I went to see John Doe play solo last week; he was in X, one of the best bands ever to come out of Los Angeles. After the show, I walked up and asked him something. I'd once read that he had rented a house Bukowski used to live in L.A., one of the many places Buk inhabited while he drank and wrote and drank and wrote.
Doe said: "That's true, but I didn't know it used to be his place until I got it. I saw a For Rent sign on this house in the Silverlake district and it was only $650, so I moved in. There was this big window on the side, and it had a board over it covered with drawings and poetry. I asked the landlady why she had a board over the window, and she said because Charles Bukowski used to live here, and he'd get drunk and throw things through it all the time. So, finally, she put up this board.
"I recognized the house from a poem in his book Play the Piano Drunk Like a Percussion Instrument Until the Fingers Begin to Bleed a Bit, and you could tell it was Bukowski's writing on that board. The landlady knew who he was, and she said she was going to take it down and sell it. I wouldn't let her do it. I wrote him a letter saying, 'You don't know me from Adam, but I've got this board with your work on it and if you want it, I'll send it to you. It's rightfully yours.'
"Then I got a letter from him saying, 'I have no memory of living in that house and I don't want the board. P.S.--My wife says you have a very good band. There, I said it.'
"What bullshit! I knew the house was his cause it was in the poem. What a fucking curmudgeon. I couldn't believe it. But that letter was perfect!" Yeah, I said, I can't believe the guy is still even alive!
We laughed and gulped our beers, then I left.
The whole thing is little more than a mildly interesting story at best, but I'm thinking about it now because I just found out Bukowski finally did die, of pneumonia at age 73.
No, his liver didn't explode, and it wasn't cancer, nor was it a bar fight or a broken heart. Those were the things he wrote about, because those were the things his life was about. His stories are filled with anger and brutality over the little things that kill you--relationships, broken shoelaces, asshole drivers, awful jobs, awful bosses, hangovers. But beneath the rage of his words there is always humor. Humor of absurdity, of silliness, of irony; Buk had the ability to look at the most terrifying situations life can throw at a person and laugh. Or at least shrug and reach for another beer. His titles speak for themselves: At Terror Street and Agony Way, Erections, Ejaculations, Exhibitions and Tales of Ordinary Madness, Love Is a Dog From Hell, All the Assholes in the World and Mine.
He was a tough guy, he was a pussycat. He hated humanity, he loved dogs. He lived with whores, worked for the post office for 11 years and listened to classical music in small, cheap apartments, eating typewriter ribbons to stay alive. Or so the legend goes.
Bukowski leaves behind a wife some 30 years his junior, a 29-year-old daughter from a two-year relationship, 35 volumes of perhaps the most honest, direct, mad, passionate poetry and prose ever written, and a lot of people like me all over the planet who are going to have a tough time reconciling the fact that Charles Bukowski won't be writing anymore.
Here's a poem called "Some Suggestions" from You Get So Alone at Times That It Just Makes Sense.
in addition to the envy and the rancor of some of my peers
there is the other thing, it comes by telephone and letter: "you are the world's greatest living writer."
this doesn't please me either because somehow I believe that to be the world's greatest living writer there must be something terribly wrong with you. I don't even want to be the world's greatest dead writer
just being dead would be fair enough.
also, the word "writer" is a very tiresome word.
just think how much more pleasing it would be to hear:
you are the world's greatest pool player
you are the world's greatest
you are the world's greatest horseplayer. now
would really make
a man feel
And now, on with the music portion of our show. Girls, drinks and guitars can be found at the newly revamped Guitar and Keyboard City in Phoenix at a party on Saturday. Here's the deal: They're giving away free tickets to this thing to musicians (are you or aren't you?), but you have to call to get em, 230-2206. Don't just show up. Manufacturers of musical equipment will be giving away $15,000 worth of stuff, and if you're in a band, bring a tape and bio along and you might win a guitar. Best of all, of course, will be the lovely ladies--sorry, I guess they call them "girls"--from Hooters who will be catering to your food and drink needs.
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Go See: There's some great stuff coming in from out of town this week. The Supersuckers, who never cease to amaze live, are traveling all the way from Seattle to play on Monday night at Boston's, just for you. Call 921-7343. The Iguanas are up from New Orleans to do some of the best roots music you could possibly want to hear, on Tuesday at the Rockin' Horse. Call 949-0992.
Ruben Guaderrama and Manuel Gonzales have been playing together since they met in high school in 1971 (the same class as some of the guys in Los Lobos), and a few years ago they formed the Blazers. The band plays on Monday at the Rhythm Room; call 265-4842. You've probably never heard of them, but if there's a god in norteno/roots-rock heaven, you will. The group has just released its first album, Short Fuse, great stuff in the Lobos tradition.
"People go, 'Hey man, it's about time, ain't it?' and you go, 'Damn right!'" says guitarist Guaderrama by phone from his house outside L.A. He's home this afternoon because he got laid off from his job at the plaster company. That's right, these guys still have day jobs. "So far we've been lucky, no one's had a problem with their job when we play out," he says. "Manuel works with handicapped people, our drummer Ruben works for the post office, and Lee, our bass player, he works at a tire shop.
"Since he's been working there, it's really helpful for the road. He's a tire expert; now before we go on the road we say, 'Lee, check the tires, what do you think?' He's the tire monitor." Rock n' roll.