Heil Bukowski!: The Nazi Letters That Never Were (Abel Debritto, 3/08/24, 3AM)

Accidents do happen, though. As luck would have it, I came across a relatively tiny database with a large number of Los Angeles Examiner and Los Angeles Herald Examiner issues. A perfunctory search yielded no results at all. I remembered that Bukowski’s father was mad at him for signing his piece as “Henry Bukowski” in a 1940 Los Angeles Collegian issue, his first known publication ever. I tried several variations of the Bukowski name and, lo and behold, there they were, three letters by a “Henry C. Bukowski, Jr.” I clicked on them and sure enough those were the elusive letters Bukowski had mentioned in interviews and poems, lying dormant for God knows how long in that small database no one had ever heard of.

Funnily enough, when I took a close look at the front cover of those three issues, I couldn’t help but notice they were not Los Angeles Examiner nor Los Angeles Herald Examiner, even though I was positive that’s how they were called in the database. I retraced my steps and clicked again on those Los Angeles Examiner issues, only to be taken to yet another newspaper called Los Angeles Evening Herald and Express. But of course! A classic tagging mistake! All the Los Angeles Evening Herald and Express issues had been mislabeled Los Angeles Examiner. The only way to find those letters was by accident. Blame it on the Digital Humanities’ race to digitize all books known to mankind in the blink of an eye. That, and sketchy OCR at best were the main culprits of many unproductive hours in front of the computer. And how naïve of me to think that Bukowski would have submitted his letters to Los Angeles Examiner, which was the morning edition of the paper. He tried the evening edition, when he was sober enough to read it. Funny how these things make perfect sense in retrospect only.

It all had been worth the effort. Those controversial letters were no longer some sort of mythical creature mockingly teasing me in the distance, putting my patience to the test. They were right there up for grabs, waiting to be scrutinized, analyzed, and dissected. Oh, the joys ahead!

But first things first. Although claims about those Nazi sympathies had been made by Sounes in 1998, Miles in 2005, and, above all, Ben Pleasants in his Visceral Bukowski in 2004 — all of them when Bukowski was long gone — the hard truth is that the first person to happily spread the gospel was none other than Bukowski himself. In interviews, poems, stories, and novels, Bukowski didn’t shy away from talking about what he called the “Nazi trip,” especially in the infamous Pleasants tapes — I say infamous because when Pleasants was attacked for proclaiming Bukowski was a Nazi at core, he always maintained that everything he said was sourced from the tapes he recorded in the mid-to-late 1970s, when he was working on a Bukowski biography that never came to fruition. For years, it was thought that Pleasants had made that up and that those tapes were pure fabrication, but after Pleasants passed away in 2013, I was able to track them down and, indeed, I could hear Bukowski droning on and on about his Nazi persona.

What Pleasants failed to mention was that it was all said in jest. In the tapes, Bukowski is very clear about that. His Nazi trip was a giant put-on, as simple as that. Perhaps, in a perverse sort of way, it was just another instance of his self-deprecating humor. Pleasants, who had been researching into Bukowski’s work as early as 1970, was fully aware of Bukowski’s public statements. And yet, what Bukowski remembered half-jokingly in those tapes and elsewhere, Pleasants turned into radical, deeply-rooted Nazi beliefs. Striking, to say the least. Sometimes I couldn’t help but wonder if it was just his personal vendetta over the canceled biography. It didn’t help matters that Bukowski wrote a short-story in 1978 where he made fun of Pleasants’ overbearing, self-centered demeanour.