4 Hours of Charles Bukowski’s Riotous Readings and Rants

bukowski readings

Draw­ing by Graziano Ori­ga, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

An old man sits alone, rant­i­ng in a nasal­ly monot­o­nous drone. He breaks into rue­ful laugh­ter, threats of vio­lence, mock­ery, maudlin lament…. An angry drunk­en uncle cry­ing out into the wilder­ness of a Tues­day night ben­der? A tough guy left behind in the world, unable to stom­ach its restric­tions and blithe hypocrisies? A mad poet on his way to the grave? An every­man ram­bler whose seen-it-all can­dor and hardass sense of humor com­mand the com­mon people’s ear?

All of the above was beloved nov­el­ist, racon­teur, poet, and tren­chant essay­ist Charles Bukows­ki. It’s easy to car­i­ca­ture Bukows­ki for his life­long romance with booze, a dom­i­nant theme in near­ly all of his auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal­ly-inspired poems and sto­ries. But in writ­ing of the life an alco­holic artist, him­self, he also uncov­ered in extrem­is gen­er­al truths about human exis­tence that many peo­ple spend their lives try­ing to avoid. The pain, and solace, of lone­li­ness, rejec­tion, and self-doubt, the des­per­ate need for for­ti­tude in the face of seem­ing hope­less­ness.

Bukows­ki is not only a hero to so many would-be writ­ers because of his epic bar­room tales and rock-star-cal­iber drink­ing bouts. If that were so, his sto­ries might quick­ly grow tedious. What Bukows­ki had over the run-of-the-mill pub reg­u­lars was a sur­pris­ing amount of emo­tion­al vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty and self-aware­ness, and a desire to com­mu­ni­cate his expe­ri­ences with the same raw hon­esty as his lit­er­ary hero, Dos­to­evsky. Put sim­ply, Bukows­ki pos­sessed an abun­dance of what Keats called “neg­a­tive capa­bil­i­ty.”

He also had a good deal of luck. If even a hand­ful of the sto­ries he tells about his life are true, it’s a won­der he didn’t die sev­er­al times over. Take his recount­ing below of a live 1979 Van­cou­ver per­for­mance, footage of which became the doc­u­men­tary film There’s Gonna Be a God Damn Riot in Here. In a let­ter that year to a friend, he wrote:

Back from Cana­di­an read­ing. Took Lin­da. Have video tapes of the thing in col­or, runs about two hours. Saw it a cou­ple nights back. Not bad. Much fight­ing with the audi­ence. New poems. Dirty stuff and the oth­er kind. Drank before the read­ing and 3 bot­tles of red wine dur­ing but read the poems out. Dumb par­ty after­wards. I fell down sev­er­al times while danc­ing. They got me back on the ele­va­tor back at the hotel and I kept hol­ler­ing for anoth­er bot­tle. Poor Lin­da. After­wards in hotel room, kept falling. Final­ly fell against the radi­a­tor and cracked a 6 inch gash in skull. Blood every­where. Hell of a trip…Nice Cana­di­an peo­ple who set up read­ing, though. Not poet types at all. All in all, a good show…

The video tapes were Bukowski’s idea—he insist­ed on the record­ing as a con­di­tion for mak­ing the trip. And you can hear audio of the entire per­for­mance at the top on Spo­ti­fy (get Spo­ti­fy’s soft­ware here; or lis­ten on Youtube here). Also on the playlist are two oth­er Bukows­ki spo­ken-word albums, Charles Bukows­ki Mas­ter Col­lec­tion, and Hostage. The lat­ter, writes Ama­zon, “has to be one of the row­di­est poet­ry records ever released, which makes sense con­sid­er­ing how drunk Bukows­ki plain­ly is.” But “the drink nev­er gets in the way of his deliv­ery,” and his tough-but-ten­der verse comes through plain­ly, even if it seems like there might be a riot any minute. Only Bukows­ki could have pulled this off and lived to tell the tale.

Find these Bukows­ki read­ings added to our col­lec­tion, 1,000 Free Audio Books: Down­load Great Books for Free.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Lis­ten to Charles Bukows­ki Poems Being Read by Bukows­ki Him­self & the Great Tom Waits

Watch “Beer,” a Mind-Warp­ing Ani­ma­tion of Charles Bukowski’s 1971 Poem Hon­or­ing His Favorite Drink

Four Charles Bukows­ki Poems Ani­mat­ed

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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