A priceless hoard of previously unheard material joins the New York street poets’ first two epoch-making albums.
The Fugs have been credited with starting everything from underground counter-culture to punk rock. ‘[The Fugs] invented the Underground’, wrote Miles in a 1968 International Times while Lester Bangs called them, ‘the first truly underground band in America’. They predated DIY proto-punks like the Stooges, lyrical taboo-stompers the Velvets, the MC5’s ‘fucking in the streets’ manifesto and out-freaked the Mothers Of Invention. Ten years before CBGBs the Fugs pioneered punk-style disruption. Unable to play instruments, swearing profusely while being thrown off record labels and banned from venues, the group caused deeper-rooted moral panic than the Sex Pistols ever would. Plus ‘Street Punk’ was the first song title to include the P-word.
The Fugs formed in Ed Sanders’ East Village bookshop in late 1964 after the activist writer joined forces with downtown beat poet Tuli Kupferberg to form a group to set their words over primitive beat music. Kupferberg named them after a fornicatory euphemism in Norman Mailer’s The Naked And The Dead. Joined by musicians including drummer-lyricist Ken Weaver and Holy Modal Rounders Peter Stampfel and Steve Weber, they whipped up a howlingly-anarchic racket which pushed the boundaries of politics, sex and drugs with irreverent humour, barbed comment and stoned abandon. Warhol and Hendrix were friends while Dylan and McCartney were fans.
Pioneering archivist Harry Smith, who compiled the seminal Anthology Of American Folk Music, arranged to record the Fugs for Folkways, producing the joyful riot of their first album, The Village Fugs: Ballads and Songs of Contemporary Protest, Points of View and General Dissatisfaction in two afternoon sessions at Cue Recording Studios on 46th Street during April and June 1965. Smith used the field recording technique of, ‘just face the microphones and sing’ while keeping the tape rolling. The album slaps down the Fugs’ manifesto over basic percussive backings laced with primitive Lower East Side folk-psych. Tracks like ‘Slum Goddess’, ‘Supergirl’ and the bawdy locker-room jollity of ‘Boobs A Lot’ were more crudely profane than any group at that time while Kupferberg’s ‘Nothing’ is the ultimate nihilists’ anthem. Weaver’s ‘I Couldn’t Get High’ contains the first lyrical mention of LSD.
In 1966 the Fugs signed to ESP-Disk, introduced to producer-engineer Richard Alderson, who co-owned RLA studios on 65st Street with singer Harry Belafonte. They expanded their sound using the state-of-the-art four-track studio through January-February 1966. The Fugs Second Album showed a progression riding reverbed garage-psych on tracks like ‘Group Grope’ [sounding like the Velvets playing at an orgy], self-explanatory ‘Coming Down’ and rollicking ‘Dirty Old Man’. The strong anti-war statement of Tuli’s soldiers’ singalong ‘Kill For Peace’ still sounds relevant now.
The expanded versions of these two albums provide the first two discs in this fabulous boxed set, which comes with memorabilia-stacked booklet. Two further CDs – Rapture Of The Deep and The Wonderful Torrent - have been compiled from Sanders’ huge archive, including live recordings, demos and curios like Allen Ginsberg throwdowns, ‘Carpe Diem’ performed at Lenny Bruce’s funeral, 1967’s attempt to exorcise the Pentagon and Sanders’ brutally-moving ‘Elegy to Bobby Kennedy’, along with a 13-minute collage of musings from Tuli plus his ‘The Beauty Of Nada – A Suite of Five Nothings from The 60s’. These recordings are now as historically important as Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music or Alan Lomax’s field recordings in capturing a seismic era and a now-vanished substrata of New York. They’re also rollickingly good fun.
By Kris Needs