I was recently contemplating an obscure but infamous band, The Motor Morons, inspired by rock ‘n’ roll, broken-down cars, big girls, big trucks with a lot of gas, and a lot of beers. Playing songs on a one-string bass, a metal grinder, a weed whacker, tow chains, tire rims, and other electronic and percussive noise barrage, backed by a driving drumbeat. Strange stuff, plus other weird and wonderful thoughts, including the seminal revolutionary art band, the Fugs. The Motor Morons covered The Fugs classic tune “I Couldn't Get High.” On the surface, seemingly unrelated connections in the traditional acts of dissident poetic threads and discombobulated ideas relating to provocative actions and radical alternatives of civil disobedience that reject mainstream rock trappings.
I had esoteric ponderings, fragmented images materialized, like Tuli Kupferberg's proclamation, “Kill For Peace,” and the Yeah, Yeah, Yeah chapbooks, volumes of surreal art, poetry, collages and stories. I discovered an online link announcing the new documentary film about the underground's premiere, raconteur/poet/artist/radical/ musician/anarchist, and joyful counterculture icon Kupferberg. The outline and objective of this doc/film and the accompanying contributions link is listed here.
It’s a loving tribute spearheaded by Tuli's daughter Samara Kupferberg, collaborating with directors and filmmakers David Liver and Thomas Burstyn. The film might verge on an inspired mockumentary. Currently, the production is digitizing thousands of Tuli's archives housed at the Fales NYU library. The ephemera of his life includes hundreds of hours of recordings, along with a mountain of documents, art, cartoons, photos, journals, poetry, and music.
There were vintage visionary groups like MC5, Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention, and The Fugs, America's incendiary rebels of revolution, the answer to all things alternative. Think everything opposite of the Beatles, Stones, and sappy top 40 hits turned upside down and inside out of the TV eye of marketing pop culture's packaged scene. Hang loose, get tight, turn on, tuned-in groovy dropouts against the grain of the wooden great society's silent majority. You were flipping the bird to academics and polite literary etiquette at Ivy League institutions, art galleries, and coffeehouse poetry readings. It was pure freedom and still is.
Add on a top-notch A-list colorful cast of characters, rebels, and misfits. Beginning with the Beat Generations mystique and penultimate rebuke of straight-laced ultra-conservative squares. Morphed into the psyched-out, crazy Daddy-O, flip your lid, supreme dream machine in blue jeans, beads, bangles, bare feet or sandals, finger-snapping, swinging bongo beats, and all that crazy jazz.
The uptight 1950s gave rise to a radical movement born from the bohemian culture found in places like NYC and spread like wildfire throughout counterculture enclaves across the land. Yet art colonies, alternative culture, and unconventional lifestyle communes date back to the 1040s and 50s in upstate New York and other locales. It was the right place for the right time. All of this led to Kupferberg, Ed Sanders, and the rest of their ragtag anti-establishment proto-punk gang.
Kupferberg is folk legend in the annals of American counterculture. Tuli, the jester, the anti-hero, is steeped in a poetic life of wild and free, playful, fun, with a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor to boot. Maybe Tuli didn't have a straight bone in his serious body, but he was a genuine artifact. Beyond the end of the hip, yippie, merry prankster freeform styles of cultural commandos hit and run tactic. The poet Sparrow X Carter offers testament to Kupferberg's power and command of language and art. Sparrow X shared some anecdotes with me about Tuli.
"Was Tuli the first person to sing with a Brooklyn accent on a record? It's possible. Remember, The Fugs are exceptionally early in the history of rock music. While they’re recording their first album, The Beatles are singing "I Feel Fine.” Tuli understood the spiritual uses of sadness. "Morning, Morning" and "Nothing" are both sad songs. Even "Kill for Peace" is somewhat tragic. The inflection that Tuli gives sadness, humor, and grizzled compassion: is his Inner Teaching. Interesting that I picture Tuli often wearing shorts; was that a message of some kind? It did make him look slightly like a 73-year-old Boy Scout. Did this anti-fashion statement arise from a desire to humiliate himself, a love of comfort, exhibitionism, or all three? Also, I picture him in sandals. Tuli effortlessly made the transition from beatnik to hippie without discomfort. But was he really a hippie? Somehow that seems like the wrong word for him.”
The photo of Tuli and Sparrow above was taken by Thelma Blitz, a partner, collaborator, and confidante of Tuli. She knew him as well as anyone. I requested a few thoughts from Thelma about Tuli: "Tuli was humorous, entertaining, and educational. He was an endless stream of jokes, stories, and improvised songs peppered with fiery political rants. He had a vast knowledge of history and politics. He was a great lover. He said, ‘I must have fucked 100 women and loved every one of them. I was lucky to have his love. When he died, someone wrote me, ‘At last you emerge from the shadow of the great man.’ I wrote back, ‘I always felt like I was in the sunshine.’"
I never met Tuli, but I feel like I’ve known him all my life. This "mayor" of the Lower East Side. There’s a private side to every public persona. Tuli's daughter, Samara, knows that aspect of a father's love. When she’d visit him, he’d offer a cup of tea, a mint Milano cookie, and kindness. Samara: "I feel incredibly blessed to have had Tuli as a father. He was loving, devoted, and sweet, though a harsh critic of trends and teenage fancies. I've come to realize recently that his heart was so full of love and so open. He could be a father to his two sons and me while also being a surrogate parent to so many others who had an aching absence, having been rejected by their families for daring to think and act outside mainstream constraints. He had a brilliant mind and was so generous with his knowledge and wisdom, always there to lift you up, shine a bit of light and offer a shift in perspective. A rare and ingenious soul."