'FUG YOU': 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-25¢ 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-yodeling 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.)