Tom Waits and Charles Bukowski are cut from the same cloth. The Californian creatives are keen on a few home truths, authenticity, artistry and enjoying themselves. The pair are a perfect fit, it is why listening to Waits read the work of his idol feels entirely natural.
When Tom Waits first met the enigmatic and utterly destructive poet and writer Charles Bukowski, a man Waits would later call a “father figure”, he spoke candidly of trying to match the “roaring pirate” drink for drink: “You’re a novice, you’re a child,” Bukowski told waits on their first meeting. “You’re drinking with a roaring pirate.”
If Waits had done his research, however, he would have known too well that matching Bukowski is a task too far. When talking to Sean Penn as part of Andy Warhol’s magazine ‘Interview’, Bukowski was quoted as saying: “Alcohol is probably one of the greatest things to arrive upon the earth—alongside me. Yes…these are two of the greatest arrivals upon the surface of the earth. So…we get along.”
Waits first became aware of Bukowski after reading his LA Free Press column ‘Notes of A Dirty Old Man’, work which actually earned Bukowski an FBI investigation to go on his mantel, leaving Waits to think of him as a “writer of the common people and street people, looking in the dark corners where no one seems to want to go”.
For Waits though, a creative with a feverish desire to divulge culture and inspiration at a prolific rate, literacy and poetry has always been at the centre of his mindset. Waits’ ex-girlfriend, Bobi Thomas, once described the endless nights he would tirelessly stay awake until five or six in the morning with no other companion than his mountain of reading material. “He’d tell me how inspired he was by some short story or other, and I think that was the source of his muse,” Thomas wrote in the 2009 biography Lowside of the Road. “Some writers go to the movies to get that emotional power, and then they write,” Thomas said before adding: “I think Tom got a lot of it from books.”
The musician has never been shy to share his adoration for Bukowski’s work, once describing it as “very musical” in nature and later called Bukowski “one of the most colourful and important writers of modern fiction, poetry, prose, in contemporary literature”.
Waits attempted to emulate this feeling within his work and attitude but see it, and his admiration for Bukowski and his work, when he reads aloud Buk’s poems ‘The Laughing Heart’ and ‘Nirvana’.
Listen to it below.
The Laughing Heart
by Charles Bukowski
your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight