By the time Tuli Kupferberg formed the Fugs with Ed Sanders in 1964, he was already a longtime presence in New York’s downtown counterculture. He’d published poems, essays, pamphlets and books, and formed, with Sylvia Topp, his own publishing imprint, and was active in pacifist and socialist causes. The Fugs were like a musical clubhouse for New York’s renegades, and their circle included Steve Weber and Peter Stampfel (Holy Modal Rounders), Allen Ginsberg, among many others. Tuli’s dauntless spirit—prankster, poet, songwriter, presence—continued to touch lives over the next four decades. Benito Vila spoke with some of those who knew Tuli to get a bead on this remarkable personage.
There once was a distraught man named Norman who threw himself off the Manhattan Bridge to end it all. As the Fates would have it, Norman lived. A tugboat picked him out of the East River and six months of body casts and bed rest got him back on his feet. Not everyone is so lucky. One life-long problem for Norman afterward was that his poet friend, Allen Ginsberg, described his leap in “Howl”, Ginsberg including Norman among his “angelheaded hipsters”, as one “who jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge this actually happened and walked away unknown and forgotten into the ghostly daze of Chinatown soup alleyways & firetrucks, not even one free beer”. It made a good story, but it was far from true. Norman didn’t walk away, and he was anything but unknown and forgotten, especially after he changed his name to Tuli in the late 1950s.
Long oo. Too-lee. A long oo, too, in his last name, Koop-fer-berg. Tuli Kupferberg. It’s lyrical. It’s smart. It’s goofy. It’s unique. And it suited him well. Tuli Kupferberg. The name Tuli was derived from his given name, the biblical Napthali. Norman was born in September 1923, his Jewish, Yiddish-speaking, immigrant parents raising him in Brooklyn and the Upper East Side, and Napthali being Anglicized by the city. Coming of age in the Depression led the curious, open-minded teenage Norman into a religious, political and economic questioning of a God-fearing, two-party, capitalist system that clearly didn’t work. After he reached Brooklyn College in 1940, Norman found alternatives in New York’s communist and pacifist societies, joining the Wobblies (Industrial Workers of the World) and the War Resisters League. He also embraced New York City’s intellectual scene, befriending Julian Beck and Judith Malina of The Living Theater and social philosopher Paul Goodman.
In the mid-1950s, while holding down a day-job as a medical librarian, Norman started to find his own following after a series of his poems, short stories and essays were published under the name Tuli Kupferberg in downtown New York’s counterculture press––the Village Voice, Midstream and Liberation. The 34-year old Norman had begun to use the name Tuli full-time by 1957 when his 22-year old girlfriend, Sylvia Topp––who went on to do editorial work for the Village Voice and Vanity Fair and to whom he was married for more than 50 years––encouraged him to start publishing his own work and magazines. That suggestion led the pair to launch Birth Press in 1958, with Tuli writing and sourcing the content and Sylvia designing and laying out each pamphlet and magazine. Their Birth Press titles included the now mythic magazines Birth, Yeah and Swing: Writing by Children as well as the booklets Snow Job, Selected Fruits & Nuts, The Grace & Beauty of the Human Form, Beatniks, or The War Against the Beats and 1001 Ways to Live Without Working. Each of those titles was assembled in their home, a group of friends helping to fold, collate and staple the booklets, with Tuli and Sylvia bringing them to local bookstores and selling copies on the street. The success of 1001 Ways to Live Without Working in 1961, later inspired 1001 Ways to Beat the Draft [published by Grove Press] and 1001 Ways to Make Love.
In late 1964, Tuli connected with fellow poet and publisher, and new Peace Eye Bookstore owner, Ed Sanders, who had published Tuli’s poetry in his own literary journal, Fuck You: A Magazine of the Arts. Sanders suggested the pair start a rock band, and Tuli “assented” [Sanders’ word], with Tuli suggesting the group be called “The Fugs”, fug being the term Norman Mailer was forced to use instead of fuck in his novel, The Naked and the Dead. Sanders recounts he and Tuli started writing songs “at a fevered pace. We created at least 50 or 60 between us. Soon we asked a friend, Ken Weaver, to join the Fugs. Weaver had been a drummer in his high school band, and brought fine song-writing skills and stage presence to our performances. Steve Weber and Peter Stampfel of the Holy Modal Rounders were friends, and agreed to perform at the grand opening of the Peace Eye Bookstore in February of 1965.” That launch party saw Andy Warhol do cloth wall banners of his flowers image for decor and found a wide spectrum of New York’s literati, including William Burroughs, George Plimpton and James Michener, on hand.
This piece is about Tuli. The Fugs have their own history, a history with a cast of characters that reads like a who’s who of the counterculture. Among those are artist Harry Smith, who recorded The Anthology of American Folk Music in 1952 and recorded the Fugs first album in 1965; bands such as the Mothers of Invention, the Velvet Underground and the Grateful Dead who shared concert bills with the Fugs, and Mo Ostin, the president of Reprise Records, who never censored the Fugs, despite songs depicting drug use, violence and masturbation––songs like “I Couldn’t Get High”, “Kill for Peace” and “Boobs A Lot”. In February 1967 the Fugs found themselves discussed in the pages of Life and were soon invited to play on the Johnny Carson-led Tonight Show. Their song selection kept them off the air. In October 1967, the Fugs participated in the exorcism of the Pentagon, along with organizers Abbie Hoffman, Paul Krassner, Jerry Rubin and others, including Mailer, Ginsberg and Gary Snyder.
The BBC reports on the “exorcism” of the Pentagon in 1967 (featuring Ed Sanders, Paul McCartney, Abbie Hoffman, Allen Ginsberg, and others:
Tuli contributed his leftist political bent and a theatrical component to the Fugs, touring with an assortment of costume trunks, dancing in and out of satiric routines bringing attention to the insanity of the Vietnam War, social conformity and political conservatism. After the Fugs broke up in April 1969, Tuli continued his performances in founding The Revolting Theater and later launching a cable television show, Revolting News, and by creating countless political cartoons and collages. He also kept up his habit of selling art and poetry on the street, throughout Greenwich Village and Soho. About two months ago, tuli.kupferberg popped up on my Instagram feed as if he were still at work. A reply email from Peter Stampfel assured me Tuli had passed on in 2010. Stampfel asked if I’d ever heard his recording of Tuli’s songs that he did with songwriter/illustrator/historian Jeffrey Lewis. Pursuit of that music led me to Lewis, who put me in touch with Antony Hall, the person responsible for the tuli.kupferberg feed.
Tuli, from The Revolting Theater: “Go Fuck Yourself With Your Atom Bomb”:
If that wasn’t enough Tuli coincidence, out of the blue, Lisa Marie Järlborn, publisher of Love Love, a Paris-based underground magazine, asked if I might contribute a piece on Tuli to her Fall 2020 edition (due out October 22). Järlborn offered to connect me to Tuli’s daughter, Samara Kupferberg, and my conversation with Samara led to her putting me in touch with her mom, Sylvia Topp, and with Tuli’s girlfriend and collaborator, Thelma Blitz. I told the editors at PKM of this odd Tuli confluence and that conversation led to this piece. The following are interviews with Hall, Lewis and Stampfel, each talking about their experiences with Tuli, done by way of Instagram, Zoom and iPhone. The artwork and videos that accompany this piece cannot even begin to reveal how prolific Tuli was. He needed to write, draw, sing and talk the way the rest of us need to breathe. And what he has to say is still on target right now.
Messaging with with tuli.kupferberg (Antony Hall, an antiques dealer, based in Lewes, East Sussex, England)
PKM: What prompted you to create the tuli.kupferberg Instagram feed?
Antony Hall: I was introduced to Tuli and his work by Jeffrey Lewis, who wrote a song about the history of pre-punk punk on the Lower East Side. I have collected and sought out Tuli’s books and cartoons ever since. The pandemic has given me time to curate a bit of Tuli’s output.
PKM: What attracted you to Tuli?
Antony Hall: At first, it was the Village Fugs album [also known as The Fugs First Album]. Once I found a few of his books and pamphlets, I started looking for his other solo work, his collections of knowledge, his books of children’s writings, his drawings, his 1001 Ways to Beat the Draft, his 1001 Ways to Live Without Working. In all of those, he’s open to the possibility of optimism, to there being a positive aspect to the things in this mad world. Tuli is humorous, intelligent and socialist. Those are three good attributes in any person.
PKM: How long have you been collecting Tuli’s work?
Antony Hall: About 15 years. I have pamphlets and books mostly, and a drawing I purchased from Tuli by post in 2008.
PKM: How did that transaction happen?
Antony Hall: I sent Tuli a letter just saying my gran had left me some money and I would love to buy a drawing from him. I also asked if he wanted to release a record. At the time, I was releasing records, some 7″ singles.
PKM: Did you have other correspondence with Tuli?
Antony Hall: We had two letters back and forth about the drawing, and I got a signed booklet, The Book of the Body, from him.
PKM: You show posters, prints, buttons and long lost work. Where are you finding it?
Antony Hall: Most of the things I own are Tuli’s self-published books and flyers, and the ESP-Disk related ephemera [ESP-Disk was one of the Fugs’ early record distributors]. Lots of my Tuli feed are things from other people’s collections, from photo archives, internet searching, etc.
PKM: His art has been described as simple and primitive. What does his art express to you?
Antony Hall: Tuli’s cartoons have all they need to get the point across. The idea is the important thing, not the fine art of it all. It’s very Tuli to get a point across, to make a joke or a political point. It’s not meant to be an aesthetic, crafted thing. That could distract from “The Point”.
PKM: Your feed shows Tuli’s collages and writings from what Sylvia calls, “their little magazines”. What do those written compositions reveal to you?
Antony Hall: His and Sylvia’s books are often collections of pre-existing information, a collation, a curated selection of information that’s already out there. In one booklet, called “Good News”, Tuli has an editor’s note that reads, “This magazine is an effort to draw attention to a part of our life and of our worlds which, I feel, deserve more attention than they get…as long as there is life there is bob hope.” The pages are press cuttings of good news. You can find it on my Tuli feed.
PKM: What do you like most about Tuli’s work in the Fugs?
Antony Hall: I love the earlier Fugs best. It’s more shambolic [British for disorganized], free and un-bandish. His songs “The 10 Commandments” and “Nothing” are always favorites.
PKM: What is your favorite Tuli piece? Tuli era?
Antony Hall: One of my favorite Tuli songs is “Crime Doesn’t Pay Well”. You can find that on YouTube if you search Revolting Theater, Part 2. I have been talking to Samara and we will be putting a limited edition 7″ single of “Crime Doesn’t Pay Well” out this year. The lyrics are great and perfect for the world, as we know it today.
PKM: Does Tuli have a singular masterpiece?
Antony Hall: It’s his outlook as a whole that I admire. There’s so much work he’s left behind where you can find his outlook, in his books, talks, songs, public TV, records, theater. When I look at the Birth Press magazines, I love the printing quality, the mimeo greatness. There was lots of work involved in making them and putting them together. It all comes from wanting to change the world and the way it is looked at and interacted with.
Zooming with Jeffrey Lewis, who recently posted a video of Robin, the Boy Wonder, reading “Howl” that everyone should see.
PKM: How did you come to know about Tuli?
Jeffrey Lewis: Through the first Fugs album. I was 16 and interested in ’60s music, and a friend told me there was a band called the Fugs that made messed up recordings and that I might be interested in it. I really started listening to that record more in my first year of college. I had a roommate who was into punk stuff and the Velvet Underground. He was more impressed with that first Fugs album than I was. He opened my eyes to the fact that it wasn’t just a couple of interesting songs, that the whole record was something special. Eventually, the Fugs became of real interest to me because they were of my own neighborhood. I grew up on East 9th Street and the Fugs had lived on East 10th Street. They were singing about the neighborhood. They were being loud, bold and outrageous about the Lower East Side culture I grew up in, a culture that was wild and political, before it became fancy. I have a hometown pride about the Fugs, almost like some people might have for their hometown sports team.
PKM: When did you first meet Tuli and connect with him?
Jeffrey Lewis: It was at a comic book event in 1997, in Soho. I noticed him there and spoke to him a bit. I told him, “I’m a fan”, and we talked a little bit about comic books. In typical Tuli fashion, he was like, “I’m in the phone book. Look me up sometime.” He was that way with everybody and that was a special thing to me. At that time, in the late ’90s, you might see Lou Reed or Patti Smith or David Peel or Philip Glass walking around the neighborhood, at a movie theater, an art gallery, a restaurant. Tuli was just one of the downtown New York City celebrities I might see on the street.
Our real connection happened all because of one night in 2004, where I got asked to play at Ed Sanders’ birthday party at the Bowery Poetry Club. The reason I got asked to play because of my friend, Ed Berrigan, who I’d gone to college with. Ed was really into Beat poetry when we met and, at some point, I figured, “Oh, he’s really into Ginsberg and stuff. I’ll blow his mind by showing him this band, the Fugs.” Ed was like, “Oh, of course, I know the Fugs. My father wrote songs with them.” His father was the poet, Ted Berrigan. So, Ed really knew the Fugs, and Ed had gotten asked to play music at Ed Sanders’ 65th birthday party. He was like, “Oh, Jeffery Lewis is a big Fugs fan, and he lives in the neighborhood, I’ll ask him to perform.” Just by complete luck, by total coincidence, I had recently written a long piece I was calling, “The History of the Development of Punk on the Lower East Side, from 1950 to 1975”, which was this spoken word thing, where I talk and rhyme, how the music developed in the neighborhood. I’d talk and play an excerpt from a song, starting from the Harry Smith Anthology, going on to The Holy Modal Rounders, then the Fugs, the Godz and the Velvet Underground.
Just from my own record collecting, I realized how there was a cultural through-line that went through the Lower East Side, an untold history that I’d never seen, that was no book on and that nobody ever talked about. It was like there was a gap. Everybody was aware of the early ’60s New York City folk scene, but then Dylan goes electric in ’65, and then it’s like fast forward, it’s 1975 and there’s CBGB and the Ramones. Between ’65 and ’75, what was happening in New York City? Nobody ever talked about that. ’60s music is like, “Oh, you have all the music from England.” There’s Pink Floyd; there’s the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. And you have music from the West Coast. Oh, there’s Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, Country Joe and the Fish, the Doors, Jimi Hendrix. But there’s like this blind spot in the middle of the ’60s in my own city, a huge chunk of time between the folk stuff and the punk stuff. I had noticed from record to record: this David Peel record…he must have been influenced by the Fugs and then there’s this New York Dolls record…they must have been influenced by David Peel, and then this Godz record, they were on the same label as The Holy Modal Rounders…these people must have known each other…and the Velvet Underground started to… I put this history together based on these records I was finding and I wrote this piece, this rhyming essay, in which the Fugs are a very important part. So I performed it that night, at Ed Sanders’ birthday party. It might have been my first ever performance of that piece and a lot of people in the piece were in the audience.
Jeffrey Lewis: Anti Folk Complete History of Punk Rock:
That was really when I got to meet Tuli and Peter Stampfel. They loved it; it was about them and it was very flattering to them. From there, I started to be in regular contact with Tuli and Peter, and record music with them. I also started to play on Bob Fass’ show on WBAI and be in regular contact with Thelma.
Tuli Kupferberg speaking at Ed Sanders’ 65th birthday party:
Everybody was aware of the early ’60s New York City folk scene, but then Dylan goes electric in ’65, and then it’s like fast forward, it’s 1975 and there’s CBGB and the Ramones. Between ’65 and ’75, what was happening in New York City? Nobody ever talked about that.
PKM: What was being around Tuli and working with him like for you?
Jeffrey Lewis: Being around Tuli was like finding a lost relative. The thing is, a lot of people feel that way about him. He was that kind of person. He made people feel that way. But there was something about the fact that I had grown up on the Lower East Side with communist parents and I understood his references. When he talked about the book, The Good Soldier Švejk. I had read that, it was on my parents’ shelf. He loved that I knew that book [a 1920s Czech anti-war novel]. He’s from a generation earlier, like my grandmother, like my uncle, the communist Lower East Side. Tuli was of that generation. I was coming from that as well, and in my own cultural creations, in my own songs, my poems, my cartoons, my voice, my Jewish voice, my bad singing, my funky creative all-over-the-map––what Tuli called being a “luftmensch”––there was this overlap of the geography, the politics, the culture, the creativity that we found in each other. It was like I had found somebody that should have been part of my family, somebody who was clearly an ancestor of mine, somebody who could have sat down with my uncle and have a deep talk about whether Trotsky’s speech on the Main Plenum in 1937 was a good thing for him to do or not. Somebody who could sit down and discuss political things and cultural things that were dusty history, that didn’t exist for most people. We were existing in this little cultural pipeline that had been buried over by decades of other cultural forgetting.
Jeffrey Lewis: Being around Tuli was like finding a lost relative. The thing is, a lot of people feel that way about him
PKM: How did Tuli sustain his cultural presence?
Jeffrey Lewis: He’s such a fantastic figure to be aware of. His willingness to constantly never stop fucking around with stuff, having these different ideas: “Oh, let’s do a thousand and one ways to live without working”; “Oh, let me become a political cartoonist”; “Oh, let me put out poetry magazines”; “Oh, let me start a rock band”; “Oh, let me do this theater stuff.” He lived his life in a way that I really relate to, but he was doing it in such a way that was even more de-skilled than I do it. I do it like, “Oh, I want to be a comic artist. I want to get really good at it. I want to have a really good band and I want to write very well written songs.” He was just doing it in this unambitious way, in this very loving, just-fucking-around playful way. He was living in the flow of following the delight of his own ideas, while also being aware of the deep sadness and tragedy of the world and how these little dances of philosophy and lovingness and compassion are being done in the face of mountains of historical tragedy and injustice. My love of Tuli is my love of his life as a work of art, the culture that he created; the personality that he developed into. He was this entity, Tuli Kupferberg, an icon of the Lower East Side, an icon of modern culture, but not in an ambitious way. He never became Woody Allen. He never became Lou Reed. He just kept fucking around in the margins. That’s part of his specialness.
PKM: What sort of work did you two do together?
Jeffrey Lewis: He would sometimes give assignments, like his parasongs. He was collecting parasongs constantly [parodies of popular songs]. I did a global-warming version of Dylan’s “My Back Pages”, where instead of “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now”, I wrote this long, 17-verse rewrite that was like, “It was so much colder then, it’s warmer than that now.” He included that in one of his collections. He would also sometimes have me come over to sing some of his new songs. But the major project we did together was a Tuli Kupferberg chapter in a comic book called The Beats, for Paul Buhle. He’s an academic leftist, who’s been publishing since the ’60 or ’70s, doing comic book compilations where Paul comes up with a topic––Bohemians, or Beat poets, or suffragette women––then he’ll contact a bunch of comic book artists and he’ll be like, “Can you do a piece? Pick up a Bohemian and do eight pages of comic books about him for this compilation I’m doing. Can you pick an abolitionist and do a six-page comic book for this compilation.” It pays very little, but Paul tries to get whatever artists he can, and then he publishes them. I’ve been involved in a number of Paul Buhle projects. One of them was his graphic history on the Beats. He asked me to do a chapter on one of the Beats and I said, “I’ll do a comic about Tuli Kupferberg. I’ll interview him. I’ll ask him about his life. I’ll do a little comic book biography of the life of Tuli Kupferberg based on whatever Tuli tells me.” And that’s what we did: I interviewed Tuli and he told me what he considered to be the story of his life and I illustrated it. That, I suppose, really cemented our friendship and our intimacy, my going over to his apartment and asking him about his life and working on his comic. By then, though, he was ailing.
He never became Woody Allen. He never became Lou Reed. He just kept fucking around in the margins. That’s part of his specialness.
PKM: You said he was ailing?
Jeffrey Lewis: In the last couple of years of his life, he was increasingly frail. But he was still lucid, even after his stroke and even after he lost his eyesight, and even though it was obviously very difficult, he just kept coming up with silly stuff. He kept making up his perverbs [perverted proverbs]. Thelma and I were trying to cheer him up once, like, “Well, now you could be a blues singer now you’re blind. Blind boy, something or other.” One of Dylan’s pseudonyms was Blind Boy Grunt. Tuli was like, “All right, I’ll be Blind Boy Fart.” He was always coming up with something that would make us laugh. There was a big fundraiser benefit for him at St. Ann’s Warehouse that Hal Willner assembled, which I ended up having to be the emcee for, because Richard Belzer, who was supposed to emcee, didn’t show up for some reason. I don’t know why Hal picked me to do it, I guess nobody else wanted to, but I feel like I did a terrible job of it. Hal had brought together Sonic Youth and Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson and Philip Glass, all these people. I trotted out there to say some words to introduce them and I stumbled over it all. My own performance was a disaster, too, because my guitar wasn’t working. It was embarrassing to be in that situation, but it was incredible. It was an honor to be a part of that night, with that lineup, participating to raise money in Tuli’s hour of need.
PKM: How have you kept Tuli’s legacy alive?
Jeffrey Lewis: After he died, I started doing these annual tribute concerts at Sidewalk Cafe on Avenue A. I would assemble a band of people to play Tuli Kupferberg songs with me and I would always pick songs that were not the obvious songs. I would try to find his more obscure or lesser known songs. Every year I would work on making a whole set of Tuli Kupferberg material. I would put a call out to see who else wanted to perform Tuli Kupferberg songs and it became this annual event. The first couple years we did it on the anniversary of Tuli’s death, and then I switched it to be on Tuli’s birthday, which is September 28th. It became an annual Tuli Kupferberg celebration day where we had these great arrangements of Tuli songs, but every year we would work hard to learn and rehearse them for this one performance, and then they’d be gone again for another year. Eventually, in 2018, our birthday band––me, Peter Stampfel, Steve Espinola, Brian Speaker and others––made an album of these Tuli songs we were doing. I think my fans are still confused as to what it is because there’s a photo of Tuli on the cover and it reads, Works by Tuli Kupferberg. It just doesn’t sell well on my merch table or my website. I don’t know how many people have heard it, but it was a real labor of love for me, one of the best things I’ve ever done and I’m glad that document exists. We did a good job on that.
PKM: Could you describe Tuli in a story, an encounter?
Jeffrey Lewis: There are so many Tuli stories, like one a guy told me about visiting New York City and walking around the neighborhood and finding an envelope, an unopened letter, addressed to Tuli Kupferberg. He was a Fugs fan and thought, “This is crazy. There can only be one Tuli Kupferberg.” The address was only a couple of blocks away, so he found Tuli’s building and rang the bell. He announced, “I have this letter that is addressed to you that I just found on the street a couple of blocks away.” Tuli said, “Oh, yes, I didn’t want that so I threw it out the window.” Then, of course, Tuli invites the guy up for a cup of tea, so they have a nice talk, Tuli and a total stranger who found his letter in the street. I love that. But what sums up what Tuli did was that his work was born out of the sense of compassion that he had. That’s what I see as the source of his relentless satirizing, his outrageousness and his disrespect for everything. It’s a disrespect born out of this deep well, this deep conviction that the only important things are compassion and love, and that everything not based on that foundation is only worthy of being witheringly mocked. What ties Tuli together is his moral outrage. It gives his work power, a power that comes from an unwillingness to accept a world that isn’t based in human connection.
It’s a disrespect born out of this deep well, this deep conviction that the only important things are compassion and love, and that everything not based on that foundation is only worthy of being witheringly mocked.
iPhoning with Peter Stampfel, who is attracted to fun the way a fat kid loves cake.
PKM: How did you come to know about Tuli?
Peter Stampfel: Until I saw him playing with The Fugs, I was unaware of Tuli except for perhaps in the most shadowy way. But I knew of him because he has one of coolest names ever given to a human being.
PKM: How did you end up at the session with the Fugs?
Peter Stampfel: [Steve] Weber said, “Hey, come over and see what [Ed] Sanders is doing, this music group.” That sounds like something I would absolutely like to take a look at. The only player they had was Ken Weaver on drums, hand drums. On his way to rehearsal, he said, quote, Puerto Ricans with a hammer stole his drums, end quote, so he had to drum on chairs and shit.
PKM: That was the first rehearsal?
Peter Stampfel: That was maybe like rehearsal three and four. I saw the Fugs playing and I immediately volunteered. These guys seriously needed backup and it was obvious the fun that would be. “Bull Tongue Clit”. Ed and Tuli had that kind of hook. Once I heard that, I was theirs forever.
PKM: Did you know Ed before that?
Peter Stampfel: I knew about Fuck You: A Magazine of the Arts. I became aware of that when I got back to New York in October of ’62. The only part of it I really liked was his one-page, occasionally two-page, rant he would do as an introduction to each issue. The poetry wasn’t for me. His screeds were absolutely amazing. Before I met Weber, Sanders printed up a really bad, filthy short poem that Weber wrote. Sanders’ magazine had introductions of the people inside on the back page. Weber’s intro said that he recently had an all-night sexual romp with the gazelles in Central Park Zoo. I was like, “Wow, that’s really impressive.” That was Sanders’ typical hyperbole.
PKM: What was your interaction with Tuli like? What was he like to collaborate with?
Peter Stampfel: In the Fugs, it was a collaboration. With the group. I never thought I was collaborating with Tuli or with Ed. It was doing what we could for the music.
PKM: What struck you about Tuli and his performances? What could you count on him to do?
Peter Stampfel: Sanders was the more interesting performer. Let me give you one anecdote. Sanders would rip out these little skits. In one, we’re playing a song and there’s a telephone ringing sound on stage. Sanders stops––saying he has to answer the phone––and then yells out, “Tuli, it’s a very important phone call for you.” Then to the audience, “In the meantime, while Tuli is on his phone call, the masked mystery guy is going to come up here.” And here comes Tuli, with the scruffiest blanket on the Lower East Side draped over him. You could tell by the posture that it was Tuli, even though he was completely covered with the blanket. And he had this flashlight. He’d just written a parody of “Goldfinger” called “Stinkfinger”. The only line I can remember is, “He loves only cunt; he loves cunt.” Anyway, Tuli’s singing “Stink-fin-ger, Stink-fin-ger”, and pointing his finger, flashing his light, only he doesn’t know which way he’s pointing, where the microphone is. It was a truly magical moment.
PKM: How long did you play with The Fugs?
Peter Stampfel: Eight or nine months, from the fall of ’64, until I quit playing with Weber in July of ’65 for a whole bunch of reasons. One of them was that he kept missing gigs. He’d be up on speed for five days, and crashing for two, and when he was up, he’d talk nonstop, and every sentence had nothing to do with the one before or the one after. I didn’t want to play with Weber so much that I didn’t want to play the Fugs either, which was pretty dumb.
PKM: After The Fugs, did you maintain a friendship with Tuli?
Peter Stampfel: Yes. He lived one, two, three, four blocks or so away from us. I was on his TV program a couple of times but nothing too fancy. His TV programs were the way we checked in with him in the last years. He did those all the time, like he needed to do them.
PKM: What did you like about Tuli’s work and his creativity?
Peter Stampfel: He was an especially likeable person. He was goofy. I’m a big fan of goofy. Teach Yourself Fucking. Tuli’s cartoon book. The headline is enough. A lot of his art isn’t for me and until Jeffrey got us to do Tuli songs for those post-death birthday get-togethers, I had no idea Tuli had written such a wide variety of really, really remarkable songs. I wasn’t aware he had written a number of other songs that were on the level of “Morning, Morning”. It doubled my artistic respect for him.
PKM: Two more questions about the Fugs and one about Tuli. How do you describe the era that the Fugs came to be? And how do you describe the era when they ceased to be?
Peter Stampfel: It basically appeared in 1962.
PKM: What appeared in 1962?
Peter Stampfel: Everything needed for the Fugs to come along. The background details of that year are very bizarre. For starters, that’s when Ed started Fuck You: A Magazine of the Arts. That’s also the first year people started saying, “spare change”. Public sponging. That happened. And there was this other critical mass: when 1962 started, some people I knew smoked pot and stuff, but by the time the summer was over it was universal. Absolutely everyone did. There was a marijuana drought. Suddenly, the demand outstripped supply by a factor of three, four, or five. And then, the first 12-year-old runaways hit the scene as well. That was the three parts of the new equation. Right after all that, 42nd Street sleaze hanging around the scene. The increased demand for drugs created a new, seedy corridor to the scene. What it meant in a larger sense was that the counterculture began to become more aware of itself, and it really flowered in ’63 and ’64, up until ’65 and ’66. It started to go south because the same twisted-up thing started happening again. In ’67, it was all these ex-con types, these Charles Manson types, these upscale gurus, who would go looking for a group of girls to dominate. The Fugs disbanded in ’69, right?
Tuli was quoted as saying, “Nobody who lived through the ’50s thought the ’60s could’ve existed. So there’s always hope.”
PKM: Yes, 1969, for the first time. They re-banded later. [In 1984]
Peter Stampfel: The counterculture coming into being self-aware. That’s 1962. That’s where it all starts. Everyone really felt that some amazing thing was going to happen and everything was going to change and get better, and everyone would get it, which so did not happen. In 1968, it became clear the game was probably going to be lost. The Fugs were together for that period and they quit at exactly the right time. The fact that they came back together is actually a notable point.
PKM: What does that represent to you and what does it say about Tuli?
Peter Stampfel: There’s the acknowledgement that during that weird ‘60s period, there was some really good shit going on. Tuli was quoted as saying, “Nobody who lived through the ’50s thought the ’60s could’ve existed. So there’s always hope.” That’s Tuli. One more anecdote: he spilled the speed, not once, not twice, but three times. In the early Fugs concerts there’d be a table with stuff for the show––props, set lists and water––and a book with a little pile of speed on it, for me and Weber. The first time it happened, Tuli went over an asked “What is this book?” and the speed went flying. He spilled all the speed. We told him, “Hey, watch it!” But he kept grabbing the book, curious, forgetting the speed was there. It happened three times. He was so apologetic each time, and even after we said, “That’s OK”, he kept apologizing. That was very Tuli. Ever curious.
Tuli’s Last Video-The Rubaiyat of Tuli: