Charles Bukowski, Gary North and Me
The original title of this blog post was: "Charles Bukowski, Gary North and Me - The Best Writers Don't Care What People Think," but I changed that because it sounds like I think I am one of the "best" writers....
Shit! I wish. I just hope I can be a fraction of what Bukowski or North are. They are great... They don't care what you think. The best writers, I mean. I read the famous ones a lot. I think, sometimes, I read new, young ones that could be really good or great someday.
Not to be too flippant, but dying is very bad for someone's health but I think it does wonders for an artist's or a writer's career...
I will always be grateful that Gary North, years ago, would volunteer advice to me as to how to be a better writer as well as helping me to publish my book. I'll get to Charles Bukowski in a minute.
One of the best pieces of advice Gary North ever gave me was something along the lines of "find your topic. Create a thesis. Study it well, write it and rewrite it. Rewrite it again after that. And finally, stick by your guns until someone can prove you wrong with facts or data. If new data comes up then rethink your position."
No, really. I don't give a shit if you buy this book or not. In fact, don't! The proceeds are supposed to go to a home for retired persons but my dad died a few years ago and these assholes from the publisher keep the money, I think.... I will put the entire thing for free online ASAP!
That was important advice for me. It was important because all writers want people to like what they wrote. All writers want to think that they are correct in their thinking. All writers want to be popular and for everyone to like them.
But that is just dreaming and not realistic thinking whatsoever. The writer who writes in an attempt to please everyone - will be relegated to writing boring fiction and fantasy (which could be an honorable profession and much more profitable than writing nonfiction, by the way).
The best writers, actually, are the ones who don't care what you or I think. The best writers know that readers really loving them or hating them with a passion is the best way to be. When people don't care either way, that's the death knell of any art. People must love you or hate you. That's what Charles Bukowski taught me.
The following story about Charles Bukowski and me is pretty unbelievable - if you don't know me very well. I know my friend's will hear this story and say, "Yeah? That sounds exactly like something Rogers would do." I have lots of stories like this. Stories where I met the Ramones, Blondie, Arnold Schwartzneggar, George H.W. Bush, Phil Spector and a bunch of other people that I can't recall at the moment....
The underground 'zine: 60 Miles North
TRIVIA! That's my eldest daughter on the cover.
Anyway, here's the story about Bukowski and how he affected me...
In the early 1980s my best friend, Jeff Hughart, and I started a free underground magazine in Southern California called Sixty Miles North. It was a punk underground rag that got pretty popular in a very short time. At that time, free underground magazines were a novel and new idea. Ours was one of the first.
At that time, there was this old man who was a popular poet and writer in the underground who (pardon my French) didn't give a sh*t what you thought. He had written a few books about how crappy his work life was and Jeff and I thought those books were awesome. His name was Charles Bukowski. Since my friend and I were ex-punk rockers we thought everything in mass pop culture and modern consumerist society was horrible crap so we gravitated towards "dark" writers and artists like Joy Division and Charles Bukowski. Bukowski's novels, we thought, showed total disgust and contempt for modern society and modern life and we liked that a lot.
It seemed it was obvious that Bukowski didn't care if people liked his writing or not. Bukowski thought everything was sh*tty and said so. That's why we thought he was way cool.
Back in those days, Bukowski wasn't popular in the mainstream and was a cult artist. Bukowski lived in Los Angeles and it was well known that he liked the horse races. That was convenient for me because I lived near Los Angeles and so did my parents. In fact, my folks liked the horse races. They were horse race crazy too and, this is no exaggeration, by the time I was 15 years old, I had been to every race track in Southern California a hundred times. As kids, we'd run around the horse races areas and knew all the best places to hide and play.
Great, eh? As a small child, my weekends were spent playing with other fucked up kids at the horse race track while my parents bet.... Now do you wonder why I am so screwed up today?
Jeff and I spent a lot of time on that magazine. It was our release from our jobs and it was fun. It was our creative outlet. We thought that we could get Bukowski to write for our underground magazine.
I got a photo of Bukowski and showed it to my dad and mom and asked them if they had seen this guy down at the track. They weren't sure. Since Bukowski was a published author, and pretty old, I figured that he'd relax in the horse track's "Club House." In the Club House it is not crowded as tables cost a few dollars and one can sit, relax and not have to deal with massive crowds of people. Bukowski wrote that he hated the humanity at the horse track. From being there hundreds of times, I knew exactly what he meant, so from that, I also knew he must have sat in the Club House. (If you've ever been to the horse track you know the "smell of humanity": sweat, sh*t and stale cigar smoke....) In the Club House you could have your space and not be pushed and shoved. The Club House was relaxed. Like I said, my parents were regulars so they knew most of the people in the Club House. There were lots of famous retired actors and actresses there. The most famous one that I can remember was Mickey Rooney. He and my dad would often sit at tables next to each other and talk.
My parents saw the photo but couldn't remember if they'd seen Bukowski or not. So, I went to look for him. Seriously. If you don't know about horse racing, this might seem impossible to do, but if you go to the track a lot and know that certain race tracks are closed when others are open and that there is only one Club House where the regulars hang out, you'd know it shouldn't be so hard to find some old guy betting on the horses. It's be akin to walking into a huge bar with, maybe, 200 customers or so and finding your guy.
Mickey Rooney played Mr. Yuniyoshi in Breakfast at Tiffany's
So, I went looking for Bukowski at the horse racing track... I figured if I found him, I could give buy him a coffee and hand him a magazine, and a stamped envelope addressed with our mailing address (this was way back before the days of the Internet) and ask him to jot down some junk and send it to us for publication in the magazine.
At the track, I showed his photo to some of my parents friends, the workers there and Mickey Rooney. People said they recognized him but hadn't seen him for a while. I tried three different times but I never found Bukowski at the Club House. I gave up.
Jeff, on the other hand, tried an approached that I thought would never work in a million years. Jeff then sent him a letter out of the blue to his publisher and included the same sort of stamped envelope with the same tack that I tried. I figured my way at least had a small chance. I figured that if I could just speak to Bukowski personally, I could convince him to write for us. Jeff had other ideas.
In Jeff's envelope he included a sample of the magazine and a letter asking for a short poem or submission with a "Thank you." Jeff sent it off and we forgot about it.
Well, you can imagine our shock and surprise when the envelope came back to us from Bukowski two weeks later. We were thrilled... You can also imagine our disappointment when Bukowski hand wrote on our letter a "No thank you!" message saying he wasn't interested in writing for our magazine. We were, as Southern California people said back in those days, "Bummed out!"
But not to be deterred and being two guys with a huge sense of humor (and this is the part where you'll think, "That sounds like Rogers"), we decided to run his rejection letter as "Bukowski's writing for our magazine." I think we called it, "Rejection from Bukowski." We printed his rejection letter as is and told the story. We bragged how our "zine" had finally hit the "big time" as even famous writers like Bukowski refused to write for us (remember we were a punk rock underground magazine so that was cool!) I have that magazine around here somewhere, stacked inside of some boxes so I'll have to find it and show it to you sometime.
After that magazine came out, we, once again, sent one to Bukowski with another note. This time he wrote back to us something along the lines of, "I can't believe you guys are so hard up for material that you'd print my rejection letter." He then added two or three (I can't remember how many) short poems that we printed in the next issue.
U2's Bono is a wanker
From that I learned a great lesson in life and from Bukowski. The lesson in life I learned was anything is worth a try and you can't achieve the impossible until you try to do so and, you have to do what you want. Bukowski's writing, at that time, was very hard core and seemed extremely negative to me (OK. I was negative when I was in "punk mode.") I could have never guessed at that time he'd become so famous and popular. So popular, in fact, that wankers like Bono from U2 would try to increase his coolness factor by acting like he is a friend with Bukowski.
Oh, and that reminds me. I do recall one poem he wrote much later, after our initial correspondence. Here is what Bukowski wrote about the time when Bono from U2 called him: (this is from my memory so it isn't word for word):
Bukowski: I got a call from Bono the other day...
He said "Hi!"
I said "Hi!" and asked how Cher was doing...
We didn't talk for
Isn't that hilarious? Bono from U2 is so conceited that he thinks everyone knows who he is so he calls Bukowski to kiss his a*s. But Bukowski is not impressed (or he really doesn't know) and puts him down with the comment about Sonny and Cher! Sensational!
Today, I still read material by Gary North and Charles Bukowski sometimes and other great and famous writers. Now, thanks to the Internet and blogging, I think I can spot almost immediately some of those people with potential to be good or even great writers someday. In the day of print and paper, it was more difficult and costly for writers to say what they wanted to say. They had to tone down their message. Now, thanks to blogging, writers can say what they want.
The best writers start off as arrogant and obnoxious. They have the raw material to become good someday. These are the young people, though, who need to read and study and refine and write and rewrite. These are the people who need to open their minds and realize that they have so much potential if only they'd throw away preconceived notions.
It is as a famous Zen story goes:
A Cup of Tea
Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.
Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor's cup full, and then kept on pouring.
The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. "It is overfull. No more will go in!"
"Like this cup," Nan-in said, "you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?"
Fellow bloggers, especially you that are young, become great writers!Here is my advice to you: Find your topic. Create a thesis. Study it well, write it and rewrite it. Rewrite it again after that. And finally, stick by your guns until someone can prove you wrong with facts or data. If new data comes up then rethink your position.
Always, do not care too much what other people think... Good art is not democratic.
And, ALWAYS keep an open mind and realize that many of the ideas we believed at 25 we find out at the age of 50 are completely wrong.
Lastly, let me leave you with this quote (and get off my soapbox):
"We have to abandon the idea that schooling is something restricted to youth. How can it be, in a world where half the things a man knows at 20 are no longer true at 40 - and half the things he knows at 40 hadn't been discovered when he was 20?" - Arthur C. Clarke
Psst! Sonny and Cher (Bono) were way cooler than U2's poseur vocalist Bono could ever be! Bukowski was an old man in the eighties. He wouldn't know about U2. Here's the Bono he must have thought he was talking to...
And, when U2 Bono hung up the phone, do you think Bukowski cared?
Nope. Most probably not.
For Ryu, Andrew, Jp and Allison