106. Song No. 1,457: “Bukowski,” Modest Mouse
Good News for People Who Love Bad News, 2004
As much as I love Modest Mouse and the bounty of delectablly batshit music Isaac Brock has blessed the world with, my fondness for this one is more about the titular subject than the song itself.
This song predates my discovery of literature’s dirtiest old man by easily more than a decade: It wasn’t until I was inspired to pillage hubs’ collections of Bukowski poetry that I realized how perfectly Buk contrasted little moments of beauty with the overall ugliness of the world in a way that was (and remains) in perfect harmony with so much of how I move through life while hanging onto whatever shred of awe-inspiring hope I can find.
Bukowski is a pretty good read indeed, even if it’s hard to justify adoring another dead white man who was shitty to women despite loving them in whatever way an abuse-hardened boy without any kind of course-correcting guidance grows up to conceptualize caring for another person by being such an asshole. And maybe it’s recognizing another soul beholden to/prisoner of formative childhood wounds, maybe it’s a lifetime of deferring to an enabler’s infinite supply of excuses for a parent’s emotional warfare, or maybe it’s my never-say-die penchant for broken men, but I can’t bring myself to vilify Buk when I feel like he’s a kindred spirit deserving of at least sympathy if not a word-nerd’s adoration.
Go beyond the standard fare of low-hanging fruit to dive into the achingly beautiful, vulnerable melancholic curse of self-awareness be brings to poems like Bluebird, or try to understand the eternally conflicted child who recognizes his destiny despite some two-front parental gaslighting and hostile disapproval (which is some fucked-up stuff to reconcile in a young mind without the benefit of therapy, helpful intervention and the wisdom of an adult’s post-development perspective) in what is probably my all-time favorite poem, Them and Us. While Buk is a mighty fine novelist, essayist and short-story slinger, it’s his poetry that resonates the most with me. It’s where you’ll find a sudden meditation on a daisy through concrete, the aggressive love of the hungry and terminally blue collar, the life and culture of the blissfully numbed drunk and, of course, the resounding celebration of kicking death in the ass while singing.
The hard-living tend to be wrapped in prickly, calloused exteriors, but I think taking the time to get to know the Laureate of the Lowlifes and his ilk is more than worth the effort and initial resistance to find the poet’s soul protected within. There is so much to learn from getting to know what it sees as a self-proclaimed objective outside observer and how it finds the motivation to keep plugging along in a world that doesn’t treat artists well unless they learn how to stand up, fight back and don’t settle for just trying to claim their place at the table.