Saturday 24 January 2009


Album Retrospect of:
(1970 Reprise Records,
1987 Demon Edsel ED217 under licence from WEA Records)

Poet-terrorists. Art-insurrectionists. Narco-propogandists. Politico-subversives. Soft-Porn satirists. Uber-anarchists. Lords of Misrule. All this… and more. Because Rock constitutes the time’s favoured delivery platform, they assume the guise of a band too, kind of, to sing their poems and structure their routines around. Taking their name from Norman Mailer’s euphemism for ‘Fuck’ the Fugs were Freak-Beat at its freakiest. With their albums forming documentaries of the evolving counter-culture, sometimes literally-tactile as with their street-recording of the levitation of the Pentagon by the power of chanting. If they were also silly in their puerile group-gropery, that was strategy too. Outrage and offensiveness were soft-taboo route-maps busting through decades of uptight censorial straightlace conformity by asserting sex-play as liberating, sometimes messy, frequently absurd, but always fun. Recorded live at New York’s Fillmore East on 1st June 1968, at a time well advanced into their mission, with ‘full orchestral strength’ sound – ‘such as it is’ by ‘Hanley’, ‘Golden Filth’ slurps up unique performance incarnations of earlier album tracks, made new, because seldom done twice the same way. An extension of the fifties Beat Poets - Bad Rapping with Lord Buckley, Howling with Allen Ginsberg, Bad-Mouthing with Lenny Bruce, sharing vibes with Greg Corso and Henry Miller, while evolving it towards the New York bands who would make outrage their stock in trade, the original disreputable trio of Ed Sanders, Ken Weaver & Tuli Kupferberg inked to avant-garde jazz label ESP as early as 1965 out of the East Village St Mark’s Place theatre. Their first three albums, before switching to Reprise in the hippie upsurge of 1967, took them from agit-provocateur anti-Vietnam chant “Kill For Peace” through tender settings of William Blake and Matthew Arnold, then throwing Shakespeare’s ‘Darling Buds of May’ into celebratory quotas of crunching drug and lushly explicit sex anthems such as “New Amphetamine Shriek” and “Coca Cola Douche”. Left of the Mothers, they flaunted ‘a sense of history, a notion of literature’ and lit-bohemian cred. Tuli’s ‘Birth’ magazine was running material by Ginsberg and LeRoi Jones as early as 1958, while Sanders began with his ‘Poem From Jail’ (1963) from City Lights Books, then preceded u/g publishing with his poetry magazine ‘Fuck You: A Magazine Of The Arts’. The Fugs were everything the counter-culture press could’ve hoped for. A vibrant pot-flavoured alchemy of subterranean dope-fiend energies, tramp-poets shining, their brains filled with light. Even the album’s cover-art fresh garbage is real, signposting the cultural shift from correctness and formality towards inclusiveness and political passion. The idea that poetry germinates in the streets is obvious today, a revelation back then. On the back of the freak-notoriety generated by their first albums, for touring purposes they augmented their atonal masochism with real musicians, including bassist Charlie Larke, Peter Stampfel, Danny Kootch, Stefan Grossman and guitarist Kenny Pine who opens “I Want To Know” with fine ‘Angel’ Hendrix-alike dexterity. Live – announced as ‘the Dow Chemical Dope Festival’, The Reverend Ken Weaver’s “Slum Goddess” features the ‘goddess of late-night Motel plate-jobs, slurp-circles and jello-orgies’ who has ‘buttocks popping in arpeggios of lust’. Dedicated to Joan Crawford, “Coca Cola Douche” brags ‘my baby’s got no money / but her snatch it tastes just like honey’, accompanied but graphic non-verbal sound-effects. Running with catchy choruses tuning into country melancholia and spoof-gospel, salacious appeals to ‘lick lick lick lick, my dick dick dick dick’ and anti-military sloganeering ‘Boy can Uncle Sam make corpses, Boy can Uncle Sam make orphans, Boy can Uncle Sam make widows – easy as toast’, there’s no let-up in a Fugs cabaret. While twixt-song dialogue extends into long surreal-absurd smirk-inducing visions of animated Robert Crumb cartoon-strips peopled by lesbian dwarfs, amphetamine piranha-fish and tomato orgies that resemble a ‘menstruating whale-snatch’. Even the first poem that William Blake ‘spewed out of his brilliant mind’ is introduced by an anecdote about the ‘lesbian troll who wanted the galactic banana, the great golden electric toothbrush in the sky… attached to Nico!’ Hippie icons are not safe either, “Saran Wrap”, a song about condoms, is dedicated to the ‘magnificent contribution of the Jefferson Airplane to the history of western civilisation (pause for applause)… and their commercial for Levis!’ Moral-less mumblings? or the redeeming qualities of a splendid exercise in artistic freedom-of-speech? The Edsel sleeve-notes challenge ‘if you hesitate to hear about the cold fork of naked reality, if you hesitate to confront the Fugs on a plateau of agonising honesty, then you’d better flip this record back into the rack and go dig up some old Monkees albums’. Their subsequent run of three Reprise albums carried them through to their original demise at the implosion-end of the sixties. But there would be more. With rare insight Rock-historian Lillian Roxon predicted ‘about ten years from now, and not before, it will suddenly be clear how much ahead of their time the Fugs were’. It did. And they were. I enjoyed correspondence with Tuli Kupferberg during the mid-seventies – sharing transcripts from his ‘Listen To The Mockingbird’ (1973) across the Atlantic, and I adapted a version of his “Nothing” for my own Alternative Cabaret sets – with credit given, and always to positive response. By the mid-nineties first edition Fugs records were fetching $50, around the time Edsel stepped in allowing the new curious to scarf them up real cheap. These editions are now also highly collectible. By that time, their subsequent reformation records were counting the reality-milestones of the last phase of the old century in brilliantly disreputable style.

Playlist: From ‘The Fugs First Album’ - “Slum Goddess” (Ken Weaver), “Supergirl” (Tuli Kupferberg), “How Sweet I Roamed From Field To Field” (William Blake & Ed Sanders), “I Couldn’t Get High” (Ken Weaver), “Homeade (My Baby Done Left Me)” (Ed Sanders), “Nothing” (Tuli Kupferberg). From ‘The Fugs’ - “I Want To Know” (Olson & Ed Sanders). From ‘The Virgin Fugs’ - “Saran Wrap” (Ed Sanders), “CCD (Coca Cola Douche)” (Tuli Kupferberg). Guilty Parties: Tuli Kupferberg (vocals, routines), Ken Weaver (vocals, drums), Ed Sanders (Punk, producer), Ken Pine (lead guitar), Carl Lynch (guitar), Richard Tee (organ), Howard Johnson (tuba, sax), Charles Larkey (bass), Bob Mason (drums), Julius Watkins (French horn), Warren Smith (arranger, conductor), Cal Schenkel (overflowing garbage-bin cover art), Ed Thrasher (art direction)

Other Collectible Fugs Albums
1987 ‘IT CRAWLED INTO MY HAND, HONEST’ (Edsel XED 181) vinyl re-issue
1993 ‘FUGS: FIRST ALBUM’ (Chiswick/ Fantasy) 21-track extended edition. Originally released as ‘The Village Fugs Sing Ballads Of Contemporary Protest’ on Folkways in 1965, first re-issued in slightly revised form on ESP
1993 ‘FUGS: SECOND ALBUM’ (Big Beat/ Fantasy) – original title ‘The Fugs’ with original Allen Ginsberg sleeve-notes, 14-track reissue includes live bonus and outtakes from the Fugs aborted Atlantic session
1994 ‘SONGS FROM A PORTABLE FOREST’ (Gazell label) 12-tracks, some live
1995 ‘REFUSE TO BE BURNT-OUT: LIVE IN THE 1980’s’ (Chiswick) 14-tracks
2002 ‘FUGS: GREATEST HITS’ 25-track CD or download
2006 ‘ELECTROMAGNETIC STEAMBOAT: THE REPRISE RECORDINGS’ (Rhino Handmade 3CD set) remastered mono & stereo, with previously unreleased and alternate promo versions
2008 ‘DON’T STOP, DON’T STOP’ (Big Beat/ Fugs label 4CD Box-set) compiled by Ed Sanders. Full first & second LP’s plus over two hours of previously unreleased 1960’s material
‘…we love you, grope for peace…!’


Douglas Watts said...

Excellent write-up. I bought this record in 10th grade in 1980 at the mall record store and then proceeded to become a commie juvenile delinquent. It remains today one of my favorite records because it is so consistently funny.

petegib said...

Golden Filth was in my record collection and a personal favorite when I left for my freshman year at U of Penn in 1970. After playing GF for some of my dorm-mates I became somewhat of a minor hero on that floor for simply owning something so outrageous. Most of those guys had no idea such music had been made and were highly amazed and entertaining. Although I have most of what the Fugs recorded GF is probably my favorite Fugs LP for its very funny songs and sheer audacity. The multi-talented Ed Sanders does some classic between song raps that show he could have had a career as a stand up comedian. Tuli Kupferberg offers one of his best version of the classic NOTHING and Ken Weaver shows off his great voice. Everyone with open minds needs to hear this album.