Won’t Fugget About It: Tuli Kupferberg

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Published July 13, 2010


 

Tuli Kupferberg, Beatnik hero and co-founder of iconic rock group the Fugs, died in Manhattan Hospital on Monday at age 86.

A local Village poet, Kupferberg, performed weekly with his band the Fugs, in Downtown clubs and theaters like Astor Place Playhouse and Players Theater on MacDougal Street. They were, according to Village Voice critic, Robert Christgau, “The Lower East Side’s first true underground band.”

Tuli and poet Ed Sanders started the group in an East Village bookstore in 1964, singing songs about sex and drugs like “My Bed Is Getting Crowded” and “Hallucination Horrors,” released on their album in 1967.

We were not the Beach boys,” Sanders explains of the songs on the album, “We were The Fugs.” Indeed, the band often shocked listeners with its unexpected instrumentation, dissonant noise, and raunchy lyrics. Christgau repeatedly referred to most of their output at “unlistenable.”

 

Polemics were at the core of the project. Kupeferberg took the name the Fugs from a euphemism for “fuck” in Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead. But polemics were only a means, and Kubferberg and Sanders would write over 50 songs together. Kupeferberg’s “uncanny ability to shape nuanced lyrics,” as Sanders described it, gave each song a satirical edge that helped the Fugs become aggressive in the anti-war movement. They performed songs such as Kupferberg’s “Kill for Peace” at protests against the war in Vietnam.

After the Fugs’ break-up in 1969, Kupferberg continued on in poetry, publishing the literary magazines Birth, and Yeah, which he sold on the streets of the Village, along with political cartoons he wrote for the Village Voice. His most recent works are on his YouTube and Daily Motion channels, called “Tufili,” where he’s posted old Fug clips, poetry readings, and dozens of short videos he calls the Daily Perverb. In each one, filmed from his apartment kitchen, with books and FreshDirect boxes piled behind him, he shares a series of “Little Known Anti-Literary Facts,” that display his unforgettable character and hilarious, punning style.

Married to Sylvia Tropp, with three children, Joseph Sacks, Noah Kupferberg, Sumera Kupferberg; and three grandchildren, Tuli was dedicated to continuing his absurd lyrical performances, having just completed parts for a new Fug album, Be Free: The Fugs Final CD (Part Two), this past March.