Ed Sanders and the Fugs Are Back!  Hurray!

I first became personally acquainted with poet Ed Sanders through our friend Dr. Jennie Skerl, a noted Beats scholar who has in particular chronicled the life of Mr. Sanders.  Her 2020 collection, In the Rebel Cafe: Interviews with Ed Sanders provides a marvelous background on Sanders’ amazing life.  Sanders’ own novel, Tales of Beatnik Glory: 2 Volumes in 1 (1975), from the Citadel Press is a fine fictionalized autobiography.  Back in 1971, I read Sanders’ book on the Manson Family (The Family: The Story of Charles Manson’s Dunebuggy Attack Battalion) when it was released by Dutton Press, and I thought it was far superior to D.A. Vincent Bugliosi’s bestseller Helter Skelter.  Sanders, writing for the L.A. Times, put himself in harm’s way in investigating the family.

Through our connections with Jennie Skerl, we were able to get Sanders to come to Utica for a reading at The Other Side, our independent arts space, in 2018.   Sanders was to do a reading from his just released book from Arcade Press, Broken Glory: The Final Years of Robert F. Kennedy A Graphic History.  He ended up reading from his The Poetry and Life of Allen Ginsberg: A Narrative.

Ed Sanders is a generous man.  His first night in Utica, talking to the small group that made up our book club at that time, meeting in our Cafe, Ed said to us, “We need something like this in Woodstock; it’s becoming all airbnb’s.” (Please imagine our astonishment, living in rustbelt Utica, to have our little enterprises compared favorably with fabled Woodstock!) The next evening, at an informal pizza and wine supper before his talk, at which Ed ate 2 slices of pizza after saying he never ate pizza, an informal interview evolved.  We were treated to quite a picture of the history of the Fugs, whose first ESP LP – my own copy – is framed and hanging on our Cafe walls. Kim and I and friends have been singing the joyously raucous Nothing from that LP for years.

During his visit, I showed Ed a poem I’d written years before, upon the death of Allen Ginsberg. Ed helped me to have that poem published in Survival: A Poets Speak Anthology 2018 from Beatlik Press.  Ed also agreed to read my poetry collection, later published by our own Black Rabbit (now Doubly Mad) press, and to write a blurb for it, a task to which he said he was unaccustomed.  He generously read it thoroughly and wrote a  review that ended with this prompt: “A fine, readable collection is My Rap Sheet Is Long.  Get it, and take the time to read and study it.”

This week, unsolicited, I received in the mail a package containing the Fugs new album, Dancing in the Universe, and a second CD, The Sanders-Olufsen Poetry and Classical Music Project.

The Fugs album from Sanders (who will turn 84 on August 17) is a gas from start to finish.  It features 4 songs by the late Fugs co-founder, Tuli Kupferberg.  The disc kicks off with Sanders’ title song, Dancing In the Universe, of which in the liner notes Ed says it “seemed a fitting Call to Action from the Fugs to fit perfectly into these complex, confounding and troubled times.  However much turmoil there is, we should find time together to “Dance in the Universe.”  The new Fugs band featuring Scott Petito, Steven Taylor and Cody Baty rocks joyously throughout the record.

God Bless Johnny Cash is the Fugs tribute to Cash’s contributions to Americana through his 2-year TV show. There are far too many treats here to feature them all.  I’ll leave listeners the joy of their own discovery and say only that I especially love The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the songs for poet Frank O’Hara and the anarchist-saint Emma Goldman.

Truth told, I have just begun to explore the second CD with its literary tales set to classical music with anecdotes about lit stars from Dostoevsky, Pound and Beckett to Auden, Chekhov and Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day.  (Sanders printed his 60’s journal Fuck You! on the Workers’ mimeograph machine.  Look it up, millennials!)

My fondest hope now is that we can get Ed and the new Fugs up here to Utica to play The Other Side.  We’ll sell the joint out and Dance in the Universe.

Orin Domenico is a poet living in Utica, New York. His latest volume is My Rap Sheet is Long (Black Rabbit Press).