Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Tuli Kupferberg of The Fugs Passes On

Bohemian, Beat poet, and founder of The Fugs, Tuli Kupferberg passed yesterday at the age of 86.

Tufi Kupferberg was born Naphtali Kupferberg on September 28, 1923 in New York City. He grew up on the Lower East Side of that city. As a teenager he became a fan of jazz and political activist for the left. He graduated from Brooklyn  College in 1944, then took a job as a medical librarian. Mr. Kupferberg had planned to become a physician, but instead began writing poetry and articles for such publications as The Village Voice. Mr. Kupferbeg gained some prominence among the Beat crowd (although he preferred the term "Bohemian"), to the point that it is believed that he is the man "who jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge" in Allen Ginsberg's poem "Howl." Although Mr. Kupferberg had jumped off a bridge, it was not the Brooklyn Bridge. Instead it was the Manhattan Bridge in a suicide attempt in 1945. In 1959 Mr. Kupferberg founded the short lived magazine Birth. It ran for only three issues, but featured works by Allen Ginsberg and Diane Di Prima.

In 1959 Tufi Kupferberg published his first books. That year he published Beating; Children's Writings; Children as Authors: A Big Bibliography (with Sylvia Topp);  Snow Job: Poems 1946-1959; and Selected Fruits &  Nuts. In all he would write nearly 50 books. He also published the magazine Swing and, from 1961 to 1964, the magazine Yeah. It was in 1964 that Paul Kupferberg and fellow poet Ed Sanders formed The Fugs. Mr. Kupferberg named the band after a euphemism for the F-word from Norman Mailer's novel The Naked and the Dead. The membership of The Fugs would change greatly over the years, although Messrs. Kupferberg and Sanders remained with them throughout their history. From 1964 to 1980 The Fugs released sixteen albums.

The Fugs were largely a satirical band. Much of their material was scatological in nature, it often dealt with sex, and it often took politically controversial stands such as protests against war. Because of their subject matter (not to mention their name), The Fugs never received a good deal of airplay and never really found mainstream success. Indeed, their controversial nature resulted in them being thrown off  one major label.

In addition to his work with The Fugs, Mr. Kupferberg also performed with Revolting Theatre and The Fuxxons, as well as releasing two solo album in 1966 and 1989. He continued writing, including his best known book 1001 Ways to Beat the Draft in 1966.

Regardless of what anyone thinks of The Fugs' music or Mr. Kupferberg's writing, there can be no doubt that he was an innovator and a provocateur.  Well before many other bands, The Fugs dealt with controversial topics and were far more political than even most bands in the Sixties. Mr. Kupferberg himself also had a good deal of talent, drawing upon his own Jewish and Eastern European background in both his songs and his poetry. He was definitely one of the most creative minds to come out of the Beat Movement.

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