Keeping our promise to offer offbeat, beat, non-conformist, non-commercial, visionary and downright strange acts of creativity to our readers, we bring you this 9 Pound Hammer Showcase highlighting the uncle beat poets from the East Village, The Fugs. Brilliant avant-folk provocateurs, these guys sang truth to power with a wicked sense of humor, satire, irony, high level stuff that could get you arrested (and did) in the Land of the Free.
The Fugs formed back in 1964, when Ed Sanders rented the former Kosher meat store on East 10th, and transformed it into the Peace Eye Bookstore. He met poet Tuli Kupferberg. They named themselves after a Norman Mailer-coined euphemism from "The Naked and the Dead," a wartime novel written when soldiers were free to kill but not say the word "fuck," at least in print. They played in cafes and theaters in the Village, and headlined a cross-country tour opposing the Vietnam war in its early days, playing folk and rock and basically blowing minds in the Heartland.
We drew inspiration for the Fugs from a long and varied tradition, going all the way back to the dances of Dionysus in the ancient Greek plays and the "Theory of the Spectacle" in Aristotle's Poetics, and moving forward to the famous premier performance of Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi in 1896, to the poèmes simultanés of the Dadaists in Zurich's Cabaret Voltaire in 1916, to the jazz-poetry of the Beats, to Charlie Parker's seething sax, to the silence of John Cage, to the calm pushiness of the Happening movement, the songs of the Civil Rights movement, and to our concept that there was oddles of freedom guaranteed by the United States Constitution that was not being used.
- Ed Sanders
They first recorded in 1965, and put their show on vinyl to the delight of far flung fans and connoisseurs of beatnik irreverence. This wasn't the frail, anemic poetry of your timid schoolbooks, but some rough beast vexed to nightmare, it's hour come at last, playing electric guitars and invoking the gods. They freaked the squares out. The grey flannel Chamber of Commerce types didn't dig this crazy pagan humor, and the crewcut cops were notified, but the children -- at least, some of them -- thought it was great to spit in Goliath's eye.
The Fugs became a cult favorite, secretly traded among fans like contraband, passed like a joint between outstretched fingers, popping up all over this great land. Yes, soon the Feds would be pounding at the door, and the FBI would try to crush this communist conspiracy of "free thought," but the damage had been done. Songs like "Kill for Peace" had already gotten out to undermine the war effort and corrupt the youth of Athens, er, I mean America.
You will enjoy this, I'm sure. For those who think the 1960s were all Austin Powers and the Monkees, this is a good antidote. Just don't take it and operate heavy machinery, okay kids?
For more information, check out the official History of the Fugs here. An interview with Ed Sanders is here. For more tales of beatnik glory, check out Ed Sanders' Woodstock Journal here.