Charles Bukowski

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Originally from:
Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany


Los Angeles

Words by: Theodora Sutcliffe

So who was Charles Bukowski?
The abused, acne-scarred son of a German railroad worker, Charles Bukowski became the ultimate poet and chronicler of American lowlife - drunks, bookers, bar fights, vomit and all. He wrote with grinding power, minimalist punctuation and A LOT OF CAPITAL LETTERS about the bitter grind of daily life in novels like Post Office and Factotum. Both his fiction and his poems are undergraduate favourites and rock star inspiration even now.

Where did he drink?
A man who owned only two sets of clothes - washing one every evening, without fail - Bukowski favoured down-home, afternoon drinking bars full of afternoon drinkers. In LA, he could often be found at Hank's on Grand Avenue or The Frolic Room (where he also gave readings) on Hollywood Boulevard. He avoided a first date with his future wife at the Bull Pen in Redondo Beach.

What did he drink?
Bukowski's last wife, Linda, who owned a health food restaurant, managed to wean him off hard liquor and onto wine - albeit two or three bottles in a typical writing evening and sometimes as many as seven. Rumour has it the great man favoured Liebfraumilch, though others say he preferred a nice Cab Sauv.

Whatever the truth of his taste in wine, it is fair to say that Bukowski was no cocktailian. He favoured American beers, even as he ranted about how they had gone downhill since World War II - out of a bottle, by preference, not the can. Miller's or Schlitz, not Bud, and sometimes a Heineken or ten. Typically, he'd consume a couple of six packs plus a pint of cheap Scotch over an evening's writing.

Any famous drinking buddies?
Ironically for a man who made it big writing about lowlifes, hookers, drunks and dropouts, Bukowski enjoyed a stellar acquaintance. On the underground scene, he knew Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac - not to mention Leonardo DiCaprio's father.

During his Hollywood period, Charles was friends with Bono, who would go on to dedicate a track on Zooropa to his memory. Though he and Mickey Rourke, who played him in Barfly, cracked heads quite epically on set, he became genuine friends with Sean Penn, then married to Madonna, whom he took to the races. Bukowski dedicated a story to Penn and Penn posthumously returned the favour with a film. Bukowski, who loathed many writers, deigned to both dine and drink with the literary titan and fight aficionado Norman Mailer.

How did drink change his life?
As a shy, physically abused teenager, Bukowski found alcohol transformative: "This is going to help me for a very long time," he remembered thinking long after the event. Although an ulcer nearly killed him in 1955 and a doctor said that continuing to drink would be fatal, he lasted into his 70s.

Drink fuelled Bukowski's writing, brought him fame, celebrity and, in later life, even some wealth. Yet it also stopped him writing for at least ten years, and, combined with the acne scars, made him as ugly physically as he could be to the women in his life when drunk.

Any drinking stories?
Bukowski's life and work were one long drinking story. Though the one where he lost his virginity to a lady he ungallantly describes as a "300-pound hooker" bears repeating, if only for the fact that he was 24.

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