American Rimbaud: An interview with Steve Richmond
“When Bukowski wrote about real people, he would lie, but his lies brought out the truth in a better way.”
BP: Yeah, that’s right, they paid him off. But tell me what happened with your house…what did you buy it for?
SR: My grandmother left the house and all the property to the five grandchildren, and I was one of the five. I lived in the house on Hollister for 40 years. She let me move in there when I was 19, for $40 a m…
BP: No, I meant the big house.
SR: Oh, the big house, I lived there three years. And, you know, basically it was a business…
BP: How much money did you inherit (if you remember)?
SR: A couple million.
BP: A couple million bucks, and so you bought the house, where was it?
SR: Paid $803,000. Sold it three years later for $975,000.
BP: Ok, what was it like living there?
SR: It was, you know, I totally screwed up…the master bedroom was upstairs with a shower as big as my apartment now. But I’d lock myself in there with my Shar-pei puppy [laughing].
BP: What was his name?
SR: Sweetie, it was a she. I ended up having to take her up to the Topanga Hills and just let her go, because she’d bite anybody that tried to…I loved that dog. It’s the last dog I’ll ever have, I can tell you.
BP: Jeffers wrote the greatest poem I had ever seen about dogs, and I’ll send it to you. I specially printed it on a card, as a memorial for my aunt. So you lived in this house…
SR: And I had my girl, you know, she lived in the second bedroom, the second big bedroom on the second floor. And there was a hole, a closet between the two bedrooms. There was a wall, you couldn’t walk through it, but…I put a hole through the wall, and I’d pass her outfits, you know [laughing]. So we’d pass things back and forth, you know, and then she’d come over and knock on the door, it was kind of a …she was a mistress, you know?
BP: Did you buy a lot of clothes, the two of you?
SR: Ah, no, I bought a lot of…what did I buy? I bought a lot of furniture, we had paintings all over the place, we had a huge living room, the whole second story was about, god damn.
BP: And you said the drug dealers moved in.
SR: Yeah, a couple.
BP: Do you remember their names, like first names?
SR: A guy name Nick. Nick was a poet, he’s a poet/crack dealer. And he’s a good poet…he was born in England, he came here, he lived in one bedroom downstairs. He’d pay us rent, $650 a month for the room—pay it off in crack, you know. I ended up owing him $5000. He was arrested five times. And then Calvin was downstairs about 6-foot-5 [-inches], black guy, 250 [pounds], a killer from the war, he was in Vietnam, Southeast Asia, Special Forces. Very interesting guy…he was like a brother. The closest thing I ever had to a brother was a stone killer.
BP: Wow. But you liked him?
SR: Yeah, yeah, but he died, God, he died last year… I wanted to get the hell out of there ‘cause another girlfriend of Merisha, another crack-head, she starts screaming, at four in the morning, every morning, you know, just crazy. Crack-heads are crazy, you can’t get any peace. And I was just totally spending…I was dodging…I weighed about 350 or something, and my legs, one doctor said I had elephantiasis, it was just drug poison.
BP: Were you writing much?
SR: I wasn’t writing. I was making that music, and I don’t know how that is, I haven’t heard it for a couple of years. And it’s just instrumental, you know, I’d go get stoned and did crack, you know, it sounds like a New Wave music.
SR: I don’t know though, it might be very beautiful. Berlinski liked it. I sent him a copy of the tape and he said, “God, it’s beautiful.”
BP: It must be out there some place.
SR: Well, I’m sure he’s got it in his closet.
BP: So you lived there for three years.
SR: Yeah, for three years, and I said, ‘I gotta get out of here.’
BP: What happened to all the money?
SR: Well, I had the money for 12 years, you know, 12-, 13-, 14 years you can live pretty well for a million and a half, two million dollars, if you spend it well, probably $100- to $200 grand a year, $150 grand a year, until it was gone.
BP: ‘Cause you had all these expenses—these people who were living off you. Did you support Calvin?
SR: Yeah, he drove me around and he was my bodyguard…I’m just reading this novel by Elmore Leonard called Freaky Deaky.
BP: Yeah, he’s a great writer.
SR: Yeah, I’ve read about it. I got into his books about five to six months ago, and I’ve already read about nine to 10 of his books.
BP: He came along and said I’m the next big thing.
SR: The word ‘Bukowski’ is in this novel actually, you know, yeah he’s great. He’s really great. Start off with Maximum Bob, which is surprising, it was great. You know how it is when you are old, you come on a novel by a guy who has written 20 books, and you haven’t read any of them. I’d pick his books up through the years, but I couldn’t get into the lingo. Then all of a sudden I just, you know, got into Maximum Bob first, and went right through it. The guy’s great. Great writer, plus, you know, he’s fabulously wealthy, I suppose.
BP: Yeah, I’m sure he is. A lot of his stuff has been made into movies.
SR: Yeah, every time I open a book, I say ‘Wait, I saw this’ [laughing].
BP: So eventually, you blew all your money, and you went across the country.
SR: Went up to Oregon basically. Northwest. I bought a Contessa, Beaver Contessa, three or four years old, it was like a big RV. Beautiful RV. That’s when gas was still reasonable. And I lived up in Bend, Oregon for six months in an RV place…
BP: Was Calvin with you?
SR: Calvin was, you know, driving the thing, and I’d sit there and shoot six needles a day and then fall asleep and wake up and then shoot another one, and fall asleep.
BP: Did you get busted up there?
SR: I’ve never been busted for drugs, you know. Had some very close calls.
BP: Never in your life.
SR: No, I was careful, you know. I don’t know if it can be done anymore ‘cause they’ve really clamp down on, you know, crack and heroin everything, you know. But if you want to you can get away with it, if you’re very careful [laughing] and you’re lucky.
BP: And if you have a bodyguard. Cops don’t want to mess with bodyguards. Especially one’s who have been killing people.
SR: So then I came back. Oregon, one thing about Oregon is all the dead deer on the road, it’s like [Jean Luc] Godard’s Weekend …I just came back and traded the RV to the guy at that motel—Sid Warshaw, you met him.
BP: Yeah I did, nice guy.
SR: And he gave me three years for the RV, three years to have my own room. Turned out to be four months short, because he got busted, the whole place got busted, and they kicked me out, the cops. So I was there for two and a half years, just plodding around with the crack hookers and I started writing there. Writing Gagaku again, so I was writing letters to that woman up north.
BP: So you were really reduced to one room? One room.
SR: Oh, I loved it! One room, just a garret—no broiler, no stove…
BP: And this beautiful woman who was blowing you? What was her name?
SR: Uh, Susie.
BP: Describe her–inside, out.
SR: She moved like a swan. I just looked at her once (of course, I was on crack) and, you know, said to myself (…tongue-in-cheek), ‘She’s the most beautiful woman in the world.’ She said she liked to be with me because I made her feel pretty.
BP: So she was a poet too, huh?
SR: She wrote poems too, yeah, she was half illiterate…but it was interesting…
BP: Did you write Gagaku about the two of you?
SR: Uh, yeah, I wrote a bunch of poems, called her Aphrodite. Every once in a while, a woman comes along. I figure she’s the new Aphrodite.
BP: She was in and out of jail for drugs?
SR: Aw man, she’d get together with crack dealers, get mad at them, steal their car, and crash it. While we were at the motel, she crashed four different crack dealers’, I mean, you know, and the cops, she was notorious with the police. She’d ride around on her skates, you know, she knew everybody in Venice, she worked Lincoln as a hooker, she was 32 and I was 67…so I knew I couldn’t keep her.
BP: But when you finally cleaned yourself up, you had to get away from these people.
SR: Well, when the police closed down the motel, my sister put me in a motel room for a night or two…
SR: And then I spent six months at Santa Monica’s City Shelter, that’s where I got clean.
BP: It’s not bad, was it?
SR: Well, you know, I got bad bug bites, but I learned, you know, and there was…120 mentally ill…and me!
[Interview transcribed by Lisa Zucker & © Ben Pleasants 2009]
[Photo by Frank Sullivan: l-r Ben Pleasants, Charles Bukowski, Steve Richmond]
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Ben Pleasants is a writer and the author of Visceral Bukowski: Inside the Sniper Landscape of L.A. Writers. You can find more of Ben’s work here.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, January 6th, 2009.