Tuli Kupferberg, a Beat poet turned psychedelic folk icon as cofounder of the Fugs, died today in his native Manhattan, the New York Times reports. Kupferberg, who described himself as “the world’s oldest rock star,” was 86. Last year, he suffered a pair of strokes that severely damaged his eyesight and left him in need of constant care. A January 2010 benefit in his honor featured performances by Lou Reed, Sonic Youth, Laurie Anderson and Philip Glass. Kupferberg’s Fugs bandmate and songwriter partner Ed Sanders told the Times that Kupferberg’s health had weakened since the strokes. Kupferberg is survived by his wife and three children.
The Fugs formed in 1964 when bookstore owner Sanders and poet Kupferberg, both barely musicians, teamed up to play an unpolished rock & roll combined with lyrics stocked with political satire and profanity. Because of their anti-war imagery — “Who can train guerillas by the dozens? Send them out to kill their untrained cousins?” asks frontman Kupferberg in “CIA Man” — and rambunctious live shows in the mid-’60s, the FBI reportedly investigated the Fugs. The band ultimately recorded six albums between 1964 and 1969, with Tupferberg contributing some of the band’s most renowned tracks: “Nothing,” “Kill for Peace,” “The Ten Commandments” and “CIA Man.” After a 15-year hiatus, Kupferberg and Sanders reformed the Fugs with a new lineup.
Kupferberg earned a reputation as one of New York’s foremost bohemians, and even served as the inspiration for the man who jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge and survived in Allen Ginsberg’s epic poem “Howl.” Kupferberg “jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge this actually happened and walked away unknown and forgotten into the ghostly daze of Chinatown,” Ginsberg wrote. Kupferberg later admitted he was the jumper of Ginsberg’s poem.
Earlier this year, the Fugs released what they foresaw as their last recording given Kupferberg’s diminishing health, Be Free: The Fugs Final CD (Part 2). In recent years, Kupferberg also maintained a YouTube channel where he’d post Fugs archival footage, poetry recitations, satirical songs and more. Just yesterday, Kupferberg “liked” a video featuring a satirical version of the Fugs’ “Wide Wide River” that attacked BP for the oil disaster in the Gulf.