Who can kill a general in his bed?
Over throw dictators if they’re Red
Sometime in the late 1980s, the editors at The New York Post decided to enhance the literary quality of their Sunday paper. As if that wasn’t odd enough, one of the many mysterious choices they made for the section was to hire me to be a kind of New York version of Studs Terkel â€” Studs Lite, I guess you can say. After a couple of months, the editors came to their senses and got rid of me, but until they showed me the door, I had a terrific time, wandering around with my tape recorder or seeking out by phone people I could tie to an anniversary or current event. Amazingly, there were no restrictions on what I could write, but I guess that when I interviewed a woman about what it was like to have an abortion in the years before Roe v. Wade my fate at the paper was sealed.
A few years before, I had interviewed Tuli Kupferberg for a series of reminiscences I was stitching together for The Bill of Rights Journal. I have to admit, including him was a bitch of a stretch, but I had always loved the Fugs, ever since a friend in high school put one of their albums on his turntable. We just couldn’t believe it: “They put that on a record?” They were a kind of rock version of Mad magazine, totally thumbing their collective noses at everything, and even better, as musicians they were really lousy â€” Â proudly so.
I had a blast talking to him, and soon after I began writing the Post series, I sought an excuse to talk to him. That turned out to be the twentieth anniversary of Woodstock, a pretty flimsy excuse, of course, since the Fugs didn’t play at Woodstock. But, hey, I didn’t give a shit, I was going to visit Tuli again. Come to think of it, I’m sure the interview with Tuli didn’t enhance my stature at the Post either.
No matter. Tuli was a wonderful and warm host. The thing about him though was that underneath all that silliness was the breadth of knowledge of a real historian. His apartment on Sixth Avenue looked like a library, and my guess was he had read most of the books that occupied a high percentage of his floor space. If you read his song lyrics, you’ll see the literary references. The guy knew his stuff.
The scans below of the interview as it appeared in the paper are pretty lousy. I have a tape recording of the interview. I’ll try to post some excerpts in the near future.
After the interview came out, Tuli called to say he liked it, which both pleased and surprised me. We stayed in touch for a while, and over the years he’d occasionally send me something in the mail. Sometimes they’d be little pornographic drawings, just squiggles really of penises and vaginas. I saved some of Â it. He also sent more substantial gifts. I had told him “Kill For Peace was one of my favorite Fugs songs, so he ripped out a page from a song book and sent it to me. The lyrics are well-worth reprinting.
Then there was this booklet of songs:
I especially liked this one:
This was the back cover:
Then there was Tuli’s take on the old IWW Songbook:
Here’s one selection:
Tuesday nothing, Wednesday and Thursday nothing
Friday for a change, a little more nothing
Saturday once more nothing.
R.I.P., Tuli. You did your work, and you did it well.
With President Obama favoring nuclear power, extraordinary rendition, the Patriot Act, abortion-rights curbs, and continued war in Iraq and Afghanistan, his opposition to gay rights and his backing of a healthcare reform bill that redefines the word reform to mean the maintaining of the status quo, I officially begin my protest campaign.
The death this week of David Levine prompted me to sort through the work of another favorite political cartoonist. The Daily Worker wasn’t generally noted for its jocularity, but when Syd HoffÂ (1912-2004) took on the nom de plume “A. Redfield and drew The Ruling Clawss cartoons for the Worker, the paper was â€” at least momentarily â€” good for a sardonic smile. As you’ll see, subtlety was not Hoff’s strong point but his portrayal of America’s economic upper crust was dead on; in part because his anger at the suffering caused by the Great Depression was so palpable in his drawings, and he took great glee in pointing his pen at those who were to blame.
Despite Hoff’s efforts, the proletarian revolution never did come to fruition, but we still have his great cartoons. Here are a few of my favorites. Sad to say, they could have been drawn in 2009:
I know, I had promised a Spiro Agnew Christmas, but a Spiro Agnew-type flu (I guess that’s not true, it wasn’t swine) intervened, so a Spiro Agnew New Year will have to suffice (wouldn’t it be great if on the Chinese calendar this was the year of the ass?). I own a few Spiro Agnew treasures, but none better than thisÂ Spiro’s Greatest Hits Album. No, he doesn’t sing “Stairway to Heaven,” but he does offer a delightfully delicious delicacy of draconian drivel on a number of topics then on the lips of everyone in 1968 and 1969, such asÂ student demonstrators (“impudent, elite snobs”) and of course, the liberal press, those “nattering nabobs of negativism” (who were also, “hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history.”)
Those memorable lines were written by William Safire, whose right-wing views later columnized much of The New York Times op-ed page. When Safire died this year, so many of his former colleagues weighed in what a great guy he was, what a terrific columnist, blah, blah, blah, I wondered if they had all suffered from some kind of communal long-term memory loss. Not too many of them talked about how much hatred and division he sowed in this country through his vice presidential talking dummy.Â How many heads were beaten, how many lives permanently destroyed or lost as a result of the politics of Agnew and Nixon, whose popularity could be credited in large part to the words written for them by Safire and Pat Buchanan.
There was nothing charming about any of those people and certainly any good that Safire did subsequentlyÂ in his life was far out-weighed by the vicious hatred he helped spread. Ultimately, I think, he wore the stripes of the person who paid his salary. Whatever that made him, you decide.
Here’s the front of the Agnew album. Below that is the back cover. Click on it to more easily make out the terrific liner-notes.
I couldn’t include these tremulous treasures of tripe without offering a link to the words themselves. Click here for Agnew’s impudent snobs speech and then maybe go out and bash in a few hippie heads when you’re done to celebrate Agnew’s legacy.
My friend Phil Rosner died today. Phil may have been the last survivor of the 1934 Austrian fascist attack on Vienna’s model workers’ housing, a prelude to events in Europe that would within a few years engulf the world. The attack made headlines around the world when Phil and a few hundred other workers defended themselves against the Austrian army, holding out for nearly a week before sneaking out to safety. He went on to fight the fascists in the Austrian underground and when the Nazis came to power he and his friends took up their weapons (and used them) to the fight against an even more vicious foe. Among other things, they organized a rescue operation involving a stolen Nazi staff car and officers’ uniforms that successfully saved the lives of scores of Jews. The things Phil saw and endured when the Nazis took over Vienna were so horrible that only toward the end of his life was he able to speak about them.
- Phil in Japan after World War II
After surviving torture and solitary confinement, Phil, whose parents were American, was deported here. During World War II, he volunteered to join the Army and as a paratrooper was dropped into the Philippines in the final stages of the battle. He later served in Japan for two years and returned to the States for good in 1948. The opposition to the fascists in Austria was organized by the Communist and Socialist parties. For that reason, Phil was a proud Communist through the mid-1950s. When the FBI came to his door in the early 1950s and accused him of being a Party member, Phil’s response was to say, “You got that right.”
He was a proud radical his entire life, proud of not only his actions in Austria but also of his union work in the United States. In his last few weeks, he also reminisced about being part of the unit that helped protect Paul Robeson when he was attacked by right-wing “patriots” after his concert in Peekskill, New York.
Phil was five feet tall and maybe 120 pounds, but he was the most courageous man I’ve ever met. I’ve started to tell Phil’s amazing story on this Web site. But I thought in his honor, I’d also post the cover to the IWW’s 1926 edition of its song book and the lyrics to “The Internationale.” If you click on the lyrics, you can even sing along with Marc Blitzstein and his version of the song from 1933.
For good measure, here’s Paul Robeson singing “Joe Hill,” probably sounding much the same he sounded that summer night in Peekskill in 1949.