Bukowski: What Lies Beneath

Charles Bukowski

During the rare moments when Charles Bukowski's vulnerable side are shown, they manage to break through the "dirty old man" parody of himself that he had become.

The Last Night of the Earth Poems

Publisher: Ecco
ISBN: 0876858639
Author: Charles Bukowski
Price: $17.00
Length: 408
Formats: Paperback
First date: 1992
US publication date: 2002-05-22
UK publication date: 2002-05-22

As an avid reader who doesn’t know that much about Charles Bukowski, apart from the poems I read in school and his reputation as the hardened "dirty old man", I felt that it was time to educate myself more on the prolific writer. Especially since my friend, who is reading Christopher Ciconne's Life With My Sister, told me that Bukowski actually lived with Madonna and Sean Penn for a while. If that isn’t reason enough to learn about Bukowski, I don’t know what is (note sarcasm).

John Dullaghan’s 2003 documentary, Bukowski: Born Into This, is a perfect primer on Bukowski. Dullaghan was certainly invested in the project, devoting seven years to bringing Bukowski’s life to the screen. He traveled the globe to collect photos, film footage, and documents such as resignation letters and eviction notices, and put them in the film.

In addition, he worked side-by-side with those who knew Bukowski best: friends, colleagues, his publisher, past girlfriends, his daughter Marina, and his wife, Linda. He brought celebrity to the film by interviewing famous friends of the poet like Sean Penn, Bono, and Tom Waits. As a result of all of Dullaghan’s efforts, the film takes an exceptionally in-depth look at Bukowski’s life and reveals several sides of the poet most never got to see.

Henry Charles Bukowski, known as Buk and Hank, wrote poetry inspired by the mundane grind of work, his relationship with women and booze, and his love of the racetrack. Some say that he did for American poetry what punk rock did for music by writing unpretentious poems that reached beyond what was accepted in the academic world at the time. As Bono so aptly puts it in the film, he didn’t have time for metaphor so instead he said exactly what he meant, no matter how gritty.

He wrote a lot about Los Angeles, which he eventually called home, but originally Bukowski was born in Germany in 1920. His family moved to the United States when he was very young and settled in California. In the film, Bukowski goes back to the California house he grew up in, which he calls "the house of horrors, the house of agony" and reenacts the dreadful abuse he endured from his father. He shows the viewer exactly where his father whipped him in the bathroom and reveals that his mother merely stood by and said, "Your father is always right."

This is one of many times in the film we get to see beyond the "dirty old man" and witness Bukowski’s vulnerability. Another of these occasions occurs when he tells an interviewer the story of losing his virginity at 24 years old to a "three hundred pound whore". While the story is humorous, he goes on to talk about being an outcast in school and suffering from disfiguring acne and low self-esteem.

Despite his insecurity, he eventually had many lovers. A very funny moment occurs when he recalls his first girlfriend, Jane, and describes her as "a real fine-looking woman with body and sense". Meanwhile, his former co-worker, Dom Muto, remembers how unsightly she was, saying, "I saw her once...she had a fat ass and was good to lean up against in the wintertime.... If you like them big, ya know. She did not have the good looks or sophistication of a classy woman."

Bukowski’s odd relationship with women is at the forefront of the film. We learn that he met his wife, Linda, while writing the book Women, doing what she refers to as "research". She says: "When he got a little bit of notoriety, women started coming to him and he had the opportunity to take his pick and just sort of have experiences. Like a child, almost, he was discovering this whole world of women in a way he hadn’t."

In the film, there’s footage of Bukowski sitting in his living room reading a poem about his former girlfriend. As he reads, he suddenly breaks down into tears. At this moment we see him exposed and vulnerable. Later in the film, when he marries his wife Linda, the wedding footage shows him openly weeping as he says, "I do." These instances are what make the film so good -- they break through the parody Bukowski had become of himself in the public eye.

Bukowski thought that Barfly, the movie which traced his roots as a young man, was too focused on him as a caricature. In Born Into This, he reveals that he was unhappy with the outcome and disillusioned by Hollywood even more than he thought he might be. He says he found it "more crooked, dumber, crueler, stupider than all the books I’ve read about it". He then goes on to say that Hollywood "lacks art and soul and heart" and is "really a piece of crap".

He even thought Mickey Rourke over-acted the part when playing him: "He really overdid it with the hair hanging down. I don’t think the kid’s ever been on Skid Row.... He had it all kind of exaggerated and untrue. A little bit show-off about it.... It was kind of misdone." A former girlfriend sounds downright shocked that they chose Rourke for the part when she scoffs, "How could Mickey Rourke portray Hank? It was an impossibility. They needed to get some old duffer."

After contracting tuberculosis in 1988, Bukowski stopped drinking heavily. Linda says he had enough wisdom and confidence to go beyond the myth of Bukowski and "be a cause of goodness". Near the end of the film, Tom Waits reveals, "By the time he got to The Last Night of the Earth Poems [1992], he was really a wise man and a very thoughtful man and was not afraid to be vulnerable. He was turning the ball around in front of you and let you see as many sides as he could see himself."

In 1993, Bukowski was diagnosed with Leukemia. At the end of the film, there’s a touching scene that shows his Linda sitting by Bukowski’s graveside. She says of his passing in the hospital: "At that moment his face became absolutely transparent and serene. Every wrinkly scar and tension -- everything completely relaxed. And there was an utter tranquility that existed and permeated everything at that point. And it was so gentle and pure. He had a smooth face like a newborn baby."

The film then ends with photos of Bukowski and a voiceover of him reading one of my favorite poems, "Bluebird":

there's a bluebird in my heart that

wants to get out

but I'm too tough for him,

I say, stay in there, I'm not going

to let anybody see


there's a bluebird in my heart that

wants to get out

but I pour whiskey on him and inhale

cigarette smoke

and the whores and the bartenders

and the grocery clerks

never know that


in there.

there's a bluebird in my heart that

wants to get out

but I'm too tough for him,

I say,

stay down, do you want to mess

me up?

you want to screw up the


you want to blow my book sales in


there's a bluebird in my heart that

wants to get out

but I'm too clever, I only let him out

at night sometimes

when everybody's asleep.

I say, I know that you're there,

so don't be


then I put him back,

but he's singing a little

in there, I haven't quite let him


and we sleep together like


with our

secret pact

and it's nice enough to

make a man

weep, but I don't

weep, do


Whether you’re already a die-hard fan or just wanting to get to know Bukowski better, Bukowski: Born Into This is an excellent choice. Dullaghan’s film is as multifaceted as Bukowski was. It does a fantastic job of chipping away at the tough, pockmarked mask Bukowski wore in order to reveal the sensitive human being and artist beneath.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

Next Page
Related Articles Around the Web

Subverting the Romcom: Mercedes Grower on Creating 'Brakes'

Noel Fielding (Daniel) and Mercedes Grower (Layla) (courtesy Bulldog Film Distribution)

Brakes plunges straight into the brutal and absurd endings of the relationships of nine couples before travelling back in time to discover the moments of those first sparks of love.

The improvised dark comedy Brakes (2017), a self-described "anti-romcom", is the debut feature of comedienne and writer, director and actress Mercedes Grower. Awarded production completion funding from the BFI Film Fund, Grower now finds herself looking to the future as she develops her second feature film, alongside working with Laura Michalchyshyn from Sundance TV and Wren Arthur from Olive productions on her sitcom, Sailor.

Keep reading... Show less

People aren't cheering Supergirl on here. They're not thanking her for her heroism, or even stopping to take a selfie.

It's rare for any hero who isn't Superman to gain the kind of credibility that grants them the implicitly, unflinching trust of the public. In fact, even Superman struggles to maintain that credibility and he's Superman. If the ultimate paragon of heroes struggles with maintaining the trust of the public, then what hope does any hero have?

Keep reading... Show less

The Paraguay-born, Brooklyn-based indie pop artist MAJO wraps brand new holiday music for us to enjoy in a bow.

It's that time of year yet again, and with Christmastime comes Christmas tunes. Amongst the countless new covers of holiday classics that will be flooding streaming apps throughout the season from some of our favorite artists, it's always especially heartening to see some original writing flowing in. Such is the gift that Paraguay-born, Brooklyn-based indie pop songwriter MAJO is bringing us this year.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.