Head to Head with Charles Bukowski

Charles Bukowski at WorkFilm director Barbet Schroeder’s nearly four hours of interviews with the late poet Charles Bukowski have taken on an air of legend since their initial release on VHS in 1987. Various segments from the captured conversations have appeared on YouTube in the past, but this is the first time I’ve found the entire interview available as one streaming video, connected by the somber piano score that accompanied the original — the music was the sign-off tune for the German television station that aired the footage in 52 separate segments.

Schroeder shot the interviews over three years leading up to the filming of Bukowski’s autobiographical screenplay Barfly, which was also released in 1987. This version was culled from a reported 64 hours of footage, and it finds Schroeder and Bukowski talking about alcohol, violence, writing and women, and even includes a tour of Buk’s childhood home. Some of this footage ended up in the excellent documentary Born into This including the infamous scene of Bukowski kicking and chasing after his future wife Linda.

The Charles Bukowski Tapes has become a cult classic and it’s a real thrill to share these with you here:

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13 Comments on "Head to Head with Charles Bukowski"

  1. Ted Heistman | Oct 17, 2013 at 1:45 pm |

    Hey, Joe, You are the fucking man! Thanks for uncovering this burried treasure. This guy speaks the truth. I see a lot of myself in this guy. He’s one reason I haven’t slit my throat yet. I discovered him a couple years ago. I actually first heard of him through David Choe. Then I rented a room from a crazy hippy lady in Olympia Washington with a house full of animal skulls and a backyard full of dog shit. She had a stack of his poetry books about a foot high. I read most of them before she kicked my ass out of there.

    I have been listening to this for the past 4 hours. My connection is so shitty It breaks up and only plays two minutes at a time but its worth it!

    • Great, Ted. Like I wrote, I’d found this in pieces before, but not even suited for a playlist. I was glad to find the whole thing intact. He’s a gem!

      • Ted Heistman | Oct 17, 2013 at 2:21 pm |

        He’s a sage really. I get more insights listening to him and Charles Manson than any self styled guru. He has a certain divinity about him. Reminds me of PKD saying God is more often found in the garbage, or something to that effect. There is something holy and mysterious about his skid row poetry. I cheapen him by trying to explain why I think he’s great.
        But I mean, I’ve shared moments like he describes.He speaks to me.

        • I can’t imagine two more different writers than PKD and Buk but I see your point. Humor and humanity are cornerstones of all of his stuff and the interviews in the film offer plenty of both. So pleased you’re enjoying it.

    • Kropotkin1936 | Oct 17, 2013 at 11:26 pm |


    • d’ya drink the artesian well water comin out of the parking lot of the Black Houses?

      • Ted Heistman | Oct 18, 2013 at 8:29 pm |

        Yeah, I was there at the well once hanging out with some buskers having a jam session and one of them threw a handful of weed on the concrete. I said why did you do that? “This weed is shitty.” he said.

        That’s Olympia.

  2. Ted Heistman | Oct 17, 2013 at 7:12 pm |

    See. Here is the thing with Bukowski. If you are a certain type of person, (and I am not talking about everybody) The world immediately sets about to trying to take the piss out of you. To the degree that you develop resistance to the this, is the degree in which you develop character.

    Its really better to be black. But maybe someday it won’t be. If things become more equal and everyone gets healthcare and better “education” maybe black people will be schmucks like everyone else.But really, in skid row, in various shit holes around the world, among bums, dive bars, out by the railroad tracks, you find people with character.I mean you find a lot of assholes too, but people with character are there. Its a mysterious quality they have. Its like its this ephemeral thing that’s only revealed by scar tissue. It would be invisible if it weren’t for the fact that its inevitably on a collision course with this society we have built around us.

    Not everyone has it. If it can be beaten out of you you don’t have it. If you can be coerced out of it you don’t have it. If you can be bought off you don’t have it. You know you have it when you stop flinching. You can’t fake it.

    • People are all individuals, so, of course, it’s hard to generalize, but I catch your drift. I can say that, generally speaking, my working class neighbors are far more friendly and considerate than the wealthy folks in my old neighborhood which became gentrified over many years and changed from being an interesting dynamic place to being a boring cold place where everyone seemed to exist in a bubble of their own self-involved sense of privilege.

      • Ted Heistman | Oct 18, 2013 at 10:15 am |

        what I am saying is, if you internalize the values of public school and the average workplace and advertizing, it sucks the life out of you. You have to fight being turned into a husk of a human being. You have to save some piece of yourself in order to cultivate some self actualization, and sometimes, you have to quit your job or get fired and be a bum, be a fucking tramp for a while just to get a breath. This is what Bukowski talks about a lot.

        The forces of this world trying to turn you into what you are not are strong. Being an individual is hard. originally there were tribal cultures that were superior to this one. This is mass society is a shit deal really, but the upshot is you can set up the conditions for individuality, but its a fucking war.

        • It’d be nice if we could achieve some happy medium borrowing from all our human ages. I’m not sure what the right combo would be but perhaps the freedom of nomadic hunter gatherers with the technology of tomorrow. H/G’s actually had a pretty chill lifestyle, but, depending on the hunting and gathering, they also starved. I love contemporary technology, but it brings with it value systems that increasingly marginalize humanness. One of CB’s best points of criticism is the dehumanizing effects of “work” that has no meaning or purpose that informs the worker. His post office stories are hilarious and wounded.

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