March 03, 2008

Memories of Bukowski & Burroughs

Bukowski, smoking

In the interests of authenticity I got drunk before this post.

Bacon and Burroughs - what a vicious afternoon.

Like a lot men I fell for Bukowski when I was young and I fell hard. As much as the words it was the idea that one could create something in a small space, keep on a long adolescence, and, of course, be richly rewarded in women and $ at the end. The suffering and poverty were always only a prelude, not the main theme, but for 99.99999% or more that's all that happens. A one in ten million shot - to have talent, to write, to be discovered, to succeed. Failure is what happens in this field.

I was faithful to this dream until my early 30s, when I started to suffer, mentally and physically, from the kind of overdrafts that one can never really pay off. It'd be nice to say that I had a lot of fun, and while I'm sure I did - I did about everything I wanted to that could be achieved with minimal funds - the fun burned off fast and what was left was just the thing itself, mechanical, hitting the pleasure sites again and again, like a retard bashing ants. I let myself change, I learned to drink and romanticize less. Now I'm a sober looking type, more like William Burroughs, albeit without a suit and tie. Suits I can understand, but ties seem like fancy dress.

Somewhere in on Bukowski he writes about doing a reading at a college and seeing Burroughs alone in a room, doing nothing. I've always felt closer to Burroughs than Bukowski, and what I liked was his essential half-assedness. Much like Beckett he makes no attempt to be user-friendly, and is thus a far, far worse writer than those who are truly great (e.g. Dostoevsky) or very good (e.g. post-American Tabloid James Ellroy), or even competent (e.g. ... insert whoever). To be honest he is bad - try reading the cut-ups rather than appreciating them from afar - but with a sincerity and a force of character that win the day, even as you don't pick up the volumes much for kicks. Although the last trilogy, heavily edited by his assistant / lover, is a good fun western / sci-fi pulp summation of his lifetime concerns with outlaws, guns and young men.

The idea of Burroughs is far better than the reality, and it's ideas that I've generally taken from books, far more than the actual strings of words, the ideas that helped me or got me in trouble. Still, whatever their role in how I got to be here now, the ideas of men like Bukowski and Burroughs don't mean that much to me anymore. At some point I want to revisit all my teenage / 20-something books and movies and work out what was there then and what remains now. But that's a task that would take a long time, and I get bored fast when I look back. Too many things are happening now.

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