Charles Bukowski: Outsider, Writer, Poet

Yesterday was the anniversary of the birth of legendary poet and writer Charles Bukowski.

I wanted to do a post, but was uninspired.

Hey, Publisher, thanks for today’s inspiration!

Bukowski has a reputation that precedes him and which tends to repel people. It was many, many years before I read him. But those many years of delay did me good. People who read him while young tend to get the wrong idea of him. I saw what he was right away.


The best introduction to Bukowski I can think of — short of buying and reading one of his books — is this one-hour BBC documentary.

The Ordinary Madness of Charles Bukowski

A documentary on Charles Bukowski by the BBC. I recorded it off BBC2 about 15 years or so back.

The Ordinary Madness of Charles Bukowski – Part 1

This is a torture chamber. This is where I learned … something.

The Ordinary Madness of Charles Bukowski – Part 2

How do you know that you’re the one [to be a writer]? You don’t know. It’s a shot in the dark. You take it or you become a normal, civilized person from 8 to 5, get married, have children, Christmas together, in comes Grandma, “Hi, Grandma, come in” “Hi, you,” you know. Shit! I couldn’t take that. I’d rather murder myself.

The Ordinary Madness of Charles Bukowski – Part 3

[T]en years ago, I was a postal clerk, down at Alameda Street, sticking letters into slots like this. Within ten years, I’m published in Germany, Norway, France, Holland, Italy, England, uh, you know, more. I can’t name six or seven more. What happened?

This next part is most important: Bukowski on a prestigious French TV program about books. Did he act like a Suit? Watch!

The Ordinary Madness of Charles Bukowski – Part 4

Film director Barbet Schroeder: He would never go on a talk show, for example, which would have increased the sales of his books enormously. The irony is, he did go on a talk show. In France. And then he got so drunk that he created a scandal. This very good man who was running this talk show ended up having him evicted from the show. The next day, he didn’t remember anything, of course, Bukowski. But the whole [of] France was running to the bookshops to buy his books. And you couldn’t find any books. In a few hours, they were all sold out.

After seeing that on your TV — the program went out live without a tape delay — wouldn’t you want to read that writer? (If your answer is No, leave this blog!)

The Ordinary Madness of Charles Bukowski – Part 5

Your life is your life. Don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.

*Apostrophes* was a discussion program broadcast on national French television. It was hosted by Bernard Pivot, a well-known personality in France, and had an audience of several millions. The TV company were so eager to have Bukowski on the show that they paid for flights from Los Angeles, for him and Linda Lee, and put them up in a hotel in Paris. Bukowski figured the show would help his European sales, and he and Linda Lee planned a holiday around it, hoping to visit Carl Weissner and Linda Lee’s mother who was staying in the South of France.

Bukowski arrived at the Channel 2 [Antenne 2] building forty-five minutes early. He had stipulated he wanted two bottles of good white wine delivered to him before he went on the show and the first arrived while he was in make-up. He was soon drinking wine from the bottle, and was very drunk indeed when he was led through to meet his fellow guests. These included a distinguished psychiatrist, who had treated Antonin Artaud, and an attractive female author, of what exactly Bukowski was never sure. They were seated round a coffee table on which were arranged several of Bukowski’s books.

Bukowski was the star guest, so Pivot began by asking him how it felt to be fêted in Europe, to be on French television.

‘I know a great many American writers who would like to be on this program now,’ replied Bukowski, speaking even more ponderously than usual. He was puffing on a *sher bidi*, a type of Indian cigarette Linda Lee had introduced him to. It looked like a joint and smelt awful. He was also obviously drunk, slurring his words and nodding his head. ‘It doesn’t mean so much to me . . .’ he said.

Pivot tried to develop a discussion from this unpromising start, but Bukowski seemed to have trouble following the translation so Pivot turned to the lady writer. After a few minutes Bukowski broke into the conversation, saying he would like to see more of the woman’s legs. More specifically, he wanted to examine her ankles. That way he felt he might know how good a writer she was.

Pivot gave him a withering look and Bukowski told him he was a ‘fucking son of a fucking bitch asshole’ which set the translators an interesting problem as the show was going out live. Pivot fully understood what Bukowski had said. He put his hand over the American’s foul mouth and told him to shut up.

‘Don’t you ever say that to me,’ Bukowski growled.

He pulled the translation device from his ear, rose unsteadily to his feet and turned to leave. Pivot bid him au revoir with a Gallic shrug. The other guests watched in astonishment. Bukowski stumbled momentarily, steadied himself by touching the head of the man next to him, and then tottered off, as the translators and audience rocked with laughter.

They made their way down to the reception area where they were met by police. ‘When Hank saw that, he got this crazy little fiction going in his head, like the enemy is approaching,’ says Linda Lee. He pulled out his blade, a small hunting knife he always carried, and brandished it at them. There was a scuffle, but Linda Lee kept her cool and watched where Bukowski’s hands went. She grabbed his blade from him and then they both got the hell out of there.

The TV appearance was punk-like at a time when punk music and attitudes were fashionable in Europe. (He had been interviewed the day before by a punk journalist who endeared himself to Bukowski by asking for heroin — Bukowski said he wasn’t carrying — and by saying he liked pollution, which Bukowski thought very funny.) Consequently his antics on *Apostrophes* made headlines in France’s daily newspapers. Some took the view that it was a scandal. Others were of the opinion Bukowski had been a breath of fresh air on an establishment show.

‘You were great, bastard,’ said the excitable journalist who rang from *Le Monde*. ‘Those others couldn’t masturbate.’

‘What did I do?’ asked Bukowski, his hangover obscuring the events of the previous evening.

‘He didn’t remember anything, of course, but the whole of France was running to book shops to buy his books,’ says Barbet Schroeder [director of *Barfly*]. ‘In a few hours they were all sold out.’

A couple of days later Bukowski and Linda Lee were in Nice on the French Riviera, visiting Linda Lee’s mother, when a waiter in a café recognized Bukowski and asked for his autograph. He signed obligingly and then glanced across at the neighboring café where he saw five more waiters watching him. When they saw that Bukowski had noticed, the waiters bowed solemnly in unison to show their respect, and then went about their business again. It was a remarkable moment for a man who had spent more than half his life as an unknown writer, a humble postal clerk, but then so many things were new and strange now Bukowski was a success. [Charles Bukowski: Locked in the Arms of a Crazy Life – the Biography by Howard Sounes; pgs. 182-184]

That is a writer. That is an artist.

See Charles Bukowski’s ebook status.

Explore posts in the same categories: Books - Fiction, eBooks, Reference - Life, Reference - Writing, TV, Video - Online, Writers - Dead, Writing

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