Monday, July 19, 2010

Tuli Kupferberg - An Oddball Fugger Tuli End

Naftali Kupferberg (September 28, 1923 – July 12, 2010) was a bridge from the beatniks to the hippies. That he jumped off the bridge, only shows what kind of a loon he was. Beat poet Allen Ginsberg (who was published in Tuli's early and unsuccessful 1958 magazine "Birth") mentioned him, but not by name, in his greatest poem, "Howl." Ginsberg wrote about the guy "who jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge…and walked away unknown and forgotten into the ghostly daze of Chinatown."

Poetic, and basically true. Kupferberg actually jumped off the Manhattan Bridge: "I thought that I had lost the ability to love. So, I figured I might as well be dead….but nothing happened. I landed in the water, and I wasn't dead. So I swam ashore, and went home and took a bath and went to bed."

By the time the hippies came along, Tuli was, like Ginsberg, a legendary character. Tuli wrote "1001 Ways to Beat the Draft" and formed The Fugs (based on Norman Mailer's fuggin' curse word in "The Naked and the Dead.") The Fugs were very much an underground group, with two obscure releases on an indie label. Co-Fug founder Ed Sanders (on the left in the photo, Tuli in the middle) admitted, "we just did this for a joke…we were poets, and we certainly knew how to write words, but none of us went to Juilliard, and when we made the first record, we didn't even know how to face the microphones." For those that bothered to listen, The Fugs became part of that special anarchistic, grinning, goofing, deadly serious and harshly hilarious alternate universe that was also peopled by Shel Silverstein, R. Crumb, Frank Zappa and Abbie Hoffman…and others just to the right or left of Dylan or Ochs.

The Fugs first album included your sample of Tuli, "Defeated," which has a few neurotic mommy-lines that would not have been out of place in a Ginsberg poem: "She wouldn't let me play with my cock/ Or suck on her soft tittie…" (Here, this is followed by the chant "No Deposit No Return," from one of Tuli's later bizarre solo projects…a mind-boggled look at how commercials and ads invade our brains and can almost be considered art). The Fugs managed to sign a major label deal for their third album, "It Crawled Into My Hand, Honest," which contains their most vividly brilliant song "Wide Wide River (River of Shit") as well as one of Tuli's mystic poems: "Do not tell me. I am source of your knock-up. The mud elephant wading through the sea leaves no tracks…"

As you'd expect, Tuli's world of sex, drugs, goofs, non-conformist thinking and hippie sensibilities and nonsense, meant that he wasn't the world's greatest businessman. Not many artists are. Which is why they often end up working very hard to avoid reality…creating even loonier worlds for themselves. Some, such as Shel Silverstein, earned enough royalties to do very well. Some, including Allen Ginsberg and Philip Roth, looked toward Academia and teaching in order to make sure of a weekly paycheck. Others just tried to get by, even if it meant hauling a table out onto the sidewalk and selling cartoons and shit. Unfortunately for Tuli, he lived long enough to reach the age of entitlement and Internet downloads, and the extinction of the royaty check. Which is why last year there had to be a benefit to raise some money for him so he could pay his medical bills. But hell, it happened to Dave Van Ronk, too. And it happened to others, who shall remain nameless…and who didn't raise enough money for more than the bullet it took to take 'em out of a world where reality could no longer be fantasized away. In other words, they couldn't just giggle and quote Tuli: "Life's so funny, I could cry, life's so funny, I could die," and stay alive.

Tuli fought the good fight, refused to grow up, and kept on being weird. Ever non-commercial, he took his creativity to the non-paying world of Public Access television and, yes, YouTube. It's certainly nice that these days anybody can get their work out there…but if you notice the download numbers on Tuli's "tulifuli" YouTube posts, they show that there's so many people fucking around, it's interfering with the fuckers who really know how to fuck around. In other words, they're being swamped by that great river of shit known as "Free on the Internet." We won't see the likes of a Tuli Kupferberg again, because today everyone's an anarchist, a musician, a poet, an author and a nonconformist only not very good at it. Not so that somebody else would pay for a book or pamphlet to be printed, or an album to be released, which is what made Tuli stand out and keep going. The good news is that if you do want to march to a different drum, not let a lack of talent prevent you from drawing cartoons, and want to flash a camcorder on yourself as you read wacko observations or ad-lib goofiness, you can. The bad news? It don't pay the bills.

Trying to actually make a living from being a cult figure, oddball, anarchist or comic and cosmic joker? These days...Fuggetaboutit.

Defeated, No Deposit No Return (such is death, huh!) by The FUGS and TULI KUPFERBERG Instant download or listen on line. No 60-second wait-time from weasels who want money from you for giving you somebody else's property, no pop-ups or porn time.

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