by KEVIN RING (Beat Scene Magazine)
"THE WORLD'S GREATEST LOSER, BUT HE NEVER GAVE UP", booms Charles Bukowski with a beery menace at the City Lights Bookstore-sponsored reading in San Francisco, back in 1972. Bukowski never gave up himself and this poetic soundtrack to his life at that point has it all in abundance: tales of the horsetrack, unrepentant sex fiends, dogs with style, death, his childhood in Los Angeles. Bukowski even foresees his old age with the poignant Last Days Of The Suicide Kid. "Isn't it a lovely day, Mr. Bukowski", says the nurse, as he drools in his bathchair while he is wheeled around the grounds. A near voiceless Bukowski stammers, "Oh yeah, yeah", the crowd laugh with him. Slipping in a coda to the poem he protests that it'll never happen.
But before that final curtain Bukowski is angrily defiant, cocking a snook at the oh so staid poetry establishment and anyone else who gets in his way. Making poetry hum out of painful memories of a childhood under the baleful eye of his cruel father, The Rat is the comeback, his revenge. Earthquake mocks America for the panic that sets in with a minor earthquake tremor. Bukowski wonders what they would do if they suffered bombing on the scale of the cities of Europe, as they run witlessly about. The poem almost fits the current American scenario; Bukowski seems to have seen it coming.
If he is mindful of the major catastrophes, The Shoelace is the final straw. The last of a series of minor mishaps that befalls the ordinary guy in the street, somebody that Bukowski identified with and they with him. He bends over to tie the shoelace and it snaps, the guy flips. The deftness Bukowski demonstrates in getting his themes across with minimal fuss is wonderful. Bukowski says, "Be careful when you bend over". A salutary warning to us all.
Bukowski is reputed to have disliked live readings but the evidence on show here is that once he overcame his initial stage fright with the aid of alcohol he thrived on the battle with the audience that invariably ensued. In this reading he won them over pretty soon into the night and the "poet laureate of the streets" was into his stride. He even threatens to come into the audience at one point and sort them all out. He's a mean son of a bitch he tells them, as they hoot and holler and throw the insults back. In amongst the poems that grip the audience into stilled silence, there is that unique Bukowski confrontational style.