Saturday, December 28, 2013

Charles Bukowski - Notes of a Dirty Old Man

I first came to know about Bukowski in the early 80's, though I have recently learned that I read an article or two in rock magazines in the 70's before I knew who he was. Now, he is not particularly r'n'r - his music of choice was classical - but damned if he didn't influence a large number of musicians - from punk rockers to Bono - and he has certainly helped me put down some words now and again.

This book is a collection of columns he wrote for a Los Angeles free paper, Open City, who admired his work and allowed him pretty much free reign. He had mostly written poetry at this point so these were experiments in prose and the subject matter would range - as it would in his poetry - from wild fantasies to real life experiences, with plenty of overlap. This is all from a fairly early stage in his writings, where he would really lay down the lines with a mix of drunken power and evocative imagery. Later his writing would be a little more straight-forward, but I really appreciate this style where he would describe things in fantastical terms - making the prose quite poetic. Yes, the stories could be vile and he describes himself as cowardly, misogynistic, violent and at times boorish, but it was also quite real - whether the tales were factual or not. The pain, the jealousy, the misanthropic tendencies, the troubled relationships could all come across very humanly - and was very easy to relate to.

I always said that, as much as I dug his writings, I did not particularly ever want to meet him, because I expected that I would not like him in person. But, I have collected a number of his books - and was lucky enough to live in Hollywood nearby a bookstore run by a friend of his who would always stock his stuff, new & old - and while I appreciate just about everything of his, the early works stick with me and are what I would recommend to anyone. I have an early pressing of this book so I don't know if there were any changes in later pressings (the cover of mine is a B&W variation on the one pictured), but this and his Erections, Ejaculations, Exhibitions and General Tales of Ordinary Madness are the books that I go back to most often (as their conditions would readily tell you). You may not like him or some of his stories, but you can certainly learn something about writing from these.

Here's the original cover: