One Tough Mother -The only available complete poetry readings of Charles
The Last Straw
Bukowski Live in Redondo Beach 1980
I set up my video camera at the back of the club, plugged into the soundboard for the audio, and hunkered down for what was to be a bumpy night. He walked out like a businessman settling in at his office desk, took off his jacket, sorted his papers, but then poured himself a water glass of red wine and lit a bidi. He was now prepared to get to work: a full frontal assault directed at the standing room only crowd made up of adoring fans, friends, colleagues, soon-to-be irate overly serious poetry enthusiasts (who wanted him to read the poems already), and, like me, accidental observers who stumbled in and were about to be treated to a great big adrenaline-rush surprise.
In short, the reading veered off the predictable course from the get-go; and I watched, breathless, to see how much further out of bounds it would lunge. The full impact of the reading is not in the individual poems, rather it’s the total performance.
Around 1980, the first generation of consumer video cameras came out; and I got one. I was working for a record label that was putting out a Charles Bukowski LP and used the connection to film this concert. At that time, I had no idea it was to be his very last poetry reading (listen to the final eerily prescient poem, Giving a Poetry Reading, with this in mind) and didn’t find out for another 25 years that a swan’s song was, in fact, what had been captured. Not until I showed the film to Linda Bukowski (Charles Bukowski’s wife) did I find this out.
The videotape sat in my collection for 25 years, coming out only occasionally, once to have it digitized to preserve the full color and sound. It’s presented here publicly for the first time. Although technically raw — sometimes jittery, people walking in front of the camera — it ultimately fits the mood of the last Bukowski reading.
Jon Monday 2008
Gonna Be a God Damn Riot in Here! Bukowski Live in Vancouver 1979
When Bukowski arrived here to read in 1979, it was for the second time. Unfortunately there was no record of the first reading. I thought there was. One day I arranged for that reading to be shown to me and several friends. It never happened. That tape, which I thought existed, was nowhere to be found. What could I do? I decided to write Bukowski and tell him and ask if he would be willing to come back and try it again. Would he do another reading? My friends would get to see him live, I could film it and make sure that this visit would be recorded. He answered; said yes, he would come back. I organized flights and hotel, rented a hall and advertised. I set the date for Friday, October 12, 1979.
Hank and Linda Lee Beighle (later to become Mrs. Bukowski) arrived the night before. There was a dense fog that night and they were rerouted. They had to be bused to Vancouver. I was in a frenzy. They came through arrivals several hours late — but, they were here! We took them to their hotel where they freshened up and we went out on the town and got to know each other.
The reading was at an old hall in the Downtown Eastside on Hastings
Street. It was a hall used for weddings and dances mostly. Perfect! Since it seemed to me laden with the overtures of many lives. We set up chairs, put Hank in front with a bank of microphones and filmed it. It was raw, raucous, and raunchy. But also sublime. 650 people came. There was plenty of yelling, screaming, and applause. There was also plenty of tears and shouts resounding with love and adulation for this man. It’s all here. I hope you enjoy it. It was the last time he performed outside the United States. It was and remains a testament to a great poet and writer.
FOOTNOTE: It’s worth noting this film sat in Bukowski’s archives for close to 25 years. Time and circumstances had shuffled it off to a forgotten corner shelf. Luckily, John Dullaghan made the documentary Born Into This based on Bukowski’s life and found this film. He used some of the footage and then this film miraculously came back into my life. So thank you John. And you Linda. And Jon and Anna Monday.
Dennis B. Del Torre, January 2008
Here's what Buk had to
say about the Vancouver Gang from Living on Luck Selected Letters
1960s - 1970s Volume 2:
From page 275, dated
October 15, 1979 to Hank Malone from the 4th paragraph which begins,
"Just back from Vancouver. Read to 680 at Viking Inn, standing room
only. Drank before reading and 4 bottles of red wine during. Got back to
hotel, fell and cracked my head open real damn good on the heater.
Probably my best poem of the night..."
And from page 276, dated November 9, 1979 to Carl Weissner "...Back
from Canadian reading. Took Linda. Have video tapes of the thing in
color, runs about two hours. Saw it a couple nights back. Not bad. Much
fighting with the audience. New poems. Dirty stuff and the other kind.
Drank before the reading and 3 bottles of red wine during but read the
poems out. Dumb party afterwards. I fell down several times while
dancing. They got me back on the elevator back at the hotel and I kept
hollering for another bottle. Poor Linda. Afterwards in hotel room, kept
falling. Finally fell against the radiator and cracked a 6 inch gash in
skull. Blood everywhere. Hell of a trip...Nice Canadian people who set
up reading, though. Not poet types at all. All in all, a good