When I arrived with photographer Michael Dalberg at Bukowski's Hollywood bungalow for the following interview, also present (off and on) were his very attractive lady friend, Linda [King], and her little daughter. In the living room there are several old armchairs, a worn couch, and a coffee table. On a pigeon holed desk there is a brown bust of Bukowski, facing the door. We sat in chairs and finished off three or four quarts of Schlitz and Miller beer in the course of the interview.
Interviewer: Phil Taylor
STONECLOUD: You don't give too many poetry readings, do you?
BUKOWSKI: No, but you know, of all the readings I gave, the one I gave at USC was really the deadest. Something about the audience or the campus, I don't know. A lady wrote me and asked it I would read. I was working in the post office, and I was very anti-reading at the time because I had a job, a little money in my pocket, and I was saving my soul. I wrote her a two or three-page letter and said, "Happily I'll go to my grave without ever giving a poetry reading." Now I've given about twenty or twenty-five.
STONECLOUD: How many of them did you enjoy giving, or how many came off well?
BUKOWSKI: Out of all of them, maybe four or five good ones. It's really a drag though, hard work like being in a ditch. I'm not an actor; I do it for the money, strictly a poetry whore. For the time, giving all these readings at colleges around California, I'm living off the poetry fat of the land.
STONECLOUD: Are you publishing any more issues of Laugh Literary and Man the Humping Guns?
BUKOWSKI: As Linda likes to say, "woman the humping guns." Women's lib, you know. No, I've turned it over: got so much bad material. We really didn't publish anything good except our own.
STONECLOUD: I'd like to know about your technique at playing the horses.
BUKOWSKI: I come up with a different system every week. The one I'm on now is called basically "consistency plus form" or just common sense. Then in the first race, here's a horse that hasn't won a race in two years, hasn't finished closer than seventh or eighth, been running like a dead lung. It's ten-to-one on the line, it opens at six, it closes at six. I look at the form, I say "Hell, this horse hasn't done anything, slow time, what's all this betting? Sucker bet." It won, it won nicely. Well maybe a neck by the photo.
STONECLOUD: And you bet on it?
BUKOWSKI: No, I didn't, because it wasn't sensible. But, you see, racing works both ways. Sometimes the same kind of horse will get action before the race, and nothing happens. So it's a very mysterious game.
STONECLOUD: Do you read the Racing Form?
BUKOWSKI: Oh, you've got to, yeah. The only thing you know about horses is in comparing one to another; time, money earned, jockey, last showing. It's a very devious game. The worst thing about it is that thirty or forty minute wait between races when you've got to play tiddly-winks and time is just burning. It's an insult. Well, I guess they've got to sell their hot dogs and drinks. The track is a very dull place. Even when I win sometimes I'm bored out there. Of course I'm more bored when I lose. I really think they should shut those places down - they're tragic places. Those faces: everybody comes in all bright and fresh, but by the fourth race they've had it.
STONECLOUD: Have you ever come into contact with any of the people who own horses or race them, or operate the track?
BUKOWSKI: No. I guess the most interesting experience I had coming close to people was when I was drunker than hell, and in the last race I happened to lay a big, heavy bet, and I just happened to be right. I'd won maybe two or three hundred dollars on the last race. I was walking out counting my money, tens, twenties, I was walking by and here was the world's greatest rider at the time, Willie Shoemaker. He had on a white sweater. It was getting dark. He was arguing with somebody. He'd come in second, he'd lost, and he was very excited and apologetic. Evidently the owner or trainer or somebody had had a lot of money on the horse. He was saying, "I'm sorry, he lugged in, I gave him a whip this way and that...," and here's this millionaire with him, and I'm walking along, I picked the horse that had beaten him, and I just happened to look up, and caught his eye. You know how you feel good, sometimes you're glowing all over, I just said "Hi Willie," like I knew him all my life, "Hi, Willie," and I just strolled on out. And he knew I'd beaten him, counting that money.
STONECLOUD: Did you ever meet anybody interesting at the race track?
BUKOWSKI: Hardly. Men, women or otherwise. They're kind of drab creatures. Like checker players or bowlers or people who go to wrestling matches. I got a saying, "people who go to the race track are the lowest of the breed." And Linda looks up and says, "What are we doing here?" I say "Hell, I don't know."
STONECLOUD: Do you find that there are any similarities between horses and women?
BUKOWSKI: Yeah. You can ride 'em, but you don't know who's gonna be riding 'em the next race. They switch around on their jockeys. And then you can't bet on them, they change form, and they're unpredictable. Only thing is, horses sometimes break their legs; women break men.
STONECLOUD: What attracts you to a particular woman?
BUKOWSKI: I stay away from dull people, that's all. If you find a woman interesting, she's interesting, that's all.
STONECLOUD: Do you like American women better than foreign women?
BUKOWSKI: I really haven't been out of America too much so I can't say. I've heard the old theory, "foreign women are better," and all that. I wonder what the foreign men think of that; maybe that American women are better. With women you do what you can, that's all. You don't go for 100%, you don't go for the dream. Then when you lose one, another always shows up somehow, a little bit better, generally, than the one you lost. Maybe you learn to handle them a little better, I don't know. The subject of women is the thing I know least about.
STONECLOUD: Would you rather find somebody with or without money?
BUKOWSKI: That's a tough one. I can just recall my experiences. I was married to a millionaire, an accident, and yet I was in love with poor ones. As far as feeling is concerned, money probably gets in the way. There are only two things wrong with money: too much or too little. It gets in the way of love and everything else.
STONECLOUD: Are you glad that you've had as much or as little money as you've had?
BUKOWSKI: I'll go back to the corny concept of the "starving writer" days. Especially when you're young. You don't know where your next meal is coming from, you don't know if you're going to be able to get the rent up, and the landlady's footsteps are going by. When it isn't terrifying, it's kind of interesting. The good old early days it's kind of romantic. When you're young you have these ideals, you're going to be a writer, it's kind of romantic. It carries you through. It felt good; I didn't mind starving. As long as you're young you say "Shit, I can do it; I can always straighten out and become a damned fool or an industrialist or something. I've got these years to really burn in glory." But when you get older, you're starving in a room at the age of fifty-two, you're trying to be a writer...
STONECLOUD: It doesn't seem so romantic any more.
BUKOWSKI: Hell, no.
STONECLOUD: Do you have any regrets? Would you change anything in your past?
BUKOWSKI: No, especially the way I live. It's been pretty damn good, a wide-open gamble. I gave up writing for ten years and I did that ten hard years of living; drinking, hospitals, jails, women, bad jobs, madness. Even now, I think of a night that happened, write a poem, a short story. I can draw into that even now. I don't see how guys still in their twenties can hardly write.
STONECLOUD: You mean because they haven't experienced anything?
BUKOWSKI: You can't reach in and get it. When I was twenty I was writing like mad too. I think you write the way you feel when you're young, more than your experiences. I think it's better to be old, though, and reach back.
STONECLOUD: When you talk about style, in terms of clarity, or freedom from excess baggage, or naturalness, what are you thinking of?
BUKOWSKI: I'm really an "essentialist." Maybe reading so much poetry that seems to me devious and secretive, people who have little secrets with their friends, you know. A game, a code that no one else quite understands. I try to break it down and make it just as simple as possible, just say what I'm thinking. That doesn't sound like much, but I think it's important. Like I'm talking to you now, I say "My elbow itches," something like that. Of course if you write down "My elbow itches" not many people are going to take to that. You know what I'm trying to say.
STONECLOUD: Just let it come natural.
BUKOWSKI: Yeah, naturalness.
STONECLOUD: Certain poets demand of you knowledge of all sorts of myths, legends, historical facts, etc. But whatever poetry you're writing, it seems you always expect your audience to have a certain amount of knowledge, about life and certain feelings of the times you're writing in.
BUKOWSKI: Well, I don't know. In the old poetry they refer to mythology, the gods...
STONECLOUD: I'm thinking of twentieth century poets like Yeats and Elliot and Pound. Where do you stand there?
BUKOWSKI: Well, you especially have to know your Chinese. All this stuff, reference to mythology and so on, is dropping out. It's been so standard, you're supposed to know the gods, etc., etc.
STONECLOUD: It seems like baroque embellishment for its own sake, have you ever used a god in one of your poems?
BUKOWSKI: Not knowingly. I've said my poetry could be understood by an East Kansas City whore or even a college professor.
STONECLOUD: Don't those people, whores and such, bring to your poetry a knowledge of life that is in its own way just as complex and deep, though not as well-versed in the arts?
BUKOWSKI: Yeah, I just don't do that kind of academic thing. I don't have any excuses.
STONECLOUD: Have you ever tried like Charles Olson to construct theories about the way you write poetry? Line breaks, form, rhythm, etc.?
BUKOWSKI: I stay away from these Olsen essays and all that. I think I've broken through more or less to the common language. But we don't want to make it too common. I think the mistake that some of the black writers are making is - oh Christ, this'll probably be construed as anti-black, but it isn't - the mistake is that the language is too common, like "Hey baby, big train..."
STONECLOUD: You mean because their language belongs to everybody, and therefore to no one poet?
BUKOWSKI: It's kind of like flaunting the street language, instead of using it. I think they gotta calm down a little before they get to it. They've missed the mark there so far. What you end up with is a lot of cliches and platitudes posing as wisdom. If you use the common language, you've still got to stay away from the cliche and the platitude. I think that's where they make their mistake.
STONECLOUD: Which of the poets writing today or say, after World War II, do you like?
BUKOWSKI: That's a tough one. I don't read anymore, I don't even read newspapers. I've gotten so locked up in myself. You can call it ego, or whatever, Jeffers is dead. I can't think of anybody, frankly, who has really stirred me. This is a very bad time for me to look around and say that this man's good, or that one's bad. I really can't say.
STONECLOUD: Is that simply because you don't follow what's being written?
BUKOWSKI: I don't think it's that. I drop on a few lines but I'm so turned off by what I read I just say I can't waste any more time on them. It's an instinctive turn-off. I used to like Karl Shapiro, something called "V Letter," which he wrote in World War II, very clear, simple. Then he became editor of Poetry and Prairie Schooner Like others, he was good just in the beginning.
STONECLOUD: What's your feeling about experimental forms like concrete poetry?
BUKOWSKI: Concrete poetry? It's just a cute trick.
STONECLOUD: It does seem that there's no way concrete poetry can contain any real feeling.
BUKOWSKI: There's not enough meat in it. I tried something more profound. Write a line of poetry that comes to mind; say the first word has five letters, the second three, the third seven, etc. Under that line, you have to follow with one that makes sense with the top line but yet has the same number of words, with each word containing the exact number of letters as its corresponding word in the previous line. Kind of a stylized vision. It'll be like a set of columns finally. It's a good exercise to make it make sense.
STONECLOUD: Have you ever tried sestinas or...?
BUKOWSKI: I don't even know what those mean. I don't tie myself up with all of that; rondeaus or any of those things. I took a poetry class one time. I looked around and said, "Shit, look at this." I decided not to learn what they were learning.
STONECLOUD: You've read a lot of stuff from the past, but as a whole you're not thoroughly schooled in the history or the craft of poetry?
BUKOWSKI: I wouldn't say I could hold a conversation with Olson - of course he's dead anyway, so I couldn't hold a conversation with him - or Creeley, for example. Breath pauses and all that. If I'd bogged myself down with all that, I wouldn't have had time to live. I put my stress elsewhere.
STONECLOUD: There are only a few works of literature, past or present, that really move you, is that it?
BUKOWSKI: Yeah. I get more out of the Racing Form.
STONECLOUD: Have you ever gotten a kick out of Roethke, for example?
BUKOWSKI: Oh, no. I read him. Everybody talks about him. He's too comfortable. I don't believe him. They build him up so much, but he's so comfortable. He was out of San Diego or somewhere, wasn't he?
STONECLOUD: I think he used to teach at the University of Washington. Do you mean he was too comfortable in his approach to poetry?
BUKOWSKI: Yeah. I've never met him in person.
STONECLOUD: He died eight or nine years ago. He was a very heavy drinker. He lived pretty hard too.
BUKOWSKI: Well, you can be a heavy drinker, but that doesn't mean you're a creative writer. Somebody sent me this book (holds up a book by Blaise Cendrars, the French poet and journalist, whose photograph is on the cover) and I said if this man writes like his face, I might as well give up writing. I thought I'm really going to read something here, and I opened it up and...nothing. Well, I still have a chance. But he has got quite a mug on him. If he could write like his face; he probably could if he could get the right mirror turned on him or something. Once people sit down at that machine they tie up. They can't be themselves.
STONECLOUD: Have you read anything of Sylvia Plath's?
BUKOWSKI: Yeah, she did the thing, didn't she? And she didn't get famous until after she did it. I never read too much of her stuff.
STONECLOUD: Have you ever written a poem about suicide?
BUKOWSKI: Yeah, there's a poem I did call "The Last Days of the Suicide Kid." Well, actually it's about old age. The only good woman writer I know is Carson McCullers. She wrote The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. She drank herself to death, and she might have been not quite a woman. Some people say she was a dyke. She was really good, though. I said to myself "A woman wrote this?" A powerful writer. I almost cried. She died on a ship somewhere, in a wheelchair, drinking. She was on her way to Europe when she died. Men can't ever write the way she did.
STONECLOUD: It seems that the easiest thing to do is to learn how not to write bad poetry; to become a competent technician. I gather you're sort of down on things like teaching positions, fellowships, prizes...
BUKOWSKI: I'll take them all! I have nothing against money that allows me time to write, but I've never applied. I was sitting around with some professors one night. Miller Williams and two others, and one of these guys gets a scholarship every year. He goes to a little island. He's a nice guy - a fair poet - maybe he deserves it. I'm sitting there drinking and I say "OK, goddamn you bastards, you get these things; all I want to ask is where do I get the form to fill out, at the corner drugstore, or where you buy a racing form? Where do you guys get these papers?" I really got in a fury, and they wouldn't answer me, they all looked at me. Then I said "Tell me, goddamnit Where do I get a paper to fill out?"
STONECLOUD: Well, you've got to have a Ph.D. or at least a master's degree.
BUKOWSKI: Oh shit, no wonder they wouldn't say! They were trying not to hurt my feelings.
STONECLOUD: Write to the Ford Foundation. Tell 'em you drive a Ford loyally, you've owned one for years.
BUKOWSKI: I know a guy up in Canada, he was just awarded $40,000. He filled out a paper. I don't know if he has a Ph.D. but he does teach.
STONECLOUD: There are prizes, though, like the Atlantic Monthly has.
BUKOWSKI: The odds against that are so high. It's usually somebody's sister's brother who wins it. Those name magazines like Playboy, Esquire, etc., there's a lot of politics in getting published in them. If you know someone, a cousin, or a brother-in-law, it helps.
STONECLOUD: Do you follow politics in the wider sense much at all?
BUKOWSKI: I glance at a headline now and then. That's about it.
STONECLOUD: People at school that I've known personally who later became class representatives, student body presidents, etc., pretty much without exception, turned out to be schmucks. I have the feeling that it's about the same all the way up the line.
BUKOWSKI: When I went to L.A. City College right before World War II, I pretended I was a Nazi, out of sheer boredom, because it was a different thing to do. I didn't feel like studying. Of course I picked up three or four nuts who really believed. I remember one time I ended up in this place in Glendale in a big, dark cellar. We all stood up and saluted the flag, and this guy got up very seriously and said how we were going to destroy communism. But I wasn't one of them; it was just a show. I was walking across the campus, creating quite a stir, and the president of City College, Boyd Cole, thought I was a Nazi...
STONECLOUD: What led him to think that?
BUKOWSKI: Because I was saying all these things. Hell, I didn't even read Hitler. I just made up things, like these were the party lines. I'd just say anything that came to my head. It sounded pretty good, probably better than Adolf's shit. Anyway, I'm walking along the campus, here comes Boyd Cole - he died, so I guess he's all right. God forgive him - he came up and said "Hey, Bukowski, I'd like to talk to you. You know, I don't believe in what you're preaching," - well, hell, I didn't either - but he said "let me tell you something," - I said "Yes," - "if you guys win, I'll come over to your side." But he was the campus president, everybody loved him. Anyway these are the kind of guys; politics, how they get on top. You know what I told him, I said "Boyd, you're a hunk of shit, get away from me."
STONECLOUD: Have you ever found anybody in politics anywhere that you respected?
BUKOWSKI: Umm, I can't even say Abraham Lincoln. Hell, no. Can you?
STONECLOUD: Teddy Roosevelt?
BUKOWSKI: Yeah, Teddy, he was a rugged boy. I don't respect them as human beings, but as showmen. We've had some good showmen. F.D.R. in his wheelchair and all that. He was the best. He hated the common man; pretended he loved him. And that voice, that delivery. He knew what he was doing. Sherwood Anderson, the playwright, wrote his speeches. It all sounded beautiful. He was going to go down in history, by God. Imagine being on stage like that, and using all your men as stage hands.
STONECLOUD: Do you remember much about Huey Long?
BUKOWSKI: Huey, he was interesting. You know, down South, when you'd be traveling around, on the bum; I saw him once when I was crossing a bridge one day. He stopped his car, jumped out, and gave me a dollar. Huey was always jumping out giving guys dollars. This pays off. The word gets around. He never gave a five or a ten.
STONECLOUD: What do you think of George Wallace and what he stands for?
BUKOWSKI: I think it's interesting and vigorous to hear a voice like that. It shows me my own hidden prejudices, it brings them out, it shows me some things I feel that I haven't really overcome. He really shows me the bad side of myself. I don't agree with anything he says, his violence and his anti-this and anti-that. But I feel that way sometimes. Sometimes I'll pass a black guy on the street and I'll hate him just because he's black; his hair is a-curl. But I've worked with them in factories. They've loved me, and I've loved them. We've really gotten together. But I get the same feeling passing a Chinaman or anything strange. There is a fear evoked from coming into contact with anything strange.
STONECLOUD: Changing the subject, what was your most memorable piece of ass?
BUKOWSKI: This last one that just walked out the door. I had to wait a long time. God, she's great. She's also taught me a few tricks. She must have been a madam of a whore house. I shouldn't say that, though. Each time I go to bed with her, that's the best, the most memorable; the last one. If she dumps me, I'll crack. Actually, I've been dumping her, saying "We're through, baby," walking out, slamming the door.
STONECLOUD: I saw that poem in Invisible City, "The Shower." That's a fine, sensitive poem.
BUKOWSKI: It was a fine shower. You ought to try it some time.
STONECLOUD: What do you think of prostitutes and prostitution, based on your experience?
BUKOWSKI: When a man is young, he kind of looks up to the prostitute. She's going to give him ass for a price, take a lot of pressure off. I think a prostitute's worthwhile up to a point, but I think for a man it's a weakening process. A writer, he's got to not study the female: he's got to live with her, be hurt by her, hurt her. That's very important: these arguments, these split-ups, get-togethers. Prostitution takes away the experience of two people rubbing raw against each other. The man pays, he gets it, and he's through. It's a kind of masturbation. I'm not for prostitution.
STONECLOUD: You've never met the proverbial "whore with the heart-of-gold?"
BUKOWSKI: Never! They're always looking to roll you, man. You pick one up in a bar, take her up, lay her, you fall asleep, you look up and there she is, looking through your pants pockets. "If you touch that wallet, baby, you've got a broken arm!" But I never met one with a heart-of-gold yet. I guess she's out there.
STONECLOUD: What do you feel about the Women's Liberation movement? Do their grievances affect you at all?
BUKOWSKI: They've got some damned good points, you know that. We have pushed them around pretty much. They have been like a secondary race. Of course there are some man-haters in there who don't really want to liberate themselves, they just want to say things against men. Leaving them out, I think the Women's Lib is a good legitimate movement. I like what they say. They've taught me things, that I do expect more. You know the old standard where a guy can go out and get laid, he comes in drunk, but if the wife goes out and does it, no good. I'm all for the Women's Lib, though I don't belong to them.
STONECLOUD: One thing they come down hard on...
BUKOWSKI: Hard-on! Well, they do come down hard on that...
STONECLOUD: Let's put it this way. They criticize the traditional Hemingwayesque concept of the he-man. I remember in a recent poem you defended him and his work against a woman who thought he was a fascist pig. In general, what about that concept of being a football player, hunter, or soldier?
BUKOWSKI: If you're a man, even though these things are stupid in a way, even senseless, like killing lions and all that bash, or Wilt Chamberlain tossing in a basket; still, as a man, you know this takes a certain finesse and a certain amount of courage. I think that only a man can understand a man's viewpoint of doing this thing, or getting in a ring and whipping another guy, doing the best you can. The matter of doing the dangerous thing. I think we just can't eliminate this as total loss. There's something about competition, even though it's gross and ugly and stupid, that makes it vital. Hemingway is put down a great deal but to do what he did or write like he did is very tough. I don't call him a fag or some damn thing; some of those women go that far. Of course if a man's a fag, that's something else too, like a beer bottle. You can't eliminate that either.
STONECLOUD: Besides displaying physical prowess as a test of masculinity, what about the man's psychological need for power? The "Me Tarzan, you Jane" concept.
BUKOWSKI: I can understand the women's viewpoint there. But if you take away the woman, and put man against man, you get a different thing altogether. The competitive thing, like in a football game, throwing a good block on a guy and knocking him on his ass. That looks good, it is good. There's something there.
STONECLOUD: Maybe it's somebody willing to risk something, to put something on the line.
BUKOWSKI: Right, like trying to hold up a liquor store, if you do it right. You're in danger. Somehow, you become more real. So the Women's Lib has some points, but they miss some points because they're not male. Somebody wrote me a letter and said, "When the Women's Lib rules the world, they say there won't be any more wars." Then he mentioned Israel - isn't that run by a woman? - then there's one other country...
STONECLOUD: India, with Indira Gandhi.
BUKOWSKI: Yeah, and they were really at it. Maybe the females can't do any better than we have.
STONECLOUD: I read your novel Post Office and the aspect that interested me most is how you got by from day to day. You had to put up with a lot of shit.
BUKOWSKI: Listen, I had to quit or go crazy. They really have some creatures there. I think the supervisors are picked not for their mentality but for their brutality. They go by the book, just like in the Army, though I've never been in the Army. "These are the rules." I wrote Post Office in twenty drunken nights. When I was young I said I'll have to be fifty years old to write a novel, and now I'm fifty and I've written it, right after quitting the post office. I'd come here each night, have a pint of whiskey, some beer, three or four cigars, and turn on some symphony music. I'd say I'm going to type at least ten pages as a quota, and if I run over, fine. So I drank and I typed, my music going on, and never remembered going to bed, and I'd get up in the morning. First thing I'd do is go in there and take two Alka Seltzer, and I'd come out to see how many pages I'd done. I'd find maybe seventeen, eighteen pages spread out on the couch and say, "My God, that was a good night." I finished in twenty days. It's not immortal, but it's OK.
STONECLOUD: It seems to me that the individual sections stand better by themselves than as parts of a whole.
BUKOWSKI: I know. This is deliberate. I'm so bored with novels that I made each chapter like machine gun bullets, fast and short. I've tried so many great novels, like War and Peace, and you've got to climb through so many mountains of shit to get to where it's going. I thought I'd make each chapter a short story by itself, each relating to the central theme. So I wasn't bored writing it. My theory is that if you get bored writing it, the reader's going to get bored reading it. As I re-read it one time, I saw it could be a hell of a lot better.
STONECLOUD: It's got a real strong character. The central autobiographical character is the strongest point. It makes the book stand by itself.
BUKOWSKI: At least I hope it keeps a lot of people out of the post office.
STONECLOUD: What are some jobs you'd particularly like to forget?
BUKOWSKI: I've had about a hundred jobs. The novel I'm working on now is called Factotum, which means a "man of many trades." I'm coming upon all my hundred jobs, one by one, and when I think of them I ask myself, "Did I really do that? Was it that bad?" Dog biscuit factory, slaughterhouse, railroad track gang, stock boy at Sears Roebuck, gas station attendant. I don't even think I've lived that long. I used to gather bottles of blood for the Red Cross; janitor, shipping clerk, it's all so drab. I burned up the years, and now I'm crying in your beer.
STONECLOUD: That's your beer.
BUKOWSKI: Then I'm crying in my beer. I wish I could just leap up and say something astounding. I really can't.
STONECLOUD: What would strike you as startling or astounding?
BUKOWSKI: Oh, something like, say, if Artaud were here, he'd leap up and say something like "I hate people with feet on their feet." Something really wonderful. What was that he said one time, "I hate well people, they're disgusting," something like that. When he wasn't quite mad he'd come up with - but he's right, by God. There's something about healthy people. It's obscene to be healthy, it's unreal.
STONECLOUD: What do you think of the youth of today, their music, dope, and view of life?
BUKOWSKI: I think they're a little off-stride there on that dope. I like rock music myself, it's vigorous. To me, it's sexual. But I can only be sexual for so long, maybe until I hear three melodies. By the fourth and the fifth, my mind has been beaten flat. I no longer have it. It's like trying to fuck for ten hours, you can't do it.
STONECLOUD: There's a mother's group in a small town in Colorado that's trying to stamp out rock. The leading spokesmen said something like "Imagine something that could make your daughter strip off her clothes and do the sex act with a complete stranger."
BUKOWSKI: I'd like to have that record myself.
STONECLOUD: Is there much music that you like?
BUKOWSKI: I'm a classical man. I like the stuff they play on KUSC. It's pretty good. I like the less standard stuff, versus the stuff like Beethoven's Fifth or Brahms that you get on other stations.
STONECLOUD: What about dope, as opposed to alcohol?
BUKOWSKI: I think alcohol's better than dope, because it doesn't take as much out of you. The dopers I've met are kind of flattened out, they don't have any energy, and they just sit and dwell within themselves. I think dope is a single game. It's OK if you're just sitting by yourself, but if you have ten or twelve people around, I think beer is the most sociable. If we were on dope now, I don't think we'd be saying too much.
STONECLOUD: Although, not too many people fight when they're on marijuana, for example.
BUKOWSKI: That's the one thing I like about marijuana. It doesn't cause fights. If you put a whiskey bottle here now, I would probably be trying to start some shit. "Yeah, you guys, coming around to interview me, go ahead and jam it up your ass." I think beer is the magic drink, really.
STONECLOUD: You've been accused of being blatantly anti-homosexual. Is there any truth to that?
BUKOWSKI: I've got to be frank about homosexuals, like I am about black guys. When I pass a black guy on the street or a Chinaman, I get this reaction; I draw back, like it's another animal. With a homosexual, I get the same feeling. I really think they're different. I don't say hang them on the cross, or murder them, or anything. I just have this strange reaction to them, which I'll admit. I think a lot of people pretend to be liberal-minded about homosexuals or blacks, but they're not honest. I don't know if they're putting up a strange flag, or what. Homosexuals just disturb me. They're a different sex that I can't deal with. What can I do with a homosexual?
STONECLOUD: But, unlike somebody who is black or Oriental, they choose their life-style, so the situation is a little different.
BUKOWSKI: Well, to answer your question about being blatantly anti-homosexual, I will admit that maybe ten years ago I really hated the bastards. I couldn't stand them. I wanted to strangle them or kick them in the ass. Even now I almost feel that way. But I really believe that I'm wrong, because I know they've got a problem just like a cold. Or maybe it's not a problem, but whatever it is, I know I should be broader-minded. Now when I meet one I try to be more human. Once I really was down on them, but I think I've grown out of that. In my poetry ten or fifteen years ago you might find some anti-homosexual sentiment, but I don't think it's there today. Once, about ten years ago in Santa Monica, during my great anti- homosexual period, I got all drunked up in a bar, got kicked out. I was waiting for the bus, and I missed the last bus out or some crazy thing so I'm standing out there hitchhiking a little beyond the bus station. Then came this yellow Cadillac: he draws up, it's a homo: "Want a ride, fella?" I said "Hell, yeah, I'm freezing to death." "Going to L.A.?" I said "Yeah, let's go." We were driving along, suddenly he reaches over on me...I said "Goddamnit, cut it out." A little later he reaches over again - like I say, this was in my great anti-homosexual period, I don't know what I'd do now, let him hold it? What's the liberal thing to do? How do you treat this problem humanely? Anyway, then I wasn't so human, so I kept him off me for a while and he drove along and he said "By the way, don't you feel like making some wee-wee?" and I said "by the way, I think I do feel like making some wee-wee-" I didn't know it was a trap. So we both went out, behind a wall, pissing away, and he said "You know what? You know what we ought to do?" "What?" "You hold mine and I'll hold yours." And I said "WHAT! You son of a bitch!" And I hit him, I knocked him down. He just lay there, and he was real still, and the moonlight was coming down. He was like a dead man. I said "My God, I've killed him!" Poor guy, he looked so pale. I walked on about three blocks to the next bus stop, hoping a bus would come along. Then I sat down. About twenty minutes later here he comes by, and he sees me, steps on the gas. ZOOM! Those were my great anti-homosexual days. We better go to the next question.
STONECLOUD: What do you think of L.A.? You've lived here for thirty or forty years now.
BUKOWSKI: Since 1922. I'm always bumming around, but I always come back.
STONECLOUD: What do you like about L.A.? What brings you back?
BUKOWSKI: For one thing, in L.A. you can be alone if you want to, or you can have people if you want to. If you tell people to leave you alone in L.A., they'll leave you alone. If you want them, they'll show up. Some towns, if you don't want people they're going to come around anyway. They'll be sitting on your porch. It's nice to be friendly, but a lot of those friendly cats are pretty drab; they'll eat you up. They think you're lonely; well, you're lonely to get away from them, is what it is.
STONECLOUD: Are these friendly towns small or big?
BUKOWSKI: Well, Philadelphia, for example, is a town where everybody sits on their porch steps in their shirt sleeves. They don't stay in their houses. They come out on their steps. A lot of them are nice people and you like 'em, but they're always there. In L.A. you can have 'em or you can leave 'em. Also L.A. is an easier town to hustle in. You can find jobs easier here, you can borrow money easier, you can disappear easier, you can die easier, you can live easier. This town is very convenient for anything you want to do.
STONECLOUD: What do you think of New York?
BUKOWSKI: Very cold. Its women are rough, they're like football players. They give you the shoulder, they knock you off the bus. And they're all built about five feet tall, they weigh 163 pounds, they have big ham hands, and they never think of sex. I don't know how all those people got in New York City, those women never think of sex. Maybe once a month. They're dark and they're tough. The men are the same way. Now Chicago has more sophistication than New York. The men in Chicago are really mean; the men in New York just think they're mean. Something about Chicago men - they're smooth. They drink in these little bars with one foot on the rail. And they all wear hats. In L.A. nobody wears a hat. I was in Chicago, I walked in this bar; they're well-dressed, they have their hat-brims pulled down, all of them like little George Rafts. And they're cool. They don't look at you when you walk in. They drink, and they all seem to have money and class. New York men are hairy; they're a little bit nervous. I admire Chicago men. In fact, I went into a bar there and I said "Shit, I'd never make it in this town. Let me get back to L.A. where things are soft. They've got these asshole hippies with long hair, and these guys with beads. I can push my way through those." I looked at those Chicago guys and said "Oh, oh, I'm in deep here. I'll be glad when that plane pulls out. I'll get back to L.A. where I can fool people." There's a little exaggeration there, but you know what I mean.
STONECLOUD #1 - 1972