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The story behind Charles Bukowski’s worst hangover ever


“That’s the problem with drinking, I thought, as I poured myself a drink. If something bad happens you drink in an attempt to forget; if something good happens you drink in order to celebrate; and if nothing happens you drink to make something happen.” Charles Bukowski

One would imagine that the infamous poet of bars and bedrooms would have plenty of stories surrounding hangovers. While he was nothing but a glorified drunk to his critics, and while he did drink a lot, Bukowski’s poetry and stories touched the hearts of many. It is the mark of a true storyteller when they are able to convincingly blur the lines between fact and fiction when telling a story. The fact does remain; Bukowski did drink a lot, most likely every day, however, his brilliance was widely recognized; the world-renowned french writer, Jean Genet, from one hedonist to another, once remarked that Bukowski is the “Best American poet.”

His work still lives on, as other successful artists, such as Tom Waits and Harry Dean Stanton, refer to “Hank” as a significant influence on their own work. Movies about Bukowski’s work and bittersweet life have been made too: Barbet Schroeder’s 1987 film, Barfly, starring Mickey Rourke, and Bent Hamer’s 2005 Factotum, inspired by Bukowski’s 1975 novel of the same name, starring Matt Dillon. The official definition of factotum is someone who does all kinds of jobs. Except for holding a position at a post office for about 15 years, Bukowski typically drifted from one job to the next. 

In the video where Charles Bukowski recalls the story behind his worst hangover, the poet is sitting on a bench as he says in his calm, melodic yet sedated voice, “It happened right here”. When Bukowski spoke, he always had a sly grin plastered onto his face, with a cigarette in hand, his eyes, partially enclosed by his bloated face; the poet spoke softly and quietly with no regard to the concept of time whatsoever. Bukowski was the master of his sordid world. His world was in many ways small, but like Genet, he celebrated the lives of everyday people and raised them to sainthood through the beauty of words.

“We drank heavily, and one morning we woke up with the worst hangover I ever had, like a steel band around my head.” Bukowski begins his story, with a fierce authenticity, as if he’s speaking about a very serious issue at hand that concerns the survival of the human race.

“We drank this really cheap wine, the cheapest you could get — many bottles. I’m sitting there, dying. I’m sitting at the window trying to get some air. Just sitting there, and all of a sudden” — Bukowski moves to put his bottle of what is probably, beer, down, to mark a shift in his story. “A body comes down, a man, fully dressed. He’s got a necktie on. He seems to be going in slow motion, you know? A body doesn’t fall very fast.”

With that last sentence uttered from his salacious mouth, he is grinning with his arms extended into the air; you can’t help but wonder to yourself, is he being honest or is he lying? Bukowski, who at the time of the story, wasn’t entirely sure whether he was going crazy or not, called back to his then-girlfriend, Jane, and said “come and look! A body just fell through the air!”

Watch the video of the poet himself, retelling the story in all his infinite, seditious charm.