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the music plays and you display your heart for me to see


Tom Waits

Tom Waits

I spent an enjoyable last evening listening to Tom Waits and reading Bukowski poetry. I’m very beat. I recently finished Ham On Rye, and thoroughly enjoyed it: it’s a very different sort of book from that to which I’d normally be drawn, but nevertheless it was compelling, brutally honest and a little bit sick.


I had always dismissed beat writing, to some extent: I read On The Road when I was too young, and have steered clear since from Ginsberg, Bukowski, Burroughs et al. But I was recently gently forced to read some Richard Brautigan, and found it charming, different and well worth my time. What endears Brautigan to me, and certainly Bukowski as well, is that charming naivety in their writing: on the one hand it’s uncultured, short, and certainly not pretentious (as I had expected). On the other hand, look closer and it’s extremely well-written.

Ham On Rye was a case in point, and I can compare it with what I’m reading now, The Old Gringo by Carlos Fuentes (btw, you just missed him). Fuentes’ style is florid, full of colons and semi colons, superlatives, sweeping, panoramic scenery and insightful insights – I guess like a lot of authors that I love: Umberto Eco, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Bruce Chatwin (perhaps not quite  so much) and so on. Compared to these heavyweights, Bukowski’s terse prose is kind of a refreshing change. I love the writing of these above, don’t get me wrong: but every so often something is necessary to slap you around a bit.

Ham on Rye is so brutally honest it’s almost painful to read at times. It’s written as though it’s juvenile protagonist was preparing the words himself, and thus there’s no gushing literature or pomposity. Yet every word is in it’s place, nothing’s overdone, and it’s just fantastic and it speaks volumes that, despite Henry Chinaski’s complete vileness, the reader is very taken with him by the end.

The general squalor and sleaze fits well with Tom Waits’ music, and especially his earlier barroom jazz. You could perhaps square him against Nick Cave, or Radiohead: artists just as vital but in a completely different realm, and with a completely different depiction of what art consists of.

 a whole nation… doing everything in the worst way possible, like voting for the presidential candidate who reminded them most of themselves

Charles Bukowski, Ham On Rye


2 Responses

  1. […] to my musings the other day, I’ve been thinking about my own use of language. Having looked into Wittgenstein a little […]

  2. Love your work / sometimes you have to take a risk / M**

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