Prolific poet, novelist and short story writer Charles Bukowski would have turned 90 on Monday (August 16th). Bukowski, who died in 1994, lived a hard life of drinking, gambling, dead end jobs, and rocky relationships with women. A strong autobiographical thread runs through his writing, which is peopled with losers, lowlifes, and hustlers. Much of Bukowski's work is set in the seamy underside of Los Angeles, his home town.
An alcoholic, Bukowski had a difficult personality--his behavior could be disruptive, boorish, and combative at his public readings and other social events. The song Bukowski by Modest Mouse, from their 2004 album Good News for People Who Love Bad News, picks up on this trait. The song can hardly be considered a tribute with lyrics such as these:
Woke this morning and it seemed to me
That every night turns out to be
A little bit more like Bukowski
And yeah, I know he's a pretty good read
But God, who'd want to be
God, who'd want to be such an asshole?
In his 2006 book Modest Mouse: A Pretty Good Read (yes, the title is taken from the lyrics of "Bukowski"), Alan Goldsher offers these thoughts on Modest Mouse lyricist Isaac Brock's attitude toward the late author:
Considering Isaac's love of both imbibing and literature, it was only a matter of time before he acknowledged eternally drunken poet/novelist Charles Bukowski in song. But Brock's attitude toward drinking and drugging was slowly changing, so it would stand to reason that he might also take a different view of Bukowski. While Brock sings about Bukowski being "a pretty good read," he was less than impressed with the author's worldview. "He glamorized alchoholism and misogyny," Isaac says. "I've seen friends get impressed by him and he seemed to impress himself by being a pain in the ass. I just don't like alcoholism being put in a way that makes my friends wanna be alcoholics." When Brock repeats the lyric "God, who'd wanna be such an asshole," you wonder if he's talking about Charles or himself.
Another musical reference to Bukowski can be found in U2's song Dirty Day, from their 1993 album Zooropa. The song, which depicts a difficult encounter between an estranged father and son, is dedicated to Bukowski. The phrase "these days, days, days run away like horses over the hill," repeated by Bono over the song's fadeout, alludes to Bukowski's 1969 poetry collection The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over the Hills. Bukowski died a few months after the album was released.
Singer-songwriter Tom Russell's 2005 album Hotwalker: Charles Bukowski & A Ballad for Gone was inspired by his exchange of letters with Bukowski. The album features original songs, narration, and actual recordings of Bukowski and his contemporaries (including Jack Kerouac and Lenny Bruce). Russell has also collected his correspondence with Bukowski into a limited edition book called Tough Company, published in 2008.
Finally, the Boo Radleys state the obvious in their song Charles Bukowski Is Dead, from their 1995 album Wake Up!, released almost exactly one year after Bukowski died.
The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over the Hills (Kindle Edition)