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Sunday 17 December 2017

The talented hobo who inspired Bono

The DODGER Stadium in Los Angeles was crammed the night a youthful Bono said to wild applause: "This concert is dedicated to Linda and Charles Bukowski."

Novelist and poet Charles Bukowski was in the audience with his actor pal Sean Penn. Surely, Bukowski said: "No one in this f**king place knows who I am."

Bono knew. He was a fan. U2's tribute song that night, Dirty World, was based on a Bukowski poem with which Bono ended a superb performance: "These days, days, days run away like horses over the hill."

What did Bukowski think of U2? Like him, they were anti-establishment figures, anti-everything. Except, he noted, this millionaire group were the Establishment.

I'm a Bukowski fan but I never liked him. Mickey Rourke depicted him brilliantly in the 1987 movie Barfly as Henry Chinaski, a drunk who used women as if it was his vocation. Sean Penn had offered to play the lead opposite Fay Dunaway for one dollar but he demanded Dennis Hopper as director. It proved impossible.

In US literature, Bukowski holds an almost unique place. He wrote about the unheroic things that make life liveable and the nine-to-five guys who work so the rich can live in idleness and luxury.



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His father always beat him and put him down. Everything Bukowski wrote was about himself and particularly his wretched childhood, which he described in gory detail in his great novel, Ham on Rye. Came the glorious day when, aged 16, he knocked his shiny bastard of a father out cold with one punch.

For the rest of his life he played the part of the downtrodden, though he did little but tread on others and ended up with so much dough he was able in 1994 to die in the lap of luxury. But give him his due -- he was totally dedicated to his art, even if he was truthful to the point of obscenity.

No one chose jazzier titles for their 60 books, for example, Crucifix in a Death Hand and Poems Written Before Jumping out of an Eight Storey Window.

Some of his sayings hit the spot: "In a democracy you vote first and take orders later; in a dictatorship you don't have to waste your time voting." Another goes: "The best at hate are those who preach love and the best at war finally are those who preach peace." He despised hospitals which were so expensive it was cheaper to die and lawyers who charged so much it was cheaper to plead guilty.

His tombstone bears the words 'Don't Try'. It's crucial, he said, not to "try for Cadillacs, creation or immortality. You wait. If nothing happens, you wait some more. It's like a bug high on a wall. You wait for it to come to you. When it gets close enough you reach out, slap and kill it."

That's about the best advice to budding writers I know.

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