Ed Sanders was a mimeo publisher, frontman of the Fugs, and potty-mouthed poet who opened the influential Peace Eye Bookstore on the Lower East Side, cofounded the Yippies, and was also involved in the underground film scene.
The peace movement thrived in the Village, and Bibbe Hansen’s school chums were the son and daughter of poet and activist Grace Paley. One day in 1963, she tagged along with them to an early protest against the Vietnam War while conservative Italian Americans threw tomatoes and shouted epithets at them. (As the 1960s wore on, New York City became a hotbed of antiwar activism.) The poet and activist Ed Sanders also joined Paley when they renovated a storefront on West Third Street, between Bleecker Street and Sixth Avenue, which became the Greenwich Village Peace Center. “Meeting Grace Paley and Bob Nichols was a big inspiration,” recalled Ed Sanders, who had recently relocated from his Missouri hometown before gaining notoriety as the frontman of the Fugs and the publisher of Fuck You/A Magazine of the Arts.
From Chapter 1 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
The Living Theatre’s Monday Night Series, held during the acting company’s night off, hosted many kinds of artists: musicians John Herbert McDowell and Bob Dylan, painters Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol, poets Diane di Prima and Frank O’Hara, dancers James Waring and Freddie Herko. In his memoir Fug You, Ed Sanders recalled that the Living Theatre “was an important place in my personal world. I had heard historic poetry readings there; I had first seen Bob Dylan perform as part of the General Strike for Peace in February ’62 . . . [and] I had typed the stencils for the recent issue of Fuck You/A Magazine of the Arts.” It was this latter endeavor—his infamous mimeographed poetry zine, Fuck You—that established Sanders as a ubiquitous downtown presence. When the Living Theatre staged Paul Goodman’s The Cave, the group was fully prepared to go to jail. One scene contained three uses of the word fuck—something that was unheard-of—but these ahead-of-their-time punks staged it anyway.
From Chapter 2 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
Andy Warhol’s connection to the underground poetry world intensified when Gerard Malanga, a poet who also had a background in commercial printing, became his primary printing assistant in the summer of 1963. The two began working together in an uptown studio near Warhol’s brownstone home until the artist needed a larger studio, leading to his acquisition of a space in a midtown industrial building that became the Factory. By this point, Warhol had shifted from creating paintings with brushes—as he did with his famous Campbell’s soup can series—to his mass production–inspired silkscreened prints. By many accounts, Warhol was inspired by the amateur techniques used to make the experimental films, mimeographed poetry zines, and Off-Off-Broadway theatrical productions he was taking in. He then applied this DIY approach to his own messily printed silkscreens. “The spirit of the aleatory, that is, of John Cage’s chance operations, which Cage featured in his compositions, came into play in these early silkscreens, when talent overwhelmed technique,” recalled Ed Sanders. “I was friends at the time with Warhol’s assistant, poet Gerard Malanga, who told me about some of the casual and accidental silkscreen results.”
From Chapter 3 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
When Beatlemania shook the city in 1964, its reverberations could be felt deep in the downtown underground. “Even those of us on the Lower East Side without a television set had to notice that something called the Beatles had come to town,” Ed Sanders recalled. “It was the youth explosion,” Bibbe Hansen said. “So whatever vestiges of the old, we were gonna just blow right away because there were just too many of us, and we were all fairly enlightened. With the Beatles and all these things, these cultural explosions absolutely captivated the world and put my generation at the forefront.” The Beatles even inspired her to form a short-lived girl group, the Whippets—with Janet Kerouac (Jack Kerouac’s daughter) and another friend, Charlotte Rosenthal—which released one single. As with many boys their age, future Ramones frontman Joey Ramone (born Jeffrey Hyman) and his little brother Mickey Leigh (Mitchel Lee Hyman) wanted to join a band when Beatlemania erupted in the mid-1960s. “By the time I was twelve,” Leigh said, “I had a little guitar and a little amp and a microphone that I’d take around to like kids’ birthday parties—playing Beatles songs and Dave Clark Five with friends.” He continued to play in bands around Forest Hills, Queens, where he met two older teens who, with his older brother, later cofounded the Ramones. Before John Cummings and Tommy Erdelyi played guitar and drums as Johnny Ramone and Tommy Ramone, they performed in a 1960s garage band called the Tangerine Puppets. “Tommy was really nice, really intelligent. We were friends ever since that time,” Leigh said. “John never really changed. Even back then, people said, ‘Watch out for that guy. He gets a little nasty sometimes.’ He was just kind of grouchy and barking to the rest of the other guys. But he was cool.”
From Chapter 4 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
Ed Sanders grew up in western Missouri, in the small farm town of Blue Springs. After briefly attending the University of Missouri, he hitchhiked to the East Coast in 1958 to attend New York University. “I soon was enmeshed in the culture of the Beats,” Sanders recalled, “as found in Greenwich Village bookstores, in the poetry readings in coffeehouses on MacDougal Street, in New York City art and jazz, and in the milieu of pot and counterculture that was rising.” He also began volunteering at the Catholic Worker, a newspaper founded by activist Dorothy Day that was dedicated to social justice. In 1962, the political poet decided to publish his irreverent mimeographed zine, Fuck You/A Magazine of the Arts, after a transformative experience viewing Jonas Mekas’s film Guns of the Trees, which featured Sanders’s literary hero Allen Ginsberg. The next day, in a fever of inspiration, he typed the first issue of Fuck You on a Catholic Worker typewriter using mimeograph stencils and colored paper that he “borrowed” from the newspaper. Day was furious when she found out, so Sanders then produced an issue of Fuck You using equipment found at the Living Theatre, a place where provocative aesthetics and left-wing politics aligned. “I went down to DC with the Living Theater to be a part of the Great March on Washington on August 28, 1963,” Sanders said. “I brought along my Bell & Howell [movie camera], plus a satchel of the freshly published issue of my magazine.”
From Chapter 5 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
Ed Sanders was a new father who needed a steady stream of income—publishing a mimeo literary magazine and fronting the Fugs certainly didn’t pay the bills—and in 1964 he opened the Peace Eye Bookstore on 383 East Tenth Street. It served the East Village in much the same way Paperbook Gallery and Eighth Street Bookshop did Greenwich Village. By this point Sanders was friends with Andy Warhol, who was working on a popular new flower print series that anticipated the “flower power movement three years ahead of its time,” as the Peace Eye proprietor recalled. After Warhol agreed to print flower banners for the grand opening of his store, Sanders bought some colored cloths from one of the many fabric vendors on Orchard Street and carried them to the Factory. Warhol silkscreened red, yellow, and blue banners for the bookstore’s walls—though Sanders certainly didn’t treat them as precious works of art made by a famous artist. He used one banner as a rain cape, which he accidentally left at a deli, and ripped apart another onstage during a frenzied performance with the Fugs. The store’s grand opening attracted Time magazine reporters and even middlebrow celebrity author James Michener, who was dropped off in a limousine in his evening attire. While the occasional famous figure might drop by, Poet Andrei Codrescu described Peace Eye as a neighborhood bookstore for poets, activists, street riffraff, travelers, visionaries, and crazies. “It was a scene,” he said, “because Sanders’s mimeograph machine was right in the middle of the store, and Abbie Hoffman hung out there a lot. It was a hanging-out place for various activists of the age.”
Mimeo publications circulated among an interconnected group of artists working in a variety of mediums. The mailing list for Diane di Prima and LeRoi Jones’s semi-monthly newsletter The Floating Bear was a who’s who of the underground poetry, film, visual art, and Off-Off-Broadway worlds, which facilitated artistic and personal exchanges between these audiences on the page as well as in person. The only way to get a copy of their stapled poetry zine was to know someone who worked on it, and Andy Warhol’s name was likely added to the mailing list through his association with printing assistant and poet Gerard Malanga. Soon after the artist received an issue of The Floating Bear that described one of the “haircut parties” held in Billy Linich’s glimmering Lower East Side apartment, Andy began shooting his Haircut movies. Linich performed typing and collating tasks for The Floating Bear until he had a falling-out with di Prima, so he shifted allegiances to Andy Warhol’s Factory scene and became known as Billy Name. Ted Berrigan got to know Ed Sanders through these mimeo zines, which anticipated the kinds of back and forth that occur on today’s social media platforms. They often contained gossip and announcements about what was going on downtown, which was another way Warhol and others kept their ear to the ground. They also shared images via mimeo publications, like the time Warhol provided Sanders with the cover for an issue of Fuck You (a black-and-white frame from his 1964 movie Couch). Poet Ted Berrigan recalled, “There got to be groups, because there were a lot of people . . . because we had a magazine—that’s how you get a group, I think, you start a magazine.” The zines were distributed on the streets, via mail, and in select bookstores that served as important hubs in the downtown’s social networks.
Ed Sanders met many interesting and prominent people during this time, but nothing compared to the thrill of befriending Allen Ginsberg, who lived on the Lower East Side. “When I was first exploring New York City in 1958 and 1959,” Sanders enthused, “I never thought in a cycle of centuries that I’d ever become friends with such a hero.” He first met Ginsberg in front of Gem Spa, a newsstand located on St. Mark’s Place that sold chocolate egg creams for a quarter. St. Mark’s Place was a three-block street that terminated on its east side at Avenue A, in front of Tompkins Square Park, and to the west of Second Avenue it turned into East Eighth Street—a major throughway to Greenwich Village. Gem Spa was a popular hangout, where poet Ted Berrigan held court, smoking unfiltered Chesterfields while surrounded by younger poets such as Andrei Codrescu. “It was my first time staying in New York and I’m having a wonderful extraterrestrial floating experience,” Codrescu recalled. “I saw Ted outside Gem Spa, and I just rushed him and said, ‘Ted, I’m on acid!’ And Ted just looked at me and he said, ‘Yeah. I always wondered how it would feel to kill somebody on acid.’ And I just thought it was the greatest, most wonderful thing to say. I just followed him around like a puppy for the rest of the day.” (Berrigan also founded his own mimeographed zine, C: A Journal of Poetry.)
“I worked part-time at the Eighth Street Bookshop,” Andrei Codrescu said, “the greatest literary bookstore of all time.” The downstairs room housed the traditional books with spines; poetry mimeos could be found in the store’s second-floor room, which was dedicated to books from smaller publishers, such as Something Else Press. “The Eighth Street Bookshop was pivotal to a young poet in those days,” Ed Sanders recalled. “It was there I monitored little magazines such as Yugen and Kulchur and where I first purchased Allen Ginsberg’s epochal Kaddish and Other Poems.” Eighth Street bustled on the east and west sides of the Village, but the stretch between Fifth and Second Avenues seemed cursed. Odd-ball businesses—such as a French art store that employed both a classical painter and a modern painter, wearing berets—would open and then disappear, though the area came alive around the Eighth Street Bookshop. Another jewel in the downtown’s literary crown was the Paperbook Gallery, on Sixth Avenue around the corner from the Eighth Street Bookshop. Cabaret performer and Off-Off-Broadway music composer Paul Serrato managed the Paperbook, which stayed open until midnight—a practice that encouraged people to socialize. “The area was like the Times Square of the Village,” he said, “In those days, everybody hung out there, and Paperbook Gallery was the epicenter of all the independent publishing.” Frank O’Hara, Ted Joans, Diane di Prima, LeRoi Jones, and others came in to drop off their mimeographed publications, which were displayed on a series of shelves that looked like mail slots.
Upset by what was happening to La MaMa and other venues, Ed Sanders used Fuck You/A Magazine of the Arts as a bully pulpit: “Shriek! Shriek! The Goon Squads are loose! We are motherfucking tired of the brickout of books, movies, theatre groups, dope freaks, Times Square gobble scenes, poetry readings, night club acts, etc. in New York. The Department of Licenses, the freaks in the various prosecutors’ offices, the Nazis, the fascists, et al., have joined psychoses for a Goon Stomp.” La MaMa’s 82 Second Street venue opened on June 28, 1963, with Eugène Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano, but by October the theater literally went dark because no one could pay the electric bill. After quitting as a designer for a Brooklyn swimsuit factory, Stewart began working for the fashion label Victor Bijou to pay the bills. Selling instant coffee at La MaMa wasn’t a big moneymaker, but that didn’t stop the Buildings Department from charging her with profiting from the coffee sales, and the city padlocked La MaMa’s doors once again in March 1964. Stewart was finally able to keep her new location open by giving away the coffee for free and turning the theater into a private club. “You paid one dollar dues,” Robert Patrick said. “For that, you got to see all of that week’s shows.” The new twenty-by-eighty-foot loft at 82 Second Street could seat seventy-four people, a big improvement from its original basement location, but it still needed a lot of work. Friends came to build a twenty-by-eight-foot stage, dressing rooms, and a coffee bar, and also installed a light board. They scavenged the streets for tables and old chairs, which furnished the new theater.
From Chapter 6 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
While happily buzzing along on Obetrol, a diet pill often abused as a stimulant, Andy Warhol began filming his boyfriend, poet John Giorno, as he slumbered at night. This resulted in the long silent film Sleep, which was composed of twenty-two different shots, some of which were looped and repeated several times. Warhol also began working on a series of Kiss films, which included little more than scenesters such as Ed Sanders locking lips in semi-slow motion. “When he made his first films, Kiss, already I had almost fifteen years of cinema in me,” Jonas Mekas recalled. “I was publishing Film Culture magazine already for ten years, and writing. So I was very familiar, and I immediately saw that this is different—this is new, this is important. I was running at that time a filmmakers’ showcase on Twenty-Seventh Street between Park Avenue and Lexington, and that’s where I presented that series of Kiss films and premiered Sleep and his early silent films.”
From Chapter 10 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
Ed Sanders fully immersed himself in the underground film scene after seeing Jonas Mekas’s Guns of the Trees at the Charles Theatre and meeting Warhol at a Film-Makers’ Cooperative screening. “Finally the inspiration of Jonas Mekas and the Film-Makers’ Cooperative made me decide to acquire a 16-mm camera,” he recalled. “I went to my friend Harry Smith for advice.” Smith was known in music circles for his Anthology of American Folk Music, but he was a man of many talents and interests, including experimental filmmaking. Harry suggested buying a “battle camera, like the kind they used filming the war,” which he found at Willoughby’s Camera on West Thirty-Second Street. Filmmaker Stan Brakhage showed Sanders how to use it, and Mekas helped him locate inexpensive film stock. By 1965, Sanders started making Amphetamine Head: A Study of Power in America, about Lower East Side speed demons such as Billy Name and Ondine. “There were plentiful supplies of amphetamine,” Sanders recalled, “sold fairly cheaply in powder form, on the set.” The set, as Sanders’s friend Peter Stampfel explained, was their slang term for the scene: “Like, ‘That guy’s such a dick, he should be bricked off the set,’ ” Stampfel said. “You know, being kicked out of the scene for being an asshole.” Sanders observed that because so many “viewed their lives as taking place on a set, there was no need to hunt afar for actors and actresses. What a cast of characters roamed the Village streets of 1963!”
In 1967, Ed Sanders began collaborating with Shirley Clarke and fellow filmmaker Barbara Rubin on a satirical anti-Vietnam project, Fugs Go to Saigon. (Sanders also suggested several alternative titles: Eagle Shit, Aluminum Sphinx, Oxen of the Sun, America Bongo, Vampire Ass, Gobble Gobble, Moon Brain, and It’s Eating Me!) After Rubin took Sanders to see the Velvet Underground at Café Bizarre in late 1965, they began discussing ideas for the film, which was to star the Fugs alongside William Burroughs, LeRoi Jones, Allen Ginsberg, and a host of other downtown denizens. Clarke attempted to fundraise from summer to fall of 1967, but she still wasn’t being taken seriously as a filmmaker, despite her previous successes with The Connection and The Cool World. Clarke’s inability to get funding for Fugs Go to Saigon may have also had to do with the outrageous “plot” ideas supplied by Sanders: “William Burroughs dressed as Carrie Nation attacks opium den with axe,” he wrote. “LeRoi Jones as homosexual cia agent. naked viet cong orgasm donuts suck off gi’s with poisoned teeth. . . . horny priests disguised as penguins fight savagely for captured viet cong grope boy. . . . Shower of candy canes comes from sky over us headquarters in Saigon.”
Andy Warhol’s association with the Velvet Underground deepened his reach into the world of popular music, expanding his multimedia empire. “The Pop idea, after all, was that anybody could do anything,” Warhol wrote in POPism, his memoir of the 1960s, “so naturally we were all trying to do it all. Nobody wanted to stay in one category, we all wanted to branch out into every creative thing we could. That’s why when we met the Velvet Underground at the end of ’65, we were all for getting into the music scene, too.” In November 1965, before the Velvet Underground’s Café Bizarre residency abruptly ended, a theater producer named Michael Myerberg came up with the idea of opening a Warhol-branded discotheque. He approached Paul Morrissey—Warhol’s sort-of manager and assistant filmmaker—who put the word out that the Factory wanted to find a house band for the space. Malanga, Sanders, and underground filmmaker Barbara Rubin had already seen the Velvet Underground, which led to Warhol signing the group to a management deal. (Myerberg eventually chose the Young Rascals, a better business move for someone looking to draw in a large teen and young adult audience.)
From Chapter 11 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
During an August 24, 1967 action that targeted the New York Stock Exchange, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin dropped a few hundred-dollar bills from the viewing area above. The goal was to create a mass-media spectacle in order to highlight the connection between the military-industrial complex and corporate war-related profits. Fellow activist Jim Fouratt hatched the idea, and Hoffman executed it with Jerry Rubin. “At first, they didn’t want to let them in because they were a bunch of hippies,” Paul Krassner recalled. “Then Hoffman said, ‘We’re a group of Jews and you don’t want to be accused in the media of being anti-Semitic, do you?’ So they got in, and the trading ticker-tape stopped.” Then, on New Year’s Eve 1967, Hoffman, Rubin, Fouratt, Ed Sanders, Paul Krassner, and other activists cofounded a political “organization” called the Youth International Party, aka the Yippies, while they were planning a protest of the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Krassner coined the group’s name. “Y was for Youth,” he explained, “because there was a generation gap, and the I was International, because this kind of revolutionary consciousness was around the world, and P was for Party, in both senses of the term. Yippie! The moment I said it, I felt it would work. It was a form of marketing an attitude.” These prankish tactics provided free publicity for the demonstrations, but, unfortunately, the riots that ensued in Chicago resulted in conspiracy charges against the organizers, known as the “Chicago Eight.”
From Chapter 15 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore