The Fugs

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue Jul 15 06:28:59 MDT 2003

NY Times, July 15, 2003
Rock 'n' Roll Dissidents, Fearless for 4 Decades

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 
charge admission."

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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