Here's the story behind the Redondo Beach reading, titled The Last Straw:
I lived in Venice from the late sixties and only knew of Charles Bukowski from his Notes of a Dirty Old Man columns in Open City and later in the Los Angeles Free Press. Also, friends of mine had gone to see his poetry reading at the Troubadour in Hollywood. But, it wasn’t until early 1980 that I came face to face with the full Bukowski experience.
I was general manager of Takoma Records (John Fahey, Leo Kottke, George Winston, Mike Bloomfield), which had just been bought by Chrysalis Records (Pat Benetar, Blondie, Huey Lewis, Billy Idol). Denny Bruce, the new president of Takoma, was given complete artistic control about what to release on the label, and plugging into the various departments of Chrysalis for sales, marketing, and PR support.
The first new album Denny released on Takoma was by the Fabulous Thunderbirds. It was a big hit with the press and serious musicians, and achieved an unexpected level of sales, instantly becoming one of Takoma’s biggest sellers. A major LA critic called it one of the top 10 albums of the decade.
The next album Denny proposed was more controversial: a re-issue of a Charles Bukowski LP of a poetry reading he gave in San Francisco six years earlier. It was eclectic even by Takoma standards, and the staff at Chrysalis didn’t know what to make of it. We commissioned a new cover designed by John Van Hamersveld, and planned a press event luncheon and a new live poetry reading to promote the album.
Invitations were sent to a select group of critics, writers and guests to join us a Scandia’s, a high-end Sunset Strip eatery left over from Hollywood of the 50s. Having heard the recording of the near-riot at the SF reading, I was apprehensive about what a lunch at Scandia (with an open bar tab) was going to produce. I envisioned an older, more practiced, Billy Idol smashing glasses and yelling at the staff.
After innumerable bottles of mostly white wine, the gathering exceed my worst fears; Bukowski goading the other guests to throw glasses at the paintings on the wall, throwing food at the waiters, and finally spilling out onto Sunset Boulevard in the late afternoon, dodging cars, and staggering towards the Chrysalis offices. I ran ahead to find a place to park them till they sobered up enough to go home (and out of sight of the Chrysalis Executives). As I herded them into the unoccupied corner office of the VP of Finance, I alternately kept an eye out for people coming our way, and kept a waste paper basket handy in case of vomiting. Luckily, nobody did either.
A few days later was the time for the poetry reading; to be held at a small folk rock club in Redondo Beach. I didn’t know what to expect, but based on the lunch, it was probably going to be wild. I took my semi-pro video camera and equipment, which I was hauling around town at the time, mostly video taping 80s acts like John Hiatt, The Blasters, King Bees, The Go Go’s, Onigo Boingo (Danny Elfman’s original group), as well as Chrysalis acts that came to town, like Rory Gallagher, and the Specials.
I set up in the back of the room, plugged into the sound board for the audio, and settled in for a stormy night. After the opening act (a guitar band that was pleasant enough, but the crowd didn’t come for them), Bukowski took the stage. It was obvious he had a head start on the drinking – it was a red wine night. At first he looked like a business man settling in at his office desk to put in a day’s work, except he poured himself a water glass full of wine, and lit an Indian cigarette that looked like a joint. Then it began: a full assault on the audience, who gave it right back.
Bukowski challenged members of the audience to a fight, at another point he pulled out a knife and baited a heckler to keep it up. He laughed at a woman who complained she paid to get in. The last poem was about giving a poetry reading, and in a eerie, synchronistic way was especially fitting, since it was to be the very last reading Bukowski ever gave, even though he lived for another 14 years.
A few months after the reading, I was introduced to Barbet Schroder, who was doing research for Barfly. He said it was the best live footage of Bukowski ever – and it turned out to be his last. The video tape sat in my collection for 25 years, only coming occasionally; once to have it digitized, to preserve the full color and sound. It’s presented here, for the first time to the public. Technically raw, but fitting for the material.