The following interview was taken word for word from pages 54 -59 of the July/August 1987 issue of Film Comment magazine.  Nothing from the original product has been changed including errors.   (And there were quite a few.)  This reproduction is meant for scholarly purposes only and is property of Film Comment magazine.  I have reproduced this article in hopes that it will be more accessible and to help further insight into Charles Bukowski's writing.


Gin-Soaked Boy

Charles Bukowski interviewed by Chris Hodenfield


 

Americans are the beloved noisemakers, the unschooled and the uncut, appreciated most when at their simplest. Poet Charles Bukowski is the classic case of the American original who found his first audience abroad. In the U.S.A., particularly in his hometown of Los Angeles, he is the dirty old man, boss vizier of the sleaze-o-rama precincts of East Hollywood. Where transients slide into cheap rooms and get awakened in the middle of the night by yelling neighbors, Charles Bukowski is the presiding booze-hound laureate. The very image of Bukowskis celebrated kisserthe brooding skull, the lived-in face, the delicacy behind the scar tissuehas been enough to consign him to the bohemian backwaters of American letters.

But the powerful simplicity of his prosehe writes like a man in a slow-motion hazetranslates easily into other languages. His first novel, Post Office (1971), eventually sold 75,000 copies at homebut 500,000 worldwide. Bukowski gained American recognition with his books Erections, Ejaculations, Exhibitions and General Tales of Ordinary Madness (1972), Factotum (1975), and Women (1978), but nothing like the cult prestige he received in Europe, and he continued to live in relative obscurity and sorry circumstances into his late fifties. His American publisher, John Martin of Black Sparrow, sees an earlier parallel in the career of Henry Miller, another prophet without honor in his own land.

Bukowski is, in all ways, a man of the street, a Meat Poet, an anti-academic, one who never earned his rent check as a guest professor. He could pick up a few hundred bucks for a college reading, but felt brutalized by the experience.

His cult reputation in Europe continued to grow into the late Seventies, culminating in a notorious French TV talk show appearance. "It was the number one program in the ratings," recalls Barbet Schroeder, who directed Barfly from Bukowskis script. "Even the best writers train like racehorses for this show. More than 50 percent of France saw Bukowski getting drunk on television and saw this Johnny Carson-like superhero, Pivot, being totally thrown off balance for the first time in history. Bukowski was so drunk, he put his hand on the knee of a woman writer there. [Pivot] told the guards, Take him out, take him out." The next morning, Bukowskis books were completely sold out, and the man himself was greeted and cheered on every street corner.

Shroeder (More, The Valley, Maitresse) first read Bukowski while filming the documentary Koko the Talking Gorilla. Another earthy man of international background (born in Teheran of German parents), he saw in Bukowski a soul-brother, a modern-day Diogenes, cynical and naked and puking on the carpets of the Athenian rich. In 1979, he paid the poet $20,000 to write a screenplay.

As a writer who grew up in Los Angeles, Bukowski naturally detested and distrusted the movie industry. Living in squalor, though, he had to pay attention to the money. But what really persuaded him was another of Schroeders documentaries, General Idi Amin Dada. Schroeder clearly was a man who instinctively sought out the unexpected.

It took Schroeder seven years to get Barfly going. During that time, another Bukowski story was made into a movie, Tales of Ordinary Madness, directed by Marco Ferrari (La Grande Bouffe) and starring Ben Gazzara and Susan Tyrell. The movie was made without Bukowskis participation. He hated it. Barfly, which stars Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway playing lovers who prefer life at the bottom, premiered at Cannes in May and was an unexpected hit of the festival. Schroeder vowed that he would not change a word of Bukowskis script without getting permission; he seems to have stuck by that promise.

Schroeders own frustrations during that seven-year wait were so vast that he took to hauling a video camera down to Bukowskis house and taping the mans bumptious, surreal monologues. The resultant Charles Bukowski Tapes (available from Lagoon Video, P.O. BOX 5730, Santa Monica, CA 90405) is a straight look at the artist talking. Every great artist has the enormous physical presence of Bukowski. "The only other person I filmed in a documentary that has as much presence, where 90 percent of what you film is good, was Idi Amin Dada."

There was a quality shared by Idi Amin and Bukowskiand Schroeder confirms this. Both men will say anything; the self-censoring mechanism has been dismantled. Like the deposed Ugandan dictator, Charles Bukowski does not give a damn what he says or who he says it to. Visitors to his house are advised to take heed of this. You never know when the liquored-up Bukowski will be spoiling for a fight.

The first note about Bukowski, however, is that he has departed his old deadbeat East Hollywood streets for the safe little dockside community of San Pedro. Behind a mighty garden is his large white house. It has a spare, faintly Japanese feel, and its kept neat. Parked in front is his pride-and-joy symbol, a blue BMW.

When I arrived one night, Bukowski (friends call him Hank) and his wife Linda, an aspiring actress in her early thirties and former owner of a health food restaurant, were watching a tape of Hagler-Leonard fight. He pointed to his Barfly T-shirt and said, "how do you like that? Self-promotion."

In his comfy old moccasins, he shuffled to the sofa and opened a bottle of respectable California red. Then he sat there on the sofas edge, as still and significant as a massive white Buddha. He insisted that the interview would not start until we had killed at least one bottle. He was enough of a showman to know when the good stuff would start coming. Linda kept pace with him. She had her opinions and she gave as good as she got. Bukowski tended to stare into the haze, his eyes narrowed to wry, gazing slits. He has a pleasing voice, younger and jollier than it should be, and his scarred face is, up close, rather pink and soft. When a hard-boiled surge ignites him, he takes on a comical gruffness.

He is, in his 66th year, a man of compulsions. He cant stay away from the racetrack. He smokes ratty little Indian cigarettes, Mangalore Ganeesh Beedies, that wont stay lit for three puffs, so he spends the entire night lighting and relighting these roachlike stubs. The only thing that has brought him this far is that he also has a compulsion to work: every few days he goes up to the attic, turns on the classical music station, opens the bottle, and writes. Hes written over 40 books this way. On other nights, he just drinks. They were working on the third bottle by the time I went out the door at 3 A.M.

---C.H.

 

You dont like movies, do you?

No. Linda will say, "Lets go to a movie." And Ill say, "Oh, Christ." Its embarrassing to see a movie. I feel gypped, sitting there with all these people. It is a good excuse to buy some popcorn and a Dr. Pepper. Youd never eat popcorn sitting at home.

Did you always feel that way?

When I was a kid in the Depression, when youre 11 years old, Buck Rogers looks pretty good to you. Even Tarzan. The Cary Grants and all that, we used to yawn through that. Still do. Moviesnothing much has occurred through all the decades.

Want me to name them? One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, Elephant Man, Eraserhead, Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf?thats a classic. Kurosawa and those great battle scenes. And all those great samari films where guys are chopping heads off.

The first movie that had an impact on me, that made me cry, was All Quiet on the Western Front. The scene with the butterfly got me. The truce had been signed, the Armistice. Trying to catch the butterfly, God, it really affected me. The way the build-up was, you knew it was going to happen and yet you said, "Maybe it wont happen." Then I saw it three years ago, and oh no, before it even started, I knew what would happen, and I started crying. I was a young kid when I saw it. Lew Ayres, with those bright eyes. "We must defend the Fatherland!" And they all turn to Lew. "Should we go?" "Yes."

Linda: You liked Chinatown.

CB: Okaaay, so you didnt waste the evening, but you dont go around thinking, like you do with Eraserhead, "Oh, whats happening here?" We got cable TV here, and the first thing we switched on happened to be Eraserhead. I said, "Whats this?" I didnt know what it was. It was so great. I said, "Oh, this cable TV has opened up a whole new world. Were gonna be sitting in front of this thing for centuries. What next?" So starting with Eraserhead we sit here, click, click, clicknothing.

Movies are an alternate dream state for people. Maybe you like the one youre already in?

I feel mobbed, I feel diluted, I feel mugged by watching a movie. I feel they take something away from me. Theyve chewed up my auras and mutilated me. I want to mutilate my own auras at my own behest, I dont want to sit in front of a screen and do it.

Have you known people whove worked in movies?

Fortunately, I have not. Oh, people have come by, even before this shit started. Godard. Werner Herzog. James Woodsbefore he became big time. We met a lot of these people through Barbet. Harry Dean Stanton. Sean Penn and Madonna. Elliot Gould. They all come by.

Harry Deans a strange fellow. He doesnt put on much of a hot-shot front. He just sits around depressed. And I make him more depressed. I say, "Harry, for Chrissakes, its not so bad." When youre feeling bad and someone says that, you only feel worse.

Barbet just showed up one day. Said he wanted to make a film about my life. He kinda talked me into it. I was very reluctant, because I dont like film. I dont like actors, I dont like directors, I dont like Hollywood. I just dont like it. He laid a little cash on the tablenot a great deal, but some: So I typed it out. That was seven years ago.

I started writing dirty stories and I ended up writing a fucking screenplay. And now I have Godard, Werner Herzog, and Sean Penn coming by. The little girl next door says, "Oh Hank, is it true that Madonna came to see you?" I said "Yeah. "But why would Madonna come see you?"

Sean [Penn] wanted Dennis Hopper to direct, and I wanted Barbet. Because Barbet put seven years into this. They gave Barbet a pretty lush offer, to be be producer, a whole deal. But he said, "No! I must direct this myself."

LB: It was so funny. I came in the door and it was Hank and Barbet and Sean and Dennis sitting here. Theyd all been drinking, except Dennis, who was all cleaned up. He had a gold medallion and a polyester jersey, and it really offended them. It was really funny, because he was really nervous to be around Hank, as it turned out.

CB: One time something was said, and it wasnt quite funny, and he just threw his head back and laughed. The laughter was pretty false, I thought. The chains kept bouncing up and down, and he kept laughing. After he was gone, Barbet said, "You hear the fucking laugh, did you see all those chains?" I said, "Yeeesss."

He got all excited and phoned where his will is. "In case I die, Dennis Hopper is never to be allowed to direct Barfly. Anyone else in the world but Dennis Hopper."

And I dont think Dennis was all that bad. Hes probably a damn good director. But I guess Dennis once told Barbet that he couldnt direct traffic.

LB: In the middle of Ma Maison, in front of everybody, they were having this debate and it turned into an argument and Dennis screamed at him, "You cant direct traffic!" That was years ago. He was kind of wild then.

CB: People remember that stuff. But hes had a nice comeback. I guess hes been in bigger pits of hell than I have.

Sean Penn.

He seems very withdrawn, delicate. He waits before he speaks. He tells interesting stories. He used to bring his bodyguard. His bodyguard was a funny guy, telling stories how he beat guys up. Hed roll on the rug describing fights.

LB: Sean came here not as a celebrity, but to visit Hank. It was the other way around. He wasnt the celebrity, he came here in awe. He had a different temperament completely. He wasnt a celebrity, he was a person. He was very vulnerable, he was real.

CB: He was also looking for a part in Barfly. The only bad[things about Penn] Ive seen is what Ive read. I havent seen it personally. Except one time I made a small remark about Madonna which was not flattering. H started standing up. I said [low and tough]: Hey, Sean, sit down, you know I can take you, dont be silly." He sat back down.

I think Sean was much better when he was younger. An innocent madness just flaring out. I liked him better earlier. The longer hair, he was thinner, and his eyes were wild.

What was your first reaction to Mickey Rourke?

I hadnt met Mickey, but I heard many stories about him. I thought, "This guy will be a complete prick. I better not get drunk and take a swing at him. I better watch my drinking. I could ruin the whole movie by getting into it with this kid and being completely honest.

But he was so nice. He eyes were good. Even one time Linda and I were walking on to the set, they werent shooting. Mickey was being interviewed, they had the cameras on him. He saw me and said, "Hey Hank, cmere! Help me!" They got me on, talking.

I think we just liked each other. One time Linda and I were sitting in the bar when they were shooting. We were getting plastered, which was a mistake. The bar was still open while they were shooting around the corner. I saw Mickey and I said, "Hey, cmon, have a drink." He said, "No, I cant. We neeeeed you!" Just like a little boy. He needed me to watch him act.

The guy was great. He really became this barfly. He added his own dimension, which at first I thought, this is awful, hes overdoing it. But as the shooting went on, I saw hed done the right thing. Hed created a very strange, fantastic, lovable character. When it comes out, I can see all sorts of kids acting like him. All the kids are gonna start drinking!

How was Faye Dunaway?

I saw her in Bonnie & Clyde. She filled the role. Period. She wasnt bad. She just filled the role. [To the microphone.] Sorry to say this, Faye, you want me to lie? I just made an enemy. Thats one of problemsI cant lie.

Is it pretty much as you wrote it?

Yeah. Barbet wrote in the contract that nothing could be changed without my permission. Its pretty good for a screenwriter. Never heard of that before.

Barbet has a lot of respect for what I write. He even phones from the set when Im not there and says the actors cant say the line. You know, sometimes you write a line and it looks good on paper, but with the human voice it doesnt work. So I give him another line. So weve been working together that way. Its right down to what I wrote. If the writings good, youve got a good chance for a good movie.

Hes been improving the pace. The first cut I saw was very slow in the beginning. Its marvelous what they can do to pep it up just by cutting here and thereyou get a sense of rhythm. A certain zip develops, you can feel it, like a horse galloping. When you get these deadly pauses, you can just sense them. We saw that in the beginning; it just bothered me. "This is so labored." Theyd just put everything together, with no music.

Hes really pushing it. He sent the Cannes people a rough cut, and they liked that. The last I heard, they had seven rooms with people working on it in each one, and hes running from one to the other.

The whole movie was shot in six weeks. And whats the cutting time, four weeks? Were working under the mad whip here, but instead of detracting, it seems to be giving it more jazz.

Did you get some screenplays and study the form?

Hell, no. [Disgusted.] Well, you know, its just dialogue, people walking around. You dont have to study that. I cant see taking instruction on anything.

I guess it was because I had a tough childhood, with my father telling me what to do all the time. So if anybody tells me, "This is how you do this." I dont ever like to be told how you do this. I just want to do it, whatever has to be done. If somebody says, "You do it like this," I immediately cut off and go cold. And it extends to trivial areas of life. Things must come through joy and wanting to do them. I dont like instruction: I cant handle it.

I guess a twisted childhood has fucked me up. But thats the way I am, so Ill go with it. Im afraid if I correct myself, Ill fuck myself up. I dont want to be cured of what I am.

My father was born in Pasadena. He went to Germany and met my motherhe was in the army of occupation, you see. They got married and brought me back. I was here at the age of three. My father was very stricthe wouldnt let me play with the other kids, beat me, all that.

When I went to grammar school I was a sissy because I couldnt catch a ball, I didnt know how to react to the other kids. But I wasnt a true sissy. You know, all the stuff was there, but I hadnt learned how to do things. So the other sissies gathered with me. It was awful, I detested them. I wasnt a true sissy.

Finally, as the years went on, I evolved, all the way from being a sissy to the toughest guy in school. Thats really going up the ladder. I remember in college, sitting there, this kid comes up to me. He remembered me from grammar school. "Jesus, man, you used to be a sissy. What happened?" "Go away, leave me alone." So that was a great transformation. Its something you have to overcome.

 

If the promise of screenplay fortunes had come at a more pressing time, might it have been a more distracting lure?

It did come at a pressing time, and thats just why I did it. Because I was living in a dive and just barely getting by. I really hadnt been lucky until three or four years ago. And Im not rich. And Im not poor. Neither are you, right? So the money looked good. And I think they got a bargainfor what they paid for.

And if the movies a success, youll participate?

It will be a success, because Mickey did a great job of acting. He really did it.

Have you ever given a thought as to who might play you in your life story?

No, because I never thought anyone would do my life story. I did think, well, maybe Ill die sometime and somebody will take a shot at it. Usually they fuck it up. There was a thing about Kerouac on TV the other nightit was awful. You cant watch it too long. This guy smiling. We were switching back and forth between F. Scott and Kerouac. We finally had stop watching both of them.

Most writers lives are more interesting than what they write. Mine is both. They meet on an equal plane.

I just wrote it and said it was in the hands of God, theyll fuck it up. I didnt expect a great deal. So I was ready for when they fucked it up. Fortunately, because of Barbet Schroeders directing and Mickey Rourkes acting and all the barfliesthey took them right out of the barthey got a great cast and it worked. Its going to be a fine movie. It might even win a fucking Academy Award for Mickey. For screenwriter? Well, maybe. Ill get a tuxedo."

What was the period you drew on for the screenplay?

Actually, it was two periods and I melded them together. When I lived in Philadelphia, I was a barfly. I was about 25, 24, 26, it gets kinda mixed up.

I liked to fightthought I was a tough guy. I drank and I fought. My means of existence I dont know how I ever made it. The drinks were free, people bought me drinks. I was more or less the bar entertainer, the clown. It was just a place to go every day. Id go in at five every day; it opened officially at seven, but the bartender let me in, and Id two hours free drinks. Whisky. So I was ready when the door opened. Then hed say, "Sorry Hank. Seven oclock. Cant give you any more drinks." Id say that Id do what I can. I was off to a good start, with two hours of whiskey. Then Id get mostly beers. Id run errands for sandwiches, get mostly beat up. Id sit there till 2 A.M., go back to my room, then be back at five A.M. Two and a half hours of sleep. I guess when youre drunk youre kind of asleep anyway. Youre resting up.

Id go home and thered be a bottle of wine there. Id drink half of that and go to sleep. And I wasnt eating.

You must have had a hell of a constitution.

I did have, yeah. I finally ended up in a hospital ten years later.

Did you have a lot of energy?

No. Just the energy to lift a glass. I was hiding out. I didnt know what else to do. This bar back east was a lively bar. It wasnt a common bar. There were characters in there. There was a feeling. There was ugliness, there was dullness and stupidity. But there was also a certain gleeful high pitch you could feel there. Else I wouldnt have stayed.

I did about three years there, left, came back, did another three years. Then I came back to L.A. and worked Alvarado Street, the bars up and down there. Met the ladiesif you want to call them that.

This is kind of a mixture of two areas, L.A. and Philadelphia, melded together. Which may be cheating, but its supposed to be fictional anyway, right? Must have been around 1946.

It seems that all the good old scum bars are disappearing. In those days, Alvarado Street was still white. And you could just duck inside and get 86d in one bar and then move right down ten paces and theres another bar to walk into.

Ive gone into bars with deadwood people and an absolute deadwood feeling. You have one drink and you want to get the hell out of there so fast. But this bar was a lively hole in the sky.

The first day I walked in, I got hooked. I just got into town. I walked out of my roomit was about two in the afternoon. I walked in and said, "Give me a bottle of beer." Picked it up and a bottle came flying through the air, right past me head. People just kept on talking! Guy next to me turned around and said, "Hey you sonofabitch, you do that again Im gonna knock your goddamn head off." Then came another bottle flew past. "I told you, you sonofabitch." Then theres a big fiiiiight. Everybody went out in the back.

I said, "God, what a jolly, lovely place. Im going to stay here." So I kept waiting for a repeat of that first lovely afternoon. I waited three years and it didnt happen. I had to make it happen. I took over.

I finally left. I said, "That first afternoon is never going to recur." I was sucked in. It was right after the war was over.

Barbet Schroeder got a worldly crew. The German cameraman, Robby Muller, anyway looks like a gnome from the underworld.

Robby did Paris, Texas, and hes got a camera. I saw the first dailies, and I had to tell him, "Im not even a film man, but as I watched it the first thing that came to my mind was that you meant it." You can sense that hes grasping the totality of the event.

This didnt inspire you to write another screenplay?

No. Because I know that this was a special group. You write another one and youve got a lot of bitching people.

I wouldnt know what to write about. I couldnt just sit down and make something up. Because it wouldnt work. You cant do that.

What about, "The Horseplayer"?

Theres a possibility there. [Lights up.] Ive never covered the horseplayer, how the disease started.

Disease, did you say?

Everythings a disease, because its going to kill you, one way or another. Whether you do it or you dont, its going to kill you. What am I saying? Does that make sense? Let it ride.

LB: They optioned his novel Women.

CB: [Menahem] Golans after it now. Hes all excited. Ran up to me and kissed me. I pointed to Barbet and said, "Heres your man, kiss him." He smelled money there.

What do you think of The Bukowski Tapes?

I liked them the first time I saw them. Second time, it was just an old drunk talking away. Its very hard to see them all at once. Its like reading a book of poetry straight through. Its jarring.

I had a guilt complex because I never thought Barbet would get Barfly off the ground. So he thought hed just get me drunk and talk for video cameras. We got lucky. I made the tapes out of guilt. I wrote a screenplay I didnt want to write.

Have you ever seen where the medium of film has been given over to the poetic impulse very successfully?

"The poetic impulse." Thats a dirty word to me. Its a misused word. You cant use the word anymore, because people have belabored it so much. Its like the word "love"; they just pounded it into the ground. "Poetic," "love," you just cant use them and feel safe. Too many fakes have trod up and down the path using those words. You try to find another word.

Cocteau once said that an artists work is his alibi.

Sounds good. He made some movies, didnt he? Heads popping out of couches and all that. I saw them at the art theater in Greenwich Village when I was starving. Totally artsy and artificial.

Today the popular perception of drunkenness has changed considerably from when you were young.

You mean, they kind of fear it? Make it something evil?

It is viewed, widely, as an illness.

Theyre probably tight. But think of all the ill people who dont drink at all, who are just dull within themselves. All they need is a glass of water. There are people and there are people. A lot of damn fools drink. In fact, most of them do. There are always exceptions within the rule, as they say. This bar was an exception. I dont think I was a standard dull drunk.

We had a roaring time. And wed be sitting there, eight guys. And suddenly somebody would make a statement, a sentence. And it would glue everything we were doing together. It would fit the outside world injust a flick of a thing, then wed smile and go back to our drinking. Say nothing. It was an honorable place, with a high sense of honor, and it was intelligent. Strangely intelligent. Those minds were quick. But given up on life. They werent in it, but they knew something.

I got a screenplay out of it and never thought I would, sitting there.

Then there was The Iceman Cometh.

Yeah, I read that. Now theres a philosophical bar. But its grim and dank and near the edges of hell. These old farts, man, theyre awful people. Its grimy, dull. I liked some of ONeill, I liked a lot of his stuff when I was young. He was a drunk. I like the bit where people became the masks they put on. "Lockheed Becomes Elektra," something like that.

You know, Ive read everything, but I forget it. I used to read 12 books a week. Ive read the whole fucking library.

What are you reading this week?

I havent read anything for ten years. I cant read. You put it in my hand, it drops out. Doesnt do me any good. I like the National Enquirer and the Herald Examiner, thats about it. Im serious.

You once wrote a regular column in the L.A. Free Press, and in a column on how to pick the ponies you said, "Having talent but no follow-through is worse than having no talent at all."

I was thinking of horses when I said that, but I guess it applies everywhere.

Have you been following through?

So far. With minor fame. Thats what Ive got now. Minor fame is bad.

What is the effect of fame on a writer?

Depends on your age, brainpower, and your guts. I think if youre old enough, you have a better chance to overcome what they put on you. If youre a genius at 22 and the babes come around, the drinks How old was Dylan Thomas when he died, 34? It can come too soon. It can never come too late, I guess. I think Im safe.

I get letters from women who want to show their naked bodies. "Im 19 years old and I want to be your secretary. Ill keep your house and I wont bother you at all. I just want to be around." I get some strange letters. I trash them. Even before Linda and I got together.

Nothings free. Theres always problems, theres always tragedy, madness, bullshit. Theres a big trap waiting with all these dollies who send letters about what theyre going to do for me. They just want you to walk into it and put the clamp on you. No way. So Ill answer, "good God, girl, give it to a young man who deserves it and leave me alone. And drive safely." Never hear from them again.

As Ezra said, "Do your W-O-R-K." Thats where the vigor comes from, the creative fucking process. Puts dance in the bones. Like I said, if I dont write for a week, I get sick. I cant walk, I get dizzy, I lay in bed, I puke. Get up in the morning and gag. Ive got to type. If you chopped my hands off, Id type with my feet. So Ive never written for money; Ive written just because of an imbecilic urge.

Even when you were writing for porno magazines?

That was for the rent. [Grins.] That was sicker. I didnt have the urge, but I did it. I enjoyed that. I would write a good story that I liked, but I would find an excuse to throw a sex scene right in the middle of the story. It seemed to work. It was okay.

 

Some guys manage to get hold of their creative energy theyre young, some guys wait a while.

I waited a long, long while. At the age of 50, I was still in the post office, stacking letters. I was still working, I was not a writer. I decided to quit and become a writer. When I went to resign, the lady in the post office said [clucks tongue reprovingly]. I always remember that. It was my last day on the job. One of the clerks said, "I dont know if hes going to make it, but the old man sure has a lot of guts."

Old? I didnt feel old. Youre just walking around in your body, you dont feel any age. When you get old, people say things, but theres no difference.

So that was a big blow. I said, "Oh, shit, what have I done?" The landlady said I was crazy. But she was nice, and sometimes shed leave a big dinner out for me. And every other night long Id go down and drink with them all night long and sing all night. In between I wrote my own stuff. Dirty stories. That was on DeLongpre.

Im 66 now. That was 1970. I guess I got lucky late.

LB: Do you think thats the best way?

CB: Hell yes, because then youve got all the background to reach into and then write things about. The trouble is, with most people and the eight-hour job, when you want to reach, theres nothing left to reach. I was lucky because I didnt believe in the job.

 

In Europe now you are recognized on the streets. Does this get in the way?

All a drunk wants to do is have an excuse to get drunk. So if your celebrity is an excuse to get drunk, you get drunk.

I write when Im drunk. Take away the typewriter and Im a drunk without a typewriter. Could be some goodness left over, or some charm or some bullshit. Its all mixed together.

 

One of the hurtful things about fame is that you play more to a past image than to a future image.

Exactly. Especially a writer. The only thing that amounts to a writer is the next line youre going to write down. All past things dont mean shit. If you cant write that next line, you as a person are dead. Its only the next line, this line thats coming as the typewriter spins, thats the magic, thats the roaring, thats the beauty. Its the only thing that beats death. The next line. If its a good one, of course. [Grins.] That bothers me a lot. No it doesnt. Consider that the next line could be dead. But were not our own best critics, are we? I imagine a lot of guys keep typing while saying, "This stuff is great."

It may be madness, but I feel Im still growing. Its like somebody trying to push out of the top of my head. Working, workingA good feeling, man. The gods are good to me. They havent always been good to me, but lately theyve been kind to me.

[Raises toast.] Heres to my father, who made me the way I am. He brat the shit out of me. After my father, everything was easy.


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