First Exposure to Bukowski

November 7, 2009

I don’t like poetry much. I don’t have enough patience for it, my mind just doesn’t work that way. I don’t like detached phrases, I like to know where things are coming from, for everything to be connected.
So my first Bukowski book is a rather rare one, with unpublished articles from all throughout Bukowski’s long, drunk, eccentric, filled with holes and gaps career.
I have typed up many excerpts, varying in length. I think it would do you some good to read all five, but read however many you want. Except none. If you come here, you have to read at least one. That is the point of this site.
(I love how I’m typing this with the conviction and confidence that I get many visitors.)

Some context to this one: Two nuns want to buy a phonograph from Larry and they are looking at his records. For some reason, Larry is wary and nervous around these nuns.

Excerpt #38: from Hard Without Music
The one in the chair smiled. Her teeth were very white. “You have such good taste. Almost all of Beethoven, and Brahms, and Bach and…”
“Yes,” said Larry. “Yes, thank you.” He turned to the other nun. Won’t you sit down?” he asked. But she didn’t move.
The sweat was coming out on his forehead, the palms of his hands, the hollow of his throat. He wiped his hands on his knees. Why was it he had a feeling that he was going to do something dreadful? How black they were dressed; and the white: such a contrast. And the faces. “My favorite,” he said, “is Beethoven’s Ninth.” It wasn’t. He didn’t have any favorites.
“I’d like to use these to teach in the classes,” said sister Celia, the one in the chair. “It’s so hard…without music.”
“Yes, ” said Larry. “For all of us.” His voice had sounded dramatic. He felt as if he didn’t belong in the room. It was hot summer. His eyes filmed, his throat felt dry. A thin string of breeze passed for a moment across his brow. He thought of hospitals, of disinfectant.
“It’s a shame to sell them. I mean…for you,” said SIster Celia. She was evidently the buyer, he thought; the other was just along.
Larry waited a moment and then he answered, “I have to move. To another city. They’d break, you know.”
“I’m sure these would be lovely for my class, for the older girls.”
“Older girls,” said Larry. Then his eyes opened and he stared straight at Sister Celia, at her smooth face and pale nun’s eyes. “That’s wise,” he said. “Extremely wise.” His voice had become harsh and metallic. The sweat formed on his legs and the wool of his trousers pointed into the skin. His hands moved about his knees. He looked down, then back up at Sister Celia. The other nun seemed to hang suspended, way off.
Then he began. “Modern elementary education, for reasons unknown, at least to myself, finds it plausible to introduce Beethoven into the souls of eight-year-olds. Somebody once asked the question, ‘Are composers human?’ Well, I don’t know, but I do know that the sounds that came out of my teacher’s phonograph in the third grade were not, to me, human sounds, sounds in any way relative to real life and real living, the sea or the baseball diamond. And the teacher steeped with her ethereally ponderous and magnificent, her rimless glasses, her white wig and Fifth Symphony, were no more a real part of life than the rest of it…Mozart, Chopin, Handel…The others learned the meaning of the little black dots with tails, and without tails, that climbed up and down the chalk-marked ladders on the blackboard. But I – through fear and revulsion – turtle fashion, withdrew my mind into the dark shell. And today, when I slip my program notes from my record albums…it is still dark…”
He laughed. He felt suddenly old and worldly. He waited for the nuns to speak but they didn’t speak.
“Good music crept up on me. I don’t know how. But suddenly, there it was, and I was a young man in San Francisco spending whatever money I could get feeding symphonies to the hungry insides of my landlady’s wooden, man-high victrola. I think those were the best days of them all, being very young and seeing the Golden Gate Bridge from my window. Almost every day I discovered a new symphony…I selected my albums pretty much by chance, being too nervous and uncomfortable to understand them in the glass partitions of the somehow clinical music shops…There are moments, I have found, when a piece, after previous listenings that were sterile and dry…I have found that a moment comes when the piece at last unfolds itself fully to the mind…”
“Yes, how true,” said Sister Celia.
“You are listening haphazardly, carelessly. And then, through the lazy sheen you have effected, almost upon the sheen, climbing upon it, through it, centering lithely upon the unguarded brain…in comes the melody, curling, singing, dancing…All the full potency of the variations, the counter notes, gliding cool and utterly unbelievable in the mind. In the kindness it is…like the buzzing of countless little steel bees whirling in ever-heightened beauty and knowing…A sudden movement of the body, an effort to follow, will often kill it, and after a while you learn this. You learn not to kill the music. But I guess that’s what I’m doing now, isn’t it?” (16-18)
Excerpt #39: from The L.A. Scene
There are others. They keep coming. All with their special brand of talk or living. I’ve drawn some good ones, these Los Angeles characters, and I suppose they’ll keep coming. I don’t know why people bring me themselves. I never go anywhere. Those few who arrive are dull, I dispose of them quickly enough. I’d only be unkind to myself if I did otherwise. My theory is that if you are kind to yourself you will be truthful and kind with others, in that certain way.
Los Angeles is full of very odd people, believe me. There are many out there who have never been on a 7:30 a.m. freeway or punched a timeclock or even had a job and don’t intend to, can’t, won’t, will die first rather than live the common way. In a sense, each of them is a genius in his or her way, fighting against the obvious, swimming upstream, going mad, getting on pot, wine, whiskey, art, suicide, anything but the common equation. It will be some time before they even us out and make us say quits.
When you see that city hall downtown and all those proper precious people, don’t get melancholy. There is a whole tide, a whole race of mad people, starving, drunk, goofy, and miraculous. I have seen many of them. I am one of them. There will be more. This city has not yet been taken. Death before death is sickening.
The strange ones will hold, the war will continue. Thank you. (120)

Excerpt #40: from Upon the Mathematics of the Breath and the Way
Hemingway studied the bullfights for form and meaning and courage and failure and the way. I go to boxing matches and attend horse races for the same reason. THere is a feeling at the wrists and the shoulders and the temples. There is a manner of watching and recording that grows into the line and the form and the act and the fact and the flower, and the dog walking and the dirty panties under the bed, and the sound of the typewriter as you’re sitting there, that’s the big sound, the biggest sound in the world, when you’re getting git down in your way , the right way, no beautiful woman counts before it and nothing that you could paint or sculpt counts before it; it is the final art, this writing down of the word, and the reason for valor is all there, it is the finest gamble ever arranged and not many win. (129)

Excerpt #41: from Notes of a Dirty Old Man (L.A. Free Press, December 28, 1973)
It will take centuries to get the Hepburns and the critics out of the way, and that’s what makes it sad, more than sad: each of our lives is hardly made up of centuries, and what has killed us is not the Nixons and the Hitlers but the intellectuals, the poets, the scholars, the philosophers, the professors, the liberals, all our friends – or, more properly, your friends.
I have always much more enjoyed the conversations of men in jail than I have enjoyed the conversations of men in universities; I’ve found men on railroad track gangs with more guts and light and less boredom than those who get $400,000 a week for a four-week stand in Vegas. Why is this? I don’t know. I don’t think God can solve it. I only know that we’ve been tricked for centuries, it goes way back, even Christ smells bad, Plato smells bad, and I don’t mean under the armpits. I guess all we can do is take our small snapshots, wait, and get out.
Excerpt #42: from Just Passing Time
I bought some more rounds. Time began to waver. Time began to waggle. Butterlifes’ wings.
Jim left, and the night bartender, Eddie, came on. A few women entered, old, insane, or both. Yet it changed the atmosphere. They were women. It made it more carnival. Caimans, gavials, chuckwallas, geckos, molochs, skinks, and tautaras now sat on the stools. We watched their heavily painted mouths as they stuck cigarettes into them or laughed or poured the drinks down. Their voices were way off the edge, as if their vocal cords had been burned out, and their frazzled hair came down and sometimes – oh, at such rare times, in a moment of neon haze – as they turned their head they almost seemed young and beautiful again, and then we all felt better and laughed and said almost inventive things. THe dream was just around the corner. And if not, it had been.
Some moments were sometimes like that. And we felt good, you could feel it reaching all around: we were there, finally, everybody was beautiful and grand and entertaining, and each moment glowed, bright and unwasted You could really feel it.
Then – it stopped. Just like that.
We seemed to feel it all altogether. All conversation ended. Like that. At once. We felt each other sitting there, uselessly. Quiet. Nothing wrong with quiet. But not that kind. It was as if we had been cheated. Out of energy. Out of luck. Stuck there – bare.
It lasted some time. It lasted too long. It was embarrassing.
“Well, shit,” somebody finally said, “who’s going to brown this turd?”
Which always started the motion and the action over again. New cigarettes lit. Lipsticks applied. Trips to the pisser. Old jokes with new endings. Lies. Minor threats. The flies awakening and spinning through the blue gray air.

-Portions from a Wine-Stained Notebook
Uncollected Stories and Essays, 1944-1990


One comment

  1. I read the first one, I think it’ll take some time before I read the rest

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