Essential Bukowski – and a few non-essentials just for the hell of it (transcript)

Published January 7th, 2017

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Hello hippies, yippies and bippies, buppies and yuppies, duppies and droogies, it is I. Michael Phillips and THIS IS NOT A TEST, as you may have guessed. Jeez, I hope there are no duppies listening. Those are Jamaican spirits or ghosts, and you don’t want to mess with duppies, apparently, they can fuck you up. You know, if you believe in ghosts. Well here we are, working together again, wailing into the night or day or whenever it happens to be right now. Shaking our fists at the sky and stomping our feet to the reggae beat. Or something. Something along those lines. Something like we usually do. Something like it and something unlike it, for sure.

Hey, you know, I mentioned – hmm, I guess it was almost a year ago now, back in January – that Carol had found a little bald spot on my head. If you didn’t hear that, yeah, a little patch of baloney right up there at the crown, and it shook me up brothers and sisters, I ain’t gonna lie. I know I said I didn’t care about hair, and in the grand scheme of things I really don’t. But here I stand with a wild mop of it, so I must care. Here I stand with my mop on top to hop on pop and it’s good to the last drop. Like that. That’s how I stand here. Anyway, as an update on that particular situation, I am here to report that it wasn’t a bald spot after all. I mean, it was, it was there, big and bare as life, but the spot is all filled in with hair now.

Was it a Christmas miracle? I don’t think so, but who am I to say. Everyone has a genetically predetermined hair growth cycle. You know, your genes dictate how many years your hair can survive before it falls out and a new hair takes its place. Well I hadn’t had a haircut in 7 or 8 years when that little bald spot popped up, so I guess that’s my genetic hair growth cycle, about 7 or 8 years. After that it falls out and starts growing again. I wouldn’t think though, that the cycle would concentrate on a few square inches of scalp, and that you would lose those few square inches in the same place all at the same time, but I guess that’s what happened to me. You’d think that growth cycle would generally be spread out across your whole head right? So you wouldn’t even notice it.

I don’t know, that’s what I gathered from what I read on the Internet, so take it with a grain of salt. But it explains why some people can never grow their hair past their shoulders or wherever, while some people can grow it down to their ankles and beyond. Seems like it would be a real drag to have hair down to your ankles though, but like I said, I haven’t cut mine for years, so who am I to talk. I guess after it gets to a certain point, a certain ridiculous length – and it’s definitely at that point now, or past it – but I guess after so much time has passed I just want to see how far it can go. How far can I take it. Where does all this madness end? But I guess I’ve found out, so maybe there’s no need to keep doing it. Then again, if we can’t do something there’s no need to do every once in a while, what have we got left? It’s good to just let things take their course sometimes. And I’m much prettier with long hair anyway, that’s just a scientific fact.

But that’s how I begin this year. This new year that seems to be striking terror into the hearts of millions. I start it out un-balded. So things could be worse. I mean, for me, not for the world. The world seems pretty fucked, but what can we do but wait and see? In the 80s everyone thought Reagan was bringing nuclear winter into office with him, but we’re still here. Reagan made shit colder, that’s no lie, but he didn’t manage to wipe us all out. So maybe this new guy won’t either. What’s-his-name, the orange guy. Speaking of nuclear winter though, have you heard that new version of “Baby, it’s cold outside”? That new take on a cocktail classic? I’ll bet you have. It’s been everywhere for that past month or so.

Baby, it’s cold outside is a corny, old fashioned call and response song written in 1944 by Tin Pan Alley song churner-outer Frank Loesser. It has a female and a male singer trading lines. She goes first and he answers. The song, in a nutshell, is she’s concerned that it’s getting late and she really should go home because, you know, what will her parents and the neighbors think if she’s out until all hours with some man? The lines go back and forth, with her singing, “I ought to say no, no, no” then he sings, “Mind if I move in closer?” She says, “At least I’m gonna say that I tried” and he says, “What’s the sense in hurting my pride?” You get the picture. He’s trying to convince her to stay and fool around, because, hey baby, it’s cold outside. It might also be worth pointing out that it doesn’t seem like she’s entirely opposed to the idea. She does sing, “Maybe just a half a drink more.” And it’s not like he’s pinning her down and slapping her around while he sings, “You ain’t going anywhere, you lousy broad!” Which, in 1944 very well could have happened in the world of entertainment.

So yeah, the song is a relic, obviously, and again, corny, and you could say sexist and misogynistic, but really, what’s the use of saying that, since everything was sexist and misogynistic in 1944. Life was sexist and misogynistic. The song is a product of its time, for sure, and not something that someone would write today. But for some reason when the Christmas holiday rolls around, that song is one of the dusty old chestnuts that get dragged out to be roasted over the open fire. But this year when it was dragged out, a couple of 20-something singers in Minneapolis decided they couldn’t bear the horror of the original, so they wrote their own updated lyrics. Their names are Lydia Liza and Josiah Lemanski and what they’ve done is enough to make you cringe in embarrassed horror for both of them. It’s enough to make you hide in a bowl of Cap’n Crunch until it passes. To go sleep in a cave for the rest of the winter, until everyone forgets about it.

Like when she sings, “I ought to say no, no, no” he sings, “You reserve the right to say no,” and when she says, “At least I’m gonna say that I tried” he repeats, “You reserve the right to say no.” He goes on to sing about LaCroix water-in-a-can, invites her to the Cheesecake Factory and wraps it up with, “Text me at your earliest convenience.” I know, it seems like they’re kidding, right? Like it’s kind of a goof, but they’re dead serious about their remake, and in an interview I saw on YouTube they were talking about how great it felt to be “doing something.” In the war against male privilege, I guess. It’s cute in that way that the idealistic things we ramble on about when we’re in our 20s are cute, but she’s a young female singer, so she sings in that helpless-infant-choking-back-tears voice that all of the young female singers seem to have affected. I can’t help but wonder whether she sees any of the irony in that. In trying to smash the patriarchy while singing like a wounded little girl.

Don’t get me wrong, there should be a war on male privilege. It’s enough already. But sad puke like this isn’t going to win it. And her voice really has nothing to do with it. I just hate it, I hate that god damned affectation that they all sing with now, so I take any opportunity I can get to hold it up to the ridicule it deserves. She’s not as over the top with her weeping and choking as some of them are, but it’s there. You can hear it. because they have to do it. They have no choice but to imitate whoever started that. In 10 or 20 years we’re going to hear that voice that they’re all singing with now and laugh. We’ll laugh like we laugh at Rudy Vallee’s 1920s voice. That affected singing-through-a-megaphone thing that everyone did that just sounds ridiculous now. That’s how all of these female singers will be seen in the not too distant future. Like an unfortunate fad. The kids will say, “Can you imagine if that was your music? If that’s all you had to listen to?” And they’ll laugh and laugh and go listen to robots or amplified ants or whatever they end up listening to in the future.

Anyway. I’m not trying to ridicule these kids for their version of the song, I just feel bad for them. They talk about it like the song “Baby, it’s cold outside” is their Vietnam. It’s sad. But they’re in for a real attack on their innocence over these next four years, so they can take some solace in that. They’ll have plenty to protest when President Trump throws them in prison as terrorists because they changed the lyrics to a song that he likes. See, then they’ll have something to cry about. Then we’ll get an interesting record out of them. I think we’ll get a lot of interesting records out of this upcoming presidency. You know, if you’re in the mood to try a glass-half-full approach. I know not many people are.

I don’t know how that became a Christmas song anyway, but there you go. Christmas is such an antiquated thing. The idea of Christmas. The imagery of the snow falling and the fire in the fireplace and the Christmas stockings and the huge tree and everyone laughing and merrily having the time of their lives. No one is blind drunk, screaming and turning over tables or hitting uncle Jim over the head with his guitar. I grew up in the 60s and that ideal wasn’t even true then. Even back then it seemed like some kind of memory from my grandparents time, when everyone grew up on farms or something. Everyone had a white Christmas. You know, never mind the people who live in the half of the country where it never snows, they don’t count. We’ve had that storybook Christmas image dangled in front of us for 75 or 100 years, and no one in this world that we actually live in now can measure up to it. No wonder people are sad around the end of the year holidays. All that crap that we didn’t want being bought and exchanged. All those huge, stressful dinners that no one really knows how to prepare anymore. They’re all just reminders of how we fail at being as fully human and wonderful as we used to be. But of course the joke is that no one was ever that wonderful. Well at least that’s all over. Until next year, anyway.

So to change gears about as far away from Christmas as we can get, we may as well talk about Bukowski. Or specifically, about “Essential Bukowski.” What is that? Well, it’s a book. The latest book from Bukowski’s publisher Ecco. Which is a division of HarperCollins, which is itself a division of Rupert Murdoch’s unimaginably huge media conglomerate News Corporation. You know News Corp. They’re the parent company of 21st Century Fox. Add they publish the tabloids the Sun and The New York Post. Along with The Wall Street Journal, National Geographic, they run Fox Television, Fox News, Fox Sports, FX, the Sky satellite networks around the world, – you get the picture. Hundreds of print and screen companies. Whatever you’re watching or reading or listening to, the odds are probably 50/50 that you’re getting it from News Corp. Murdoch’s goal in life is to bravely fight against “liberal bias” in the media. Yes, that horrible liberal bias that hasn’t existed in decades. Part of the soggy old culture wars. The point being, that’s who publishes Bukowski’s books now. All of that has nothing to do with anything, but it never hurts to unravel the threads and see where they lead, does it.

So Essential Bukowski is the latest Bukowski collection from Murdoch, and it is, as you may have guessed from the title, an anthology. A “best of.” Bukowski’s greatest hits, at least according to Abel Debritto, who is Bukowski’s de facto editor these days. Oh, you thought John Martin, the guy who started Black Sparrow Press was still editing Bukowski’s collections? No, he was ousted. There was a coup. He was tarred and feathered, run out of town on a rail. Well, not exactly, but the last book Martin edited was The Continual Condition in 2009. If you keep up with this kind of thing you know that Martin not editing Bukowski anymore is the best thing that could have happened, because he was gutting Bukowski’s work in some sort of misguided attempt to “clean him up.” To make him presentable or palatable to your Christian aunt and dimwitted second cousins who haven’t read a book since their last year of high school. Martin destroyed a big chunk of Bukowski’s bibliography, but that’s a story that’s been told here before. I’ll link to it in the notes on the THIS IS NOT A TEST site if you want to listen.

So Essential Bukowski – we’re going to talk about it, I promise. It’s just taking a minute to get there. You know how this goes. As I mentioned, Essential Bukowski is an anthology, which is fine, but it’s been less than 10 years since the last Bukowski anthology, The Pleasures of the Damned, which was published in 2007. Before that, Run With the Hunted, another collection of previously published poems, came out in 1993. Essential Bukowski makes three anthologies, so what’s different about this one? Why should you spend your hard earned money on a copy? I can tell you that I did not buy The Pleasures of the Damned or Run With the Hunted, because they were mostly rehashes of work I had in at least one other book already. That’s the problem with anthologies, or greatest hits albums or reruns of Seinfeld. There’s nothing new there. You can still take some pleasure in the familiar, but where there’s nothing new, well, there’s nothing new. No meat there.

But there is something new in Essential Bukowski. The poems aren’t “new.” Or uncollected in a previous Bukowski poetry book. Of the 95 poems here, only one is uncollected. That doesn’t mean, by the way, that the well is dry and there is no more uncollected work to be seen. There are a lot of uncollected poems out there. Enough for at least 2 or 3 collections, or even more, though some don’t believe the uncollected work is all of the same quality as what’s already out there, so I don’t know if we’ll ever get another new poetry collection that’s all “new” work. “Okay, but that has nothing to do with an anthology, so what’s new about this thing? Get to the point, mjp!”

Okay, well, what’s new is that editor I mentioned, Abel Debritto. See, Abel is a researcher. He’s written books about Bukowski and put together a massive, as yet unpublished, bibliography. He’s traveled all over the world digging through university collections and attics and the basements of bowling alleys looking for Bukowski’s work. Doggedly questioning people who claim they know nothing, until they relent, until they break and give him the information he seeks. Okay, maybe he doesn’t do that, but no one has ever researched Bukowski like Abel has. No one anywhere, ever. And he sees what was done to a lot of Bukowski’s work by his previous editor, who wasn’t really an editor at all, and he is trying to fix that. To make it right by publishing the poems in their most original form. That means working from Bukowski’s manuscripts or early magazine appearances of the poems. And by doing that, he’s giving us a clearer picture of Bukowski’s work. An unadulterated version, complete with all of the awful things about Bukowski that most of his readers enjoy. The good and the bad. And the ugly. But mostly the good.

So if you pick up Essential Bukowski and read through it you might find yourself saying, “I kind of remember this one, but something’s different here…” What’s different is you’re getting authentic Bukowski. If you can appreciate that you should thank Debritto by buying the book, and the three previous collections he edited, On Writing, On Cats and On Love. He did the same thing with those, going back to the source, and that should be encouraged. And the only way to encourage a publisher is by putting more money into their bank, so go do that. I know, it galls you to make Rupert Murdoch more rich than he already is, but you’ve got to hold your nose and do it. If enough people buy the recent books Ecco might look around and say, “Shit, this Debritto kid is on to something, let’s let him do more titles.” And that’s what we want. I know he wants to do more, so help him out for christ’s sake. The guy is busting his ass for you.

Essential Bukowski is mostly well known work, so there’s not much point in talking about the individual poems here. If you are a Bukowski fan you’ve read most of them. But another good thing about this book, and the other three I mentioned, is that the poems are printed chronologically, and there are notes at the end of the books telling you when the poems were written or when and where they first appeared. That’s something that Black Sparrow Press never did, because Martin didn’t want you to know those kinds of things. Or he didn’t care about them himself. Or both. Whatever it was, he didn’t want anyone connecting too many dots, because, well, that was just none of your business. And because Johnny knows best.

I get it, I realize that you may not even think Bukowski matters anymore. Or maybe you never thought he mattered in the first place. You’re wrong on both counts, but if you’re of that particular mind set, it’s even more important that you pick up some unadulterated Bukowski and give it a read. Take it for a spin. Ride it hard and put it away wet. Maybe you’ll change your mind. Even if you don’t, it will be time well spent. And as a bonus, having books laying around impresses people. They’ll think you’re smart. I mean, I know you’re smart. It’s the rest of the world that has their doubts. So go buy. Consume, consume, consume! I’ll put links on the site. Kill some fucking trees why don’t you. There are plenty of trees, don’t worry about killing them for books. There are more trees in North America now than there were when those scurvy pilgrims crawled off their stinking boats and infected the new world with their diseases and religions. Trees are fine. Trees are the one thing we did right.

How did we get from Bukowski to trees? The same way we’re going to get from trees to virtual reality. You heard me. Virtual reality. I’ve never strapped virtual reality goggles onto my head. It’s not my jam, you dig? But a while back, some time back now, I saw the thing called Google cardboard, which is, as the name says, a cardboard thing you fold up and stick your phone into to do some budget virtual reality. And cardboard ultimately comes from trees, right? There’s your connection. Well, I saw Google cardboard way back when and thought — well, I didn’t think anything, but I noticed it and then went on ignoring virtual reality. But just recently I inadvertently came across some virtual reality images, and I thought I was seeing things. See what I did there? That’s comedy gold, man, that’s what that is. “Seeing things.” Anyway, I saw the images and thought, “THAT’S what virtual reality is?!”

I was surprised because the images I saw were what used to be called stereo views, when they were first made, back in, oh, the 1830s. You know, like, 185 years ago. The Google cardboard images I saw were exactly the same “technology” that the Victorians were using to amuse themselves. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, the modern equivalent that you do know is the ViewMaster. Yeah, that kid’s toy with the round discs full of tiny film pictures. That’s stereo photography, and that’s the virtual reality of Google cardboard, and a lot of other more expensive virtual reality things. Jeez, it occurs to me that if you’re really young you might not even know what a ViewMaster is. Well, I don’t think anyone that young is listening to this. Voluntarily, anyway.

And yes, I know that there are more impressive virtual reality things, the videos and the 360 degree stuff. And that there is even some rudimentary interactive stuff. But it seems as if the concept behind it is all the same, that it’s all created the same way. With multiple images made from cameras that are as far apart as the typical person’s eyes are. That’s how you make those photos, with a camera that has two lenses next to each other. Just like your eyes. It’s so simple, but it is a really amazing effect. It’s why you loved the ViewMaster when you were a kid and why I have a big box full of those old Victorian stereo view images and a couple of those ridiculous old wood and tin things to look a them through. It’s really quite interesting. The technology, such as it is, and the artifacts. Ask me to take them out next time you’re over at the house.

But I have to say that I felt kind of ripped off when I saw that those Google cardboard images were just stereo views. And I’m not even invested in the god damn virtual reality. I guess I expect more of these great technical minds of the 21st century. Maybe they are doing greater things and I’m just ignorant of them. That’s entirely possible and probably likely. But I don’t like to cloud my mind with too many facts or too much learnin’. It’s just weird to me that they can sell you a thing to wrap around your head that doesn’t even work without your own phone and call it amazing new technology. It’s a ViewMaster motherfucker! Give me my money back!

Oh my, now I’ve gone and used up my allotted number of topics I can throw at you at one time. Though maybe one of these days I’ll do one of these that has like a hundred topics, and I’ll just switch gears every 30 seconds. That’s really more how my head functions anyway. It would be truth in advertising I guess. It’s been raining here in the beautiful and glorious city of Los Angeles, and — oh, wait, here’s something for you, an update on my neighbor’s chirping smoke alarms. Yes, plural, there are two of them, and I’m just thrilled to report that they are still chirping every 15 seconds, along with going into alarm mode a couple times a day. Which means someone over there has to turn them off with a broomstick or by standing on a chair or something. But if no one is home, they just keep ringing. This marks the 18th full month of chirping. Yes, a year and a half of chirping and ringing smoke alarms, all because they don’t want to put new batteries into them. Or they are too profoundly stupid to put batteries in them. Either way, the mind, as always, boggles.

Now boggle on out of here. Go get something to eat. Put some pancakes on the griddle or grill up a filet mignon with bacon wrapped around it. A gluten-free kale salad if you’re nasty. Sit yourself down in front of some pie and coffee. Do people still go to diners to eat pie and coffee? Seems like something from the distant past. If it ever really happened. It could be just another mass false memory. Like Christmas and Buddha. Adios, vaya con dios, babies.