Live: The Fugs' Ed Sanders Pays Tribute To His Total Assault On The Culture
Ed Sanders at Boo-Hooray Gallery
Thursday, February 16
Better than: Blogging.
"Out to grope, back in 10 min," reads one of the artifacts on display this month at the Boo-Hooray gallery. The scrap was once hung in the window of the Peace Eye Bookstore, the East Village shop run by the poet Ed Sanders in the early '60s and the birthplace of The Fugs, the shambolic and surreal folk-punks Sanders led. Peace Eye's two locations were perhaps even more significantly the home of Fuck You Press, Sanders's DIY publishing concern that produced Fuck You/ A Magazine of the Arts and countless broadsheets, handbills, catalogues, and zines that are the subject of a new show at Boo-Hooray, on display through March 8. Sanders was doing something right: In 1966, he was busted for obscenity, the windows of Peace Eye smashed, and by the summer of 1968, he was assigned his own tail at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. (The year before, he'd tried to levitate the Pentagon.)
On hand for the show's opening to read from his new book Fug You: An Informal History of the Peace Eye Bookstore, the Fuck You Press, the Fugs, and Counterculture in the Lower East Side, Sanders, 72, remains bushy-haired and genial: a soft-spoken straight man to the world's "military-industrial surrealists," as he dubbed them in his nine-volume America: A History in Verse. During a short reading, he presented from Fug You's chapter about the Peace Eye obscenity raid and, while undoubtedly mellowed since his Fugs days, retained his keen drollness.
Though Fug You is excellent and good fun, more to the point, Boo-Hooray's exhibition offers a warm and smart place to hang out for any currently unoccupied #OWSers, DIY venue proprietors, or struggling buzz bands. First and foremost, Sanders practiced (and practices) the subtle art of tasteful self-egrandizement as learned in large part from his East Village mentor, Allen Ginsberg. And as the Boo-Hooray show reminds, he had access to two very important tools: a printing press and a devastating control of language. Probably, he was not actually out groping when he left the sign on the door of Peace Eye. "Grope" was simply a word he liked. In one issue of Fuck You, Sanders recounted during his reading, he'd also claimed to have "the Ankh symbol tattooed on his penis" and "the first 53 hieroglyphs of Akh-en-Aten's Hymn to the Sun Disk on his nuts." As police discovered following the obscenity bust, he most assuredly didn't. More than anything, Sanders expertly leveraged underground slang and the adolescent joy of obscenity to maximum effect.
Boo-Hooray is displaying the near-totality of Sanders's mid-'60s project. There are numerous issues of Fuck You!, with contributions from Ginsberg, Andy Warhol, Frank O'Hara, and many others. There is a copy of The Fugs' Songbook, which disseminated the band's tunes throughout the East Village before they'd released any records. There is massive evidence of Sanders's networking, both national and local. Before he read, Sanders acknowledged his comrades in the Mimeograph Revolution, rattling out proto-zines about peace and pot (that Sanders distributed via Peace Eye) and who formed the backbone of a countercultural network that exists to this day. (On the other side of the "out to grope" scrap contains a doodle by one of the Village's weirdo elders, Harry Smith, who would come to produce the Fugs' first album.) Most intriguingly, there are handbills, position papers, and scraps of Fuck You Press's time serving people besides Sanders himself, instant reactions to the rapidly changing East Village scene in the mid-'60s. It is all from the same machine and, dotted with Egyptian illustrations and glyph-informed penmanship, obviously laid out by the same handthe work of one person in an extended creative outburst.
Stop and read anything on display at Boo-Hooray, and what one finds is a constant reminder of how good a writer Sanders was (and, in Fug You, is). No matter the page, there is something that might grab you. On one wall is a large reproduction of page that contains the basic publication for a typical issue of Fuck You. "TOTAL ASSAULT ON THE CULTURE ! ! !" it reads, each word underlined, over a glyph of a spewing phallus, each word a living reminder of a writer working tirelessly to make sure that, no matter what, his message was getting across. Fifty years later, it still does.
Critical bias: Read most of America: A History In Verse.
Overheard: "I'm just not sure my friends would get it," somebody pondering whether to buy the show's commemorative t-shirt, "Fuck You!" juxtaposed over the New Yorker's "Talk of the Town" skyline.
Random notebook dump: Banana Project.
Boo-Hooray is located on the sixth floor of 265 Canal, and open daily from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.