Bukowski's Sensitivity Shines Through the Horror in More Notes of a Dirty Old Man
More Notes of a Dirty Old Man Reading and Release Party
Where: City Lights Books
When: Sept. 8, 7 p.m.
He's been gone since 1994, but Charles Bukowski continues to fascinate us. His tales of sex, drugs,and booze, and more sex, drugs, and booze, ad infinitum, resonate a lurid energy that grabs our attention and keeps it.
Also captured by that energy, Bukowski scholar David Calonne has assembled some of the late writer and poet's unpublished and uncollected underground-newspaper columns from his famous series, "Notes of a Dirty Old Man." Along with an afterword by Calonne, these columns were published this month by City Lights Books as More Notes of a Dirty Old Man.
Calonne will speak at City Lights tonight about Bukowski and his work. Calonne talked with us recently about the dirty old man himself.
What's the significance of this collection?
I've been occupied with Bukowski for many years now. In putting a few volumes together and in my research over the past 20 years, I've discovered this huge backlog of either uncollected or unpublished material. He wrote this column called "Notes of a Dirty Old Man," which began in 1967 for a paper called Open City in Los Angeles. He basically kept writing that column off and on for a number of different publications, for almost the next two decades.
Because the first collection, Notes of a Dirty Old Man, came out in 1969, people think he just wrote one book called Notes of a Dirty Old Man. In actuality, he wrote hundreds of these columns. That first volume was collected from the ones that had appeared so far. Basically, what I discovered is there's a bunch of wonderful stuff still that hasn't been put together, so that's what I did.
The significance for me was having the chance to do it. I wrote an afterword describing how Bukowski came to write the column, and I went into some of the censorship battles that were happening in the '60s. It's basically just my labor of love of putting together all these fugitive pieces. Many of them are really first-rate, and there's no reason they shouldn't have been published a long time ago, but nobody ever did it.
What can we learn from these columns?
It opens with a column Bukowski wrote in 1967 about a co-worker who was making fun of the hippies. This is a striking example of where he really takes the side of the hippies. Although he also criticized them greatly, he identified with the fact that they were rebelling against the American way of life, if you will. His fellow postal worker in that column, I guess today he would be in the Tea Party -- going to work, apple pie, saluting the flag, fighting in Vietnam, all these things.
I think Bukowski was aligning himself in a way with an idealistic view of what he would like America to be. He didn't want all that militarism, the materialism, the racism, the apple pie, hiding-behind-the-flag kind of small-mindedness.
On another note, Bukowski is always portrayed as a bit of a dark character, but I think if people read between the lines, it's obvious all the way through his incredible sensitivity. He's always trying, almost like Don Quixote, to come out in favor of those who have been harmed or victimized. And I think that's his great message, although, again, what's so ironic is that's hardly the public image of him.
One of the columns also reveals how much he was involved in book-making and appreciated putting books together. He was very much devoted to this underground publishing scene.
I think if you've read Bukowski and like him, you'll find more of the same in this book.
Do you have any favorite pieces in the new collection?
I like one of the very early ones -- it's 1967 or '68, where this redheaded woman knocks on his door and sleeps with him. I think that's brilliant, just incredible, just about a perfect story. There's a story where he's gotten separated from the woman he'd lived with. He goes to pick up his daughter and takes her to the beach in Santa Monica, and it's also very beautiful. What's marvelous about all of these is that they're in between short story and autobiography.
What can we expect at the City Lights release party?
I may read selections of aphorisms Bukowski contributed to High Times. There are 32 of them in the new collection, and they're very funny and very fine. It was a form that he was quite good at. "These words I write keep me from total madness." Or "An intellectual says a simple thing in a hard way. An artist says a hard thing in a simple way."