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.