Sunday, February 27, 2011

Ah Sunflower, Weary of Time: Issa's Sunday Service, #92

Where does one begin when beginning with The Fugs?  A band of poets masquerading as rock/folk stars or rock/folk stars masquerading as poets?

One of best places to begin is with William Blake, whose song, "Ah Sunflower," is this week's Sunday Service selection.   It wasn't number one with a bullet, to be sure, in fact the purveyors of songs like "Kill for Peace" probably wouldn't have been too happy if it was.  Still, there is something about this little number that reminds we of many a poem of death, but in this particular case, specifically one of Basho's most famous ku

The summer's grass!
all that's left
of ancient warriors' dreams.

It was "Arise from their graves" that got my attention in the Blake; to we the dead pining youth and pale virgin aspiring to go where the sunflower has been reminds me of how warriors' dreams become summer grasses.

Literally and figurately, at least that's how I read it.  Here's the Blake / Fugs lyric:

Ah Sunflower, weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the sun;
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the traveller's journey is done;

Where the Youth pined away with desire,
And the pale virgin shrouded in snow,
Arise from their graves, and aspire
Where my Sunflower wishes to go!
William Blake

The Fugs were made up primarily of Tuli Kupferberg and Ed Sanders, with other various members going and coming through the years.   For those who wish to refresh their minds or familiarize themselves with the Triassic period, here's Ed Sanders's own unique take on the history of the band 

The Fugs were always about The Fun as well as The Anarchy (the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges come to mind - their participation in attempting to levitate the Pentagon set the standard for a new type of protest); in this video, you can hear how they adapted Howl to the world of music, delightfully:

While we're on a roll, here is Tuli Kupferberg's beautiful "Morning, Morning" from the Fugs second album:

Richie Havens cover of it on his seminal album, "Mixed Bag," is very soulful (& slicker) and the one many will remember before the original.

The Fugs also performed Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach," some other versions of which was covered here not long ago.  Tuli Kupferberg did an arrangement of it that the Fugs performed on an early album.  Here is a video of Ed Sanders and the Fugs performing it at Tuli's funeral. It is not optimally recorded but beautiful for all that. 


This week's feature poem comes from Lilliput Review, #107, January 2000.  Enjoy.

The Poem
He spoke of the word,
a fox, full of wild odors,
surprising as a startled skunk
underfoot.  And how
this other world strikes,
a bit of venom for the proffered wrist.
A love cry hangs
in this eternal after-instant.
Carol Hamilton

are a waste of time...
translated by David G. Lanoue


Send a single haiku for the Wednesday Haiku feature.  Here's how.

Go to the LitRock web site for a list of all 90 songs
Hear 'em all at once on the the LitRock Jukebox


Anonymous said...

was at that Pentagon March!

SOME performance/Theater...

guided by the 'attitude' of the Beatles yogi/guru/'teacher" (I forget his name : The Yoganda Mishmash Yogi..

"we the people'' put our collective "minds" together
changed the color of the pentagon (purple? pink?)

and levitated the pentagonal shaped Pentagon up-up-&-awaaayyyyyyy....

50 years later it crash-landed on Bagdad !

full moon
rising / falling


Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Kokkie-san, oh, yes, rise and fall it did, pentagon and moon ...

I think the reason the button was orange cause that was the color ... could be wrong on that though ...

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Received a separate communication that made mention of Greg Brown's beautiful recording of "Ah Sunflower" with a link to it, so here it is:

Charles Gramlich said...

I'm gonna listen to these. I'm not very familiar with the "Fugs."

Issa's Untidy Hut said...


The songs are something of an artifact of the times (60s) they were recorded - there is also a timeless quality in that they lean more to poetry than folk/rock. Obviously not for everyone, but I do hope you get something out of it.

Don said...

Tuli Kupferberg deconstructing mainstream media (Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated) for Paper Tiger TV

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Thanks, realeyz ...

Lyle Daggett said...

The reading of William Blake that is forever burned into my memory was hearing Allen Ginsberg, during a reading he did (Minneapolis, sometime winter 1970-71, Guthrie Theatre, a large packed house, Ginsberg standing near the center of the room on the theatre's projected stage), playing his harmonium (I think the instrument was), alternating poems (his own) and chants and a few of Blake's Innocence and Experience songs.

Don't remember the title offhand, it's the Blake poem (in Songs) that begins, or anyway includes the lines "Little lamb/Full of joy" (and I may have punctuation and line break and caps & lower a little off here) --

Ginsberg sang the song, and then began riffing variations on Blake's refrain, "Merrily, merrily, to welcome in the year" (again may not have the exact words in memory) --

Ginsberg singing, a bright jaunty little piece of tune, "Merrily, merrily, we welcome in the family," and began naming all manner of families as he repeated the refrain over and over --

And at one point in the progression he sang "Merrily, merrily, we welcome Nixon's family," followed by "Merrily, merrily, we welcome Manson's family." And the room let out a brief wild cheer.

I doubt if many in the room were cheering Charles Manson as such; rather, I think saying, in effect, yeah, if we're going to welcome Nixon the million-killer, we can welcome Manson too.

Quite a remarkable conjuration, starting from a simple sensual celebrational lyric.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...


Thanks for the recollection. I saw Ginsberg a couple of times myself. Most memorably in the mid-80s at one of the 1st Geraldine Dodge gatherings. Full harmonium, his guitar player just so joyful. He could do exactly what you describe: evoke a Nixon and a Manson and make everyone feel alright. I always felt that this kind of thing was Buddhism in action, embracing the all and having everyone around be accepting of that.

Must say, Ed Sanders of the Fugs was there, too, and he famously sang and played his piano tie. Another bit of joy.