"Disgusting!" said my father.
"Revolting!" seconded my mother.
"Tuli!" explained I.
I was 12-years old and it was the beginning of 1967's Summer of Love. When you're born strange and the largest mass bohemian movement in human history invites itself into your consciousness, you set a place for it at the breakfast table and bring it with you to bed at night. Generally speaking, parents don't like mass bohemian movements. While my folks were neither prudes nor right-wing, they were Stevenson/Kennedy liberal New York Democrats and not amused that their adolescent son was cackling over a photo montage in a newspaper called the East Village Other (aka EVO) in which a male hippie comically danced on top of a tenement roof and removed his clothing until he was frontally denuded.
"What is a Tuli?" asked my father. I told him the truth: "He's a Fug, Dad." When that failed to register, I explained that the Fugs were a rock band and they wrote songs both funny and political. My father rolled his eyes and handed me back my copy of EVO as well as my constitutional right to be me. Part of the fun of being young is deliberate contrarianism and the Fugs were so contrary that many publications wouldn't even print their name they borrowed from Norman Mailer's fornicatory euphemism in his WW II novel The Naked and The Dead. (When Tallulah Bankhead first met Mailer, she recalled that "You're the young man who can't spell fuck.")
The Fugs were founded by poets Tuli Kupferberg, Ed Sanders, and Ken Weaver in 1965 as a logical marriage of the three Bs -- Beat (poetry), (the) Beatles, and (Lenny) Bruce. Born in 1923, Tuli billed himself as "the world's oldest rock star" at the advanced age of 42. He'd already published Beat zines Birth and Yeah, was noted by Mailer and Allen Ginsberg for outsider behavior including the levitation of the Pentagon, and beloved by we younger hippies for his unshakeable bohemianism as captured in his rooftop striptease. (It's interesting how repressed America was back then while now everyone gets naked on the Internet. There was a time when disrobing publicly was a political act.) Tuli wrote many of the Fugs' biggest non-hits: "I Feel Like Homemade Shit," "Nothing" ("Monday nothing/Tuesday nothing/Wednesday Thursday nothing"), the aching ballad "Morning Morning" (beautifully covered by Richie Havens), "CIA Man" (recently heard in the Coen Brothers Burn After Reading), and "Kill For Peace," the greatest anti-war song of all time. The latter captured Tuli's outrageous wit in the service of his dead serious anarcho-pacifistic loathing of war and violence.
Thr Fugs broke up in 1969 and reformed in Orwell and Reagan's 1984. They've continued to record and perform live, rail against the ruthless and selfish, and sing to the heavens in support of peace, fun, sharing, and love. If none of the latter four attributes have been abundant for the last 30 years, one cannot blame the Fugs. O how they've tried. For those who trot out the tired cliché of hippies morphing into stockbrokers, check out the Fugs. No sell-outs here. Tuli is 86-years young and continues to write parasongs (new satirical lyrics set to familiar melodies), draw cartoons, publish books (Teach Yourself Fucking being his most recent), and host episodettes on YouTube.
Tuli has had a couple of strokes in the last year and requires medical attention that is not fully covered by Medicare. This Friday, January 22, a benefit will be held at St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn, NY, produced by Hal Willner. Celebrating Tuli will be Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson, Peter Stampfel (of the Holy Modal Rounders and an original Fug), Philip Glass, Sonic Youth, Richard Belzer, Jeffrey Lewis (a clever young songwriter who's become pals with His Tuliness), John Zorn, Lenny Kaye, Jolie Holland, Gary Lucas, Elliott Sharp, Shilpa Ray, John Kruth and an All-Star Band, and, of course, his brother Fugs. Special surprise guests are rumored and, while that's usually bullshit, I know of at least one that I'm not allowed to mention. Tickets can be purchased here and a Facebook page has been set-up here. Furthermore the Fugs will release a new -- and farewell -- album on February 23rd called BE FREE (The Fugs Final CD Part 2). It's an extraordinary last bow that culminates with Tuli's poem "Greenwich Village Of My Dreams," a memoir of lower Manhattan when it was a bohemian haven and not a yuppie fortress.
Despite severe medical challenges, Tuli's been posting "perverbs" on YouTube lately. He taught me how to be young and now he's teaching me how to be old. Thank you, Tuli, from the bottom of my heart, for taking your clothes off almost 43 years ago.
NOTE: Donations can be made to Tuli Kupferberg's medical fund, via The Committee on Poetry. All donations are tax deductible.
UPDATE: It's been confirmed that Patti Smith and Suzanne Vega have been added to the bill.
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