Ed, Tuli, Ken and Naked Bill

Let's cut to the chase: I owe a tremendous amount of happiness in life to The Fugs. I am so fortunate to have encountered them in the 1960's as a teenage lad, back when they were a genuine seminal force altering society in so many ways. The Aquarian age was brilliant in no small part due to them.

So, specifically, what did The Fugs generously bequeath me?

Most obvious, of course, would be how I approached my rock and roll career with the East Side Pharaohs. Once on stage, we played some music, yes, but we also spewed all sorts of offensive commentary on the state of the world. We didn't just play music, we tried to provoke, and with foul humor. You can find some choice examples in The Culmination

And then from The Fugs I figured out that the word "kinky" is meaningless; very early on I relished the thought that all sorts of people are different from me, at least the people I wanted to meet and know. Not a society, but a world of individuals. I gladly anticipated a life of sensualism, debauchery and other excesses undertaken in the just cause of expansion of consciousness. Though I hadn't read Wilde yet, intuitively--thanks to The Fugs--I sensed the absolute truth of:
We are not sent into the world to air our moral prejudices.
Of course, founding member Ed Sander's curious pictographs and strangely worded ciphers on the album artwork also grabbed my attention. A teenager fell in love with Rameses, Ptah, Ra and other Egyptian deities then. And Greek, and Latin, and French (the latter of which may be read in two distinct ways), and English, and...

Simultaneously another founding member of The Fugs, Tuli Kupferberg, cheered me along with his book 1001 Ways to Beat the Draft. Indeed, when I discovered The Fugs, Viet Nam hung heavy over my head. And you wonder why I gravitated to the rectitude of sociopathy!

But of everything they gave me, the greatest gift of all was lighting the path to William Blake and Allen Ginsberg. There we are again: language is a PFD. (You might need a translation for that. In the grandiose manner of bureaucrats and attorneys who rule our world, what used to be simply called a life preserver is now a "personal flotation device"). I'll return to Ginsberg at a later date. Today, however, let me focus on Blake.

The first Fugs album I ever heard was It Crawled into My Hand, Honest. I've recounted that encounter in And So to Church. After my banishment northward, brother Bill and I stumbled upon Golden Filth (recorded live at the Fillmore East). This would have been during that wonderful summer on Lake Tetonka overflowing with esoteric studies. Just turned seventeen.

It's a fabulous album, and by this time the group had matured musically; the sonorities were just as exquisitely dainty as the blasphemies. One particular tune caught my attention pronto. Here 'tis:


And there we go, a new master to worship: William Blake. The Fugs had taken his heart wrenching poem, How Sweet I Roamed, and phrased it with tuba, guitars, drums and harmony. The song captivated me at once, and yet another trip to the Readmore was instantly dictated, to load up on anything and everything to do with Blake.

And the third founding member, Ken Weaver, caught my attention on that album when he spouted in a tidy southern drawl, "Mary Magdalene...you all heard of her; she was a whore." Damn! I sure learned a lot in short order back then.

I do recall from junior high being exposed to some poetry in class. Poe sticks out. And yes, I liked it; even then language had become a bit of a temptress, at least unconsciously. But I'll confess it wasn't until hearing The Fugs perform this song that poetry made me want to take my clothes off (and for less innocent reasons than Blake). And it wasn't until earlier this year that I realized poetry also gives halfway cogent reasons for not slashing one's wrists.

So, yes, my deep affair with poetry began with Blake, and it's thanks to The Fugs.

With that all too lengthy prologue out of the way, let's read Blake's work of beauty that The Fugs sang so beautifully:
How sweet I roam'd from field to field,
 And tasted all the summer's pride,
'Till I the prince of love beheld,
 Who in the sunny beams did glide!

He shew'd me lilies for my hair,
 And blushing roses for my brow;
He led me through his gardens fair,
 Where all his golden pleasures grow.

With sweet May dews my wings were wet,
 And Phoebus fir'd my vocal rage;
He caught me in his silken net,
 And shut me in his golden cage.

He loves to sit and hear me sing,
 Then, laughing, sports and plays with me;
Then stretches out my golden wing,
 And mocks my loss of liberty.
Several things to note here. First, the sex of both the perpetrator and the recipient is irrelevant. Any combination makes sense: MF, FM, MM, FF, and other possibilities I may be unfamiliar with. (Does anyone remember that science fiction story from the 80's which concerned an alien race in which three individuals are required for procreation? Somewhere along the way, the three participants are feeling quite orally frisky and decide to have 138).

Second, this is a love poem, though it might not be noticed on the first reading. Or at least concerns the consequences of love.

And there's that business of wings again, which figured more than once in Oscar Wilde's exquisite Apologia. Some day I may try commenting on that poem again. Pretty clearly, the poets have noticed a connection between birds and love.

And last, can you believe a lad not yet aged fourteen wrote it? Blake was one precocious kid!

Coming full circle, I have indeed much to repay The Fugs, and I've just scratched the surface of that debt. But if nothing else, having propelled me toward William Blake, they (and he) will always hold an honored spot, hence the title of this piece.

As an undergrad, I also discovered the mystical side to Blake. And then much, much later (this year, in fact) his contempt for religion and society. May I remind you of his:
Prisons are built with stones of Law, brothels with bricks of Religion.
Incidentally, ever the spendthrift I, it was back in that same sunny summer on Tetonka that I splurged and got all the other Fugs albums. On a very early one is a musical rendition of Blake's Ah Sunflower, Weary of Time. It wasn't very well performed since this was before they rehearsed their butts off and became proficient musicians. Nonetheless, it's a beautiful crafting of the English language, and the sentiment is so understandable. Blake's lyrics are:
Ah Sun-flower! weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the Sun:
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the travellers journey is done.

Where the Youth pined away with desire,
And the pale Virgin shrouded in snow:
Arise from their graves and aspire,
Where my Sun-flower wishes to go
.
This past spring, a sympathetic friend enlightened me on a bit of German. That's a language foreign to me, though supposedly I am one-fourth Teutonic. He translated a phrase which I had used in conversation to a single word: lebensmüde, and gave the etymological roots. "Tired of life." Which made me think of Ah Sunflower, Weary of Time, and thence How Sweet I Roamed. And now The Fugs.

Yes, I am tired, but Blake has assuredly made the trip more bearable. Kind of like riding first class on a fourteen hour flight to Sydney and getting free booze in little bottles.

Life is funny. Which is in fact the title of another song by The Fugs (on It Crawled into My Hand Honest), but I must stop somewhere.

Next installment: When Do We Learn Thy Deep Mysteries?

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