Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Fugs

  • Golden Filth [Reprise, 1970] B+
  • Fugs 4, Rounders Score [ESP-Disk', 1975] B+
  • Refuse to Be Burnt-Out [New Rose, 1985] B+
  • Songs from a Portable Forest [Gazell, 1990] A-
  • The Fugs First Album [Fantasy, 1994] A-
  • Electromagnetic Steamboat [Rhino Handmade, 2001]  
  • The Fugs Final CD (Part 1) [Artemis, 2003] *
  • Greatest Hits 1984-2004 [Fugs, 2006] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Golden Filth [Reprise, 1970]
Not enough Tuli and a touch too much Ed, but this LP--recorded June 1, 1968, at one of their last shows--is their scush-slurfing testament. The best tune was written by William Blake under the romantic sway of a lesbian troll, but you can tell the other composers are poets too--listen to the similes break down in "Supergirl," or tell me that Jim Morrison knows somebody who "humps like a wildcat" (or anyway, knows enough to laugh about it). The music is, well, a mess, but a purposeful mess, and Ed Sanders's poems are dirty jokes at their most divine. B+

Fugs 4, Rounders Score [ESP-Disk', 1975]
Previously unreleased (Holy Modal) Rounders oldies (the original "Romping Through the Swamp") plus a mid-'60s best-of on the original rock-poets, with ample room for the musical genius of Tuli Kupferberg--including "Morning, Morning" in a version far lovelier than Spyder Turner's and the peristaltic "Caca Rocka," a/k/a "Pay Toilet Blues." The musicianship will offend the fastidious and loses even me at times. But there's a sense in which the halting drone of these sessions, vaguely reminiscent of the early Velvets, is more appropriate to the Fugs' secondhand rock than all the classy folkies they later patched on. B+

Refuse to Be Burnt-Out [New Rose, 1985]
Rarely has an aging hippie lost his sense of humor with more grace than Ed Sanders, who could be wild-ass and even a little nasty on what looked like the brink of cultural triumph but turned careful and considerate once he realized the struggle might never end. Instead of degenerating into a "bitterly bickering bitter-shitter," he's put his youthful idealism front and center. His laughs are gentle, word choices rather than jokes; with special help from Steve Taylor, latest in the proud line of folkie-Fugs, his lyricism is resilient, reedlike; and he preaches with sounder grounding in moral philosophy than Holly Near and Johnny Rotten combined. As for Tuli Kupferberg, who was in his forties when it all began, praise the Lord--he hasn't lost a bit of his youthful sarcasm. B+

Songs from a Portable Forest [Gazell, 1990]
Ed Sanders is a Romantic who's outlived his wild days without disowning or betraying them. As a young Fug, he affected comic hippie raunch; solo, he half-realized a pseudohillbilly twang. But pushing 50 in a group that reunited for an antinuke rally, he sings all prettified like the tree-hugging published poet he is. And it's his singing that turns these 12 unjokey songs from the Fugs' three '80s imports into nothing you've heard before. Sanders's care, compassion, and, yes, sensitivity are credible even when he's comparing protesters to Prometheus--the seven-part, 11-minute lifework "Dreams of Sexual Perfection" has William Blake coming in his grave. You almost begin to think any spiritually advanced rockpoet could do this--until Leslie Ritter's Maria-McKee-as-Joan-Baez contralto turns Sanders's "World Wide Green" into a pompous preachment and brings you back to earth. A-

The Fugs First Album [Fantasy, 1994]
If I had any principles I'd carp as usual. Why not excise what a neutral observer would reasonably judge unlistenable--tuneless "Ah, Sunflower," contract discussion, Warhol raspberries--and fold in the undeniable likes of "Kill for Peace" and "Morning Morning" from the The Fugs Second Album, which comes complete with echo, vocal harmonies, actual lead guitar? Or better still, let Rhino mine the un-CD'ed Warner catalogue for a best-of permanently establishing their right to make fun of Andy, whose gossip squad still disses these latter-day beatniks with catty bohemian-sectarian condescension. Well, sometimes history is its own reward. The counterculture the Fugs inhabit is fascinating even when it isn't entertaining, and educational both ways. Not only do they bury most Kerouac, but their prerock music--with Peter Stampfel chiming in, Ken Weaver not yet a burlier Spencer Dryden, and (crucially) Tuli Kupferberg's songs at the forefront--rides the homemade charm and unsullied aura of discovery lo-fi sentimentalists think they're living for. A-

Electromagnetic Steamboat [Rhino Handmade, 2001]
See: Teach Yourself Fugging.  

The Fugs Final CD (Part 1) [Artemis, 2003]
Too poetic for anyone who doesn't love Ed Sanders plus too wacky and didactic for proper poetry equals you gotta hear it to believe it ("Septua-genarian in Love," "Advice From the Fugs"). *

Greatest Hits 1984-2004 [Fugs, 2006]
Here's more inspiring evidence of a hippie's progress than anything Joni Mitchell or Mickey Hart will ever again devise. An accomplished folk-rock band fronted by Woodstock-based activist Ed Sanders with sardonic history alerts from Manhattan-based anarchist-comedian Tuli Kupferberg, the Fugs Mark II still joke-check their ribald heyday, and on the live tracks you can hear their tiny fan base eat up every laugh line. But with the support of those fans, Sanders is onto bigger things. Free of bitterness and regret, savvier than he ever was about the ins and outs of make-love-not-war, and a poet above all, his motto is "refuse to be burnt out." Googly-eyed neotribalists who consider "psychedelic" a meaningful term owe it to themselves and their parents to consider the musical teachings of Allen Ginsberg's great inheritor. A-

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