You Say You Want a Revolution?

A rat, cat, and dog meat market in Paris during the siege of 1870-1871.

This column first appeared in 1968 in OPEN CITY, a Los Angeles underground newspaper. Though dated by references to then-current events in Chicago, Prague, etc., the piece is still worth reading for its sober consideration of the human cost of revolution. Strong language, brutal content.


all the rivers are going to get higher, and yet it’s tight, the schoolteachers whack you with rulers and the worms eat the corn; they are mounting the mgs on tripods and the bellies are white and the bellies are black and the bellies are bellies. men are beaten simply for the sake of beating; courts are places where the ending is written first and all that precedes is simply vaudeville. men are taken into rooms for questioning and come out half-men or no-men at all. some men hope for revolution but when you revolt and set up your new government you find your new government is still the same old Papa, he has only put on a cardboard mask. the Chicago boys sure made a mistake busting the big press boys on the head – that knock on the head might get them to thinking and the big presses – aside from an earlier New York Times and some editions of The Christian Science Monitor – stopped thinking with the declaration of World War One. you can bust OPEN CITY for printing a normal portion of the human body but when you kick the editorial writer of a million circulation newspaper in the ass you better watch out, he just might start writing the truth about Chicago and everyplace else, advertisers be damned. he might only be able to write one column but that one column might get a million readers thinking – for a change – and nobody could tell what might happen then. but the lock’s on tight: when you are given a choice between Nixon and Humphrey it’s like being given a choice between eating warm shit or cold shit.

there just isn’t much change anywhere. the thing in Prague has dampened a lot of boys who have forgotten Hungary. they hang in the parks with the Che idol, with pictures of Castro in their amulets, going OOOOOOOOMMMMMOOOOOOOMMM while William Burroughs, Jean Genet and Allen Ginsberg lead them. these writers have gone, soft, cuckoo, eggshit, female – not homo but female – and if I were a cop I’d feel like clubbing their addled brains myself. hang me for that. the writer of the streets is getting his soul cock-sucked by the idiots. there is only one place to write and that is ALONE at a typewriter. a writer who has to go into the streets is a writer who does not know the streets. I have seen enough factories, whorehouses, jails, bars, park orators to last 100 men 100 lifetimes. to go into the streets when you have a NAME is to go the easy way – they killed Thomas and Behan with their LOVE, their whiskey, their idolatry, their cunt, and they half-murdered others. WHEN YOU LEAVE YOUR TYPEWRITER YOU LEAVE YOUR MACHINE GUN AND THE RATS COME POURING THROUGH. When Camus began giving speeches before the academies his writing died. Camus did not begin as a speechmaker, he began as a writer; it was not an automobile accident that killed him.

when some of my few friends ask, “why don’t you give poetry readings, Bukowski?” they simply do not understand why I say “no.”

And so we have Chicago and so we have Prague and it’s no different than it has ever been. the little boy is going to get his ass beat and when (and if) the little boy gets big he is going to beat on ass. I’d rather see Cleaver president than Nixon but that’s no big thing. what these god-damned revolutionaries who lay around my place drinking my beer and eating my food and showing off their women must learn is that the thing must come from inside out. you just can’t give a man a new government like a new hat and expect a different man inside that hat. he’s still going to have chickenshit proclivities and a full belly and a complete set of Dizzy Gillespie ain’t going to change that. a lot of people swear that there is going to be a revolution but I’d hate to see all those people get killed for nothing. I mean, you can kill most people and you aren’t killing anything but a few good men are bound to go. and then what do you end up with: a government over the people. a new dictator in sheep’s clothing; the ideology was only to keep the guns going.

the other night some kid told me (he was sitting in the center of the rug looking very spiritual and beautiful):

“I’m going to shut off all the sewers. the whole city will be floating in turds!”

why, the kid had already told me enough shit to bury the whole city of L.A. and halfway up into Pasadena.

then he said, “got another beer, Bukowski?”

his whore crossed her legs high and showed me a flash of pink panty so I got up and got the kid a beer.

revolution sounds very romantic, you know, but it ain’t. it’s blood and guts and madness; it’s little kids killed who get in the way, it’s little kids who don’t understand what the fuck is going on. it’s your whore, your wife ripped in the belly with a bayonet and then raped in the ass while you watch. it’s men torturing men who used to laugh at Mickey Mouse cartoons. before you go into the thing, decide where the spirit is and where the spirit will be when it is over. I don’t go with Dos – CRIME AND PUNISHMENT – that no man has a right to take another man’s life. but it might take a bit of thinking first. of course, the gall is that they have been taking our lives without firing a bullet. I too have worked for dismal wages while some fat boy has raped fourteen-year-old virgins in Beverly Hills. I’ve seen men fired for taking five minutes too long in the crapper. I’ve seen things I don’t even want to talk about. but before you kill something make sure you have something better to replace it with; something better than political opportunist slamming hate horseshit in the public park. if you are going to pay through the nose get something better than a 36 month warranty. as yet, I have seen nothing but this emotional and romantic yen for Revolution; I’ve seen no solid leader or no realistic platform to insure AGAINST the betrayal that has always, so far, followed. if I am going to kill a man I don’t want to see him replaced by a carbon copy of the same man and the same way. we have wasted History like a bunch of drunks shooting dice back in the men’s crapper of the local bar. I am ashamed to be a member of the human race but I don’t want to add any more to that shame, I want to scrape a little of it off.

it’s one thing to talk about Revolution while your belly is full of another man’s beer and you’re traveling with a sixteen-year-old runaway girl from Grand Rapids; it’s one thing to talk about Revolution while three jackass writers of international fame have you dancing to the OOOOOOOOOOMMM game; it’s another thing to bring it about, it’s another thing to have it happen. Paris, 1871, 20,000 people murdered in the streets, the streets as red with blood as with rain, and the rats coming out and eating at the bodies, and the people hungered, ravaged, no longer knowing what it meant, coming out and yanking the rats off the corpses and eating the rats. and where is Paris tonight? and what is Paris tonight? and my buddy is going to add shit on top of this and he smiles. well, he’s twenty and mostly reads poetry. and poetry is just a wet rag in the dishpan.

and pot. they always equate pot with Revolution. pot just isn’t that good. for Christ’s sake, if they legalized pot half the people would stop smoking it. prohibition created more drunks than grandmother’s warts. it’s only what you can’t do that you want to do. who wants to fuck their own wife every night? or, for that matter, even once a week?

there are a lot of things I would like to do. first off, I would like to stop getting such very ugly looking people for presidential nominees. then, I’d change the museums. there is nothing as depressing or quite as stinky as a museum. why there hasn’t been a greater percentage of three-year-old girls molested on museum steps I’ll never know. first off, I’d install at least one bar on each floor; this alone would pay all the salaries and would allow for regeneration and salvation of some of the paintings and the dropping sabre-toothed tiger whose asshole is beginning to look more like the 8-ball sidepocket. then I’d install a rock-band, a swing-band and a symphony band for each floor, plus three or four good-looking women to walk around and look good. you don’t learn anything or see anything unless you vibrate. most people look at that sabre-tooth behind all that hot glass and just slink by, a little bit ashamed and a little bit bored.

but can’t you see a guy and his wife, each a beer in hand, looking at the sabre-tooth, and saying, “god damn, look at those tusks! a little bit like an elephant, huh?”

and she’d say, “honey, let’s go home and make love!”

and he’d say, “your ass! not until I go down to the basement and see that 1917 Spad. they say Eddie Rickenbacker flew it himself. got seventeen hun. besides, I hear they got the Pink Floyd down there.”

but the Revolutionaries are going to burn the museum. they figure burning answers everything. they’d burn their grandmother if she couldn’t run fast enough. and then they are going to look around for water or for somebody who can do an appendectomy or somebody who can keep the truly insane from cutting their throats as they sleep. and they are going to find out how many rats live in a city, not human rats but rat-rats. and they are going to find that the rats are the last things that drown, burn, starve: that they are the first things that can find food and water because they have been doing so for centuries without help. the rats are the true revolutionaries; the rats are the true underground, but they don’t want your ass except to nibble on and they are not interested in OOOOOOOOOMMM.

I’m not saying give up. I’m for the true human spirit wherever it is, wherever it has been hiding, whatever it is. but beware of the con-boys who make it sound so good and leave you out on a plateau with 4 hard-core cops and eight or nine national guard boys and only your bellybutton as a last prayer. the boys screaming for your sacrifice in the public parks are usually the furthest away when the shooting begins. they want to live to write their memoirs.

it used to be the religion con. not the big church con, that was a drag. everybody bored, including the preacher. but the little storefront places, painted white. Jesus, how they carried on. I used to go in drunk and sit there and watch. especially after I was 86’d at the bars. it beat going home and beating my meat. the best religious con places were L.A., followed by N.Y. and Philly. those preachers were artists, man. they almost had me rolling on the floor too. most of those preachers recovering from hangovers, bloodshot eyes, needing more $$$ for something to drink or maybe even a pop, hell, I don’t know.

they almost had me rolling on the floor and I was pretty cool and pretty tired. it was better than a piece of ass even if it only caught you halfway. I wish to thank these babies, most of them negroes, pardon me, blacks, for some entertaining nights; I think that if I have ever written any poetry that I might have stolen some of it from them.

but now that game is fading. God just didn’t pay the rent or come up with that bottle of wine no matter how much they hollered or got their last clean clothes dirty on that floor. God said WAIT and it’s hard to WAIT when your belly is empty and your soul don’t feel so good and maybe you can only live to be 55 and the last time God showed up was almost 2,000 years ago and then He just did a few cheap carnival tricks, let some Jew outfox him, then blew the scene. a man gets g.d. tired of suffering. the teeth in his mouth are enough to kill him or the same same woman in the same same small room.

the religious con boys are moving in with the revolutionary con boys and you can’t tell asshole from pussy, brothers. realize this, and you have a beginning. listen carefully, and you have a beginning. swallow it all, and you’re dead. God got out of the tree, took the snake and Eden’s tight pussy away and now you’ve got Karl Marx throwing golden apples down from the same tree, mostly in blackface.

if there is a battle, and I believe that there is, always has been, and that’s what has made Van Goghs and Mahlers as well as Dizzy Gillespies and Charlie Parkers, then please be careful of your leaders, for there are many in your ranks who would rather be president of General Motors than burn down the Shell Oil station around the corner. but since they can’t have one, they take the other. these are the human rats of the centuries who have kept us where we are. this is Dubcek coming back from Russia a half-man, afraid of psychic death. a man must finally learn that it is better to die with his balls slowly cut off than to live any other way. foolish? no more foolish than the greatest miracle. but if you are caught in the trap, always understand what it is that you are trading for, exactly, or the soul will give way. Casanova used to run his fingers, his hands up the ladies dresses as men were torn apart in the king’s courtyard; but Casanova died too, just an old guy with a big cock and a long tongue and no guts at all. to say that he lived well is true; to say that I could spit on his grave without feeling is also true. the ladies usually go for the biggest damn fool they can find; that is why the human race stands where it does today: we have bred the clever and lasting Casanovas, all hollow inside, like the chocolate Easter bunnies we foster upon our poor children.

the nest of the Arts like the nests of the Revolutionaries crawl with the most unimaginable lice-covered freaks, seeking coca-cola solace because they can neither find jobs as dishwashers or paint like Cezanne. if the mold don’t doesn’t want you, the only thing to do is to pray or work for a new mold. and when you find that that mold doesn’t want you, then why not another? everybody pleased in his certain way.

yet, old as I am, I am particularly pleased to live in this certain age. THE LITTLE MAN HAS SIMPLY GOTTEN TIRED OF TAKING TOO MUCH SHIT. it’s happening everywhere. Prague. Watts. Hungary. Vietnam. it ain’t government. it’s Man against government. it’s Man who can no longer quite be fooled by a white Christmas with a Bing Crosby voice and dyed Easter eggs that must be hidden from kids who must WORK TO FIND THEM. of future presidents of America whose faces on TV screens must make you run to the bathroom and puke.

I like this time. I like this feeling. the young have finally begun to think. and the young have become more and more. but everytime they get a spearhead for their feelings that spearhead is murdered. the old and the entrenched are frightened. they know that the revolution can come through the voting polls in the American manner. we can kill them without a bullet. we can kill them by simply becoming more real and more human and voting out the shits. but they are clever. what do they offer us? Humphrey or Nixon. like I said, cold shit, warm shit, it’s all shit.

the only thing that has kept me from being assassinated is that I am small shit, I have no politics, I observe. I have no sides except the side of the human spirit, which after all does sound rather shallow, like a pitchman, but which means mostly my spirit, which means yours too, for if I am not truly alive, how can I see you?

man, I’d like to see a good pair of shoes on every man walking the streets and see that he gets a good piece of ass and a bellyfull of food too. Christ, the last piece of ass I’ve had was in 1966 and I’ve been jacking off ever since. and there just ain’t no jackoff compared to that wonder-hole.

it’s tough times, brother, and I don’t know quite what to tell you. I’m white but I’ve got to agree – don’t too much trust that paint job – it’s soft and I don’t too much like softshits either, but I’ve seen a lot of you black boys who can make me puke all the way from Venice West to Miami Beach. the Soul has no skin; the soul only has insides that want to SING, finally, can’t you hear it, brothers? softly, can’t you hear it, brothers? a hot piece of ass and a new Cadillac ain’t going to solve a god-damned thing. Popeye will have one eye and Nixon will be your next president. Christ slipped off the cross and we are now nailed to the motherfucker, black and white, white and black, completely.

our choice is almost no choice. if we move too quickly, we are dead. if we do not move fast enough, we are dead. it isn’t our deck of cards. how you gonna shit with a two-thousand foot Christian cork jammed up your ass?

to learn, do not read Karl Marx. very dry shit. please learn the spirit. Marx is only tanks moving through Prague. don’t get caught this way please. first of all, read Céline. the greatest writer of 2,000 years. of course, THE STRANGER by Camus must fit in. CRIME AND PUNISHMENT. THE BROTHERS. all of Kafka. all the works of the unknown writer John Fante. the short stories of Turgenev. avoid Faulkner, Shakespeare, and especially George Bernard Shaw, the most overblown fantasy of the Ages, a real true-blown shit with political and literary connections beyond belief. the only younger guy I can think of with the road paved ahead for him and kissing ass whenever necessary was Hemmingway, but the difference between Hemmingway and Shaw was that Hem wrote some good early work and Shaw wrote completely flip and dull crap all the way through.

so, here we are mixing Revolution with Literature and they both fit. somehow everything fits. but I grow tired and wait for tomorrow.

will the Man be at my door?

who gives a damn?

I hope this made you spill your tea.

 Charles Bukowski
Notes of a Dirty Old Man

Illustration: A rat, cat, and dog meat market in Paris during the siege of 1870-1871


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