When a Drunken Charles Bukowski Walked Off the Prestigious French Talk Show Apostrophes (1978)

Charles Bukows­ki did­n’t do TV — or at least he did­n’t do Amer­i­can TV. Like a Hol­ly­wood movie star shoot­ing a Japan­ese com­mer­cialhe did make an excep­tion for a gig abroad. It hap­pened in 1978, when the poet received an invi­ta­tion from the pop­u­lar French lit­er­ary talk show Apos­tro­phes. Bukows­ki was­n’t the first for­eign­er to grace its set: a few years ear­li­er, Vladimir Nabokov had come in advance of  the French trans­la­tion of Adabut only under the con­di­tions that he be allowed to pre-write his answers and read them off note­cards, and to drink whiskey from a teapot dur­ing the inter­view. No such niceties for the author of Ham on Rye, who was set up with ear­piece inter­pre­ta­tion and Sancerre straight from the bot­tle.

Or rather, bot­tles, plur­al: Bukows­ki had pol­ished off one of them by the time Apos­tro­phes host Bernard Piv­ot opened the live broad­cast by ask­ing him how it felt to be cel­e­brat­ed on French tele­vi­sion. Already drunk, Bukows­ki respond­ed in a slurred and dis­mis­sive fash­ion. Things dete­ri­o­rat­ed from there, and Bukows­ki kept ram­bling as the oth­er pan­elists tried to car­ry on their con­ver­sa­tion. At one point François Cavan­na ven­tured a “Bukows­ki ta gueule”; soon there­after, Piv­ot opt­ed for a more direct “Bukows­ki, shut up,” which prompt­ed the guest of hon­or’s unsteadi­ly impromp­tu depar­ture. “Piv­ot bid him au revoir with a Gal­lic shrug,” writes Howard Sounes in Charles Bukows­ki: Locked in the Arms of a Crazy Life.

“The next day, he didn’t remem­ber any­thing, of course, but the whole of France was run­ning to book shops to buy his books,” says Barfly direc­tor Bar­bet Schroed­er in the doc­u­men­tary The Ordi­nary Mad­ness of Charles Bukows­ki. “In a few hours they were all sold out.” This scandale succès made Bukows­ki even more of a lit­er­ary rock star in France than he’d already become. The episode has also been wide­ly remem­bered in the Fran­coph­o­ne world since the death of Bernard Piv­ot ear­li­er this month, nev­er fail­ing to make the much-cir­cu­lat­ed lists of Apos­tro­phes’ most mem­o­rable broad­casts dur­ing its fif­teen-year run.

?si=w2D1rUFmVIblni97&t=360

“Six mil­lion peo­ple watched him,” writes Adam Nos­siter in Piv­ot’s New York Times obit­u­ary“and near­ly every­body want­ed to be on his show. And near­ly every­body was, includ­ing French lit­er­ary giants like Marguerite DurasPatrick Modi­ano, Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio, Mar­guerite Yource­nar and Georges Simenon.” (One very spe­cial episode even brought on “a hag­gard-look­ing Alek­san­dr Solzhen­it­synnot long out of the Sovi­et Union.”) Apart from Bukows­ki, Apos­tro­phes’ guest list also includ­ed a very dif­fer­ent Amer­i­can with an equal­ly enthu­si­as­tic French read­er­ship: the late Paul Austerwho — like most of the cul­tur­al fig­ures whose appear­ances on the show you can sam­ple on this Youtube playlist — pre­ced­ed Piv­ot to that great talk show in the sky.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Bukows­ki Reads Bukows­ki: Watch a 1975 Doc­u­men­tary Fea­tur­ing Charles Bukows­ki at the Height of His Pow­ers

“Don’t Try”: The Phi­los­o­phy of the Hard­work­ing Charles Bukows­ki

Hear 130 Min­utes of Charles Bukowski’s First-Ever Record­ed Read­ings (1968)

Charles Bukows­ki Reads His Poem “The Secret of My Endurance”

The Charles Bukows­ki Tapes: 52 Short Inter­views with the Under­ground Poet

Bukows­ki: Born Into This — The Defin­i­tive Doc­u­men­tary on the Hard-Liv­ing Amer­i­can Poet (2003)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities and the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.



Source

Leave a Comment