Beat poet Tuli Kupferberg could be seen selling his own mimeo poetry publications at Jonas Mekas’s film series and in 1965 joined forces with Ed Sanders to form the Fugs after Sanders’s Peace Eye Bookstore opened next door to where he lived on East Tenth Street.
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.”
From Chapter 5 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
Andy Warhol used an Auricon camera for his first sync sound film, Harlot, which was shot in December 1964. Gerard Malanga had been taking Warhol to Wednesday night poetry readings at Café Le Metro, where the writing of Jack Smith’s friend Ronald Tavel caught the artist’s attention. Warhol hired Tavel to write some “scenarios” for Harlot, and they soon began working together on Warhol’s other film projects. These sorts of collaborations happened often because the mimeo poetry zine scene frequently overlapped with the audiences for underground movies; Beat poet and Fugs cofounder Tuli Kupferberg, for example, could be seen selling his own mimeo publications at Mekas’s screening events. Harlot starred drag queen Mario Montez, who had previously appeared in Flaming Creatures and was named after Smith’s favorite 1940s starlet, Maria Montez. Warhol’s film depicts Gerard Malanga in a tuxedo blowing a puff of smoke at Montez, who is suggestively eating bananas. The only audio is Tavel and Billy Name having a conversation off-screen, perversely defeating the point of using a sync sound camera. “Mario maintained a wonderful duality,” said Montez’s friend Agosto Machado. “If you saw him in the neighborhood, you would pass him on the street and he was an attractive Puerto Rican man. But you would not know that he could transform himself into a goddess as Mario Montez, this goddess muse of Jack Smith and Andy Warhol.” He also appeared in several other Warhol films: Banana, Batman/ Dracula, Camp, Chelsea Girls, Lupe, and 1966’s Hedy, the last of which was part of Warhol’s “Hollywood trilogy” (a series of odd biopics that also included Harlot).
From Chapter 10 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
“The Fugs, the Holy Modal Rounders, and the Velvet Underground were the only authentic Lower East Side bands,” guitarist Sterling Morrison said, perhaps with a bit of exaggeration. “We were real bands playing for real people in a real scene. We helped each other out if we could and generally hung out at the same places.” Poet and provocateur Ed Sanders had already formed the Fugs in late 1964, a few months before the Velvets coalesced. “I felt camaraderie towards The Velvets,” Sanders recalled. “We overlapped. So people would come to both shows. Nico used to come to my bookstore, the Peace Eye.” The connections among this lowly trinity of bands ran deep. The Holy Modal Rounders first emerged on the Lower East Side in May 1963, and about a year later Peter Stampfel and Steve Weber joined the Fugs—contributing radio-unfriendly songs to the group’s repertoire (like Stampfel’s “New Amphetamine Shriek” and Weber’s “Boobs a Lot”).
From Chapter 15 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).
“Announcing the Fugs Cross Country Vietnam Protest Caravan, October 8–28th,” trumpeted Ed Sanders’s press release in advance of their 1966 tour. The group planned to promote their antiwar message across America, and the primary destination was Berkeley, California—another site that fostered the emerging peace movement. At the University of California, the Fugs played among the Bunsen burners on the chemistry room’s demonstration table, along with Allen Ginsberg and the first-ever performance by Country Joe and the Fish. Back in New York, the Fugs were banned from their regular venue, Astor Place Theatre, after they burned a flag that was printed with the words lower east side. The point was to illustrate how burning a symbol didn’t actually hurt the thing it represented, but newspapers claimed that the group burned an American flag—which led to an FBI investigation. The Bridge Theatre came to the rescue and gave the Fugs a new home, where they settled into a successful residency that ran for seven hundred-plus performances from late 1966 through 1967. The Bridge was above the Café Au Go Go on Bleecker Street, which benefited from the abundant Greenwich Village foot traffic, so the shows were often sold out. “The theater was filled,” Sanders recalled, “and the shows were fluid, well done, and hot. It was the peak time for the Fugs.”
When Ed Sanders signed the lease for his Peace Eye Bookstore in late 1964, at 383 East Tenth Street, Beat hero Tuli Kupferberg was already living next door, above the Lifschutz Wholesale Egg Store. They first met in 1962 outside the Charles Theatre on Avenue B, where Jonas Mekas screened underground films and Kupferberg was selling copies of his magazine Birth to the audience. Sanders let Kupferberg publish a poem in Fuck You/A Magazine of the Arts and the two attended poetry readings at Café Le Metro, where Andy Warhol and Gerard Malanga mixed with literary heavyweights like Allen Ginsberg. After these readings, everyone congregated at a dance bar on St. Mark’s Place called the Dom—formerly a Polish wedding and social hall—where Sanders suggested to Kupferberg that they should form a band. Sanders suggested various band names such as the Yodeling Socialists and the Freaks, but it was Kupferberg who came up with the Fugs—fug was a term that writer Norman Mailer had used as a euphemism for fuck in his novel The Naked and Dead. With a name secured, their next order of business was to write songs. Sanders had been setting William Blake poems to music since his days of sitting in Washington Square Park as an NYU student, and he was more a poet than a rocker. “I don’t think I took the Fugs seriously as music. I just liked the scene, but I didn’t really listen to it as music,” said Village Voice rock critic Richard Goldstein. “But the idea of Blake’s ‘Ah! Sun-flower! / weary of time’ as a rock song was amazingly unusual.”