world of emotion in one sitting.
And maybe we took Charles Bukowski for granted, because he was such a fixture. And how, years after his death, he is celebrated as an icon, the epitome of the outsider – sage of the dispossessed. And there’s a lot of approximation – people who don’t get it, get it the wrong way – fail to see all the irony – only go out for the posture and not the subtext – celebrate the anger and not the heart. Maybe some day . . ..
In any event, this interview/reading for the program Writers and Writing, which first aired on September 9, 1971 offers an unvarnished, true-to-form glimpse into the life and work of Charles Bukowski. If you’ve never heard an interview with him, this is a very good place to start. And if you’re familiar with the work and not the person, you may come away with a different impression of the man who called himself Chinaski.