Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Fugs - The Fugs

The Fugs
The Fugs
ESP-Disk  ESP 1028

The second album by the Fugs is my favorite of their albums.  I was attracted to the group partly because of my interest in the Beat Generation writers, which principal Fugs Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg were loosely affiliated with, but mostly because of the lurid descriptions of their music that I read in rock encyclopedias.  Any group that had the nerve to name themselves after a crude euphemism for sex in the mid-1960s had to be worth checking out and I was not disappointed.  I still consider the band to be one of the most interesting and adventurous rock bands of their era.  The album opens with Ed Sanders' "Frenzy" which befitting its title is a crazed rock and roll style invitation to the ladies in the audience to come up and enjoy their "baskets of love."  If that suggests flower power innocence, Sanders clarifies matters when he howls about feeling "his laser beam" when it is "deep inside your belly."  The Dionysian philosophy behind the Fugs' music is expressed by the sensual lyrics and the frantic, ecstatic music.  "I Want To Know" is a poem by Charles Olson set to music by Sanders.  It is about experience and the pursuit of knowledge although the hedonist theme of the album is reflected in references to breaking a vein or drinking to achieve understanding.  The music is slower and prettier with more than a hint of doo-wop in the arrangement.  Sanders is not a good enough singer to put the song over, but his earnestness does have some appeal.  Sanders and Fugs guitarist Pete Kearney contribute "Skin Flowers."  The song is an ode to the pleasures of the flesh, in particular young teen-age flesh.  The song is a garage rocker driven by a wailing harmonica with a surf influence in the twangy guitar riff.  Sanders delivers the classic Fugs track "Group Grope" a frenzied rocker that may have been the most overtly sexual pop song of its era.  In his opening lines Sanders proclaims his philosophy of "dope, peace, magic, gods in the tree trunks and a group grope."  Needless to say the boys don't stop at groping as the "studes fug the teach" and "the daughters fug the preach."   Even after all these years I'm still astonished when Sanders asks "does it feels so good inside you baby?" and then starts grunting in ecstasy.  The song finishes with an orgy featuring multiple voices groaning and making orgasmic noises as the music builds to a sonic crescendo.  It is truly an amazing song.  The jazzy "Coming Down" is another Sanders song.  It is a dark song about coming down from a cocaine high with lots of death imagery.  Sanders' limitations as a vocalist are evident throughout the song, but it is still compelling.  "Dirty Old Man" is a collaboration between Sanders and Lionel Goldbart, a weirdo poet who Sanders met in his New York book store, the Peace Eye Bookstore.  The title character hangs out in schoolyards giving out drugs and porn to kids and trying to look up little girls' skirts while clutching Communist literature.  The music is perversely child-like with a sing-along structure.  It is easily the creepiest and most offensive song on the album.  Kupferberg opens side two with another classic Fugs song, "Kill For Peace."  It is a satirical song about the Domino Theory and in particular the Vietnam War.  It is not subtle but it is pretty funny and Sanders sings it with gusto.  The music is folk-rock with the repetitive structure of a children's song.  Kupferberg also wrote "Morning, Morning" which in contrast to the rest of the album is gentle and sensitive.  It is a contemplative evocation of loneliness and unhappiness tied to the movement of the day.  It is delicately crooned by Kupferberg with a harmony vocal by Betsy Klein.  Fugs keyboardist Lee Crabtree and guitarist Vinny Leary wrote "Doin' All Right" with lyrics from poet Ted Berrigan.  It is a song that celebrates freakdom.  The subject of the song has long hair and a beard which leads dismayed observers to compare him to Jesus and to wonder how he gets by, but he maintains that he is doing fine with plenty of sex and drugs which is a pretty apt theme for a rock song if ever I heard one.  It includes the immortal couplet "I'm not ever gonna to go to Vietnam, I prefer to stay right here and screw your mom."  It is a driving rocker with some terrific propulsive piano playing from Crabtree.  The album finishes with the 11 minute song suite "Virgin Forest" by Sanders, Crabtree and the record's engineer Richard L. Alderson.  It abandons rock for the most part in favor of tribal drumming, jazz, sound collages and chanting.  There isn't much of a plot, it begins with the birth of Aphrodite, then a man and a woman meet in the jungle and do it doggy style and then the man does it with a chimp.  Next up is some turkey gobbling followed by an orgy, a recital of some violent poetry taken from William S. Burroughs and finally a plea for death to "stay thy phantoms."  Just your typical pop song.  Back in the 1960s the Fugs' music was sometimes accused of being pornographic, but I think that is inaccurate, it is more polemical than it is arousing.  Unlike Frank Zappa who covers some of the same territory and also pushed the boundaries of bourgeois standards of decency, I don't think the Fugs were merely interested in being shocking.  Zappa had a juvenile's delight in scatology and perversity as a form of rebellion, but the Fugs have an agenda they are pushing.  Fellow traveler Allen Ginsberg described it as "the soul politics ecstasy message" in his highly expressive liner notes for the album.  The Fugs' music is about sexual liberation, release from inhibitions and the transformative force of physical pleasure.  These guys were poets confronting a sick society with their strongest weapons, the power of language and the power of love.  Recommended to people who believe that if you free your body, your mind will follow.

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