samedi 22 janvier 2022

Lower East Side Rock and Radicalism

 When Ed Sanders signed the lease for his Peace Eye Bookstore in late 1964, at 383 East Tenth Street, Beat hero Tuli Kupferberg was already living next door, above the Lifschutz Wholesale Egg Store. They first met in 1962 outside the Charles Theatre on Avenue B, where Jonas Mekas screened underground films and Kupferberg was selling copies of his magazine Birth to the audience. Sanders let Kupferberg publish a poem in Fuck You/A Magazine of the Arts and the two attended poetry readings at Café Le Metro, where Andy Warhol and Gerard Malanga mixed with literary heavyweights like Allen Ginsberg. After these readings, everyone congregated at a dance bar on St. Mark’s Place called the Dom—formerly a Polish wedding and social hall—where Sanders suggested to Kupferberg that they should form a band.

“Tuli was truly a hippy,” Jim Fouratt said. “A hippie poet, and older. The Fugs came out of the folk scene and the old Beat scene.” Ginsberg referred to Kupferberg in his poem Howl as the man “who jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge . . . and walked away unknown and forgotten into the ghostly daze of Chinatown.” (In fact, it was the Manhattan Bridge.) Sanders had seen photos of Kupferberg in books and knew the lore about his jump, which Kupferberg didn’t like to talk about. “Throughout the years,” he recalled, “I have been annoyed many times by ‘O did you really jump off the Brooklyn Bridge?’ as if that was a great accomplishment. Remember I was a failure at the attempt.”

Sanders suggested various band names such as the Yodeling Socialists and the Freaks, but it was Kupferberg who came up with the Fugs—fug was a term that writer Norman Mailer had used as a euphemism for fuck in his novel The Naked and Dead. With a name secured, their next order of business was to write songs. Sanders had been setting William Blake poems to music since his days of sitting in Washington Square Park as an NYU student, and he was more a poet than a rocker.

“Sanders looked exactly like Mark Twain,” Village Voice rock critic Richard Goldstein recalled, “this ratty midwestern look.” Poet Andrei Codrescu concurred on the likeness, adding, “He was also from Missouri. There is a kind of a localism there that I picked up later—where they say the most incredible things, and you just can’t be sure if they are serious.” Sanders was a great confabulator, and his personality, as expressed in Fuck You and the Fugs, was a seamless mix of earnestness and whimsy. “I don’t think I took the Fugs seriously as music. I just liked the scene, but I didn’t really listen to it as music,” said Goldstein. “But the idea of Blake’s ‘Ah! Sun-flower! / weary of time’ as a rock song was amazingly unusual.”

Kupferberg knocked out several songs—including “Jack Off Blues,” ‘That’s Not My Department,” and “Hallucination Horrors”—while Sanders contributed an homage to Ginsberg’s Howl titled “I Saw the Best Minds of My Generation Rot” and several naughty numbers such as “Group Grope.” Soon after, the Holy Modal Rounders teamed up with Ed Sanders and company to create the first incarnation of the Fugs. “Someone told me Sanders and Tuli had written a bunch of songs like ‘Coca-Cola Douche’ and ‘Bull Tongue Clit,’ ” Stampfel recalled. “So I went to listen at the Peace Eye Bookstore, and I saw that the only instrument was Ken Weaver playing a hand drum. So I said, ‘Hey, you can use a backup band.’ It was an obvious thing to put together, so that’s how Steve Weber and I started playing with them.”

After signing a deal with Folkways Records, the band recorded their first album in April 1965. Along with several original songs, the Fugs included two Blake poem adaptations on their Harry Smith–produced debut, The Village Fugs Sing Ballads of Contemporary Protest, Point of Views, and General Dissatisfaction. In addition to live gigs and vinyl records, the group could also be heard on free-form radio shows. Their performance of “Carpe Diem” at a Judson Church memorial service for comedian Lenny Bruce, for example, was recorded by Bob Fass and aired on WBAI (Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, Abbie Hoffman, and many other musicians, poets, and political activists also made appearances on Fass’s show over the years).

The Fugs rehearsed at the Peace Eye Bookstore, where they recorded the number “Spontaneous Salute to Andy Warhol” during a rehearsal, which appeared on a later Fugs release. “Warhol came to a number of Fugs performances,” Sanders said. By the end of the summer of 1965, they played an antiwar benefit at the Bridge Theatre titled “Night of Napalm,” which Warhol attended. After playing “Kill for Peace” and “Strafe Them Creeps in the Rice Paddy, Daddy,” they enacted a ritual dubbed “The Fugs Spaghetti Death”—for which they boiled pots of noodles and filled a wastebasket with them.

Food fight!

Chanting the phrase “No Redemption,” the band flung pasta at the audience and themselves, slipping and sliding in the noodles onstage. “I spotted Andy Warhol in the front row,” Sanders recalled. “It appeared that he was wearing a leather tie—then blap! I got him full face with a glop of spaghetti.” Stampfel noted that these sorts of unvarnished performances helped sow the seeds of punk. “The idea that you have no knowledge of music whatsoever but you have an attitude, and you just do it,” he said. “Like, you’re not technically ready for it, but you just go for it. In 1976, the Ramones go to England and everyone thinks punk is invented then, but there’s this whole twenty-five-year lineage that starts with the Harry Smith Anthology and goes through the Fugs.”

The Downtown Pop Undeground
New York City and the literary punks, renegade artists, DIY filmmakers, mad playwrights, and rock ‘n’ roll glitter queens who revolutionized culture 
by Kembrew McLeod

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