Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Night Bukowski Died, Memories of Bad Art and Lee

Way back in the year 1994, a month before Kurt Cobain (allegedly) took his life, another widely adored cultural figure went (beer) belly up. And where was I when Charles Bukowski died? At the Gallery Egg listening to lousy poetry and looking at lousy art.

Gallery Egg was upstairs and around the corner from IRI, where my brother and many of my friends worked. It was a shabby space with exposed pipes and brick—in other words, it was a loft, which was trendy at the time. Probably still is.

Andy, Peyton’s then friend, had a showing of his pottery. Peyton, at that time under Andy’s spell, got us all to attend the display of so-called art. Andy was a doughy idiot minus the savant who, though broke and illiterate, was attending class at the Art Institute of Chicago. All faith in the school’s credibility went out the window when I met Andy. Andy droned on and on about how the penis and the vagina were not art, and how his classmates relied too much on those elements in their work. What was Andy’s medium? Pottery. What was the first thing I noticed about Andy’s pottery? That it had more than a few clay penises attached.

If only that was the end of the “art.” Once I saw a chair that had its arm ripped off and replaced with the arm of a mannequin, lazily titled “Arm Chair,” I decided to hunt for free booze and avoid everyone.

Then the poetry began. Open mics are a mixed bag. There was plenty of bad poems and a few good ones, maybe—my memory of that evening’s poetry is not great, I admit, though I remember two things:

The bad poet, (tall, shaggy, unshaved, intentionally bohemian, sipping vino), announced that Bukowski had died. He read a poem in his honor (Buk would’ve hated it) and said that he planned to go on a long bender to celebrate the life of his hero. At that time, I was obsessed with Bukowski. I was in my early twenties, which is the perfect age for a man to read drunken tales of whoring and writing. My feelings on Bukowski have changed in a lot of ways (I’m still a fan), but back then there was nothing I wanted to read more. And here was some fashionable asshole reading fair to lousy poems and drinking wine with practiced cool; here were the overfed, soft “artists” that Buk would’ve hated. It made me depressed.

As the night was coming to a close, Lee approached the mic and started to read. Long haired and dirty, skinny, a voice that rattled as he read from his famous poem, “A Cure for Insomnia,” the longest poem in existence, still listed as being “in progress” – I was somewhat awed by the presence of this man, who seemed homeless or close to it. After a whopping dose of plastic art and pedantic poetry, Lee’s never ending list of beards and drags was the perfect way to close out a very strange night.

To get a very small taste of this very long poem, go here. Then go mad.