Beat-era comedian Lenny Bruce was arrested for obscenity in 1964 when the he performed his material at Café Au Go Go in Greenwich Village; he was also an early subscriber to Paul Krassner’s magazine The Realist.
The Village Voice and other independent publications such as I. F. Stone’s Weekly debuted before the Realist, but Paul Krassner’s magazine had the biggest impact on the 1960s literary landscape. It pioneered an envelope-pushing style that laid the groundwork for Tom Wolfe’s “New Journalism,” and its contributors included Ken Kesey, Kurt Vonnegut, Norman Mailer, Lenny Bruce, and Joseph Heller. Television host Steve Allen was the Realist’s first subscriber and bought subscriptions for several people, including controversial comedian Lenny Bruce. Mad magazine art director John Francis Putnam wrote a regular column, called “Modest Proposals,” starting in the first issue. “I had never heard of Jonathan Swift’s ‘A Modest Proposal’ before that,” Krassner said of the classic satirical essay that advocated eating babies as a solution to child poverty, “so it was an educational process for me.” The Realist and the Fugs sprang from the same countercultural hive mind—many Fugs songs, such as “Kill for Peace,” were quite Swiftian—and the two troublemakers, Paul Krassner and Ed Sanders, became fast friends after meeting at an antiwar rally in Times Square. “Ed was a poet, but he also was very politically active,” Krassner said. “The Fugs kind of split the difference between poetry and activism.” As for the Realist, Krassner saw it as “a combination of satire and actual journalism. But I didn’t want to label something as journalism or satire because I didn’t want to deprive the readers learning for themselves which it was.” The magazine had many taglines over the years, but the most apt was The Truth Is Silly Putty. “I started with 600 copies,” Krassner said, “and then when it got up to a thousand, I said ‘Wow.’ Our peak circulation in 1967 was 100,000, plus pass-along copies and copies stolen from libraries.”
From Chapter 5 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
Larry Kornfeld left the Living Theatre in 1961 to join Judson Poets’ Theatre. He had been hanging out at the Cedar Tavern, one of his regular Village haunts, when poet Joel Oppenheimer approached him about directing his play at Judson. Oppenheimer had attended Black Mountain College in North Carolina during the early 1950s, crossing paths with Robert Rauschenberg, John Cage, and Merce Cunningham. Back in New York, the Black Mountain group grew closer while spending time at the Living Theatre—where the interdisciplinary Monday Night Series was held and Cage and Cunningham also had a studio. This environment inspired Oppenheimer to write a satirical play, The Great American Desert, which Kornfeld agreed to direct despite his concerns about censorship. (One character exclaims, “Damn this fuckin’ desert anyhow. All this sweat over water, goddamn when I was a boy back home in Illinois they used to talk about the plains.”) Kornfeld told him, “Joel, it’s a church. You’ve got ‘fuck’ all over the script, and ‘fuck’ is not even said in the theater these days.” Oppenheimer assured him, “Oh, no. The church board read it, and they approved. They gave me their word that they will not interfere.” The church did not interfere, even though the play contained the type of language that caused Lenny Bruce to be arrested for obscenity three years later when the comedian performed his material just two blocks away at Café Au Go Go, in 1964. “We were very ethical, and inevitably broke the law,” Kornfeld said. “There was a lot by cursing, nude performances, but nothing salacious—like Yvonne Rainer dancing with Bob Morris naked on stage at the church.”
From Chapter 9 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
Soon after Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg formed the Fugs, the Holy Modal Rounders teamed up with them to create the first incarnation of the Fugs. “Someone told me Sanders and Tuli had written a bunch of songs like ‘Coca-Cola Douche’ and ‘Bull Tongue Clit,’ ” Peter Stampfel recalled. “So I went to listen at the Peace Eye Bookstore, and I saw that the only instrument was Ken Weaver playing a hand drum. So I said, ‘Hey, you can use a backup band.’ It was an obvious thing to put together, so that’s how Steve Weber and I started playing with them.” After signing a deal with Folkways Records, the band recorded their first album in April 1965. Along with several original songs, the Fugs included two Blake poem adaptations on their Harry Smith–produced debut, The Village Fugs Sing Ballads of Contemporary Protest, Point of Views, and General Dissatisfaction. In addition to live gigs and vinyl records, the group could also be heard on free-form radio shows. Their performance of “Carpe Diem” at a Judson Church memorial service for comedian Lenny Bruce, for example, was recorded by Bob Fass and aired on WBAI (Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, Abbie Hoffman, and many other musicians, poets, and political activists also made appearances on Fass’s show over the years).
From Chapter 15 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore