"My contribution was to loosen and simplify poetry, to make it more human...I taught them that you could write a poem the same way you could write a letter, that a poem can even be entertaining, and there need not be anything necessarily holy about it" -
Charles Bukowski, 1974
I couldn`t figure out where I could put Bukowski when I was creating the site so I created this new section.
I was introduced to this oft misunderstood prolific writer and poet by a 19 year old kid believe it or not. After reading a collection of short stories compiled in a single volume entitled South Of No North" from 1973 which was passed on to me with the thought that I might get something out of it and with titles like Christ On Roller Skates and The Devil was Hot I knew immediately that there would be something here for me for sure! I read it in one shot and just couldn`t put the thing down.It became obvious from this introduction to this madman that a change was coming in my prospective to the written word. Every time when I can't figure out what I want to read next I turn to Bukowski and a six pack.
Charles Bukowski was born in Andernach, Germany in 1920 to an American GI father and German mother and arrived in Los Angeles in 1922. During his childhood he would endure severe beatings from his father who was more of an asshole than a firm disciplinarian.A bad complexion would result in rejection by the opposite sex and he would spend his high school prom dateless and alone.At the age of 13 he took his first alcoholic drink when a friend took him down to his father`s wine celllar. He would later write, " It was like magic. Why hadn`t someone told me?"
In 1939 he dropped out of college with the intention of becoming a writer only to meet with constant rejection. By the time he reached the age of 35 underground newspapers such as the Open City and LA Free Press were publishing his material. Up to this time he had worked at a slew of dead end jobs from a dog food factory to the post office. These experiences coupled with a troubled upbringing gave him plenty of fodder for his stories and poems.
In his writing he took no prisoners and wrote about bleakness and despair avoiding metaphors and substituting real life anecdotes many of them autobiographical. Among the topics he used to convey a mundane life were drinking, gambling, sex music and bizarre violence and his compassion for losers, the unglamourous facts of hopelesness which members of a sober world could not begin to comprehend.He wrote about drunk bank managers molesting young children, ex strippers hacking men to death and putting on the gloves and stepping into the ring with Ernest Hemmingway. He would comment, " I got my act up. I wrote vile ( but interesting stuff ) that made people hate me, that made them curious about this Bukowski. I threw bodies off my porch in the middle of the night. I sneered at Hippies.I was in and out of drunk tanks. A lady accused me of rape."
A movie, for which Bukowski wrote the screenplay for, was released in 1987and depicted three days in the life of Henry Chinaski, Bukowski`s alter-ego, during his younger years when he was a struggling write. Bukowski was not satisfied with the end product and this resulted in a book entitled Hollywood. A critic from the Chicago tribune offered this comment. " Bukowski offers an insightful and continuously outrageous view on how movies get made."
With a profane and direct approach to his craft many might find his style offensive but with over 100 volumes of poetry and prose in print Bukowski became one of the most sought after writers of the 20th century an other volumes of lost manuscripts continue to be published to this day.
Charles Bukowski documentary, Born Into This
I`ll leave you with a quote from Contemporary Novelist 4th Edition St. James Press 1986 as a well as a link to his official website,
" published by small underground presses and mimeographed magazines, Bukowski gained popularity, in a sense, through word of mouth. The main character in his stories is usually an down and out writer ( Henry Chinaski ) who spends his time working at marginal jobs ( and getting fired from them ) getting drunk and making love with a succession of floozies and bimbos.Otherwise he hangs out with fellow losers, whores, pimps, acoholics, the people who lose their rent money at the race tracks, leave good-bye notes on dressers and have flat tires on the freeway at 3 AM."
Songwriter, experimentalist, singer, lowlife, beatnick, poet, screenwriter, playwright or whatever he is I have been attracted to this man's art since Nighthawks At The Diner was handed to me by a friend one night after work. I was just getting over a relationship and he thought that this would cheer me up. He said go have a few beers and imerse yourself. Whether it be in the form of poetic musing, writing about down-and-outs freezing to death on park benches on skid row in the dead of winter, his use of unconventional instruments and recording techniques or cameo roles as shady lowlife characters in movies like The Cotton Club, The Outsiders, Rumblefish or Mystery Men or suing large corporations for $ 2.5Million for using his music without his consent I have been hooked ever since. This is one of my favourite Tom Waits tracks from psuedo live Nighthawks At The Diner from 1975 which was recorded in front of a small audience in a studio to simulate a live performance. This was done to bring out the spontaniety in Tom Waits and he was accompanies by a top flight jazz sidemen and was actually regarded as a "jazz" album by afficionados.
Although he would evolve stylistically my favourite Waits years are from the 70s & 80s. Here's What's He Building In There. It was used as the intro for the Enron movie but this is the official video.
I don't know whether to call Wendy a folk hero but I decided to include her here because I admired her determination to do her own thing. Wendy, with her band, The Plasmatics, gave the word "shock" a new meaning and made Alice Cooper's stage act look like a dog & pony show. Songs with titles like Sex Junkie, Fuck'N Roll and A Pig Is A Pig spewed out anti-fascist Orwellian horror lyrics combined with onstage violence and rage. The willful destruction of Cadillac Coupe de Villes, chain-sawing guitars in half and firing blanks from a sawed off shotgun at the audience made the Plasmatics one of the most visually outrageous live acts to emerge from the punk era of the late seventies/ early eighties. Possessing no redemption whatsoever, even punk purists dismissed The Plasmatics as all show and no substance. The three chord punk/metal congflagration didn't hold up well on record and did not invite comparisons to virtuosos even though Williams was nominated for a grammy in the category for best female rock vocal in 1985 which was awarded to Tina Turner for Better Be Good To Me. In other words : Wendy was my kinda gal.
Suprisingly articulate when interviewed by the media she hardly touched on her run-ins with the law and legal battles and at times could even be charming. The most prolific legal incidents occured in 1981 when she was arrested and beaten up by the Milwaukee and subsequently The Cleveland Police Departments after appearing onstage with her breasts being covered in only whipped cream and simulating sex acts with a sledgehammer. She said the lawyers defending her " made Abbott & Costello look like Wizards" and later prevailed with all the charges being dropped. She responded by blowing up two City Of Milwaukee police cruisers during a live performance.
Outspoken against stereotypes, Williams did not like to be manipulated by the staus quo from fashion to politics and continued to stir up controversy throughout the 80's recording with her own band as well as members of KIss and Motorhead. Retiring in 1991 she became active in animal welfare as well as becoming a health food advocate ( she was a vegatarian and abstained from drugs & alcohol ). She became depressed and disillusioned with the world and attempted suicide twice in the early 90s eventually ending her life on April 6, 1998 at the age of 48. She believed that taking one's life was a fundametal right and was something that she did after a considerable amount of soul searching according to her suicide note.
A tragic paradoxical, complex and enigmatic figure with a kind soul who tried to find a peace that this world couldn't offer, I sort of felt something when she left this world.
Aircraft Infringing On Non-Free Flying Territory May Be Fired On Without Warning
Back in the sprig of 1987 the Americans decided that it was necessary to deploy Pershing II ICBMs on German soil in order to stave off the "Evil Empire" of the Soviet Union.. This did not sit too well with many Europeans particularily the West Germans who would inevitably bear the initial brunt of a nuclear exchange. One young West German wasn't too crazy about this nonsense either so he decided to speak to the world by flying his plane to Red Square and personally present Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev with a 20 page manifest that he had written outlining his personal vision of peace between eastern and western powers. Although Gorbachev was making headway with his Glasnost, Perestroika, Demokratizatsiya and Uskoreneyi proposals allowing unprecedented freedoms for the Soviet people, he still faced bitter enemies who were still stuck up with Stalin's hard line doctrines and philosphies.
The young man's name was Mathias Rust and in May 1987 he was a 19 year-old data processing clerk for a mail order company and had a scant 50 hours of flying time on single engine Cessnas. Convinced that his political motives were sound, he set out to plan a flight from his hometown of Hamburg in the northern part of West Germany that would end up just outside the gates of the Kremlin in Red Square. Sort of akin to landing on the lawn in front of the Whitehouse. The Prime motivator for Rust at this stage was the recent breakdown of arms reduction talks in Rekjavik Iceland between teh Soviets and Americans and part of his epic flight was to make a symbolic pilgramage to the Icelandic capitol where the talks had failed.
He took off from Ueteressen Airfield just outside of his hometown of Hamburg on May 13, 1987 in a rented Cessna 172P and set course for the Shetland Islands, a five hour flight over water with limited navigational aids. He then leap-frogged via the Danish Faroe Islands and made Rekjavik by the 15th and became spiritually acquainted with the location where the ill-fated talks had taken place. By May 25 he was in Helsinki, Finland the springboard for his flight into the lion's den. He filed a flight plan to Stockholm and before making a 180 degree course change switched off his transponder, a device that emits an identifying response to radar interrogation. The Finnish authorities discovered an oil slick and thought that he had gone down in the Baltic Sea and launched an SAR operation. In the meantime the Soviets had picked him up on their radars. Three missile units were put on alert and two Migs were scrambled to investigate. One of the pilots identified the Cessna as a Yak 12 which was visually similar to a Cessna 172 and declared it a non-threat.
Two hours later he was intercepted by another Mig that held station alongside Rust's Cessna 172 but was unable to communicate with him over the HF radios that the Migs were equipped with.. At this point Rust thought he was toast but the Mig peeled off and circled his plane twice and departed. Later it was leared that the commander on the ground did not think that the incident was signifigant enough to warrant any further action! Rust's luck held as he continued on running the gauntlet entering a training area where he blended in with training aircraft with similar radar signatures. The controllers on the ground assumed he was a student pilot who had forgotten to switch his transponder setting as per operating procedures in the training area.
About 230 miles out of Moscow two more Migs were scrambled but did not attempt to intercept him because of a low cloud base. Rust was once again picked up on Soviet radar 40 miles out of the capitol but this time the controllers mistook him as a search and rescue helicopter. By this time, virtually unchallenged, he had no difficulty identifying landmarks that acted as waypoints for his final descent into Red Square, the inner sanctum of the "Evil Empire", and located his final landmark : The Kremlin itself!!
It was a Border Guards Day, a national holiday unbeknownst to Rust at the time, and Moscuvites and tourists were strolling about near Lenin's tomb just outside the Kremlin Wall. At first Rust considered alighting inside the wall since there was plenty of room but but decided against it fearing that the KGB would just cart him away and deny the whole thing ever happened. Avoiding a few sets of tension wires Rust reduced power and came in with full flaps and rolled to a stop in front of St. Basil's Cathedral. He wanted to end up in front of Lenin's tomb but a wire fence stood in the way.
Immediately people started to surround the small plane and Rust, dressed in a red jump suit and motorcycle helment ( which was part of a contingency plan should he be forced to crash land ) chatted candidly with onlookers. He told one Russian who could speak English that he had come from the west to deliver a peace message to Gorbachev. Rust was whisked away by the police and thrown in Lefortovo political prison even though the Russians didn't believe his story at first. They thought he was some sort of CIA fall guy who was supposed to be shot down provoking another international incident similar to the shooting down of KAL flight 007 in September 1983. His plane was taken apart and finally the Russians had to believe what the true purpose of his mission was when they discovered that the aeronautical charts he used were obtained from a mail order company in Dusseldorf. Other theories circulated in the media regarding Rust's motive but in the end he was charged with illegal entry, violation of flight laws and malicious hooliganism. He pleaded guilty to the first two charges and spent 14 months in Lefortovo prison where he enjoyed special priveleges before being released as goodwill gesture by Gorbachev after serving 14 months of a 4 year sentence. Had someone pulled a stunt like this before Gorbachev's time he would have been summarily lined up on a wall and shot.
Gorbachev himself along with senior members of the politburo as well as defence minister Sergei Sokolov were in Berlin to celebrate the city's 750th birthday at the time of Rust's daring flight. Humiliation ensued and heads began to roll within the Soviet military establishment. Both the Defense Minister as well as the Air Defence Chief were sacked along with literally hundreds of other officers and was the biggest shakedown in the Soviet military since Stalin's housecleaning in the 1930s with the reputation of the Soviet military being permanently tarnished.
Although Rust didn't win the cold war single handedly he made a flight during a crucial point in east-west relations when Gorbachev's internal political philosophies were offering departures from predesessors. It included revisions in military doctrines to become more defensive in nature. Rust's flight enabled Gorbachev to get rid of hardline opponents of these reforms under Glasnost that reduced corruption in the higher ranks of the Soviet corridors of power.
What is truly astonishing though is that a 19 year-old kid flew a 4 seat general aviation high wing monoplane over 2,500 miles to penetrate the "impregnable" air defences of one of the world's two superpowers. Shortly after the flight the Cessna 172 was recovered by the flying club and sold to a Japanese businessman for over $100,000 who compared it to The Spirit Of St. Louis. It currently resides in the Deutschen Technikmuseum where it is on public display forming the main piece of the exhibition " Ascension To The Red Square - Over All Borders, Against All Rules".
For anybody interrested in these years of change that led up to the demolition of the Berlin Wall and easier to live with US / Soviet relations I highly recommend Don Obersdorfer's book,From The cold War To A New Era, The United States & The Soviet Union 1983 -1990