NYU Acquires Archive of Legendary Downtown Arts Pioneer

Fales Library To House Collection of Tuli Kupferberg

Band in New York: Tuli Kupferberg appropriated Yiddish melodies for songs he performed with his band The Fugs.
Courtesy of Ed Sanders
Band in New York: Tuli Kupferberg appropriated Yiddish melodies for songs he performed with his band The Fugs.

By Jon Kalish

Published December 13, 2013, issue of December 20, 2013.
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“He was as much of a pack rat as I,” said Ed Sanders, Kupferberg’s friend and cofounder of The Fugs. Sanders recalled Kupferberg’s remarkable memory of the Bible, obscure talmudic passages and hasidic lore. He still marvels at Kupferberg’s ability to sing Yiddish radio commercials from the 1930s.

Lopez is thankful that Kupferberg also retained boxes and boxes of cultural artifacts. “He seemed to have an understanding that [these things] were important and some record of them ought to be preserved,” said Lopez.

Visitors to the NYU archive may be interested in reading an unpublished autobiographical novel that describes Kupferberg’s teenage and college years. Other gems include black panties emblazoned with “The Fugs”; the band’s fan mail from teenagers in the 1960s; cassette recordings of Kupferberg working on songs; and Kupferberg’s correspondence with such cultural luminaries as Aldous Huxley, Henry Miller, Howard Zinn and Norman Mailer.

Both Lopez and Taylor confirmed that video recordings of Kupferberg’s cable TV show, “Revolting News,” are currently not part of the archive. Fifteen years of the public access show produced by Brooklyn musician Norman Savitt and Kupferberg’s longtime girlfriend, Thelma Blitz, are the subject of ongoing legal negotiations. Some of the material used in “Revolting News” can be viewed YouTube. It may be some of the most overtly Jewish content in the archive: Kupferberg holds forth on the Jewish laws of family purity, raps about his trip to Israel in 1990, and sings a song about the man who revealed the Israeli nuclear arsenal. In a music video of The Fugs’ song “Backward Jewish Soldiers,” which is sung to the tune of “Onward, Christian Soldiers,” Blitz reversed black and white footage of World War I soldiers marching, and incorporated photographs of Kupferberg in front of a shul in Brooklyn and a Jewish home for the poor in London.

Samara Kupferberg hopes an exhibit utilizing materials in the archive will help with the dissemination of her father’s work.

“He would want that,” she told the Forward. “That was kind of his whole mission, just to make the work to share with the world.”

Jon Kalish is a Manhattan-based radio reporter, podcast producer and newspaper writer whose work can be found on his blog, Kalish Labs: http://jonkalish.tumblr.com


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