Drunk and sparking: The National vs. Charles Bukowski
Indie-rock bard Matt Berninger crosses wires with America's most published barfly
From its obscure Cincinnati-via-Brooklyn beginnings to the still-resounding acclaim for 2007’s Boxer, The National has spent a solid decade edifying its rep as one of indie rock’s most darkly, distinctive voices. Much of the band’s moody appeal (on display Friday at the Pabst Theater) can be chalked up to singer and lyricist Matt Berninger, whose subdued, bleary-eyed songcraft rings like a postmodern hybrid of Ian Curtis, Leonard Cohen, and Charles Bukowski.
Speaking of the late Bukowski, both he and Berninger have a knack for letting beverages—often the alcoholic kind—creep into their work. While the characters in Berninger's world are far more genteel than a Henry Chinaski archetype, they're still prone to fairly Bukowskian moments of woozy reflection and wine-soaked ennui. On the page, it can be surprisingly tricky to distinguish between the The National’s world-weary frontman and the 20th century’s most unabashed literary souse. Read the lyric excerpts below and correctly identify whether each one is from a Bukowski poem or a song by The National. (Answers are posted here.)
1. "Put a little something in our lemonade and take it with us / we're half-awake in a fake empire"
2. "Standing at the punch table swallowing punch / can't pay attention to the sound of anyone"
3. “There’s a bluebird in my heart that / wants to get out / but I pour whiskey on him and inhale / cigarette smoke”
4. “God is on my side / I'm the child bride / and all the wine is all for me"
5. “You who drink with calmness / you who own large homes / and walk in gardens”
6. "Hang your holiday rainbow lights in the garden and I'll / I'll bring a nice icy drink to you"
7. “Karen, put me in a chair / fuck me and make me a drink"
8. "Jane, you were / killed by / knowing too much / here's a drink to your bones"
9. "Red sun saint around your neck / a wet martini in a paper cup"
10. "Big wet bottle in my fist, big wet rose in my teeth / I'm a perfect piece of ass / like every Californian"
11. "I wake up without warning and go flying around the house / in my sauvignon fierce, freaking out ... I pull off your jeans, and you spill Jack and Coke in my collar"
12. “Like now as like before and before I have been slowly / drinking this fine red wine and listening to symphony after / symphony from this black radio to my left”
13. "We're drunk and sparking, our legs are open / our hands are covered in cake / but I swear we didn’t have any"
14. "You pour the vodka into the top of / the beer bottle / it's one a.m. in a dead cow world"
15. “The whores go down with the stars / I’m sorry, sir, we close at 4:30”
16. “I'm going down among the saints / 3:30 in the last night for you to save this”
17. “Pour another glass and / insert / make love to the fresh new whiteness”
18. “I was shacked with a / silken-legged / beauty / I drank and fought all night”
19. “Blood money blood money / my god, they must think I love this like the others / but it's for bread and beer and rent”
20. "Be still for a second while I try and try to pin your flowers on / can you carry my drink? I have everything else"