In 1962, a young poet named Ed Sanders set up a literary journal with the unprintable title F--- You: A Magazine of the Arts on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The magazine started Sanders’ wild ride as an underground filmmaker, counterculture bookshop owner and leader of the seminal 1960s antiwar rock band The Fugs.
In his rollicking memoir “Fug You: An Informal History of the Peace Eye Bookshop, the F--- You Press, The Fugs and the Counterculture of the Lower East Side”(Da Capo, $26.99, 448pp.) Sander covers the improvisational days where he joined the mimeograph revolution and started an underground magazine, then fronted The Fugs with their hits “Kill for Peace” and “CIA Man,” mocking Lyndon Johnson’s escalating war in Vietnam. Sanders catalogs both the witty and the horrifying during the tumultuous decade of protest, where the Lower East Side moved from the Summer of Love to murder, heroin and rage. Eventually, Sanders and his family had to escape the neighborhood.
Sanders, 72, spoke with freelance writer Dylan Foley by telephone from his home in Woodstock, N.Y.
Q. Why does your memoir go from the early 1960s to 1970?
A. It was a good unit. I began my magazine in 1962. My first book, “Poem From Jail,” came out from City Lights in 1963. That year, my hero Allen Ginsberg sent me a copy of his poem “The Change.” It seemed like a pretty good place to start.
Q. Why did you give your magazine the unprintable name of F--- You: A Magazine of the Arts?
A. I don’t know. It seemed like a grabby title. It combined forward thrusting acts with my regular philosophy of nonviolence, direct action and peace. When I came to New York in 1958, that was my period of training as a poet. I’d see Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Gregory Corso at poetry readings, but I never thought I’d know them. When I started the magazine, I began mailing it to my heroes—Beckett, Sartre, Picasso, Khruschev and Castro. I gave it away for free, sending it to poets like Charles Olsen, Frank O’Hara and Diane di Prima. Olsen sent me poems. The magazine attracted a readership.
(The Fugs in the 1960s)
Q. Why did you decide to start The Fugs with Beat poet Tuli Kupferberg?
A. I graduated from NYU in the spring of ’64 with a degree in Greek and Latin. I applied to graduate school too late, so I had to wait a semester. I needed something to do, so I opened the Peace Eye Bookstore, which was next to Tuli in the East Village. I told Tuli we should form a band of poets and write songs. It was the era of “happenings” (performance art), where you didn’t have to have that tight an act. Tuli agreed. I wanted to call the band The Freaks or the Yodeling Socialists. Tuli picked The Fugs, which was Mailer’s euphemism in “The Naked and the Dead.”
The Vietnam War had really just begun by ’65. The Fugs were staunchly against the war. The band was partially to have fun and to promote a kind of revolution. None of us were trained at the Julliard School, but we brought our raw energy and talent to the struggle.
Q. You shut down The Fugs at the height of its fame in 1969. Why?
wA. As the leader, I was the guy who ran all the practices and the recording sessions. I had to write the press releases, for you always need the attention of the media. It was a 15-hour day. I wanted to go back to being a Beatnik poet, so I disbanded the Fugs and went back to my bookstore.
Q. You left the Lower East Side in 1970. Why?
A. A woman was stabbed to death under our window. A tailor across the street was murdered by a kid with a brick. It added up.
(This interview ran in the Newark Star-Ledger in February 2012)