Charles Bukowski - August 16, 1920 – March 9, 1994
Renegade, drunk, artist, punk poet and author, Charles Bukowski inspired and terrified the world with his confrontational prose. Hedonistic and self destructive, more wrecked than Hunter S. Thompson, beaten beyond any beat generation vagabond, as ruthlessly direct as Hemingway, Bukowski or 'Hank' or ‘Chinaski’ has been named “A laureate of the American low life” and has been compared to Hitler.
Heinrich Karl Bukowski was born in Andernach Germany, amidst 1920's calm, a calm which resonated from the end of the first world war but saw the phoenix of fascism develop from its vibrations. At the age of three Bukowski was thrust into the melting pot of America. As was common with European migrants at the time his name was anglicized to 'Henry Charles Bukowski'.
His German heritage continued to haunt and alienate him. Throughout his youth he was mocked for his German clothes and surname by both classmates and neighbours, and in the home he was excluded from late night conversations in German. Even after Bukowski's death, property developers attempting to bulldoze his bungalow which had been put forward as a cultural monument, claimed that he was a Nazi, but others have rejected such claims.
His youth was tough, it taught him to have little faith, drink and stand up for himself with his fists first. Ham on the Rye documents these grim early years, sometimes harrowing, sometimes hilarious it navigates through his relationship with a violent unemployed fathers, bullying at school from both teachers and students, poverty, colossal acne vulgaris, rejection from women and a solace found through booze. He spent his youth as an outsider, an outsider from socialising and academia, through his writing he vented geezers of rage and disillusion, his bold and direct style a weapon attacking the esoteric and phoney nature of academia.
a clean pair of stockings
natural guts defeating natural talent
that's the best"
(extract from poem titled - The worst and the best)
After school he attended Los Angeles City collage, he read art, literature and journalism. Soon after graduating he was arrested by the FBI for avoiding draft, but after an assessment was deemed unfit for military service. His full FBI records can be viewed at bukowski.net. He became a nomad of cheap boarding houses, fuelled by drinking and a skid row ethos. As with school he quickly became embittered with the publishing industry. At 24 he managed to get a couple of short stories to print “aftermath of a lengthy rejection slip” and “tanks from kasseldown”. However, in the same vein as Wilde's character Dorian Grey, another legend fascinated by sin and debauchery, he decided that...
“ no theory of life seemed to him to be of any importnace compared with life itself. He felt keenly concious of how barren all intellectual speculation is when seperated from action and experiment.” Picture of Dorian Grey p.106
So it was to action - he drank for 10 years and himself claimed that he was one “of the best drinkers anywhere”, intertwined with violence, womanising, gambling and a general disregard and disgust for society he continued to mould his nihilistic philosophy.
During this time of action he worked in a number of menial jobs, including his first stint at the post office and a pickle factory. His time at the Post Office provided the backdrop of his début novel, in his typically direct manner its simply named 'Post Office'. His first term at the post office ended just before he completed his three year service and soon after he was hospitalised with a bleeding ulcer, in his own words “I was spewing blood out of my mouth and my ass but didn't go. Came out and drank some more. Sometimes if you don't care whether you die or not, it can be hard work”
After a short marriage to Barbara Frye he returned to the post office, but this time for an entire decade, it was his final job before becoming a 'professional writer'. Bukowski was as much a womaniser as a drinker and often related these ideas in his prose, the compilation “Love is a Dog from Hell” gives a good overview of his ideas. But amongst the violence and gratuitous sex, there existed a tender side to his relationships. His true love and muse was Jane Coony Baker, he was traumatised by her death, and used writing to mourn her passing. A recently sold letter reads tender word of advice sent to Anne Menebroker -
“Hold, dear, hold to the fucking walls, and soon you'll be laughing, you'll be thinking, how did I ever let it get hold of me like that? All we need is time – to straighten out, feel better, and then make the same mistake all over again.
In 1969 he quit his job, Black Sparrow publishing offered him $100 dollars a month to write for them, he wrote Post Office in a Month. Previous to his he had been bashing out words in their millions, to this day bricks and wood splinter under the sheer weight of his legacy. He gained infamy with 'Notes from Dirty Old Man' in an LA underground title Open City, this paper sunk but the Los Angels Free Press picked his column from the flotsam, keeping it running.
In the nest of Black Sparrow he kept draining bottles, kept sleeping around, his riotous poetry readings became infamous and everybody wanted some of the action, he grew into a gnarled cult figure, inspiring writers of any shape and form that they could succeed even shrouded in a veil of booze. He finally married Linda Lee Beighle in1985, after meeting her on his first trip outside of the US during the 70's. He died from leukaemia at the age of 74. His grave reads 'Don't Try'.