A Review: Ed Sanders: An Informal History Of The Countercultures In The Lower East Side

October 31, 2013

Got His Pitchur On The Cover Of Life Magazine

Got His Pitchur On The Cover Of Life Magazine

A Review:  Ed Sanders:

An Informal History Of The Counterculture

In The Lower East Side

By

R. E. Prindle

Ed Sanders- Chief Fug

Ed Sanders- Chief Fug

Sanders, Ed:  Fug You, An Informal History Of The Peace Eye Bookstore, the Fuck You Press, The Fugs, And Counterculture In The Lower East Side, 2011, The Da Capo Press, 424 pages.

Tuli Kupferberg

Tuli Kupferberg

Ed Sanders?  How few out of a hundred have even heard of him?  Yet, Ed had an effect on the society of the Sixties not inferior to Andy Warhol.  Perhaps a few more have heard of  his recording group The Fugs.  Originally the Village Fugs, and aptly named.

While never much of a success out of the East Side Bohemia of NYC Ed nevertheless merits attention.  Ed was born in 1939 making him a graduate of the high school class of ‘57.  I was class of ‘56 making Ed one year younger than me.  But, what a difference a year makes.  Let us do a little demographic study.

The swing years between Greil Marcus’ ‘old weird America’ and the new even ‘weirder America’ were the years of 1955, 1956 and 1957 with ‘56, my year, being the transition year between old and new.  The key events of the turn was the effect of television and the destruction of network radio that resulted in teen oriented all music Top Forty radio.  The class of ‘55 was the last year of ‘old weird’ America while ‘56 was maybe 70-30 the old and new with the old part the largest.  Fifty-seven began the ‘new’ weirder America.  Thus while Ed and I are only a year apart we still come from two different social outlooks as do all who followed after.

Demographics are important.  By 1955 older teachers were fifty-five or sixty years old so they were born in say, 1890-95 to 1910.  Not quite frontier but in the transition from horse and buggy to automobiles and airplanes.  They were born into an America of the introduction of new technological wonders that actually went well beyond their imaginations.  I mean, the fantasy of men flying came true.  They saw Victoriana die and the modern world born.   I mean, they saw biplanes turn into jet planes.  They lived through two world wars witnessing the incredible changes succeeding those two wars.  They were teens  or in their twenties during the New Era of the Twenties.  They were in their thirties in the Depression and Dust Bowl of the thirties.  After enduring WWII they were hit by the Korean War and the struggles between the Communists and Honest people that ended in the defeat of their champion Joseph McCarthy.  The three years in question were lived at the beginning of the on-going Negro revolution following the Brown vs. The Board Of Education decision that led to the unimaginable fact of Army troops invading Little Rock to cancel the rights of the majority in favor of a minority.  Full lives to say the least.

Sanders, Kupferberg, Weaver- The Core Fugs

Sanders, Kupferberg, Weaver- The Core Fugs

They had some strongly held opinions about life and America they passed on to us or attempted to do so.  It was a clumsy attempt.  The chaos of the Sixties and subsequent decades stemmed from that teaching.  Most of them were rooted in pre-1920 attitudes as was to be expected.  No matter how hip we are to the NOW our outlook is always conditioned on the past, near or far.

Teddy Roosevelt’s politics seem to have been the basis of their outlook.  The twin themes of freedom and revolution were uppermost in their minds.  Freedom was always ill defined if defined at all while revolution was held up to us as the highest ideal especially the American Revolution which was sort of the apex of history although Simon Bolivar who rode throughout Spanish South America bringing revolution to every colony on his way was a very close second.  Of course the success of the countries he established failed to measure up that of the US.  The French and Bolshevic Revolutions were never mentioned and were disregarded as they didn’t fit the fantasy.  As these teachers were in place post-war through the fifties whole cadres of students were indoctrinated in this nonsense.

Basking in the fairly incredible triumph of the US in a two front war against very formidable enemies the teachers fairly glowed with the glory.  Perhaps influenced by that achievement  they made the incredible statement that each and every one of us could be whatever we wanted to be.  That idea perhaps astonished us more than any other.  It was obvious that some were smarter than others, all were of different physical stature, some had social disadvantages that meant denial by those that had them.  Some had already made decisions that closed off vast areas of achievement and there was room for only so many at the top.  Still, I suppose, that if we had the proper attitude there was a modicum of truth in the statement.  Really, if you don’t try you don’t get anywhere.  However rooted in a past now thirty or more years distant all the teachers were not dealing with current realities.  The were not living in the NOW enough as we were in the Sixties.

There was a basic insecurity with Americans,  even though we were taught to believe we were the greatest.  A silly novel by Eugene Burdick of 1958, The Ugly American, turned that idea on its head.  The idea of the novel was that in their foreign relations Americans were clumsy and inept compared to the smooth Communists of Russia, we antagonized the Third World despite sending wads of money and tons of food for free.  I do suppose it’s true that you can’t buy love and Burdick seemed to revel at the thought.

As a result of Burdick’s novel Americans high and low embraced the notion that he or she was an Ugly American thus becoming inferior in their minds to every other people of the world.  Just as the American South condemned a portion of their people to be White Trash, so Americans became the White Trash of the world.  It was something to witness.  Forty years or so on some nitwit rocker sang:  ‘I’ll be your Ugly American if you’ll be my Asian Rose.’  Is that a deal or not?  Blows your mind, doesn’t it?  Blew mine.

I’m sure that most of us in the fifties had never heard of the CIA and if we had the initials conveyed little meaning.  By the early sixties  after the incident of the Bay Of Pigs not to mention the Kennedy assassination we had all heard of it but with little comprehension.    Ed Sanders as well as the whole Left would fixate on the CIA as the epitome of evil.  Of course they were either Communists or Communist sympatizers, Ed claimed to be a socialist,  and hence were trying to divert attention away from the KGB and Communist activities.   The James Bond movies beginning to appear in 1962 were metaphors of the cold war between the ‘Free World’ and the captive nations.

With some variation of this indoctrination under his belt Ed graduated HS, spent a couple semesters at UMissouri-KC then headed East to attend NYU.  He say his intent was to become a rocket scientist but once in NYC he gravitated down to the Village which gradually enchanted him so that he abandoned solid propellants and took up ancient Greek, Latin and Egyptian because his mother told him the classical languages were the accoutrements of a gentleman.  Perhaps so but there was no danger of a Village Fug ever being mistaken for a gentleman.  Ed never was.

Once settled in the Village Ed involved himself with Village politics as he sought a place for himself under that black sun as a poet.  The late fifties and early sixties were a time of the Beatnik poet.  Coffee houses sprang up where the ‘poets’ could read to an eager audience, mostly of other would be poets.  I was in the Bay Area of San Francisco at the time and while I wouldn’t call myself an habitué of North Beach I did attend a couple readings in 1964 where Ferlinghetti and a couple others read.  Apparently it was the Coffee and Confusion Coffee House as I see from the web, but I don’t remember the name of the place.  By 1964 things were pretty commercial and, at least, in SF the house was packed with employed weekend wannabe Beats.

Ed himself writes a humorous piece about a poetry reading in his Tales Of Beatnik Glory.  While fiction the tales accurately portray the life.  I have never been a big poetry fan and my expectations were not disappointed.  Ed is an accurate barometer of his time and life on the Set.

On his quote page at the beginning of the book he quotes Maxim Gorky who said:  ‘I was typing with all my might to make myself  “a potent social force.”  That pretty much sums up Ed’s career in ‘Beatnik heaven’ on the Lower East Side.  His approach as he puts it was ‘A Total Assault On The Culture.’

Which culture isn’t exactly clear.  Ed was a Catholic boy and he acquired and exhibited all the neuroses that the Catholic confession induces especially the rebellion against sexual repression, hence he turns to the pornography peculiar to Catholics.  While there are some maybe many who were or are in full sympathy with Ed’s sexual neuroses I find them repellant while at the same time liking Ed.

Ed gives no indication that he himself indulged in licentiousness preferring the role of voyeur.  He was a heavy drinker while going on dope binges.  While sympathetic to homosexuality he says he passed on a night with his great hero Allen Ginsberg while he married young to his wife of fifty years now, Miriam.  He had a couple kids and approximated a normal sexual life.

He did become a voyeur par excellence.  In the enthusiasm of the time he became an underground film maker (read pornographer) with his hand held Bolex camera.  He took up filming at the same time as Andy Warhol.  He and Andy became acquaintances.

At the time that Andy began to create his Factory populated by an assortment of criminal amphetamine heads Ed did the same.  During the late fifties and early sixties New York City was awash in amphetamines at all levels of society.  One Dr. Max Jacobson otherwise known as Dr. Feelgood was busy administering massive doses of his amphetamine and vitamin cocktails, himself freely using it nearly on 24/7 basis.  At one point he is said to have gone sleepless for thirty straight days.

While amphetamine used on that scale is destruction Max said and people believed that the vitamins destroyed the destructive qualities of the drug.  Maybe so but within a few years there were burned out cases walking all over NYC.

Ed had his own reasons.  I make an extensive quote interspersed with commentary.  As Ed says the hips called the Village ‘the Set’ as in movie set.  As would develop during the decade the notion that one was a mere performer in your own movie became prevalent if not endemic.  Anyone’s life was a role.  One could do anything without the loss of self-respect.  The notion was that when your movie role was over you could revert to your former condition.  People went to prison without any idea they were affecting their psychology and subsequent social position.  I watched slack jawed.

In this passage Ed seems to see himself as a sociologist, pp. 54-55:

Another of my projects I called Amphetamine Head…Since 1959 I had been studying a group of artists and bohemians known around the Lower East Side as “A-heads,” amphetamine heads.

In those days people were called ‘heads’ as in he was a good head.  A-heads means full time amphetamine freaks, vitamins or no vitamins.

They shot up amphetamine and often stayed up on A for days.  Warhol said that he never slept more than two hours a day for years.  There were plentiful supplies of amphetamines, sold fairly cheaply, in powder form on the set.

Amphetamine was legal at the time.

That fall I began filming Amphetamine Head.  I decided to focus on the A-head artists, mainly painters, but there were some poets and jazz musicians as well who could be put under the banner of A.   Anyone who lived on the Lower East Side and spent much time mixing with the street culture encountered A-heads.  They roamed the streets, bistros, and pads compulsively shooting, or gobbling unearthly  amounts of amphetamine, methidrine, dysoxin, bennies, cocaine, procaine- all of this burning for the flash that would to FLASH!  It was almost neo-Platonic, as beneath the galactic FLASH! Were subsumed the dime flashes all urging toward FLASH!

Everybody from Washington Square to Tompkins Square called the street “the set”-  “I’ve been looking for you all over the set, man.  Where’s my amphetamine?”  With a generation of folks readily present who viewed their lives as taking place on a set, there was no need to hunt afar for actors and actresses.  What a cast of characters roamed the Village streets of 1963!

So there we have a set of fully blown minds.  People who were out of it, insane for all practical purposes, Ginsberg’s ‘best minds of his generation,”  running from fix to fix.  These were us who back in ‘56 were billed as the hope and future or America with a capital A- no pun intended.

I’d heard rumors about a doctor [Max Jacobson- Dr. Feelgood] giving President Kennedy shots.  Uppers.  It turned out…that the rumors had a basis in truth.  So there was plenty of gossip at the time that the President used amphetamines and that his doctors [actually only Max]  injected him every morning.  There were further speculations that the generals who met in the Pentagon war room every day planning atomic snuffs were a bit A-bombed themselves.

Possibly true.  When I was in the Navy in ‘58-’59 bennies were commonly used while the Marine Camp Pendleton was awash with everything heard and unheard of.

I was fascinated with an amph-artist named Jim Kolb…I had observed the violence of the amphetamine heads and the raw power grabs that occurred in their glassy eyed universe after a few months of sleeping just twice a week.

One can compare this to Dylan’s Desolation Row in which he portrays Dr. Filth, that is Andy Warhol, and says:

Now at midnight all the agents

And the superhuman crew

Come out and round up everyone

That knows more than they do

Then they bring them to the Factory

Where the heart attack machine

Is strapped across their shoulders…

It was true that Warhol’s A-heads who were strung out on A would emerge from the Factory at midnight and predate on the streets.  Dylan who was strung out on A himself would encounter them on the streets where there were undoubtedly stand offs between them and Dylan’s own crew.

While at the time we were attributing all kinds of fantastic interpretations to Dylan’s lyrics they can all be explained by what was going on in the Village.  As the years progressed the clubs would become more vicious and violent until the apex of club land Studio 54 opened in 1977 giving the diamond glitz to that movie set of violence.

It was also commonly accepted on the set that the Germans had invented amphetamines and that the Nazis had shot up amphetamine during campaigns in WWII inspiring tales on the Lower East Side of futuristic battles involving fierce-breathing amphetamine humanoids, babbling shrilly like rewinding tapes, in frays of total blood.

It is true that a German did first synthesize A but at the end of the nineteenth century.  A was further developed by a Japanese in 1919.  In the early thirties Dr. Feelgood, Max Jacobson a Jewish German put together amphetamine  and newly discovered vitamins to make his potent cocktail that he brought to the US in1936.  Actually all combatants  in WWII hopped up their troops on A, most notably the US and British pilots flying long bombing raids over Germany,

The heads also seemed proud that A-use destroyed brain cells.  One of the A-heads might shout, “I lose trillions of cells every day, man, grooo-vy!”

Amphetamine altered sex.  Some under A’s spell waxed unable in eros or sublimated their desire beneath a frenzy of endless conversation or art projects.  Others with strong natural urges experienced this:  that the erogenous areas became extended under A to include every inch of bodily skin.  Men could not easily come, and women loved it forever.  The image of amphetamine driven Paolos and Francescas writing for hours on a tattered mattress was humorous but true.

The Village has been described as the independent Republic of Bohemia.  Certainly within the boundaries of the Set a certain hot house atmosphere prevailed.  Ed is representative of that ethos of film makers, artists, musicians and hangers on.  Ed was quite famous on the Set developing an opinion of himself quite at variance to what his influence was off the Set.

Ed’s attitude toward the A-heads while couched in sociological terms was also somewhat sadistic and perverted.  He observed that may of the A-heads became compulsive drawers covering their apartment walls with drawings.  Combining the art with his prurient sexual needs Ed conceived the idea of buying four ounces of A for about thirty dollars, renting an apartment then allowing A-heads to shoot up freely on the condition that he be allowed to film them at lovemaking and other activities.  Through this approach at what must be considered  pornography Ed amassed a couple thousand reels.

Unfortunately they were confiscated by the authorities during a raid and never returned.  Maybe the CIA studied them in their search for a mind control drug.

Time flows along while Ed’s brain was hyper active.  The idea of being a poet was paramount at the time.  People who thought that they were poets were everywhere.  Of course, that meant denying that anyone else was a poet.  Heck I even flirted with the notion but realized that I much preferred prose.  Ed developed a fair reputation as a poet.  He can be seen reciting on videos  on the internet.  I would say he was a cut above the ordinary however I have little use for poetry.

Combining his interests in sex and poetry Ed decided to start a poetry magazine.  For whatever reason he may have had he decided to name the magazine Fuck You- A Magazine Of The Arts.  Had Ed consulted those with a little market savvy he might have reconsidered.  While Fuck You is certainly an attention getter it makes buying it without a brown paper sack or even displaying it in your home a chancy affair.  In fact, Ed gave most of them away.  A non-Bohemian could go down to Soho for a laugh.

Ed was industrious and applied  himself.  He canvassed the big NYC poetic names and compiled an impressive list of contributors beginning with the arch freak, best mind of his generation, Allen Ginsberg.  So, if you’re into poetry especially the sex obsessed Boho kind you would probably like Fuck You.  Ed should have started a second magazine titled Fuck You Two.

Rapidly moving into retail Ed found a space in the center of things and opened his Peace Eye book store modeled on City Lights in San Francisco that Ed had not yet seen.  I was familiar with City Lights and personally I wouldn’t have modeled anything on it.  I can’t believe they actually sold enough to pay the rent.  Who the hell buys poetry?

Ed aggressively promoted his sexual agenda in his Assault On the Culture drawing unwonted attention to himself from the authorities.  Time was moving along.  The hand on the dial was pointing to 1964.  That year was the year of the World’s Fair.  As should be obvious the social life on the Set had become fairly raucous and actually offensive to those not on the Set.  Mayor Wagner determined it was time to tone things down on the Set lest tourists be offended.  On the other hand maybe they would have come downtown to sample the outrageousness.

The hounds were on Ed’s trail.  He experienced some difficulty as his ‘secret location on the Lower East Side’ was raided, the authorities illegally removing Ed’s precious porn flicks and anything else suspicious looking, naturally that included everything in their eyes. No receipts, no returns.  Well! Who wouldn’t be offended?  There was little Ed could do about it except try to stay out of jail.  That became a struggle.  After harassing the bejesus out of him the authorities declined to press charges. All those dirty movies were probably prize enough.

For Ed though his Total Assault On The Culture was going swimmingly.  The  great so-called Free Speech Movement began its course in 1964 on the campus of UC Berkeley in California.  This was the  turning point of the US group of revolutions.  Trained from childhood to believe in revolution, any revolution, was good, Ed and several age cohorts enthusiastically applauded all revolution.

As part of the revolution a thing so small as a possible minute change in a detergent was described as a revolutionary new product.  The idea of revolution  as a positive thing was everywhere.  It filled people’s minds.  After the revolution, so to speak, occurring in the sixties commercial products shifted from revolutionary to ‘new and improved.’  The revolution was over; no new ones were to be entertained.  Today detergents are just detergents, no need even for anything new and improved.

Ed’s description of his own revolutionary program was ‘a total assault on the culture.’  The Negro revolution well in progress of which Ed was part was a total assault on the culture; the Jewish revolution to which Ed was sympathetic was brought into focus by the so-called Free Speech Movement of which it was the leading edge.  The sexual revolution encompassed both the Homosexual revo and women’s lib both of which fit into Ed’s total assault and he backed the Yobbo revo.

None of these revolutions could have taken place as they did without the US constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech, assembly etc..  Indeed Ed ingenuously celebrates that freedom, without which all other freedoms are meaningless, explaining that he was making unlimited use of it.

That he and the Negroes, Jews and others were able to do so was because all Americans believed in freedom of speech.  Sharing that belief was to cause me all sorts of problems.  Even though the concept was being stretched to the breaking point, that is turned against itself, the mantra at the time was ‘ I may disagree with what you say but I’ll fight to the death for your right to say it!  You don’t hear that mantra anymore; now you hear ‘Words can kill’ or hurtful things should be censored as they are so offensive.   We are post-revolutions.

Ed himself began to become bitter when it slowly dawned on the government that indeed a violent assault on the government was taking place.  At that point security agencies such as the FBI and CIA began serious surveillance.  After all  at the same time all these revolutions were  taking place domestically we were becoming totally committed to the war against Communist Viet Nam.  Ed claims to have been a socialist so that the backed that subversion too.

Since he vocally proclaimed his position in Fuck You Magazine, the name itself was intended to enrage, it can easily be understood why the authorities placed him on their list of desperadoes.  It just seemed like fun at the time but it was more serious than we thought.

Obviously freedom of speech was no more threatened in 1964 than it ever had been, perhaps less.  The lines between the various thems and us had just been drawn.  The revolutionaries meant to deny freedom speech to the other, or bury it, as in these latter days has been nearly done.

Indeed in 1960 when I was attending Oakland (Calif.) City College anti-free speech limitations were in use by Liberals.  We were forbidden to even mention let alone discuss what have become ‘protected’ minorities today.  Crimes were committed in the name of what is now called diversity.  In one class I had the misfortune to be sitting next to a Negro.  A test paper came back on which I got a C while I noticed the Negro got a B.  Then I noticed my score was a 78 while the Negroe’s was a 64.  I objected saying I didn’t care if he got a B or not no matter what his score but since I had a higher score I should have an A or at the very least a B.

In full arrogance the teacher said he had only so many Bs to give out and since I had been the recipient of White Skin Privilege it was the Negroes turn and I would have to pay the debt.  So obviously the revolution was prepared to lie, cheat and steal to succeed no matter who or how many get hurt.

Ed may have bought into that revolution and freedom crap as taught in schools but I obviously would have to be a counterrevolutionary.

So while Ed, absent from the scene, applauded the Berkeley Free Speech Movement I was on the spot viewing things somewhat differently.  As I said the Free Speech Movement was part of the Jewish Revolution.  There was no denial of free speech at UC before 1964 but by 1966 when the dust had settled the Jews were in control of the university and free speech was definitely curtailed.

As I entered the campus at Sather Gate in the summer of ‘66 a Jewish commissar sat at a table just inside the gate where we were to be vetted as to our politics which meant were we philo-semitic or not.  Obviously one was not welcome if it was determined that one was ‘reactionary.’

Whatever Ed believed he was doing it was neither revolutionary in a positive sense nor was it furthering freedom of speech.

Into The Music

An Early Incarnation

An Early Incarnation

Busying himself with his poetry, at which he was very successful as poetry goes, and running his Peace Eye bookstore, Ed conceived the idea of forming a musical group and why not?  Musical groups were the generation’s mode of expression.  This one he would give the most offensive name he could think of, The Fugs.  The Fugs!  Everyone in the world knew that fug was  a euphemism for fuck.  The ’comedian’ Redd Foxx had a punch line that went ’if you can’t fugg your can sugg it.’  So Ed calls his group the Village Fucks.  Alright.  So we know where that’s at.  Nevertheless this low level pornography would get him national exposure.  It even got his picture on the cover of Life Magazine in 1967 as part of the world wide cultural revolution.  The Total Assault was working.  He came to my attention out on the West Coast.

Ed thought of forming the Fugs interestingly enough at the same time that Andy Warhol had the idea and adopted the Velvet Underground as his house band.  Both were influenced by Albert Grossman’s success in promoting Peter Paul And Mary and Bob Dylan.  PP&M were already a big success in 1964 making barrels of money so why not go for the golden ring?

From 1964 to ’67 Ed and his Fugs scored a major success within the Set.  After a fashion the Fugs became a sort of cabaret or burlesque act somewhat after the fashion of the theatre in the French movie The Children of Paradise.  That movie served as the East Village model.  The Great Boogie Woogie Dylan himself would imitate it in his film ’Masked And Anonymous’.  A slight redundancy as to be masked is to make oneself anonymous.  Bob was a poet.

As a sort of off Broadway act at the Players Theatre on the heart of Bleecker Street the Fugs may have appeared to be giving Dylan and the whole folk scene a run for their money.  Café Society that was finding its way to Warhol’s Factory midtown also called on the Fugs at their theatre dropping back stage to pay their regards.  Heady stuff, and I’m not being sarcastic.

At the same time Ed was negotiating with major labels Atlantic and Reprise.  He was already on the local label ESP but that was run by a less than astute businessman.  Terrific catalog of records though, perhaps the most interesting label in existence on many levels.  The two major labels were soon to be subsumed under the Warner Bros umbrella.  Atlantic fearing that Ed’s content might block its chance to be acquired by Warner’s dropped the group but they were picked up by Reprise.  Reprise was owned by Frank Sinatra.  When label Pres. Mo Ostin presented the deal for Sinatra’s approval Frank remarked sarcastically “I guess you know what you’re doing.”  Frank hopped on the wave of the future as he rode the rock surf board into shore.  Mo didn’t know that much as the Fugs were much less than a stellar act for them.

As 1967 ended then Ed and his band seemed poised for the major break through.  However the year 1967 was unfortunate in being followed by the year 1968; the year of the Big Change.  Ed’s total assault on the culture would be a success but he would be left behind.

It was a long way from 1960 when the decade began to 1968 just a year before the whole decade crashed at Altamont.  The Snark the 60s pursued was a boojum you see.

Nineteen sixty eight was the year China stepped center stage with its and the world’s Cultural Revolution.  Didn’t seem terrifying on this side of the Pacific but it sure was in retrospect.  Ed might have thought that his Total Assault On The Culture was a success but he seems to have missed the year’s impact.  The ethos that had carried he and his Fugs from ’62 to ’68 was exhausted.  The year would see the shootings of Andy Warhol, M.L. King and Bobby Kennedy.  Only Warhol would survive and that only through the miracle of modern medicine.  Andy was actually brought back from the dead living on borrowed time for another twenty years.

The death of Bobby Kennedy killed Ed’s spirit while the course of events had grown far beyond his ability to deal with.

The Fugs had done well in the hothouse atmosphere of the Lower East Side but Ed was to find that that success couldn’t be exported from Bohemia.  Even if the group succeeded in playing a venue they were frequently advised that it would be dangerous for them to try again.

Perhaps this was nowhere more obvious than when the Fugs were booked into the college town of Eugene, Oregon on May 4th of 1968.  That was the day the revos went over the top in Paris.  Nineteen sixty-eight was the year Mao kicked off the worldwide Cultural Revolution.  The Chinese even financed the revolution in the small college town of Eugene, the home of the UofO.  The Hippie invasion that Ed also represented had erupted, in the Eugenians’ eyes leaving then on a sharp knife edge of anxiety when the Maoists arrived.  Wait, we’re not finished yet.  In addition to those irritants there was the invasion of the SDSers, Students For A Democratic Society led by New York City Jews in denims who hit town like a small tsunami adding to the disruption.

As if the phony Free Speech Movement hadn’t been enough, the arrival of the phony Students for a Democratic Society added insult to injury.  We all, at least myself, believed we had freedom of speech in a democratic society but then along came these freaks redefining terms.  Got away with it too.

Eugene’s home grown hippie ’cancer’ that wouldn’t go away was a record store by the name of Chrystalship.  You are free to guess who owned it.  That’s right, me.  I am not now ever was a revolutionary or even a Liberal, discontented but no revo, card holding or not.  I just wanted to get to Paris in some style.  As it was the town fathers determined that I was behind everything.  I almost had my own personal FBI agent.  I was followed, my mail was opened, phone tapped and had my shipments illegally searched with no attempt to conceal what they were doing and no recourse.  Some democracy.

Even they couldn’t stop the Cultural Revolution or keep the SDSers out of town but they sure as hell weren’t going to let some pornographic group with the name of Fugs, short for Fucks, play in town.  Mao was one thing, Ed Sanders was another.

On May 2nd the door was slammed shut in Eugene, the venue denied.  Acting quickly the promoters found a spot twenty miles out of town in the still smaller village of Creswell.  A phone call scuttled that plan.  At that we ticket holders thought the jig was up but, not so.  A secret location on the east side of town was found that was so secret I’m sure that half the ticket holders couldn’t find it and gave up.

Ed’s memory is fairly clear on this. I’m comparing his notes with mine to reconstruct the scene as accurately as possible.  About ten miles to the South of Eugene, maybe a few miles further, was a new motel, fairly glitzy for Eugene, maybe built by drug money, named The Lemon Tree.  Obviously the owners were Peter Paul and Mary fans because there were no lemon trees in Oregon.  Ed remembers playing at the motel but I respectfully disagree with him.  He stayed there but he didn’t play there.

I honestly can’t say where the place he played was except that it was out in the country turn right here turn left there and when you got there you couldn’t be sure that was it plus there was only a fifty-fifty chance you could find your way back to the highway in the dark.  Once arrived you drove over a cow pasture out to this largish barn and parked in the high grass.

There were no lights in the barn except for a couple spots jury rigged over the stage, if there was a stage, hard to see in the dark.  For some reason there were actual bleachers three or four tiers high arranged against the back wall.  All fifteen attendees strung out on the benches in the dark.  We could barely see each other. I held on tight to my wife so that we didn’t separated and have to stumble around trying to find each other.  ’Hello, over there, over here.’

Way across the barn on the opposite wall was this stage faintly illuminated on which the band would and did stand.  Thus, unless we made some noise the Fugs had no way of knowing that they were not playing to an empty barn.  We were forbidden to get any closer, nor did we know whose hands we were in.  Could have been plain clothes cops for all we knew.

So, away over there the Fugs stepped up to the microphone.  They were a mangy looking group, voluntary poverty was in evidence.  As a child were asked to pray for the poor heathen Chinese before dinner but we should have been praying for our poor heathen selves.  The Chinese are doing OK.  But Ed and the boys could sing joyfully in their rags.  At the time we thought they were trying to be as far out as possible.  They weren’t doing a bad job.  Tuli Kupferberg, the absolute weirdest of the lot, Tuli had mastered weird, and remember we in the audience had nothing to brag about, was playing an eight foot long staff. It had six or seven clatter devices on it so he could keep a semblance of a beat. He lifted it up and slammed it into the ground to some effect.  Beyond that I can’t even remember if they played Ah, Sunflower Weary Of Time or Boobs A Lot, Slum Goddess Of The Lower East Side which is what I came for.  I may have been the only one  of the Eugene Fifteen who had ever heard the Fugs on record.  I sure as hell hadn’t been able to sell any.

When the concert ended we tripped and stumbled out of the barn, hopped in our cars and hoped the hell we could find our way back to I5.  The concert was the high point of my concert going career.  It was what one calls an adventure.  I have relived it over in my imagination many times over the years.  An evergreen if there ever was one.  Ed recalled it in his pages with good reason.  It was a turning point in his career.

Ed tells it this way, page 312:

We flew up to Portland, Oregon, May 3 after our fun in LA for a gig there and the next day drove to Eugene, the very day protesting students were occupying the streets of Paris.  We played a club called the Lemon Tree next to a beaver pond.  Before the performance I walked out to the water’s edge, where I experienced a great transmission of peace.  I had to go back in my mind to the lakes of my Missouri  youth or  Elvis Presley’s rendition of “Peace In The Valley”, which helped me through the grief from my mother’s death in ‘57, to find much consolation as I had during those moments.  The beaver pond by the Lemon Tree was the best time for me in ‘68.

That wasn’t a beaver pond Ed.  That was an artificial pond the owners dug to glitz up their motel.  It was situated between the motel and I5.  There hadn’t been a beaver in those parts since John Jacob Astor founded Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia.  If there had been it would have been killed as a nuisance.  Beaver’s chew down saplings  Of course saplings spring up all by themselves by the millions but we don’t want no beaver felling even one.

My memory could be wavering but I think that on the way out from the barn I saw Ed after the concert squatting beside the pond.  I’m sure he must have been crushed by that bizarre performance  to a seemingly empty barn.  It had to have been hard after four years of very hard work.  It appears that he did have an epiphany of some kind.  If he had known he was going to be playing to fifteen people he couldn’t see in a dilapidated barn I’m sure he would have thought of retiring and he did then.  As his mind was made up to end the Fugs at the beginning of ‘69 I suspect that that dismal concert set his mind on the track.

Well, Ed, I really enjoyed the show.

It Is Impossible To See Where You Are

When You’re There

While Ed was living his life time was passing and circumstances were changing.  When Ed began the Fugs in 1964 what he was doing was fitted to the time and was possible.  By the end of 1968 when he determined to end the group he was still acting on his 1964 impulse while by 1969 he would have had to adjust to new conditions.  Led Zeppelin, the Moody Blues and a host of other bands were more contemporary than the Fugs.  The Fugs were old hat.

Even Ed’s solo album, Sander’s Truck Stop, of ‘69 was a stale joke.  I thought it was OK myself and I liked his second effort Beer Cans On The Moon but they also were out of time.  Ed and his Fugs were part and parcel of the Sixties.  A very few if any of the Sixties groups made it into the seventies and those that did reinvented themselves.  The Jefferson Airplane became the Starship.  Other split off and went solo.  Donovan just evaporated although he was as talented in the seventies as before.

The Rolling Stones adapted despite themselves.  When their manager, Andrew Loog Oldham sold them out to Allen Klein it may have been their saving.  With Klein in control of their outdated sixties output the Stones were forced to change.  Jagger found a financial manager in Rupert Loewenstein who turned them into a prosperous stage act, sort of performance art, cabaret or burlesque, along the lines of Yoko On or Andy Warhol or even the Fugs.  Jagger certainly saw the Fugs on Bleecker and may have picked up an idea or two. They were able to successfully adapt their musical style to the seventies.

As a Sixties group Ed and the Fugs were finished.  You can never go home again; when they left the East Side to assault the culture of the entire United States their East Side base was destroyed.

Out in the real world what were record stores supposed to do with a band called the Fugs and a record titled It Crawled Into My Hand Honest?  Ed was a vaudeville act, soft porn, how could a store recommend stuff like that to the underage person who formed a large part of the business?  Who wanted to bring the law down on themselves.  Couldn’t be done.  Hell, The Rolling Stones nearly got me clubbed down with their sado-masochistic cover for their record Black And Blue, as in welts and bruises.  It got ugly in the seventies, post Stonewall.

Ed closed up shop and returned to civilian life.  Civilian life had changed a great deal too.  A lot social errors were accruing.  The generation hadn’t done such a great job.  The influx of Puerto Ricans and Negroes into the Bronx combined with the efflorescence of hard drugs, heroin, was turning the Bronx into a hell hole or worse; even an abandoned hell hole as the turmoil drove peaceable citizens out.  And then they burned it down.  Ed even left to move to the Lower East Side.  Even there things were turning violent.  The streets were no longer safe.  Near Ed’s apartment a well known Hippie couple around the Set were murdered in a basement, the girl after being raped repeatedly.  The perp was a Negro living upstairs from them.  He felt obligated to commit the crime because of his religion which was described as the Yoruba religion.

Probably not one in a thousand knew who the Yorubas were and that they migrated from Nigeria in Africa and that their so-called Yoruba religion was actually a form of Voodoo called Santeria.  Santeria was popular with Negroes and some Whites along the entire Eastern Seaboard yet few knew of it then and few do today.

Ed had moved from the Bronx to the Lower East Side and from there to the West Village where he was greeted with another double murder outside his front door.  Where next?  Where any reasonable person would go.  Ed moved to the country and painted his mailbox blue, up in Woodstock, the feudal estate of Bob Dylan’s manager Albert Grossman.  And then the Tate-La Bianca murders occurred out West in LA.  Ed decided to investigate Charlie Manson and his Family.  Write a book.

Actually the murder of the Hippie couple by the Voodoo killer on Ed’s former block was as horrific as the Tate-La Bianca killings but no one had ever heard of the dead Hippies on the Set and if they had they wouldn’t have cared.

So Ed went West where he stayed a couple years pretty thoroughly investigating  Charlie’s shenanigans.  He did a good job of it too.  Of course he had to pull his punches somewhat to avoid lawsuits but he apparently lowered his guard at the wrong time.  Some Satanist group called the Process Church Of The Final Judgment, these were apocalyptic times, not wishing the truth of their organization to surface threatened legal action on the publisher.  They gutted Ed’s book.  It was probably a publicity stunt as the Process made no objection to the English edition.

At this point in Ed’s memoir he folded his tent and quietly slipped away remarking only that all his Fugs tapes and artefacts lay neglected in boxes for the next fifteen years until the Hippie romantic revival began.

Ed had created a legacy of sorts, intellectual properties, that he could exploit after 1985.  So he was restored to some significance in the aftermath.

Ed does not let grass grow under his feet however.  When he wearied of running a rock group he returned to his scholarly roots as so many of us did when the Sixties vanished into thin air.  He did have a solid education in the Classics.  Since then he has written extensively although with the same level of popularity as the Fugs.

However no matter how audacious a nine volume history of the United States in verse- in verse!- may be, epic poetry of that kind has a very low threshhold of sales.  I’m sorry Ed, I’d like to but I’m just not going to do it, I’m not going to read American history in verse, especially not a socialist interpretation.

Social Redemption And The Fugs

So forty years on Ed tells all.  I’ve read the book twice now while I’ll read it at least a third time.  Many of the nuances pass over one’s head the first and even the second time.  Ed has a direct style as though one on one and as an document explaining a part of the Sixties the book is essential.  Presented in a chronological form probably patterned after Andy Warhol’s Popism: The Warhol Sixties Ed avoids any intellectual pretensions laying things out as they were street level.  Deceptively simple as they say.  Well worth picking up if you have a love affair with the Sixties going, or are a student of the times.  An essential document as I said.

But what were the results of Ed’s ‘total assault on the culture?’  Of course Ed was only part of the assault which was endemic to the time.  Everyone had been reared on the notion of romanticized revolution and unrestricted freedom.  Warhol was a key figure on the Lower East Side, although midtown and uptown himself, as was Jonas Mekas of the underground cinematheque.  The filmmakers impact would have been nil without Mekas.  I can only tolerate underground stuff because I’m a dedicated scholar.  Kenneth Anger may have been the best of the lot and that is not saying much.  Still, there are believers and so much of the corpus is stored at MOMA.

Drugs have turned into a way of life a la Brave New World although others than Ed were responsible for that.  Today it’s not do you use drugs but which drugs do you use.  Ed’s fixation on sex has developed as he would have liked.  There are few mainstream Hollywood films produced today without an obligatory fuck scene within the first ten minutes, full frontal nudity female and male with fellatio and cunnilingus scattered here and there.  Homosexual and Lesbian movies are readily available for the interested and show on TV.  On that level Ed’s assault was a total success.

Plus there are forty or fifty thousand reported female rapes a year.  Gangs of youths roam the streets practicing their game of knockout king; that is sucker punching pedestrians seriously injuring many and killing not a few. Huge riots take place at fair grounds where wild youths exercise their freedom by assaulting fair goers.  The police make little effort to curtail their activities. So some people are exercising their total freedom at the cost of others.

We have a socialist redistributor  of wealth, also a Negro, as our president so all that marching down South Ed participated in paid off handsomely.

In addition his oppressed Negroes are now in control of some pretty impressive real estate where they are so oppressive that White people run screaming for the suburbs  Detroit, Chicago, Memphis, Montgomery, Atlanta, Philly, half of New Jersey and beginning November 5, 2013 New York City are Negro towns as well as many many more not to exclude the capitol of the Confederacy itself, Richmond, Virginia.  So, Ed gets an A+ for his efforts there.

And of course homosexuality is a ‘protected’ activity in which they have obtained the right to teach pederasty to kindergartners in public schools.  Also any girl a virgin past fourteen or sixteen at the latest is considered a freak who had better get promiscuous or else.

Over all, I would say Ed’s total assault on the culture has been a roaring success.  There are some though, myself included, who consider Ed’s success a crime against humanity.  Illiteracy is on the rise, diseases once though eradicated are returning with a vengeance.  Bedbugs, once thought eradicated have returned with a thump infesting half the country with solid prospects of infesting the rest.

Well, nobody’s perfect.  I’m sure Ed sits back, Guiness in hand, smiling to himself and thinking job well done.  Well, handsome is as handsome does as my old high school teacher used to say.

And then that other guy said:  If you can’t fugg it, sugg it.

One Response to “A Review: Ed Sanders: An Informal History Of The Countercultures In The Lower East Side”


  1. Appreciating the persistence you put into your site and in depth information you provide.
    It’s nice to come across a blog every once in a whiile that isn’t the same unwanted rehashed material.

    Wonderful read! I’ve saved your site and I’m addding your RSS feeds to my Google account.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s