Underground legend Tuli Kupferberg (1923-2010) was always the oldest man in rock and roll, co-founding the Fugs in the winter of 1964-1965 when he was already in his early 40s. Being twice the age of Dylan, Reed, Jagger, et. al, never stopped Tuli from consistently being more outrageous. Latter-day bohemian torch-bearer Jeffrey Lewis befriended Tuli in the early 2000s, and has personally organized “Tuli-day” memorial tribute concerts every year since Tuli’s passing.
Works by Tuli Kupferberg (Don Giovanni Records) documents some of the finer fruits of Jeffrey’s tribute arrangements, drawing from a four-decade range of Tuli’s various creative voices, from poignant 60s classics (Morning Morning) to never-recorded lyrics (Listen to the Mockingbird), poems set to music (The And Song), works that Tuli called parasongs (I Wanna Hold Your Foot) and later-period Fugs gems (Try to Be Joyful).
Across the board Jeffrey Lewis directs a co-ed band of wild and wooly cohorts, including original Fugs member Peter Stampfel, to bring the same surprising interpretive life to these covers as he brought to his critically-acclaimed 12 Crass Songs album. Whether or not you’re a Fugs fan or a Jeffrey Lewis fan, Works by Tuli Kupferberg is a rollicking, laughing, tear-jerking, psychedelic ride through a hidden history of New York City folk-punk sub-genius. Recorded in the free-wheeling spirit of the original 1965 Fugs recordings, this is an album fifty years in the making.
Scribouille: Why this record and what did Tuli Kupferberg represent for you?
Jeffrey Lewis (J.L.):This album is something of an extension of my previous release, Manhattan, as Tuli was a guiding cultural spirit of a certain kind of old Manhattan bohemianism. When Tuli died, and Lou Reed died, it seemed like that voice of old downtown neighborhood culture had left no one behind to carry it on, and I figured I should try to be the best modern version of that voice that I could be. Lou Reed represented New York City to the world, but Tuli Kupferberg was more regional and specific, he represented the neighborhood to the neighborhood.
Scribouille: Tuli left behind a considerable work, qualitatively and quantitatively. How did you decide which title would be on the album or not?
J.L.: A lot of it was decided based on what I thought I could do a good job with, songs that I felt I could represent in a good and interesting way. Certain songs would be impossible to do a good cover of, some of Tuli’s most famous songs like Kill For Peace, and Nothing, and CIA Man, I think I would have a hard time finding something interesting to do with those songs, the original recordings are perfect. But other material, like Life Is Strange, or Try To Be Joyful, or No Deposit No Return, I could listen to the original recordings and I could imagine a new and better way to represent these ideas, the way they sound to me in my head. And then of course there were many other songs that had no original recording at all, just some fun lyrics written in a book, and I could really have fun imagining how to bring them to life, in a way that I think Tuli might have really loved.
Scribouille: In the end, I find that the album reflects quite well the different facets of the artist that was Tuli. Was it something you thought about or did it happen naturally?
J.L.: I feel a natural ability to connect and understand and transmit some of these elements because I have this sense that Tuli was, in some ways, part of my family. I think a lot of people probably felt the same way about him, so I don’t know if that’s anything particularly special, but it felt special to me. My uncle, my father, my grandparents, the lives they lived, the way they spoke, the books they read, the sense of humor, these things were so similar in Tuli when I first got to know him personally, it really felt like this was a relative in my family, an uncle I hadn’t met before, something like that. When my drummer Dave first met Tuli he told me “I can’t believe it, he’s you!” And I’m aware it’s an unfair and uninformed opinion for me to have, because Tuli lived a whole life that I’m not much more knowledgeable about than any other fan, I’m just a fan, and he had his own family and his own problems and issues and I’m sure there are massive differences in many ways. It’s just that certain key points of similarity, certain mutual understandings, were important to me and allowed me to feel confident that I could attempt an album project like this.
Scribouille: This album denotes by its spontaneity. I sometimes listen to it, eyes closed, and have the impression to attend one of your concerts. So, I wonder and I ask you: was it intended and how did you work in the studio?
J.L.:Yes, this was certainly based on a spontaneous method. Originally I thought the whole album should just be recorded live, in one day, but it didn’t work out like that. Every year I would gather some musicians on Tuli’s birthday, and we would pick about 10 songs and learn them and perform them. But then it would only happen once a year, and after a few days the songs are not performed or rehearsed any more and then when it comes to that time of year again I have to learn them again and find new songs and teach some musicians how to play the songs, and rehearse them for the little Tuli-tribute concert. Every year it seemed a waste to me, to learn these songs and only perform them once and then forget them. Every year I dreamed we could get into a recording studio, just for one day, after the performance, and just play the songs again and get them recorded before we forgot how to play them again. But it was always impossible, the musicians were busy with other things, I was busy with other things and finally when I was able to get some people together into a recording studio it wasn’t even right after a Tuli-tribute gig so we barely remembered how to play half of the songs anyway. It was very hard to get people to rehearse. Some things we recorded didn’t sound very good to me, and needed some more work. Other things sounded pretty fine and perfect, just with a quick recording. But still it took more time and work to put together than I had originally planned. Mostly it was recorded in one live day, but then some of it had to be recorded on a another day, and then some of the instruments and voices needed to be added or fixed, or some songs were too long and needed to be cut down.
Scribouille: It also seems important to highlight the musicians who accompany you. Because it’s not just an other Jeff Lewis’ album, we find this community spirit that prevailed among the Fugs. It was important to you?
J.L.: The feeling of a gang of people, this is an important part of it, almost like listening to a cult! Like the Manson Family recordings or the Source Family! But with more humor and compassion and a bit less murder. Involving a mix of young and old, men and women, this was good for the sound too. The human race is a mix of people; how can a band make a full range of artistic humanistic songs with only people who are exactly the same in the band? The Beatles and the Rolling Stones would have been better if there was a mix of people. This was something that the Velvet Underground had, to have Maureen Tucker in the band, and even to have John Cale with his Welsh accent, and Nico with her germanic voice, it’s more interesting. The Fugs had this too, a bit, because Tuli was twice as old as other people in the band. That’s interesting. They were in their 20s, Tuli was in his 40s. What a strange band! But the Fugs would have been a better band if there were women in the band. Can you imagine how great that could have been? A woman poet, a couple of crazy hippie poet artist ladies from the east side, old and young, to join writing the songs with Ed and Tuli and Ken, really it would have been like having a Patti Smith in the band, a wild rock and roll poet, with a wild voice, but 1965 was a long, long time ago. It’s too bad they didn’t think of it at the time.
Scribouille: There is this album but not only: Fuff #12 finally finished, you were recording with Roger Moutenot recently and you’ll be touring in April in Europe… What can you tell us about all this in a few words?
J.L.:There’s never enough time, it is very frustrating to me! I have so much work to do, to do my taxes, to get the work visas for the tour, to rent the cars, a hundred things, and even making the albums is a waste of time, really. The only important thing is the creative thing, to have an idea, to make something. I have not made a new comic book in two years, that’s a long time. Where does the time go? Interviews, Facebook, mailing out tour-posters, I don’t know! I’m bad at organizing my time. I should be working on something else right now.
Thanx to Jeffrey for his availability & to Don Giovanni Records.
Jeffrey Lewis & Los Bolts US/UK/Europe tour dates:
Sun March 18 – Brooklyn NYC – The Current, at Wonders of Nature (131 Grand St, 11249) – The Current is a performance series inviting writers, musicians, and creative folk to present new work inspired by the times to raise funds and awareness for non-profits doing important work. With performances by Jeffrey Lewis, Bob Holman, John S. Hall, Air Waves, Sara Lautman, James Yeh, Lusterlit, Tana Wojczuk, Jim Andralis, and Deenah Vollmer. $7-15 suggested donation. All proceeds will be donated to Everytown for Gun Safety. FB event here
FRI MAR 30 – Cardiff UK – Wales Goes Pop Festival
SUN APR 1 – Brighton UK – The Hope & Ruin 7:30pm. 18+. £12. W/ Pog **SOLD OUT!** (2nd show added, see below)
THUR APR 5 – Halifax UK – (2 gigs in Halifax today! See below.) EARLY 5pm at Grayston Unity (1-3 Wesley Ct) **SOLD OUT!**
THUR APR 5 – Halifax UK – EVENING show, 8pm at The Lantern (13-15, Alexandra Street, HX1 1BS) £12. Tix here!
SUN APR 8 – London UK – Moth Club – 8pm. 18+. W/ Holly Holden y Su Banda! £13. **SOLD OUT!!** (2nd show added, see below)
THURS April 12 – Nantes, FRANCE – Pôle Etudiant, Université de Nantes (Chemin de la censive du Tertre, 44000)w/ Josef Leimberg, and Black Knights! FB event here!
SAT April 14 – Schorndorf, GERMANY – Manufaktur (Hammerschlag 8, 73614) Tix here!
SUN April 15 – Aachen, GERMANY – Musikbunker (Goffartstraße 39, 52066) FB event here!
THURS April 19 – Hamburg, GERMANY – Hafenklang (Carsten-Rehder-Strasse 51, 22767) Tix here!
FRI April 20 – Sint Niklaas, BELGIUM – De Casino Concertzall (Stationsstraat 104, 9100 Sint-Niklaas) GARLAND JEFFREYS, w/ support from Jeffrey Lewis & Los Bolts! 22€ adv/ 25€ door. Tix here!
THEN, back in NYC:
Thurs May 3 – NYC – Pianos (158 Ludlow St)20-year reunion gig, Lonesome Crew (feat. Ish Marquez!) w/ Jeffrey Lewis & Los Bolts!!w/ support from True Dreams!! $10 adv/$13 door. 8pm. 21+ only. Tix here! FB event here!
May 2018: Jeffrey Lewis (*solo acoustic*) tour of Ireland!
SAT May 5- Letterkenny, Co. Donegal, IRELAND – Regional Cultural Centre (46 Port Rd, Gortlee)
SUN May 6 – Belfast, N of IRELAND – The Black Box (Afternoon show. Doors 1pm) (18-22 Hill St, BT1 2LA) Tix here!
MON May 7 – Newbridge, Co.Kildare, IRELAND – Brú House (Georges St, W12 YD78) Tix here!
TUES May 8 – Drogheda, Co.Louth, IRELAND – The Salty Dog
WED May 9 – Galway, IRELAND – Monroe’s Live
THURS May 10 – Kilkee, Co.Clare, IRELAND –The Greyhound
FRI May 11 – Ballydehob, West Cork, IRELAND – Levis Corner House