The Fugs: American Peace-Creeps
“I still have a mimeograph machine,” Ed Sanders chuckles. “It’s out in my writing studio.” He sits in the cozy Woodstock home he shares with his wife of nearly 50 years, Miriam, amid ambiently humming fishtanks, chirping cockatoos, and many, many books. “If the power grid collapses and the fascists make their move, I can get leaflets out real quick.” At 70, his bushy hair remains combed raucously to the side.
Sanders—who wears a blazer, black jeans, and black Converse All-Stars—knows of what he speaks. As the co-founder of the Fugs, with Tuli Kupferberg, the ‘60s premier William Blake-loving politico-surrealist folk-bards, Sanders was a key connector in the counterculture, assigned his own plainclothes Federal surveillance agents during the riotous Democratic Convention of 1968. The previous year, the Fugs had exorcised—and attempted to levitate—the Pentagon during a massive war protest, chanting “Out, Demons, Out!” Self-publishing his radical proto-hippie journal, Fuck You/ A Magazine of the Arts (“I thought it was a grabby title”), which featured contributions from Allen Ginsberg and Andy Warhol, Sanders ran the Peace Eye Bookstore on New York’s Lower East Side, weathering obscenity busts and break-ins from junkies.
“The night before our world premiere, they stole our equipment. Our drummer played on a Krasdale peach box,” Sanders remembers, his mustache hinting at a smile. Some of the Fugs’ first gig, at the Peace Eye Bookstore’s February 1965 opening, is featured on a new digital album, Live From the ‘60s, self-released by Fugs Records. The peach box sounds pretty good.
Sanders leans back into the couch. The house overflows with texts, a living room table dedicated solely to science magazines. In one corner, Sanders has a work nook. Miriam paints at the kitchen table, near the stand-alone fireplace. Sanders is on break from another deadline, this one for a memoir, to be published by Da Capo in 2010. Coffee House issued Let’s Not Keep Fighting the Trojan War: New and Selected Poems, 1986-2008 in the fall. On his blazer is a Yoko Ono pin. “Peace,” it says simply.
“You ask about my philosophy, baby, yeah?” Sanders and company sang on 1966’s “Group Grope.” “Dope, peace, magic gods in the tree trunks, and GROUP GROPE, BABY!”
Using poetry as a source of strength, the Fugs’ music resonated with a still-righteous righteousness. In Armies of the Night, Norman Mailer’s Pulitzer-winning novel-as-history-as-narcissistic-memoir of the Pentagon protest, the Fugs are among the few to go unscathed. There was, and remains, authentic dignity in Fugdom. “Refuse to be burnt out,” they sang on the title song of their 1984 reunion album.
Now preparing to release their eighth album in their latter-day incarnation, the 45-year old folk-punks were scribed into history before they were even Fugs, when Sanders’ future conspirator, Tuli Kupferberg, appeared in Allen Ginsberg’s Howl (“who jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge this actually happened and walked away unknown and forgotten”). Already 41 at the Fugs’ 1964 founding, Kupferberg was the author of 1961’s infamous 1,001 Ways to Live Without Working. Now 86, he has recently hosted his Revolting News show on Manhattan cable.
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