Happy Birthday, Tuli

Event organizer Steve DalachinskyDaniel Snyder Steve Dalachinsky helped organize Tuesday night’s tribute to Tuli Kupferberg.

The Living Theater on Clinton Street was the scene of an 87th birthday party Tuesday night. Unfortunately, the guest of honor, poet and pacifist Tuli Kupferberg, was not in physical attendance, having died last summer. His friends had a wonderful time on his behalf.

Tuli Kupferberg, born on the Lower East Side in 1923, and in his last years a resident of SoHo, will be forever associated in many minds with the East Village arts underground of the 1960s.

He was a member of the quintessential East Village radical band The Fugs, performing alongside poet and novelist Ed Sanders, then owner of Peace Eye Books on Avenue A.

The Fugs, along with David Peel and the Lower East Side, and The Holy Modal Rounders, formed an underground music scene which mixed raw folk-rock with anarcho-pacifist politics, an approach now widely regarded as a prototype for the punk rock of the 1970s. Fugs songs like “Kill for Peace,” “C.I.A. Man” and the nihilist classic “Nothing” (“Monday nothing, Tuesday nothing…”) occupy an eccentric niche in music history.

In fact, Mr. Kupferberg’s career of cheerful artistic and poetic transgression had a longer span than that summary suggests. He was an associate of the original New York group of beat poets and writers. He is famously referred to in Ginsberg’s 1956 poem “Howl”: “…who jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge this actually happened and walked away unknown and forgotten into the ghostly daze of Chinatown soup alleyways & firetrucks, not even one free beer.” Kupferberg agreed this did indeed happen, although it was the Manhattan Bridge and he ended up in hospital.

Evolving effortlessly from beat poet, to hippy-anarchist, to an always self-deprecating grey eminence of the downtown underground, Mr. Kupferberg became mentor to generations of writers and artists – a status reflected by the outpouring of love from a parade of guests who took the stage to read from Mr. Kupferberg’s work or their own, or just share memories. These included the founder of The Living Theater Judith Malina, downtown performance artist Penny Arcade, original Holy Modal Rounder Peter Stampfel, and – representing a younger generation influenced by The Fugs – alt-folk artist Jeffrey Lewis. Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, unable to attend, had recorded a limited edition DVD which was sold to raise funds for the theater.

Mr. Sanders, now 71, sat in the front row at the party and took the stage to perform The Fugs’ setting of the William Blake poem “Ah! Sunflower.” He said that Mr. Kupferberg had suffered a stroke in 2009 and temporarily became blind. Although Mr. Kupferberg suffered a second stroke, his eyesight began to return, Mr. Sanders said “but he just ran out of steam.”

Mr. Kupferberg’s friends launched a fund to help pay for his medical care, boosted by a benefit concert at St. Anne’s Warehouse featuring, among others, Lou Reed, Philip Glass and Sonic Youth. “I miss him,” whispered Mr. Sanders. “That’s why I’m here.”

Share your memories of Tuli Kupferberg.

Penny Arcade and the audienceDaniel Snyder Friends gathered at The Living Theater Tuesday to remember Mr. Kupferberg, an icon of the East Village arts underground of the 1960s.