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As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

William Blake sez Fug off

Further to A Touch of Hysteria (see below) Gerard has just told me that after Flowers in the Dustbin he was in a group called First of May in Brighton who used William Blake's Garden of Love lyric for one of their songs. So I had a quick check on who else had used Blake - apart from the Doors /End of the Night and Suzi Pinns/ Jerusalem (on Jubilee soundtrack) and found that The Fugs did. But who were the Fugs?

Check http://www.thefugs.com/home.html
for details. But meanwhile here the first part of The History of the Fugs 1964-65
from their website :

I rented a former Kosher meat store on East 10th Street in late-1964, with groovy tile walls and chicken-singeing equipment which I transformed into a vegetarian literary zone called the Peace Eye Bookstore. I left the words "Strictly Kosher" on the front window.

Next door above the Lifschutz wholesale egg market lived Tuli Kupferberg, a beat hero who was featured in anthologies such as The Beat Scene, and who published several fine magazines, Birth and Yeah, which he sold on the streets of the East and West Village. I had published Tuli's poetry in my literary journal, Fuck You/ A Magazine of the Arts.

The term "folk-rock" had not been invented in late-1964 when I approached Tuli, after a poetry reading, about forming a rock group. Tuli eagerly assented, and was the one who came up with the name, the Fugs, borrowed from the euphemism in Normal Mailer's novel, The Naked and the Dead.

We drew inspiration for the Fugs from a long and varied tradition, going all the way back to the dances of Dionysus in the ancient Greek plays and the "Theory of the Spectacle" in Aristotle's Poetics, and moving forward to the famous premier performance of Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi in 1896, to the poèmes simultanés of the Dadaists in Zurich's Cabaret Voltaire in 1916, to the jazz-poetry of the Beats, to Charlie Parker's seething sax, to the silence of John Cage, to the calm pushiness of the Happening movement, the songs of the Civil Rights movement, and to our concept that there was oddles of freedom guaranteed by the United States Constitution that was not being used.

Tuli and I began to write songs at a fevered pace. We created at least 50 or 60 between us. Soon we asked a friend, Ken Weaver, to join the Fugs. Weaver had been a drummer in his high school band, and brought fine song-writing skills and stage presence to our performances.

Steve Weber and Peter Stampfel of the Holy Modal Rounders were friends, and agreed to perform at the grand opening of the Peace Eye Bookstore in February of 1965. They also joined in with the Fugs, our world premiere, at that party. Peace Eye was very packed; Andy Warhol had done cloth wall banners of his flowers image, and literati as diverse as William Burroughs, George Plimpton and James Michener were on hand for the premier croonings of "Swinburne Stomp" and other Fugs ditties.

First Album
We knew the famous filmmaker and artist Harry Smith, who had produced one of the most influential collections in history, The Anthology of American Folk Music for Folkways Records in 1952. It had influenced an entire generation of singers. Harry came to many early Fugs shows, and brought our attention to Moe Asch of Folkways, who agreed to issue our first album.

The first Fugs recording session, in April of 1965, featured Sanders, Kupferberg, Weaver, plus Steve Weber and Peter Stampfel. Some of the tunes on the first Fugs album came from the 23 tunes recorded on this session.

The second Fugs recording session occurred in June of 1965. Its purpose was to create a demo tape for Verve/Folkways, a new label. On this second session were Sanders, Kupferberg, and Weaver, with John Anderson on bass, Vinny Leary on guitar, and Steve Weber. Peter Stampfel did not perform on the second session.
I listened to the tapes over and over, for both sessions, selecting a sequence of tunes, and then Harry Smith and I edited the album. I wrote some notes and it was ready to be released.

The Fugs began appearing in galleries, clubs and theaters in New York City beginning in early 1965. They sang, for instance, at the opening party for the new location of Izzy Young's Folklore Center on 6th Avenue. They performed a number of times at Diane Di Prima's American Theater for Poetry on East 4th St. And they began a series of midnight concerts at the Bridge Theater on St. Mark's Place, which were always packed.

First Tour
In the fall of 1965 the Fugs headed out on their first cross-country tour, part of an anti-Vietnam War protest, and performed here and there at colleges, and while in San Francisco did concerts with the great bard Allen Ginsberg, the Mothers of Invention, Country Joe and the Fish, and other bands. The Fugs then consisted of Sanders, Kupferberg, Weber and Weaver.

We returned to the Lower East Side in our Volkswagen bus in the late fall to find that our first album, titled The Village Fugs-- Ballads and Songs of Contemporary Protest, Points of View and General Dissatisfaction had been released by Folkways Records.

Determined to Thrive
The Fugs returned to New York with very little position in the world of music, but determined to make their mark. We felt a little like Rastignac at the end of Balzac's Pere Goriot, standing at the summit of Pere-Lachaise cemetery, looking down upon Paris and hurling out a determination to thrive and survive. We vowed to live from our art, to have fun and party continuously, and to get our brains on tape.
It wasn't going to be easy. We were challenging the system on several levels, and yet we were determined somehow to survive in the economic apparatus of the system. We knew there would be trouble; in fact there already was trouble. The police raided Peace Eye Bookstore a few hours after a midnight New Year's Eve (1965-'66) concert at the Bridge Theater. They seized copies of my magazine and I was arrested. The ACLU, to my lasting gratitude, took my case, which I ultimately won after a trial in the summer of 1967.

We began performing at the Cafe Au Go Go on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village, where we shared bills with Danny Kalb, Al Kooper and the Blues Project, with the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, and with a young man named Richie Havens, who sat bent over close to his guitar singing Bob Dylan's tunes sometimes better than Bob Dylan.
At the end of 1965, Steve Weber left the Fugs. We ran ads in the East Village Other and Village Voice for a replacement and found Pete Kearney, a guitarist who worked at the New York University bookstore. Pete Kearney had a gravelly, high tenor harmony which can be studied on "Coming Down" on this CD. He looked good on stage. We sometimes called him "Bomb Eyes," because they had a haunting combination of wastedness and wildness.

A Deal with a Record Company
We met a human being named Bernard Stollman who owned a record company called ESP Disk, which his parents were bankrolling for him. We lunched at a vegetarian restaurant by Union Square, and worked out a tentative deal. The Fugs very badly wanted an Off-Broadway Theater where we could set up scenery and lights to work our tunes and routines. ESP agreed to acquire us a theater, and we agreed to record an album for them.

And, again without any outside help, such as a lawyer, we signed a strange, shackling contract. We had signed a strange deal with Folkways, and the deal with ESP was stranger. For example, the ESP royalty rate was 25 cents per album, regardless of the retail price, which in 1966 was $5.00 per unit. The 25 cents included both publishing and recording royalties, so our royalty rate was less than 3%, one of the lower percentages in the history of western civilization.


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