The passing of bohemian poet, writer and singer Tuli Kupferberg at age 86 last week got me thinking about some things. Ostensibly, there’s the usual review of the person’s career—the works they presented to the public, what makes their body of work important, etc., etc. This time around for me however, I got to thinking about the sheer art of creating art itself.
Here was a man who had been creating since the early 1960s, constructing poems, writing songs, forming bands, selling cartoons, all with great verve, all the way up to his final days with YouTube postings displaying his usual wit. What struck me about Tuli Kupferberg is just the inordinate need to create art without polish, to conceive without thought of market value, but the need to convey a truth strong and humorously, and to inform.
Kupferberg was based in the Lower East Side of New York City. His work was left-wing and antiwar, and his presentations were in the absurdist theater vein. He formed the underground band the Fugs in 1964 with Ed Sanders, author of the book on Charles Manson and the Tate-LaBianca murders, The Family, and owner of the Peace Eye Bookstore, a place that housed antiwar sentiment and showcased artists like R. Crumb and others. Those Fugs albums were what I bought a few years later when I was a kid. I never forgot the presentation of those songs. There was definitely a punk energy to them, and of course, the Fugs predate punk by a number of years.
There was just purity to Tuli Kupferberg’s work. When he completed his pieces, you knew that he wasn’t trying to get a merchandising deal with Coca-Cola or something. Not that there’s anything wrong with that as “Seinfeld” would say, but there are a couple of generations out here that cannot conceive of creating any art without seeking some kind of deal like that. With Kupferberg moving on, it just reminds me that that kind of spirit has moved on also.