Dispelling Bukowski's myths (1 Viewer)

hank solo

Just practicin' steps and keepin' outta the fights
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Allen "Red" Strange
Brother Schenker said:
saw something on the internet about 8 years ago...someone claiming that Buk got some of his stories from some dude named "Red" who supposedly really did live the life of a railroad bum...

hank solo said:
You are referring to "Red Strange" or "Kid Red". . . If you have a copy of The Charles Bukowski Tapes, you'll want to watch #38, "Red Strange", where Bukowski explains who Red was, and how he influenced Bukowski.

CB: He was as close as I could find to a guy like me... He'd get little jobs, in rooming houses... I got a lot of short stories out of him.​

I just got hold of a copy of Fire Station - its dedicated to Allen "Red" Strange.
 

hank solo

Just practicin' steps and keepin' outta the fights
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Well, its a Second Printing (1970), and in wraps not Hardback, but it was £35 from a book seller here in the UK. which is about $60 US or 51 Euros. Its in really excellent condition so I think it was a bargain.

And as it wasn't on ebay, no MF to worry about :D

BTW - i meant dedicated as in printed dedication, not signed or anything.
Guess you worked that out, at that price ;)
 
Dispelling the Dispelling of Myths

This is an old thread, but I was in the mood today to make a few personal observations of my own.

let's recap the myths here:

If a myth is defined only as an either/or proposition, it's a faulty premise to build a case on; there are shades of grey when talking about the totality of anyone's life.

1) B was not a tough guy.

Well, I'd say he was pretty tough. Is there any doubt that Bukowski decked his father after the father tried to rub Buk's nose in his own vomit?"”after enduring brutal beatings from his sadistic father for over ten years? (The Schroeder tapes.)

Any doubt the B had his share of bar fights over the years"”"was a pretty good duker""”and had the shit kicked out of him, but won of few of his own?

Any doubts that B sometimes carried a knife (his "steel") because he understood a thing or two about violence? (Hostage reading.)

Any doubts that he sometimes resorted to physical violence when he was frustrated or upset? (With Linda on the Schroader tapes.)

Does this mean that every scene of violence he describes in a story, or autobiographic novel, had to have occurred at all or be exactly true to literal reality? Of course not"”and I don't expect it to be. Does it mean that he didn't have a soft side as well? Of course not. Does the tough side of his nature have to be exclusive of his soft, sentimental side? Of course not. But some critics feel that both sides cannot be true within the same man"”and that's where they make their critical mistake; and I see the problem as not the man himself, but their perception of the man; both sides of the nature can be true with the same person. So again, one must be careful trying to dispel a "myth" based upon a faulty premise. And this is why a "diss" approach is of very little interest to me, and ends up trying to reduce a man of genius down to the ordinary mediocrity of most writers.

2) He was not completely on the bum during the 10 year drunk.

So, if he wrote and submitted a few pieces here and there"”that makes him a full-time committed writer within this 10 year period? Of course not. His main focus"”and I have no reason to doubt his own assessment"”was primarily on life experiences... So what was he supposed to say?"”"I was on the lamb for 10 years, but I sometimes took a short stab at it and submitted to 'this' specific publication, and 'that' specific publication, on such and such a date, and was rejected, discouraged, bored, hopeless, without having any confidence and still not feeling ready." If he saw this overall period as one of non-writing, I have no reason to doubt his overall assessment. He was hardly front page news with any kind of a major literary work or success, other than the two published works in Story and Portfolio. Whatever writings he submitted were on a very low-key and understated basis, and he was not trying to attract major attention to himself, at a time when he felt unprepared for wider attention. He said so himself, and why make a major myth or deal out of it? A complete non-issue for me.

3) He did write a few poems and short-stories during the same 10 year drunk.

Though he may have tested the literary market every now and then, probably out of curiosity, he did not view this as a significant writing period for himself OVERALL, for reasons he mentioned time and time again. This was hardly a major deception on his part. Another non-myth to dispel.

4) Bukowski didn't quit the PO bravely

His letter, asking that the PO reinstate him after his earlier resignation, showed a man in fear of poverty and one who was obviously genuflecting before people he probably despised but needed. He felt that they still held the financially power of life or death over his head, according to how he viewed his life at that time, especially because of his health challenges of the mid-50s and his probable need of medical insurance, and the need of some kind of economic security. (Haven't we all done this?"”I know I have.) So he played their game and kissed their asses. Nevertheless, this is no negation of the other facets of his character when he was living in his own element... Again, here's another situation when, according to conventional wisdom or literary criticism, opposite sides of his character have to be mutually exclusive of each other. Bad trip, man!

5) Did he marry two or three times?

If it felt like a marriage, what does the exact legal status matter?"”especially according to FBI, who wouldn't understand a man of Bukowski's unconventional temperament, even if they were paid to. So"”more deliberate deception by Bukowski? Of course not. He evaluated his relationships according to his own subjective standards.

6) The 4-F episode. Was it real?

He didn't keep the draft board aware of his current address and whereabouts, and then the FBI took notice of him, like they no doubt did with anyone else of draft age during WW2. So, deliberate draft-dogging? I don't think Bukowski was that stupid"”nor was he particularly balanced or sober or politically savvy during this rabid, patriotic, rah-rah period in US history. But deliberately running away from the draft board?"”No. He was just running away... from everything"”another non-issue for the critics to try to make something of. If one reads enough Bukowski, one can see that he would be easily capable of getting in trouble this way out of...indifference.

7) Bukowski downplayed his two years at Los Angeles City College, often saying he, "took a few classes." [mjp]

Does anyone really feel that this period had major impact on his life? It probably helped bring out his art ability more than his writing. But that these years contributed to his writing success? I doubt it, unless it was in teaching him about the conventions of academia to avoid (though academia is not all bad) and what not to do. So, another major myth to bust?"”a complete non-issue again. I feel it would be better not to write a diss at all then to include such weak, non-essential arguments and so-called myths. It's not that Bukowski didn't exaggerate for creative reasons; it's just that he looked like a man who simply a law unto himself.

8) One myth, perhaps the greatest, is that of his drinking. It almost seemed impossible the amount he drank. [Charlie]

Some people have an industrial-strength liver, and if they're in enough emotional or physical pain, they can consume ungodly amounts of alcohol and still refuse to die. I have no doubts in my mind that Bukowski could consume a bottle of hard liquor in two hours, like he said he could, and then follow it up with two six-packs. Did he do this every fucking day? Of course not. But here was a man with extraordinary creative sensitivity, in extraordinary emotional and sometimes physical pain. His father beat him, as the brutal sadistic jake of a father he was, between the time Bukowski was 6 and 16. I have no reason to doubt that, even at the age of 11, Bukowski could have easily been exposed to alcohol and taken to it as the soul savior it was. Why in God's name would he make this up just to make a good story, after he was already famous with his previous novels? So he could brag and boast that he started drinking at 11? Sorry, but I don't buy it.

If readers are so bloody worry about being fooled by this man"”or any other writer"”how can they possibly enjoy reading him? I find this quite a bit on this newsgroup: people so worried about being deceived, taken for ride, or fooled"”rather than just going along for one of the great literary rides in a lifetime. Sometimes these so-called myths are something we have so we can grow into them, and I don't go for their being "stripped" away without understanding their purpose first.

Along these same lines, I remember coming across a review of the music of Debussy, and the reviewer was crowing in praise because the pianist had "burned the mist" off Debussy"”yeah, the ethereal mist that Debussy had taken a life-time to learn and put there to begin with, and was part of its magic... I feel the same way about burning off the "myths" of Bukowski. If you focus on burning it off, rather than creating your own myth to live up to, you may have missed the point.

9) B revised more than he usually claimed.

Sure! But the point is, most of his works came out flowing like a Niagra, and in need of very few revisions. Whether he sometimes struggled with some of them greatly, as all great artists do, is again a non-issue. Struggling was not his predominate way of writing, and that's what counts"”not the scattering of exceptions to the rule when compared to his endless lava-like flow of consummate productivity.

10) B liked to play this image of the uncultured, unread man, oftenly misspelling and mispronouncing authors' name on purpose.

It should be evident from his own words (on the Poems & Insults CD) that he felt his audience expected this of him, or saw him mostly this way. But he also offered his serious poems to show that he wasn't just a "beer-drinking machine."

I would also say that, as a self-educated man, he would sometimes mispronounce words because he didn't know any better. Every noticed how be pronounced library as "liberry"? His errors seem mostly unconscious to me, rather than another Machiavellian deception to deliberately throw the academics into a tailspin and play down to his readers.

Perhaps I feel strongly about such efforts of academic "de-mythification" because my own years of academia left a lingering bad taste in my mouth: it was only after I dropped out out formal education that I discovered the joy of reading and learning, and began to live"”not that I would necessarily recommend this choice to others.

Best wishes to all.

Poptop
 
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cirerita

Founding member
poptop,

glad you're reviving old threads.

let me tell you that I don't agree with your views, though. and let me add that you begin by quoting a brief statement which had been previously explained at length and then proceed to say it's faulty!

If a myth is defined only as an either/or proposition, it's a faulty premise to build a case on; there are shades of grey when talking about the totality of anyone's life.

I don't feel like counter-quoting (is that a new word?) all your arguments because my thoughts are already somewhere in this long thread. No need to repeat them.
One thing I've learned over the years is that the more worship (or really admire) a person the easier it's to see realities as non-myths or irrelevant stuff, and the more you're detached from that person -but close in spirit- the harder it gets to see those realities as non-myths or irrelevant stuff. It doesn't matter whether you're an academic or a peasant. It's a question of time and becoming detached... but, I insist, that doesn't mean you're not close in spirit to that person. You can be close in spirit to B and be detached from him at the same time. The only difference is you no longer worship him.

What you consider non-myths or irrelevant stuff to me is clearly relevant stuff and definitely -dispelled- myths.

And it's a good thing we cannot edit our thoughts. First take, best take, remember?
 

mjp

Founding member
2) He was not completely on the bum during the 10 year drunk.
So, if he wrote and submitted a few pieces here and there"”that makes him a full-time committed writer within this 10 year period? Of course not. His main focus"”and I have no reason to doubt his own assessment"”was primarily on life experiences...
The point of that myth was not that he didn't write or submit, it's that he claimed to be out on the road - or at least out of Los Angeles - for ten years, and that just wasn't the case. 1942, 43 and 44 were the only years he didn't have a (known) Los Angeles address or Los Angeles job.

And apparently the year or so he was in Philadelphia, he held down a job at a car lot, so he could not have been in a bar from 6 a.m. to closing, as the mythology (and his own stories) would have you believe.

---

You know, I re-read what you've written here, and I can't just let some of it go without saying something.

You call these "weak, non-essential arguments," but all you've done is type your impressions and opinions, you haven't argued for anything other than the shining glory that is poptop. While, for the most part, the things in this thread that run contrary to myth have been established by a lot of people who have done a lot of research. A lot of people you don't know anything about, by the way, but for some reason feel free to stereotype, insult and demean.

The myths may be "non-issues" to you, but they are part of the Bukowski persona, so they are fair game to analyze and ultimately dispute, when the facts tend to dispute the stories. What do you expect to read in a forum like this anyway? How many times do you want to read someone saying they love Genius of the crowd or Bluebird? What comes after that?

There are people here who have been reading Bukowski for decades, or studying his life and his work, so for you to saunter in with your angry screed on how everyone should experience Bukowski is just weird.

Your opinions and impressions - and even strong disagreements - are welcome. Your condescension is not. Try to separate the two.
 
Biography as I like it, sincerely Poptop

From Confessions by Frank Harris (excerpts; author of My Life and Loves)

THE ART OF BIOGRAPHY

Biography, properly considered, is the topmost peak of art. For the painter, the body is the chief thing and by means of it he can give glimpses of the soul, but to the biographer the body is only valuable as it has influenced the spirit; it is the spirit he must portray. And he can do what no other art can even attempt: he can depict the growth and the formative influences and the effect poverty or riches, health or sickness, even accidents may have upon the soul. The true biographer can make you know a man or woman, body, heart, and spirit, and its multiform development from the cradle to the grave. And if he has taken a great soul to depict, the vicissitudes are apt to be extraordinary and the crises heartrending. The great man must be considered fortunate if his Gethsemane and Calvary come at the end and not midway in his life. The story of the growth of a true soul is the essence of Natural Religion; for great men are the Jacob's ladder which leads to heaven. The biographer will have to trace how faults in such a one dwindle, not by pruning, but by loving, by affectionate understanding of others, and the shortcomings that persist will hardly be serious, much less maiming. Then there is the way I think the best: to paint the man as he appeared, his loves and hatreds, fears and hopes and deeds, with admiring affection and perfect sympathy till he lives for you, but above all to trace his growth, and show how and why he came to his achievement. Later it may be worth while to show him as others saw him, friends and foes alike, so that he is the focus, so to speak, of a dozen different lights; but all the while the love and admiration of the writer must keep the reader's interest by interpreting the very soul of his subject. One very memorable, yet minor, fact you will find in this biography-writing if you seek to make your subject live: his virtues and powers must be balanced or offset, so to speak, by faults and whimsies. You can make a man live by blocking in his faults and vices but not by praising his virtues and qualities; you can mark outlines better by black shadows than by high lights. And so the biographer is compelled to recall his hero's short-comings, his faults, his vices, his superstitions and humors with particularity, but never with contempt or dislike, or, so to speak, from above. But such little shortcomings are nothing in comparison with the fact that none of the famous biographers have attempted to paint the youth and spiritual growth of their hero, though the formative period of life is by far the most important. Here is the final judgment. If you have been able to tell his vilest faults as a mother would, with love and pity, your portrait will live; for love is the key that opens all hearts and there is no other.
 
OK so i was reading this.....and I just thought of something for discussion, and maybe have seen it posted here before....
But did Buk really have sex with one man or many men? Or any man at all?
 
Wasn't too sure...
ok in screams from a balcony- Letter to William Wantling he writes....
I was never good with women, never really tried to be, couldn't get my back up to go through the prelims, the fake talk. it cost me too much. then, too , a kind of withered pride. they all looked kind of pukey to me, ,even those boys called "fine." too much battle.
And to Douglas Blazek Dec. 11, 66
I screwed every woman in that hotel including the scrubwoman who was nearly 60. even screwed a guy in the ass by mistake on night. it ought to be a laugher.
 
Ok after reading the last discussion of this we'll just leave it alone.....
In Screams From A Balcony
Buk writes a letter saying his dad stole two of his books claiming to be Charles Bukowski. What ever happened with this and did the books get reclaimed? I believe he said the year was 1944.
 

bospress.net

www.bospress.net
Penelope,
Buk's father reportedly brought a copy of Portfolio III to work and bragged that it was by him, which would have enraged Buk, of course.

Bill
 

the only good poet

One retreat after another without peace.
The mistaken anal sex episode was written about before.

Anyone else remember this?
i recall he wrote about it in Notes...don't think elsewhere in his fiction.

i think it was apparently "whitey" who was the unfortunate receptacle for the purple onion...could be wrong...:D lol
 
Sorry if everyone is tired of this old thing. I hope nobody get's pissed off about what I say or where, but I just had say something about this:

4) Bukowski didn't quit the PO bravely -as stated elsewhere. They were about to fire him for absenteeism and he did have some savings; see Sounes, pp. 101-102.

Most people would say B was very brave to quit the P.O. and start a full-time writing career with the monthly $100 check from Martin. But it seems that B had considerable savings in the bank and he was about to be fired anyway, so Sounes concludes it wasn't a brave move after all.

He was 50 years old. He had a daughter who wasn't even 10. He was quiting something that was after all a "real" job. He wasn't a young man anymore. He didn't know if he could make it as a writer. He had been working for 12 years - having a steady income. Now only 100$ a month? Not all that much even then.

And even if they would be about to fire him, he didn't go to them begging for them not to fire him, like many others would in a similar situation. He didn't go to them saying: "I'll change my ways, I'm sorry, I'll do better if you give me just one more chance..." or something.

How much money did he have? How long would the money have lasted if he wouldn't have made any money writing?

So all I'm saying is this: It took some guts to quit his job like that. But he planed it (he had been talking about wanting to quit in his letters since the early '60's) and he didn't do it without any fear at all, but he did it. It's easy to quit a job when you are 20, or even 30, but when you are 50...

So what is brave, what isn't?
 

mjp

Founding member
And even if they would be about to fire him, he didn't go to them begging for them not to fire him, like many others would in a similar situation. He didn't go to them saying: "I'll change my ways, I'm sorry, I'll do better if you give me just one more chance..." or something.
I wouldn't be so sure about that.

In 1955 he quit the post office for the first time, and three months later asked for his job back, claiming he would be a better employee in a very ass-kissy letter. Neeli Cherkovski reads part of the letter in Born Into This (is that in the movie itself or the DVD extras? I don't recall).

Though he didn't do that after he quit in '69, he was nervous as hell about quitting, as many of his letters from that time show.
 
I wouldn't be so sure about that.

In 1955 he quit the post office for the first time, and three months later asked for his job back, claiming he would be a better employee in a very ass-kissy letter.

...and probably would have done the same thing if writing career wouldn't have worked.

Yes, I see what you're saying.

But still, I think it was a brave move after all. Not many would have done that.

By the way, did they hire him back in '55? Is there an answer to that letter somewhere? Was that after he had become a regular carrier or before?
 

cirerita

Founding member
I don't think Sounes is always right -he seems to enjoy dispelling as many myths as possible- but I think he was right here. Buk's decision was not that brave as it may seem: he had financial resources at the bank, a monthly $100 check from Martin and quite a reputation in the underground lit. scene. And he was about to be fired anyway, and he knew that. I would say that all the pieces fit together and he certainly couldn't overlook that.
 
By the way, did they hire him back in '55? Is there an answer to that letter somewhere? Was that after he had become a regular carrier or before?
Just checked the timeline, and noticed that the nearly dying bit happened during the same year he quit and asked to be rehired. Did he quit first? 'Cause if he did, it might be that he just kinda got scared and wanted to be a better man? I don't know, just guessing.

And didn't he get married to Barbara Frye during that same year? He said that he just desided to marry her, before even seeing her. That if something seems very non-typical for Bukowski. Just like the begging to be rehired.

But as I said: Just guessing here. I can't really say what was typical and what wasn't - I didn't know the man...

Buk's decision was not that brave as it may seem: he had financial resources at the bank, a monthly $100 check from Martin and quite a reputation in the underground lit. scene. And he was about to be fired anyway, and he knew that. I would say that all the pieces fit together and he certainly couldn't overlook that.

You are right, but what I was trying to say (Oh man, what am I trying to do here, I don't seem to know when to shut up) was that he was aware of the risk he was taking. And that scared him: he drank more than ever and so on. If he wouldn't have been scared at all, if he wouldn't really have cared at all, would that have been brave? I think that he was scared shows that it took some guts.
 

mjp

Founding member
Just checked the timeline, and noticed that the nearly dying bit happened during the same year he quit and asked to be rehired. Did he quit first?
That's a good question.

We know the dates on the post office letters, but not the exact date of the hospital, so it's hard to say. It would appear that he quit, hemorrhaged, then asked to be rehired. But that may not be the actual order of things.

(It's not the actual order of things, and the timeline was updated with correct dates. -ed.)

Without the date (or at least the month) of the hospital stay, it's impossible to know for sure.
 
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hoochmonkey9

Art should be its own hammer.
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I used to be this way, years ago...
When I first was getting published in small magazines I would put things like "has recently started writing after a ten year break" in my contributers bio, and while technically true, the only reason I put it in there was because of Buk.
Although I always saw and realized his faults, I was definately idolizing him. The faults were part of my romantic image of what a writer should be. We'll forgive him for pissing in the fireplace, cuz, shit, he can turn a phrase.
I'm older and a tiny, tiny bit wiser now.

sorry to dig up an ancient thread, just to go off topic and talk about myself (what else is new), but i was looking through my old magazines and found this from 1998, the year I turned 30. contibuters notes in Pottersfield Portfolio. again, sorry to go off topic, I just felt silly reading this again, and feel better when others can get a laugh also. even at my expense....
(the first one at the top of the page, click to enlarge.)

[Imageshack strikes again.]

sorry, I've tried a few times to make the scan larger, but can't.
maybe I need another 10 year lay off....
 

Johannes

Founding member
Sorry for putting up that old (but great one!) again, but looking at the FBI files here I just noticed for the first time that it says he virtually stayed at his parents again from

9-45 to 10-47 at 2122 Longwood Avenue

while working

9-45 to 10-47 at Merry Co. 634 S San Pedro St., Los Angeles

which means more than two years from age 25 to 27. Wow. He mentions in the novels and many stories and letters this returning to his parents when he was "totally broke", but in a way that gives you the feeling he stayed for a couple of days only, at least some weeks. But two years?? Can this be true?

Also if you follow the job list, there isn't a single month noted as unemployed or jobless or as a black period or whatever. This list indicates he had throughout regular jobs from '41 til '57, when he started the post office again.
 

mjp

Founding member
According to letters he sent from Philadelphia, he was there in 1946, and parts of '45 and '47. The FBI files have some problems because they were mainly relying on Bukowski to make a list of where he worked. He did usually work, but I would assume that there were more than a week or two between some of those jobs. But it's like when you fill out a job application, you minimize the periods without work so you don't look like a lazy bastard. I'm sure that is the main reason his employment record in the FBI files looks like that.

Trust the timeline brothers and sisters! It isn't perfect, but it makes use of a lot of corroborating material that the FBI and his biographers didn't have. It's the most accurate overview of his life and times that you can find.
 
I just noticed for the first time that it says he virtually stayed at his parents again from 9-45 to 10-47 at 2122...
also, maybe he used his parent's address as his "permanent" address while he moved around? that's what i did throughout my 20's...
 

mjp

Founding member
Dispelling Bukowski's myths, 1974

"I realized when I broke in, I'd have to create something new to make people listen to me, so I stepped on the gas pedal, I clowned it up a little bit, to catch the public's eye. Subconsciously I knew what I was doing - I was creating something that might be noticed. But after having broken in that way, I'm drifting away from this badass, tough guy shit. I'm writing more what I actually am." [...] "I might come on badass, but I'm really not badass. There goes my image! Looks like I just screwed myself. Can I retract that?"

- Bukowski interview in the Berkeley Barb, April, 1974
 
That's the beauty of Buk though; it's because of all that "tough guy shit" that he found the strength to reveal so much humanity. It's kinda like that quote by Jim Morrison: "The mask of performing gives it to me, a place where I can hide myself then I can reveal myself."
 

mjp

Founding member
We know the dates on the post office letters, but not the exact date of the hospital...
Some of these posts are pretty old, but we do know now that the hemorrhage incident was in 1954, not 1955. Adjust your mythology accordingly.
 

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