Tuesday, 14 September 2010


My obituary of Tuli Kupferberg of the Fugs has finally run in The Independent today, you can link to it here if you missed the paper. I was glad to be able to write about him, and started off with a mention of the adolescent humour which was one of his trademarks because I'm sure that's what attracted me to the Fugs in the first place, and once attracted I found that humour led me in so many other directions, many, but not all of them, more constructive. I probably came to Blake more through their 'Ah Sunflower' than anything we studied in school. My favourite Fugs song was probably 'Nothing', which reminded me of a stoned and more anarchic version of the Alan Sherman songs my mother had played me when I was a bit younger. And of course, this was the Sixties before the full-fledged sexual revolution had filtered down to 1966 Milford 15 year olds, particularly in the Carlson House. 'Boobs A Lot' still can make me laugh, especially the bit about feeling up players out on the football field.

My process of gravitating toward an anti-war position had already begun, but the Fugs were somewhere between Tom Paxton, Tom Lehrer, and Bob Dylan on the folkish spectrum, and later Tuli's 1001 Ways To Beat The Draft was comic relief as I went through the decidely non-comic process of declaring myself to the New Haven draft board as a conscientious objector. And then Ed Sanders' book on Charley Manson was a powerful analysis of what turned out to be two generations; the baby-boomers who populated the Sixties, and those born during the war (or earlier) who pointed the directions for us.

Musically, I moved on quickly from The Fugs; they disbanded really because they had outlived their usefulness in that context. But Tuli continued to show up on the fringes of my consciousness, a sort of one-man band of the counter-culture, always working the zeitgeist but always under-the-table rather than over-the-counter. Going back to 'Nothing', at one point, having reduced the world's great books to a great set of nothing, Tuli also mentions 'Bakunin and Kropotkin nothing'. It occured to me that, in another life, Tuli would have made a great Russian anarchist, a wonderful Soviet dissident. We'd be writing plays about him now...

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