Tuli Kupferberg, September 28, 1923 – July 12, 2010
Okay, guys, so quit dying. Yesterday I got the news that Tuli Kupferberg, co-founder of the Fugs, passed away. Tuli and Ed Sanders formed the band in 1964, taking the name from a euphemism for "f**k" used in Norman Mailer's novel, The Naked and the Dead. The Fugs were political and social provocateurs, poets in the beat tradition, over-educated New York bums. They bridged the folk and rock scene, and were the link between the beatniks and the hippies, and were busted for obscenity on a regular basis. What would you expect in a society where even using the word "sex" was considered bad taste?
They could sing something sweet and gentle like "I Want to Know" or "Morning, Morning" like medieval troubadours ("Morning, morning, feel so lonesome in the morning...Starshine, starshine, darling kiss me as I leave") then turn into your parents' worst nightmare and sing "Johnny Pissoff Meets the Red Angel" or "Kill for Peace" or "I'm Doin' All Right." Click on play button:
I'm not ever gonna go to Vietnam
I prefer to stay right here and screw your mom
when you see me on the street you yell 'Jesus Christ!'
but I"m gettin' mine...
I'm doin' all right!
This was not the sweet Joan Baez side of the peace movement--this was in-your-face street theater from the Lower East Side, hardcore beatniks with electric guitars who played William Blake's Songs of Innocence by starlight and in the harsh light of day taunted squares like cabbies in a traffic jam. This was The Fugs, and we loved them.
The Fugs: Ed Sanders, Tuli Kupferberg, Ken Weaver
Was this a cultural revolution or just plain old bad manners? They were shocking to some, but fans found more obscenity in the news coming out of Vietnam. Sure, they said bad words. Get over it. Airplanes were dropping napalm, Buddhists monks were burning in protest, politicians were lying. The CIA was assassinating elected officials, mining harbors, torturing prisoners and "destabilizing" governments--all in the name of American freedom. The Fugs, on the other hand, were all about freedom.
Listen to CIA Man by the Fugs:
In our upstanding community--like so many across the country--Fugs albums were contraband, communiques from the underground smuggled in under cover of night, a direct link to the Beat artists and Blake and crazy mad Greenwich Village and the anti-war parade. We huddled around primitive record players and heard phrases like "sea-green penis" and "petrified tapir snout" and "buttocks popping arpeggios of lust" and "nameless voices crying for kindness." They never made it on Hollywood Palace or Ed Sullivan, that's for sure. They never had a hit on the Top 40. Tuli and Ed Sanders were subversive scholars tossing a wrench in the works--where else would you hear something like "Swinburne Stomp" or "Auguries of Innocence" or "Ramses II is Dead, My Love," not to mention "Amphetamine Shriek" or "Kill for Peace"? Dangerous words uttered on the steps of Athens. Tuli Kupferberg was a poet warrior, a "yiddish-speaking 60’s rebel, an unrepentant anarcho-pacifist," an absolutely honest man with a sling in his hand and a tiny pebble. Rest his dangerous soul.
The final word from Tuli Kupferberg: