Poet Edward Sanders fled the US Midwest for New York in 1958 and transformed a Lower East-side kosher butcher shop into the Peace Eye Bookstore.
One of the self-publishing poets who frequented the bookstore was New York-born Tuli Kupferberg, Sanders’ senior by 16 years and a Beat icon known for his ‘zines Birth and Yeah.
The two decided to form a band in 1964, joined by Texan Ken Weaver, a former Russian translator with the US Air Force.
Joined by Pete Stampfel and Steve Weber of The Holy Modal Rounders, they soon become a fully-fledged group, mixing satire and obscenity in an attempt to shock and amaze anyone who cared to be shocked and amazed.
Since sex and drugs were taboo subjects, The Fugs centred their act around them.
Their first album, The Village Fugs: Ballads & Songs of Contemporary Protest, Points of View and General Dissatisfaction, was released in 1965 on the Folkways label.
1967 was a watershed year for the band. They were signed, then dropped by Atlantic, an album – The Fugs Eat It – remaining unreleased when this usually unflappable label lost its nerve.
Ed Sanders made the cover of Life magazine in February, but also received a fake bomb in the mail. The band were invited onto Johnny Carson’s show but were booted when they refused to play anything other than Kill For Peace.
Later in the year, the band played a free concert in Golden Gate Park, and on 21 October The Fugs led 200,000 demonstrators in Washington DC in an attempt to exorcise and levitate the Pentagon – the headquarters of the United States Department of Defence.
By the time The Fugs released Tenderness Junction and It Crawled Into My Hand, Honest in 1968 their reputation as standard bearers for outrageousness was set in stone.
The Fugs became the most dangerous band in America, perpetually harassed by the authorities (they had a civil liberties attorney on standby whenever they toured) until splintering in 1969 after one final album (The Belle of Avenue A).
They never claimed to be great musicians and their roots went back to American beat poetry rather than rock, but they were the first attempt at using the rock format to propagate poetry, and to make outrageousness the hub of their very existence. One day people will rediscover them.
Sanders and Kupferberg reunited occasionally during the 80s, and again in 1994 to present an alternative to Woodstock 2, but their rebellious themes had become passé by then.
Tuli Kupferberg passed away in 2010, aged 86.
Guitar, fiddle, banjo, vocals
Danny ‘Kootch’ Kortchmar