Charles Bukowski was born 100 years ago on August 16 and died in 1994. Not only was he the author of countless novels, short stories, and poems, but he was also a monthly contributor to High Times magazine between 1982-1985. In honor of his centenary this year, we’re republishing Bukowski’s interview with Silvia Bizio from the January, 1982 issue of High Times below.
Charles Bukowski knows whereof he writes. A marginal man, a heavy boozer, a denizen of the seamy L.A. nightlife, Bukowski drew on his rich experience to produce over 30 autobiographical books of poems, short stories and novels.
And they sing. He possesses the hobo vitality of Kerouac, the blunt eroticism of Miller and the whimsical cut-to-the-bone philosophy of Cain. Bukowski came to writing late in life, after a 14-year stint in the post office and a couple of extended stays in prisons and hospitals. But today at 61, he is on the verge of mass acceptance. His stories are being produced as movies, he’s a culture hero all over Europe and his last novel, Women, sold over 100,000 copies in the United States.
And Bukowski rolls on. Like the antihero of his novels, Hank Chinaski, he goes to the track every day and writes at night, with the radio pouring out classical music and the bottle pouring out red grape. Bukowski is currently at work on a novel on his early years, a section of which is excerpted in this issue. Silvia Bizio, an Italian journalist, caught up with Bukowski in his home in San Pedro, California, sometime between the ninth race and the fifth bottle.
High Times: They like your stuff in Europe better than they do here. How do you explain that?
Bukowski: Europe is one hundred years ahead in poetry, paintings, art—which is lucky for me. Here there aren’t many who appreciate my work. The feminists especially hate me so much because they haven’t read everything I have written; they only read parts of it. They get so infuriated they can’t read the next page or the next story. That’s not my fault; that’s their fault. They get too ready to attack without going into the whole ball of shit that I have created.
High Times: It’s not only them. It seems you have a lot of problems in the Left in general.
Bukowski: The Left doesn’t like me? I am the working man, or at least I used to be.
High Times: Well, at least from what I have seen in America.
Bukowski: Oh, in America? I don’t like the Left in America, because they are just well-fed Westwood Village little ninnies screaming slogans. They are too worried about getting a job or getting marijuana or tires for their cars or cocaine or going to a discotheque. So I don’t think there is any underground radical movement here. Anything underground radical is media hype, just strict bullshit; and anybody who gets into it will quickly go into anything else that gathers them monetary gains. Abbie Hoffman, all those slickers. The whole Left in America is just glorious bullshit hype—nothing like the Wobblies in the ’20s. The American Left are white-bellied shrieks of nowhere—they have always been. At least you could talk to those guys, the Wobblies. I would drink with them; I wouldn’t go with them, though. But the Left… They don’t know what struggle really means. The fight is in the streets. I come from the streets. I understand the streets. But the streets are the streets: There isn’t much you can do with them. The streets are very beautiful, East Hollywood is very beautiful, Hollywood and Western, Big Sam the Whorehouse Man. The streets are good, they are full of people, marvelous people, and I don’t like the rich any more than you do. You can put fifty thousand dollars in my bank, I still don’t like the rich. I may eat dinner with them in the same cafés, the maître d’ might know my name, but I still don’t like them. Because they are dead. I don’t like dead people, even if they have one million dollars. I take their million but I don’t take them.
High Times: You think they are dead because of their money?
Bukowski: I think it helps them. But the poor get dead for the same reason: lack of money. They get hateful, they lash out. So we’ll go back to my original equation which I wrote fifty years ago: There are only two things wrong with money: too much or too little. Even when you have just right, sometimes it doesn’t quite work. It might be the climate, or the genes, or the person you are living with. Nothing ever works.
High Times: You consider yourself apolitical?
Bukowski: Sure, I don’t have any politics. Why should I? It’s like having gallstones: It costs money to have them removed, so why have them?
High Times: I know you don’t like political questions, but this has to do with your work. Do you think Reagan’s election will bring about some changes in the American cultural world in general and your possibility of being published in particular?
Bukowski: I am not a political person; I mean, I cannot foresee, I can only guess and say that the situation will become more repressive. The Moral Majority has voted Mr. Reagan in—many of them are Christian, many are conservative—and naturally Mr. Reagan will see to it that most of their wishes are respected. But I don’t give a fuck about it. It will not influence my writing, nor do I think it will influence my publications. My shit is not what you would call dirty in a physical sense; people tend to get nervous about what I write, they tend to hate me. Some poets of the “establishment” here—I know they hate me. I feel their hate, and I think it’s good; it shows I am doing something. But, obviously, if everybody hated me, my books wouldn’t sell. But many of the people who hate me buy my books. I can imagine what they are thinking: “Okay, I hate this guy so much I want to see what he is going to write next!” It’s like at my poetry readings: Half of the people who come hate me. If I hated somebody, I wouldn’t go to his reading; I would stay away.
There always has to be somebody who wants to kill you, run you over with his car, mutilate you, chop up your fingers—somebody who can’t sleep at night thinking about you. Of course, with those who hate you come also the ones who love you, and that’s pretty hard to take, too, you know? “Oh you are so great, Bukowski! Oh, you saved my life! Oh, Bukowski! Oh, Bukowski!” It makes me sick.
High Times: So you almost prefer people who hate you over the ones who love you?
Bukowski: Not exactly that but… you know, many times I talk and I say things that I don’t really think. I hate to say things that mean exactly what they are, unless it’s something exceptionally important. Don’t you think it’s boring to always say things as they are? I don’t just want to say, “Oh, yes, it’s good, it’s wonderful.” It would make me feel too much like a politician. Often I say things that I don’t really mean, but almost mean. Sometimes I even write this way. So don’t take everything I say by the letter, because it isn’t so.
High Times: So sometimes you fooled us all with your writings. Is that what you are trying to say?
Bukowski: Sometimes I even fool myself. And sometimes they reject my writing, and they say: “It isn’t good at all, Bukowski!” And they are right: I write a lot of shit. Almost intentionally I write a lot of shit, to keep me going, and much of it is not good, but it keeps me exercising. But a lot of it is good. I’d say that seventy-five percent of what I write is good; forty, forty-five percent is excellent; ten percent is immortal, and twenty-five percent is shit. Does it add up to one hundred?
High Times: Back to politics: Even though you say you’re apolitical, some people see political themes in your work.
Bukowski: They are entirely wrong. There is no political motivation in me. I don’t want to save the world, I don’t want to make it a better place. I just want to live in it and talk about what happens. I don’t want the whales to be saved, I don’t want the nuclear plants to be broken down and taken away: Whatever is here, I am with it. I may say I don’t like it, but I don’t want to change it. I am very selfish. What I mostly don’t like is things like… I drive my car down the freeway, I get a flat tire, and I have to get out and change the goddamn thing. I have to change lanes and there isn’t any lane on the right-hand side, and I have to get to the track. So you see, I have no profound feelings, I have no profound movement. I have nothing of this wanting anything at all. I just want to brush my teeth and hope my teeth don’t fall off; I hope to get a hard-on next year: just simple little things. I am not looking for big things. I’ll settle for small things, like the winner of the third race at the odds of three to one: That’s all I want. Nothing very magic; I don’t want to extend beyond my boundaries.
High Times: You gave me the impression of being timid when I talked with you on the phone the other day.
Bukowski: Well, I am worried about Linda [Beighle, Bukowski’s girl friend]. She always senses when I talk to a woman that I am going to rape her. I care very much for Linda so I don’t want to create any disturbances. So when I talk to a woman on the telephone I keep it very low tone: “Yes, no, okay.” I don’t say: “You want to come over for an interview? I’ll have some wine, I’ll have some logs on the fire, and I’ll be all alone, autograph, anything you bring, with a big felt pen, full of writing material….” So I am always very careful to show that I am with somebody.
High Times: A lot of women call you?
Bukowski: Well, not now anymore: I am in hiding. Women come in, they are all full of life, and all of a sudden you say, well, when is the time that this thing comes out of the body and the whole face changes, and the smile stops, even sex gets bad. I don’t know, I would say thirty-one days after the first meeting, a little devil jumps up and gives the forewording sound of things to come and then goes back and you think you are just imagining things. And six months later the devil really comes out and breaks windows and accuses you of all sorts of things you haven’t done. It’s a kind… I would call it a female nervous neurotic energy extending itself upon me, which is all right. One must suffer if one lives with somebody. One must pay for some temporary joy. So I know these things are coming, but each time I think, “I have seen this film before.” But I’m sure the woman feels the same: “Oh, no, that happened with Ralph, I thought this one was okay!” So, we start spooking each other with what we are. And if I can’t take it, we separate.
I have nothing to say about human relationships except they don’t work. They never work: They pretend to work. It’s a human truce. The best I heard is when I was working at the post office and this guy was telling me they had been married for fifty years. When he or she woke up he’d look at her and say in a very calm voice: “Now don’t start anything and there won’t be anything.” To me that sums up the whole big thing. He just wanted a truce. Human relationships don’t work, but we become together. At the beginning we are all charming. I remember a film with Woody Allen—he’s good at this kind of thing—where the woman was saying: “But you are not like we were at the beginning; you were so charming!” And he said: “You know, I was just doing my mating thing, I was using up all my energies. I couldn’t keep doing this, I’d go crazy!” So that’s what people do at the beginning. You think they are so intelligent, so full of life the first few days. And then reality creeps in. “Jesus Christ, you leave your stockings all over the floor, you idiot asshole jerk! You flushed the toilet and there is still a turd in it!” So, human relationships don’t work, they never did and they never will. They are not meant to. People were meant to live half alone and half together. With women I was all charming, but I felt like I was eating raw meat, that I couldn’t quite chew too well. It became kind of a dirty trick. I am not religious, but I do have some damn morals of goodness. I don’t like to just. . .
Well, it’s okay, you fuck… I used to… after they’d go to work and I used to open their closets, look at their shoes, and I’d go to their bathroom, and see a picture of their boyfriend, and I’d say, “That jerk! She lives with this guy? I better get out of here!” And they’d say, “Phone me at work,” “Hi, baby,” but you don’t give a shit; you lie in their bed, it’s awful, and finally you realize and say, “What the hell am I doing? What am I trying to do?” A piece of ass is not that important! Because after you come, you have to live many hours without coming—at least I do: I am sixty. The whole thing is very confusing. You read the Decameron, Boccaccio. This is what influenced Women a great deal. I loved his idea that sex was so ridiculous, nobody could handle it. It was not so much love with him; it was sex. Love is funnier, more ridiculous. That guy! He could really laugh at it. He must have really gotten burnt about five thousand times to write that stuff. Or maybe he was just a fag; I don’t know. So, love is ridiculous because it can’t last, and sex is ridiculous because it doesn’t last long enough.
High Times: So what’s not ridiculous?
Bukowski: What’s not ridiculous is the in-between time, waiting between sex and love and facing what is left over with a matter of goodness—not becoming bitter. I think we must become good with what is left in ourselves, with what is left over after it’s not good anymore. In other words, to remain whole even though everything is not quite worked out. I think we need a little luck and a little glamour and a little strength and a little moxie just to carry it on. Hemingway would call it ”grace in time of trouble,” but he said it better than that. Moxie means carrying on when everything feels terrible. You park your car in the garage if you have a garage—if you have a car —you slam the door, you jack off and read a magazine instead of cutting your throat. It means carrying on when everything seems so terrible there is no use to go on, and you don’t go to a god, you don’t go to a church. You face the wall and just work it out alone. If you don’t think that is tough, cookie… that is tough, cookie. To run somewhere, to grab something, a god, a woman, a drug, one evening of success, for the night, for the week, the year, for the lifetime; people don’t hold still long enough to find out what the hell they are.
High Times: I know you’ll hate this question, but isn’t alcohol an escape too?
Bukowski: I knew you were going to say that. That’s why I left it out! But you see, alcohol is such a pleasant god. It allows you to commit suicide and awaken again and kill yourself again. There is something lengthy about an alcoholic’s death. Drugs are fast; if you believe in a god, you are completely dead anyhow, because you have given away your whole brain process to somebody other than yourself. Alcohol is a slow process of dying. In other words, you are not quitting all at once. You are quitting inch by inch instead of quickly giving up. You are waiting around until maybe something might happen a little bit better. So I have been doing that since I was fourteen years old. And now I am driving a BMW, I live in a big house, the logs are on the fire, you are interviewing me, things seem better, but I know they are not. I know they are exactly the same: They change shape, but I know they are still very bad. They will always be.
High Times: Are you talking only about yourself or the whole world in general?
Bukowski: For me mainly, because I can’t do the thinking or feeling for the others. But it seems I am, because often I get many letters in the mail about my writing, and they say: “Bukowski, you are so fucked up and you still survive. I decided not to kill myself,” or, “You are such an asshole, man, you gave me the courage to live.” So in a way I save people while taking a drink, and waiting. Not that I want to save them: I have no desire to save anybody. But it seems I have saved them. Being an asshole saves an asshole, okay? So these are my readers, you see? They buy my books—the defeated, the demented and the damned—and I am proud of it.
High Times: Are you putting me on?
Bukowski: A little bit, but not completely. Because the main man I attack in my writing is me, and basically I am almost everyone who is around. That’s what the feminists seem to miss, the part of the stuff in between the written lines.
High Times: Do you consider yourself an erotic writer?
Bukowski: Erotic! I write about everything. The reason sex got into so much of my stories is because when I quit with the post office, at the age of fifty, I had to make money. What I really wanted to do was write about something that interested me. But there were all those pornographic magazines on Melrose Avenue, and they had read my stuff in the Free Press, and started asking me to send them something. So what I would do was write a good story, and then in the middle I had to throw in some gross act of sex. And so I would write a story, and at a certain point I would say: “Well it’s time to throw some sex into it.” And I would throw some sex in it and kept writing the story. It was okay: I would mail the story and immediately get a three-hundred-dollar check.
High Times: But do you see your stories as erotic? Do you think people get excited when they read them?
Bukowski: I don’t know. Some people have written me and told me that some of my stories have aroused them. Especially “The Fiend.” Now, why the story of a man raping a little girl arouses people I don’t know. Perhaps a lot of men want to do it and it is only the law and the fear that prevents them from doing it. Perhaps the fact that I described her clothing, slowly, what happened, has excited somebody. But I didn’t get a hard-on while I was writing it.
High Times: What about Henry Miller? Do you consider Miller an erotic writer?
Bukowski: I can’t read Henry Miller. He starts talking about reality but then he becomes esoteric, starts talking about something else. A couple of good pages, and then he goes off on a tangent, enters into abstract areas, and I can’t read him anymore. I feel gypped.
High Times: Gypped? What do you mean?
Bukowski: He doesn’t stay there. I want him to stay in the streets, not in the air.
High Times: So good writing is writing that stays in reality, in the streets.
Bukowski: I didn’t say it has to be like that; I said that for me it is. So I try to stay in the streets, wherever I am; I try to stay with reality. I only describe things; I don’t try to explain them. Only what I know worries me. What I don’t know doesn’t concern me. It’s like at the post office: The boys used to say, “What I don’t know doesn’t hurt me. If my wife is fucking someone else, if I don’t know it, it doesn’t exist.” All I know is what I see. I am in bed watching TV, all I know is Johnny Carson: That’s reality!
I guess I am closer to the street people than I am to anybody, and when you get anybody who is a little higher, he becomes a mark. So that’s why you have to lay low, do your work and just be quiet. Do your screaming in the pages but don’t let them see you too often. Think about it: What is it that creates some kind of magic between somebody who creates and somebody who listens to creation? The magic I think often is the person who secludes himself from the masses; not deliberately, but it has to be done. Once the artist starts mixing with the masses, the artist becomes the masses. High Times: Is that why you didn’t go to the International Poetry Festival of Castelporziano in Italy last summer? You were one of the “big absents” there.
Bukowski: I didn’t go because I didn’t like the line of American poets I would be reading with. I would not read with them in Santa Monica, California; I wouldn’t even be in the same room with them. So that’s why I didn’t go: I didn’t like the company. I don’t want to name anybody, but if it’s true that they were bombarded with sand balls as you tell me, I am pleased. That’s what I feel like doing when they read: I feel like vomiting and throwing my vomit at them.
High Times: But those people wanted to hear Bukowski and Ginsberg…
Bukowski: No, wait a minute, let’s not confuse—
High Times: All right, but Allen is a big idol in Italy, as you are.
Bukowski: Who, Allen? [Sarcastically.] Allen is okay, Allen is all right, yes, they are all good poets: Gregory Corso, and Ginsberg’s boyfriend, and Joan Baez, Timothy Leary, Frank Zappa, Bob Dylan… American culture is all right. American culture is… I think the whole thing has a big lag. It’s like a body dragging a tail, but the tail is behind the body dragging in the dust.
High Times: What is the best compliment that a male reader can give you? And what is the best compliment that a female reader can give you?
Bukowski: The female readers are all the same. When I am at a poetry reading they come and say, “I am going to fuck you.” The men don’t say that; they say, “Hey, man, you are great!” So the women readers excite me a little bit more. I think men like me more.
High Times: In your books you always talk about your sexual pleasure, but we don’t know much of how the women feel making love with you…
Bukowski: Well, of course, I start with my pleasure; if there is something left, they can take it. When I am satisfied, it’s all over. Ten seconds, it’s finished. Sometimes it’s only three or four seconds, and there is never any foreplay. It’s all there: Get over there, let’s get it out of the way so I can watch TV. That’s the way I do it.
High Times: And so then Johnny Carson is a good conclusion…?
Bukowski: Johnny Carson after sex? Sometimes it’s better than the sex that preceded it; sometimes it’s not. We all have bad nights.
High Times: Aren’t you concerned about how women feel making love with you?
Bukowski: Are you talking about that sex liberation bullshit? Well, okay, sometimes I tried to do all I could: a lot of foreplay; I know where the clitoris is, I know how to do all these things, I know, I know.
High Times: Aren’t you worried about your reputation?
Bukowski: As a big lover? No, if they don’t like what I am doing, they go to another man, which is what they usually do. Let them do all the foreplay.
High Times: Is it true that you started writing Women after several years of celibacy?
Bukowski: Several? It must have been ten, twelve, since the last time I had had sex. You need to recharge your sperm. Or perhaps I think that I have always known that women are trouble more than anything else.
High Times: But you had to go through that experience, and start sleeping with women again…
Bukowski: Because I thought that being a writer, and having been without women for twelve years… you can write a lot of things, but if you lack the other half of the human race, you are not a complete human being, you don’t know what the hell is going on, right? I mean, you need a certain balance. If you want to write bad things about women, you have to live with them first. So I live with them in order to criticize them in my writings.
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Do you think it was so terrible to be without sex in those twelve years? I was preparing for the tempest of women who would have arrived. Perhaps I knew it was going to happen. It’s not a decision I made: Things in life just happen. I didn’t have my first fuck until I was twenty-three. Now I am sixty-one years old and I had my last one last year.
High Times: Really? Why?
Bukowski: It allows me to pick the winners better at the track. To me, sex is like a peanut butter sandwich.
What do you think happens when people arrive at a certain age when sex is not possible anymore? You can’t love that person anymore? What’s all this big deal about sex? Does everything have to be sex? Can’t I ride a bicycle without thinking about sex? Am I an impure person because I don’t think about sex? Is my mind wrong because I don’t have a hard-on fifty percent of the times? I have nothing against fucking, but I think it can be overpriced.
People think that I am fixated with sex. I fucked, I fucked well and I wrote well about fucking, but this doesn’t mean it’s very important. I fucked a lot of women, I fucked and I drank, I drank and I sexed, and I discovered, drinking and sexing, that it is not that big of a deal.
People want to come here, and they say, “Hey, Bukowski, let’s get drunk, I am bringing some whores over.” I am not interested: “Hey, I don’t want your whores.” They think it’s important. I didn’t say it. It’s just because I write good stuff on sex, but I could have written as well about frying eggs, except I didn’t.
High Times: What can you tell me about this book on childhood that you’re writing now?
Bukowski: Three-quarters finished; my editor says it’s the best thing I have ever written. But it’s not finished. It’s a horror story, and it has been harder to write than the others. Because it’s so serious, I have tried to make it a little funny, to cover the horror of my childhood.
High Times: Was it a horror story?
Bukowski: Oh, yes. Capital H. Why? Have you ever been beaten with a strap, three times a week, from the age of six to the age of eleven? Do you know how many beatings that is?
High Times: Was it your father?
Bukowski: Yes. But, see, this has been a good literary training. Beating me with that strap taught me something.
High Times: What did it teach you?
Bukowski: How to type.
High Times: What’s the link?
Bukowski: The link is, when they beat you long enough and hard enough you have the tendency to say what you really mean; in other words, they take all the pretenses out of you. If you can get out of it, whatever is still there is usually something genuine. Anyone who gets severe punishment during childhood can get out of it quite strong, quite good, or can end up being a rapist, a killer, end up in a madhouse or lost in all kinds of different directions. So you see, my father was a great literary teacher: He taught me the meaning of pain—pain without reason…
High Times: Is this perhaps the reason you write in isolation, without contacts with people? And is that why you write?
Bukowski: Certainly nobody knows why they became writers. I am only saying that my father has taught me a lesson in life, taught me certain aspects of life, of people. And these people exist; I meet them every day as I am driving my car on the freeway.
High Times: What kind of people?
Bukowski: I am on the freeway, in the fast lane, behind somebody. He goes fifty miles an hour. I swing around him, I try to pass him, he goes sixty. I go sixty-five, and he pushes on the gas pedal. There is something in the human race which is very petty, very bitter. I see it from the way people drive on the freeway. When somebody wants to pass me, I put on the brakes, I let him go. The human race isn’t very much.
High Times: Did you always feel that way?
Bukowski: It hasn’t improved. I didn’t notice any change. In one of my poems I wrote: “Humanity, you never had it from the beginning.” I see no reason to alter that line.
High Times: I assume you’ve done a lot of reading…
Bukowski: Between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four I must have read a whole library. I ate books for dinner. My father used to say at eight o’clock in the evening: “Lights out!” He had the idea that we had to go to bed early, get up early and get ahead in the world by doing a good job at whatever you were doing—which is complete bullshit. I knew that, but these books were so much more interesting than my father. In fact, they were the opposite of my father: These books had some heart, had some gamble. So when he said, “Lights out,” I would take a little light in my bed, put it under the covers and read, and it would get suffocating under there and hot, but it made each page I turned all the more glorious, like I was taking dope: Sinclair Lewis, Dos Passos, these are my friends under the covers. You don’t know what these guys meant to me; they were strange friends. I was finding under the apparent brutality people that were saying things to me quietly; they were magic people. And now when I read the same guys I think that they weren’t so good.
High Times: Do you ever see other writers?
Bukowski: Why go see another writer? What’s there to say? There is nothing to be said; there are only things to be done. Talking with another writer is like drinking water in the bathtub: You don’t do it. Do you ever drink water in the bathtub? No, you see? I drink wine in the bathtub.
High Times: Is there any living writer you respect?
Bukowski: There are a couple, but it’s better if I don’t see them, when I am drinking. The majority of them would start talking about their work. They don’t say, “My wife broke her arm yesterday.” They say things like “I am working on a sonnet” or “I am going to New York.” They talk shop.
High Times: What about their books?
Bukowski: I don’t like the way they wear their clothes, I don’t like their shoes and I don’t like their books. I don’t like their tone of voice. I don’t like the way they puke after three drinks. Writers are very despicable people. Plumbers are better, used car salesmen are better; they are all more human than writers. Writers become human only when they sit at the typewriter; then they can become good or even exceptional. Take them away from their typewriter and they become pricks. [Intensely:] I am a writer.
High Times: Yet you don’t think that of yourself.
Bukowski: No. Because I worked in a factory, I became tame. I didn’t become a writer until I was fifty, so I had the time to live in a different area of existence. That life helped me to maintain myself—can I use the word sane? normal? Somehow it doesn’t seem the right word. I mean, it gave me a certain… naturalness. That’s the word I am looking for: naturalness.
High Times: When did things change in your life? When did the time of Post Office and Women stop?
Bukowski: Nothing stopped. Another one worried about my soul! You know, at one time when people came by they used to see me in this tiny room full of beer cans, and getting up and going to the bathroom and vomiting, and I come out, light a cigarette, drink another beer—they thought I had a soul!
High Times: And I bet they were very self-satisfied in seeing you feel horrible and sick. That’s the image people have of Hank Chinaski.
Bukowski: But I was having soul for them, and I was having it for me, too. It’s okay, I understand. I was a tough guy. Now I am soft, mellow, I smile. I just want to live calmly with a decent woman, drinking together, watching TV, taking a walk…
High Times: So no more of all these women in your life?
Bukowski: I am not saying that. Basically I have always been a loyal jerk. Every woman I lived with, even a whore, I have had a damn sense of loyalty and honesty with; and I wish everybody would have it, because it would make the world easier.
High Times: What do you think this loyalty is based on?
Bukowski: I guess it’s based on other people’s disloyalty—the ugliness of it. I don’t want to be the first liar. I don’t know where it comes from. I don’t have any religion. To be good is better than being anything else if there is no choice. You don’t have to be a Christian; it’s not an obligation. Just to be good is an easy concept. It makes everybody feel better when I am being good. On the other hand, I admire evil people who can be original and strike out into new areas; but the kind of evil people I like are those who don’t betray one person but those who cut through the beliefs of many people who are ignorant and just start new trends of thinking. There is a difference between two people fucking each other up and one person fucking the whole world with an original concept. Anybody strong like Hitler is going to be hated for centuries, but they are going to talk about him, make movies about him long after those who gathered together to conquer him subsided from human consciousness. Because it took some balls to crack through the morals of central understanding. I think this is okay if you can do it on a grand scale. If you can betray and kill all humanity, that is grand; but if you lie to the person you are living with, that’s shit. Because it doesn’t take any guts to do one, and it takes courage and originality to do the other.
High Times: I heard that they are teaching you in some universities, that they are using your books as textbooks: the poems, Factotum. How do you feel about it?
Bukowski: That doesn’t make me feel good. It means you are safe enough to teach. If they say so I think maybe I must step on the gas pedal a little bit more. I don’t want people to catch up with me: I want a big space between them and me.
High Times: So you go around universities, occasionally, or you give a poetry reading once in a while. What do you do every day?
Bukowski: I get up, I go to the track, I come back tired, I am too tired to type. Then Linda comes home from the store, and she is tired, we are sitting here. So I say, “Well, we might as well have a little drink!” Then after dinner she does her store figures, I go upstairs, I start writing, every day the same thing. If you are asking me if my writing is still good, yes, it’s still good.
High Times: So it seems that the racetrack is the only thing that stayed out of the world you described.
Bukowski: In other words, you say I’m at the racetrack and I’m not in the streets anymore, so you are worried about my soul? What do you think is changed? Living in a big house, having a nice car?
High Times: I think it’s a big change. To wake up in the morning and know for once how to pay the rent.
Bukowski: What’s the difference? One who does not have it is going to give it away to luxuries; one who has it is going to continue. So when you look back at what I have written from 1979 on you’ll see whether I failed or made it. My guess is that I’ve made it. But my good luck is that it happened too much, too late, and I think… if I am not wise enough to know that at the age of sixty, I know very little. If I know very little, I deserve to fail, so we’ll see.