Bukowski's Dead: a Requiem
These are two words I and every other member of the artist/bohemian/poet/weird
community have been expecting to hear -- any day now -- for about thirty
years. That's how long Buk's been writing about his death. Since the early
60's he told us in book after book of poems that he was on the brink of
death. Well, it finally happened. He would probably say, "Big deal."
If you don't know who Charles Bukowski is, then stop reading. I am not
going to chronicle the life of this subculture hero for you. I'm speaking
to and for the people who know -- and they know who they are. He
does too, wherever he is now.
I am reporting the end to Charles Bukowski's life. A story of
drunkenness, degradation and cuckoldry. I write not to praise Bukowski
but to bury him. This is not an obituary or a written eulogy. Call it
a freelance epitaph. Buk would not wish to be praised or eulogized. Remember
Barfly? When Mickey Rourke said endurance is more important than
Truth? Buk would simply expect us to carry on.
He didn't die of alcohol poisoning after a long dark night of cheap
vodka. He wasn't gunned down by a jealous husband or an angry former lover.
He didn't get drunk and crash his BMW after a day at the track. He didn't
get drunk and drown in his swimming pool. He didn't fall down a flight
of stairs, drunk on his ass, and break his neck. He didn't die of old
We are all disappointed to know this. We never would have expected Charles
Bukowski to die in a hospital -- we who have read of when he was thirty-six
years old, was treated for a bleeding ulcer with 13 pints of blood, and
then stopped at a bar on his way home. No, on Wednesday March 9, 1994,
Buk died of pneumonia during treatment for leukemia at the improbable
age of 73.
Those who know do not need to read about Bukowski. They know
who and what he was. Also, many many people will now write many many words
about Bukowski, so my contribution is unnecessary. I am not a Bukowski
scholar. We know what he thought of scholars anyway. And, I am only a
borderline fan of his poetry. Most of his books contained more filler
than the Truth he made us search for. He apparently published every single
thing he wrote after he attained cult status, sometime between the Summer
of Love and Nixon's resignation. I remember seeing in one book where he
actually published his grocery list. But of course Bukowski did this to
spite his critics who only inspired him to be more Bukowski.
It was this attitude that made the man what he was: the consummate iconoclast
and the consummate bullshitter. He brought the world to his doorstep by
telling it to go to hell. We loved him because he conned the world and
us right along with it. Yes, I suppose I am eulogizing him a bit. (Sorry
Buk.) After all, he influenced me as much as Walt Whitman or Henry Miller;
but more with his attitude than with his work. The bum's life he described
was not one any human being would wish for, but the fact that he was willing
to give it to us so unabashedly let us know that we can live however we
see fit, and that all the choices are ours.
I guess I could say that Charles Bukowski helped me learn to not give
a fuck, write what I choose to write, and do things the way I choose to
do them. And for that, I must praise him. Indeed, Bukowski, like
Whitman and Miller, showed me more about how to live than how to
Thank you Charles Bukowski. And I hope, wherever you are, that the wine
is as good and the women are as easy as they were here. I don't regret
having never met you. Your breath was probably bad and your manners worse.
You of course will live forever on our bookshelves and in our whisky glasses,
and you have got to be laughing your ass off at all the attention. I know
you would rather be forgotten than remembered, but there's nothing you
or I can do about that now.
Sleep well, my friend.