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Tue Jul 15 06:28:59 MDT 2003
NY Times, July 15, 2003
Rock 'n' Roll Dissidents, Fearless for 4 Decades
By BEN SISARIO
WOODSTOCK, N.Y. — Four decades ago Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg
founded the Fugs in an East Village bookstore on a bedrock of sex,
drugs, rock 'n' roll and poetry.
They sang raunchy encomiums like "Slum Goddess" and set Blake and
Swinburne to a groovy beat at a time when "Leader of the Pack" and "I
Want to Hold Your Hand" were the cutting edge of pop. With the coming of
the Vietnam War they developed a confrontational, absurdist pacifism in
songs like "Kill for Peace" and became what many pop historians call the
first underground rock band.
And though Mr. Sanders, who is 63, and Mr. Kupferberg, who turns 80 in
September, have reached what one of their lyrics calls the "time to
think of ultimate things," they still sing about sex and peace and
poetry (though not about drugs so much anymore).
On July 8 they released their latest album, "The Fugs Final CD (Part
1)," on Artemis Records — "Never let yourself get painted into a
corner," Mr. Sanders said of the title — and on July 16 the Fugs will
sing with their band at the Village Underground on West Third Street in
Greenwich Village, in what they say might be their last gig.
"If you're a rock 'n' roll band, they say if you can last five years,
then it's forever," Mr. Sanders said in a recent joint interview with
Mr. Kupferberg. They were reclining in lawn chairs set beside a clear
brook on Mr. Sanders's three-acre wooded home here. As they spoke, a
half-dozen deer came to peck at corn that Mr. Sanders and his wife,
Miriam, leave for them twice a day.
"William Butler Yeats, his career was 65 or 70 years long," said Mr.
Sanders, who with his bushy hair and mustache and air of gruff erudition
resembles a hippie Mark Twain. "I'm one to believe that a career lasts
50, 60, 70 years."
"Or 80," Mr. Kupferberg said wryly.
Mr. Sanders and Mr. Kupferberg have long balanced their careers between
rock 'n' roll and poetry. When the two met in 1962, peddling homemade
magazines outside an avant-garde movie theater on Avenue B, Mr.
Kupferberg was nearing 40 and already an established poet and Lower East
Side mainstay. "I knew Tuli as a Beat hero," Mr. Sanders said. "He was
in all the anthologies."
Mr. Kupferberg's magazine was called Birth. The title of Mr. Sanders's
publication was a blunt profanity [Fuck You], with the more descriptive
subtitle "A Magazine of the Arts."
It was love at first mimeograph, and by late 1964 the pair had begun
writing witty, crass and catchy rock tunes in Mr. Sanders's Peace Eye
Bookstore on East 10th Street.
They reveled in risqué topics, from the decidedly earthly qualities of
"Supergirl" to the devious ways of "C.I.A. Man." ("Who has got the
secretest service/The one that's got the other service nervous?") Their
concerts, at the Bridge Theater on St. Marks Place and at innumerable
benefits and peace rallies from Tompkins Square to Berkeley, Calif.,
were chaotic in a way that jibed with the times. "It was the whole
Happening movement," Mr. Sanders said. "You could get a storefront and a
couple of naked people and a tank full of Jell-O and call it art and
Mr. Kupferberg responded, "We charged admission?"
As the Fugs' antiwar stance grew more extreme, and their songs became
more outrageous — one, the pseudo-gospel satire "Wide, Wide River,"
pictures a tide of excrement — the group came to embody a defiantly
raucous side of the peace movement.
"They were the anti-Joan Baez," said Happy Traum, a folk musician and
former editor of Sing Out! magazine.
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