Fug You — Hanging with Ed Sanders


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January 27, 1966, Vol. XI, No. 15

Rolling Stoned with Joyous ‘Pornographer’

By Stephanie Harrington

Ed Sanders: “Fuck You” editor – publisher – printer – conceiver. Fugs founder. Pharoah fancier fantastic. Classicist, cigar store clerk, corn-haired kid from Kansas City. NYU graduate!!! Book seller and literary impresario. The Tom Sawyer of Tompkins Square whose naughtiness tried the patience of a saint and lately brought him face to face with Nemesis in the uniform of the Ninth Precinct.

For the uninitiated, “Fuck You” is “A Magazine of the Arts” (its subtitle). It is a mimeographed mosaic of verse by some of the country’s best poets and some of the worst. Its more luminous contributors include Allen Ginsberg, Robert Creeley, William Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Charles Olson, Norman Mailer, Paul Blackburn, Julian Beck and Judith Malina, Taylor Mead, and just about everybody else you can think of, including, of course, Ed Sanders. It is mimeographed on pastel paper and illustrated with Egyptian symbolism that the police are reported to suspect of double entendre. Poem titles include “Grope Poem,” “Camping Out with Taylor Mead,” and “Crotch Itch in Heaven,” plus many others so mild they couldn’t make even the frailest little old lady trip over her tennis shoes.

The dedication varies from issue to issue but it is always something like this one from Volume I, Number I: “Dedicated to Pacifism, Unilateral Disarmament, National Defense thru Nonviolent Resistance, Multilateral Indiscriminate, Apertural Conjugation, Anarchism, World Federalism, Civil Disobedience, Obstructers & Submarine Boarders, and all those groped by J. Edgar Hoover in the silent Halls of Congress.” (The final refrain ends the dedication in every issue.)

The “Fuck You” fantasy took flight in 1962. A friend had suggested to Sanders that they start a little magazine. We can call it “Fuck You, A Magazine of the Arts,” Sanders suggested to his friend. I’d like to see you get away with that, said the friend. So Sanders did. He went to the office of the anarchist-pacifist newspaper, the Catholic Worker, where, being a pacifist, he was wont to hang around. He solicited poetry from members of the Worker staff, used a Worker typewriter, got an old mimeograph machine, and turned out “Fuck You” Number 1. The result so upset Dorothy Day, the saintly leader of the Catholic Worker community, that Sanders and his associates were exiled.

Since then his magazine, of which he is still editor, publisher, poet, typist, mimeographer, illustrator, collator, and distributor (he gives it away free), has become a collector’s item in university libraries. And, during the past year, Sanders expanded his enterprises to include a book store and a literate, loony, love-happy, psychedelic rock ‘n’ roll riot group which has been referred to as the underground Rolling Stones but might more accurately be described as rolling stoned and is in fact called the Fugs.

Fuggery, which has been sweeping the college underground and forcing the discotheque dollies to learn how to read (the Fugs have set William Blake to music), consists of Sanders on maracas and tambourine; Tuli Kupferberg (editor of Birth magazine) on maracas, tambourine, kazoo, and skull (like in death’s head); Ken Weaver on drums, Vinny Leary on bass guitar; Lee Crabtree on piano, John Anderson, a Yalie, on electric bass, and a kid named Kearny on electric guitar. All of them very shaggy. Occasionally they are complemented by the rarefied range of an unshaggy young lady named Betsy Klein.

Their first record, on the Broadside label, is called “The Village Fugs Sing Ballads of Contemporary Protest, Point of Views (sic), and General Dissatisfaction.” (When the record was made Crabtree and Kearney were not around but Peter Stampfel and Steve Weber were.) Except for two Blake poems and the “Swinburne Stomp,” the words and music on the record are original Fuggery and include “Slum Goddess,” “Supergirl,” “I Couldn’t Get High,” “Boobs a Lot,” and “Nothing.” Fuggery is proving such big business that the group has recently leased the Astor Place Playhouse (which it shares with a children’s production of “Heidi”) for regular Friday-Saturday-Sunday night Fugoramas.

But there is a dark side to this moon madness — the fact that, although everybody else knows it, the police have not yet found out that everything that could possibly be considered way out in this society is in. It is in on Fifth Avenue, Park Avenue, Madison Avenue, even on Seventh Avenue. It is in at the Herald Tribune. But in hipsville, the East Village, the Lower East Side seacoast of bohemia, the protectorate of the Ninth Precinct, so-called pornography is out. The only place it is in over there is the hands of the police.

The Peace Eye Book Store: a store front on East 10th Street between Tompkins Square and Avenue C. Formerly a kosher butcher shop, “Strictly Kosher” (kosher in Hebrew) is still painted on the window. Below it the symbol of the Eye of Horus (an Egyptian solar deity — Sanders studied hieroglyphics to read Ezra Pound’s Cantos). And below that a notice saying “Ed Sanders — book creep, grass cadet, fug poet, editor, squack slafer, madman composer and poon scomp.” A side window is boarded up, the door newly repaired — souvenirs of the break-in.

Inside, Sanders tells the tale in his Midwestern twang, pacing back and forth in the tidy room like a penned-up tom cat. He is verging on 27, slim, with a moustache and sandy, shaggy hair that makes him look like a wigged-out Johnny Carson. In December, he relates, he was visited by a sergeant from the Ninth Precinct and by a detective from the Second Division, separately, but both looking for pornography. One had with him a copy of a Voice interview of Sanders by John Wilcock, attached to a letter to the Police Commissioner from an irate citizen asking how he could allow such a thing.

Then, early in the morning of January 2, fellow Fug Kupferberg, who lives next door to the Peace Eye, roused Sanders from his 27th Street apartment with the news that his bookstore was swarming with cops. When Sanders got there, he says, he found the window and door broken and his private back room ransacked. Copies of “Fuck You” and other publications were missing. The police told him they were there to investigate a possible burglary. But while they were there they arrested him for possession of obscene publications. After spending a day in the Tombs, he was released on $500 bail. When his case comes up he will be defended by the New York Civil Liberties Union.

Ed Sanders, public enemy, told his story with a surprising lack of rancor, against the backdrop of bookshelves full of little magazines, League for Sexual Freedom posters, collages, and a headline from the National Tattler screaming “Peanut Butter Orgy!”

Sanders does not approach his work with the seriousness of the sexual-freedom fanatics. His goal is “a total assault on culture,” but it is a good-natured assault. Consistent with his purpose, he will not print anything, and some not-so-loving tones have crept into FY. But the most hostile thing Sanders said in our interview was that he hates Plato. “Aggressive innocence in pornography” is what he says his magazine represents. And there is certainly nothing in it that is news to the chic-starved, Gernreich-garbed society swingers who have breakfast at Tiffany’s and Andy Warhol for lunch.

Ed Sanders majored in classics at NYU, earned his living as a clerk in a Times Square cigar store, and was jailed in Rhode Island for attempting to board a submarine in a peace demonstration. He has a wife and two children, with whom he lives in domestic seclusion on 27th Street. If a woman is in his bookstore after dark he chivalrously walks her to the bus stop beause the neighborhood is not always safe.

Public enemy? Maybe. But the police ought to be more prudent. Tomorrow he may be society’s darling. In fact the police should be happy with him. Better Tom Sawyer than Batman.

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]