A Decade of Poetry, Politics, and Rock ‘n’ Roll

Speaking of Lower East Side legends, Ed Sanders has written a new memoir, FUG YOU {An Informal History of the Peace Eye Bookstore, the Fuck You Press, The Fugs, and Counterculture in the Lower East Side}. Just out from Da Capo Press, with a dust jacket based on an historic Life magazine cover, it’s a picaresque chronicle of the 1960s filled with scrupulously documented recollections of Sanders’s adventures and misadventures in poetry, politics, and rock ‘n’ roll.

FUG YOU reads like a nonfiction outtake from Thomas Pynchon’s V. The tales Sanders tells, bizarre but true, are buttressed by illustrations and citations from a mammoth archive he compiled through the years. They include everything from mimeo magazines and antiwar flyers to FBI memos and news clippings; from poems scribbled on napkins to set lists and lead sheets; from Peace March photos and concert posters to literary relics such as the “well-scooped cold cream jar” that Allen Ginsberg used as a “cock lubricant.”

A sample vignette:

I was working weekends — Friday, Saturday, Sunday — on the 5:00 PM to 2:00 AM shift at the cigar store where I had toiled off and on, and learned a lot about the underground world of Times Square, since 1960. It was freaky. One evening a guy who worked at the 2-for-25ยข hamburger place next door came in for cigarettes. I asked him why he was barefoot. He replied, “I have a date with a Toe Queen, and my date likes dirty feet.”

All that evening I wrote a series of poems depicting the life and times of “Tillie the Toe Queen” on white, elongated slats of thin cardboard from cigarette cartons. By the next weekend I had published The Toe-Queen Poems.

When I read them at Le Metro, the response, in applause and overwhelming laughter, was the first I had received for anything I’d ever read in public, and I think it was an impetus to form a satiric proto-folk-rock group called The Fugs a few months later. One of the first Fugs songs, never, unfortunately, put on an album, was a ditty called “Toe Queen Love.”

Although FUG YOU has no sewer-dwelling alligators hunted by a posse of misfits with shotguns, it has plenty of details that are equally preposterous and Pynchonesque. For instance, an anti-yodelling edict at the Chicago 7 trial. The presiding judge won’t let Sanders demonstrate from the witness stand how well he yodels. “I was disappointed,” Sanders writes, “for verily I was and am the only Beat who can yodel. However, I resisted the dramatic impulse to weep and show trembling agitation in front of the judge at this restriction on my yodeliferous genius. Why? Six-month jail term and maybe a $1,000 fine for insulting the dignity of the court. I had to get to L.A. and start investigating the Manson family.”

(Which he did.)

(Crossposted at HuffPo)

Email this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Reddit


  1. says

    Enjoyed the blog. Educational for me. And I liked the blog from 2007 that is linked, especially the readers comments about generational differences. Wouldn’t yuppies today eagerly buy Fuck You magazine because it’s so cool and creates such a hip image, while their lives contradict just about everything the magazine stood for? How did protest morph into something that is merely worn as an ornament to convey hipness like a Che Guevara t-shirt? Or like Laurie Anderson cutely quoting Burroughs over a minimalist, boom box beat? Maybe Baudrillard was right when he said resistance is pointless because it is soon appropriated and turned into a product. So I wonder if there’s a rebellion that can’t be bought.

  2. Gail Chiarrello says

    Nice review, Jan. I count on Straight Up to keep me in the loop on all the books, bits, films, and memorabilia emanating from the period of our wild and crazy youth. Saw the NYT review of Fug You, also. Yours is better. More succinct.