Until a few years ago I had never read anything from Charles Bukowski. I had heard him mentioned and referenced in other media, as a classic poet and author, and just kind of nodded like I knew, if anyone I was talking to brought the name up – being too stubborn to admit that I wasn’t as cultured as I thought I was.
So maybe you only know the name in passing as well, and that’s good. It gives me a chance to boost your knowledge, while showing off a gem from the past.
I found this article while searching for examples of long-form writing as part of my journalism classes. A bunch of the younger students, mainly hipster millennials, who claimed to be Hunter S. Thompson fans, were appalled at his writing. Being so crass and vulgar, it is a bit of a trip to think that this guy has a following, but he does, and there are a bunch of fan sites dedicated to his work.
This article, in which Bukowski reviews a Rolling Stones concert, was originally published in the October, 1975 issue of Creem Magazine.
So take a few minutes, have a read, and enjoy being a bit more pop-cultured.
Jaggernaut – Wild Horse On A Plastic Phallus
They opened on the 9th at the Forum and I went to the track the same day. The track is right across from the Forum and I looked over as I drove in and thought, well, that’s where it’s going to be. Last time I had seen them was at the Santa Monica Civic. It was hot at the track and everybody was sweating and losing. I was hungover but got off well. A track is some place to go so you won’t stare at the walls and whack-off, or swallow ant poison. You walk around and bet and wait and look at the people and when you look at the people long enough you begin to realize that it’s bad because they are everywhere, but it’s bearable because you adjust somewhat, feeling more like another piece of meat in the tide than if you had stayed home and read Ezra, or Tom Wolfe or the financial section.
The tracks aren’t what they used to be: full of hollering drunks and cigar smokers, and girls sitting at the side Benches and showing leg all the way up to the panties. I think times are much harder than the government tells us. The government owes their balls to the banks and the banks have over-lent to businessmen who can’t pay it back because the people can’t buy what business sells because an egg costs a dollar and they’ve only got 50 cents. The whole thing can go overnight and you’ll find red flags in the smokestacks and Mao t-shirts walking through Disneyland, or maybe Christ will come back wheeling a golden bike, front wheel 12-to-one ratio to rear. Anyhow, the people are desperate at the track; it has become the job, the survival, the cross…instead of the lucky lark. And unless you know exactly what you’re doing at a racetrack, how to read and play a toteboard, re-evaluate the trackman’s morning line and eliminate the sucker money from the good money, you aren’t going to win, you aren’t going to win but one time in ten trips to the track. People on their last funds, on their last unemployment check, on borrowed money, stolen money, desperate stinking diminishing money are getting dismantled forever out there, whole lifetimes pissed away, but the, state gets an almost 7 percent tax cut on each dollar, so it’s legal. I am better than most out there because I have put more study into it. The racetrack to me is like the bullfights were to Hemingway — a place to study death and motion and your own character or lack of it. By the 9th race I was $50 ahead, put $40 to win on my horse and walked to the parking lot. Driving in I heard the result of the last race on the radio — my horse had come in 2nd.
I got on in, took a hot bath, had a joint, had 2 joints (bombers), drank some white wine, Blue Nun, had 7 or 8 bottles of Heineken and wondered about the best way to approach a subject that was holy to a lot of people, the still young people anyhow. I liked the rock beat; I still liked sex; I liked the raising high roll and roar and reach of rock, yet I got a lot more out of Bee, and Mahler and Ives. What rock lacked was the total layers of melody and chance that just didn’t have to chase itself after it began, like a dog trying to bite his ass off because he’d eaten hot peppers. Well, I’d try. I finished off the Blue Nun, dressed, had another joint and drove back on out. I was going to be late.
S.O. And the parking lot was full. I circled around and found the closest street to park in — at least a half mile away.
I got out and began to walk. Manchester. The street was full of private residents behind iron bars with guards. And funeral homes. Others were walking in. But not too many. It was late. I walked along thinking, shit, it’s too far, I ought to turn back. But I kept walking. About halfway down Manchester (on the south side) I found a golf course that had a bar and I walked in. There were tables. And golfers, satisfied golfers drinking slowly. There was a daylight golf course but these kitties had been shooting for distance on the straight range under the electric lights. Through the glass back of the bar you could still see a few others out there Jerking off golfballs under the moon. I had a girl with me. She ordered a bloody mary and I ordered a screwdriver. When my belly’s going bad vodka soothes me and my belly’s always going bad. The waitress asked the girl for her I.D. She was 24 and it pleased her. The bartender had a cheating, chalky dumb face and poured 2 thin drinks. Still it was cool and gentle in there.
“Look,” I said, “why don’t we just stay in here and get drunk? Fuck the STONES. I mean, I can make up some kind of story: went to see the STONES, got drunk in a golfcourse bar, pewked, broke a table…knitted a palm tree towel, caught cancer. Whatcha think?”
“Sounds all right.”
When women agree with me I always do the other thing. I paid up and we left. It was still quite a walk. Then we were angling across the parking lot. Security cars drove up and down. Kids leaned against cars smoking joints and drinking cheap wine. Beer cans were about. Some whiskey bottles. The younger generation was no longer pro-dope and anti-alcohol — they had caught up with me: they used it all. When 27 nations would soon know how to use the hydrogen bomb it hardly made sense to preserve your health. The girl and I, our tickets were for seats that were separated. I got her pointed in the direction of her seat and then walked over to the bar. Prices were reasonable. I had two fast drinks, got my ticket stub out, put it in my hand and walked toward the noise. A large chap drunk on cheap wine ran toward me telling me that his wallet had been stolen. I lifted my elbow gently into his gut and he bent over and began to vomit.
I tried to find my section and my aisle. It was dark and light and blaring. The usher screamed something about where my seat was but I couldn’t hear and waved him off. I sat down on the steps and lit a cigarette. Mick was down there in some kind of pajamas with little strings tied around his ankles. Ron Wood was the rhythm guitarist replacing Mick Taylor; Billy Preston was really shooting-off at the keyboard; Keith Richards was on lead guitar and he and Ron were doing some sub-glancing lilting highs against each other’s edges but Keith held a firmer more natural ground, albeit an easy one which allowed Ron to come in and play back against shots and lobs at his will. Charlie Watts on tempo seemed to have joy but his center was off to the left and falling down. Bill Wyman on bass was the total professional holding it all together over the bloody Thames-Forum.
The piece ended and the usher told me that I was over on the other side, on the other side of row N. Another number began. I walked up and around. Every seat was taken. I sat down next to row N and watched the Mick work. I sensed a gentility and grace and desperateness in him, and still some of the power: I shall lead you children the shit out of here.
Then a female with big legs came down and brushed her hip against my head. An usher. Grotch, grotch, double luck. I showed her my stub. She moved out the kid on the end seat. I felt guilty and sat down on it. A huge balloon cock rose from the center of the stage, it must have been 70 feet high. The rock rocked, the cock rocked.
This generation loves cocks. The next generation we’re going to see huge pussies, guys jumping into them like swimming pools and coming out all red and blue and white and gold and gleaming about 6 miles north of Redondo Beach.
Anyhow, Mick grabbed this cock at the bottom (and the screams really upped) and then Mick began to bend that big cock toward the stage, and then he crawled along it (living that time) and he kept moving toward the head, and then he kept getting nearer and then he grabbed the head.
The response was symphonic and beyond.
The next bit began. The guy next to me started again. This guy rocked and bobbed and rocked and rolled and flickered and rotor-rooted and boggled no matter what was or wasn’t. He knew and loved his music. An insect of the inner-beat. Each hit with him was the big hit. Selectivity was Non-comp with him. I always drew one of these.
I went to the bar for another drink and after getting this kid out of my $12.50 seat again, there was Mick, he’d put his foot in a stirrup and now he was holding to a rope and he was way out and swinging back and forth over the heads of his audience, and he didn’t look too steady up there waving back and forth, I didn’t know what he was on, but for the sake of his bi-sexual ass and the heads he was going to fall upon I was glad when they reeled him back in.
Mick wore down after that, decided to change pajamas and sent out Billy Preston who tried to cheese and steal the game from the Jag and almost did, he was fresh and full of armpit and job and jog, he wanted to bury and replace the hero, he was nice, he did an Irish jig painted over in black, I even liked him, but you knew he didn’t have the final send-off, and you must have guessed that Mick knew it too as he buried wet ice under his armpits and ass and mind backstage. Mick came out and finished with Preston. They almost kissed, wiggling assholes. Somebody threw a brace of firecrackers into the crowd. They exploded just properly. One guy was blinded for life; one girl would have a cataract over the left eye forever; one guy would never hear out of one ear. 0.K., that’s circus, it’s cleaner than Vietnam.
Bouquets fly. One hits Mick in the face. Mick tries to stamp out a big ball balloon that lands on stage. He can’t push his foot through it. One saddens. Mick runs over, jumps up, kicks one of his fiddlers in the ass. The fiddler smokes a smile back, gently, full of knowledge: like, the pay is good.
The stage weighs 40 elephants and is shaped like a star. Mick gets out on the edge of the star; he gets each bit of audience alone, that section alone, and then he takes the mike away from his face and he forms his lips into the silent sound: FUCK YOU. They respond.
The edge of the star rises, Mick loses his balance, rolls down to stage center, losing his mike.
There’s more. I get the taste for the ending. Will it be “Sympathy for the Devil”? Will it be like at the Santa Monica Civic? Bodies pressing down the aisles and the young football players beating the shit out of the rock-tasters? To keep the sanctuary and the body and the soul of the Mick intact? I got trapped down there among ankles and cunt hairs and milk bodies and cotton-candy minds. I didn’t want more of that. I got out. I got out when all the lights went on and the holy scene was about to begin and we were to love each other and the music and the Jag and the rock and the knowledge.
I left early. Outside they seemed bored. There were any number of titless blonde young girls in t-shirts and jeans. Their men were nowhere. They sat upon the ends of bumpers, most of the bumpers attached to campers. The titless young blonde things in t-shirts and jeans. They were listless, stoned, unexcited but not vicious. Little tight-butted girls with pussies and loves and flows.
So I walked on down to the car. The girl was in the back seat asleep. I got in and drove off. She awakened. I was going to have to send her back to New York City. We weren’t making it. She sat up.
“I left early. That shit is finally deadening,” she said.
“Well, the tickets were free.”
“You going to write about it?”
“I don’t know. I can’t get any reaction, I can’t get any reaction at all.”
“Let’s get something to eat,” she said.
“Yeah, well, we can do that.”
I drove north on Crenshaw looking for a nice place where you could get a drink and where there wasn’t any music of any kind. It was 0.K. if the waitress was crazy as long as she didn’t whistle.
Well, there ya go, hope you enjoyed it, and learned a little something about this iconic personality.
Thanks for reading, cheers.
P.S. Check out the song Bukowski by Modest Mouse