In a college dorm, in a prison, in a marriage
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At a time when radio stations clung safely to bubble-gum rock, The Fugs — Tuli Kupferberg, Ed Saunders, and Ken Weaver — were to music what Lenny Bruce was to comedy. Their shows were communal theater, their style off-beat and irreverent, with simple tunes and lyrics ranging from lightly sarcastic to outright raunchy. With songs like “Slum Goddess of the Lower East Side,” “Coca-Cola Douche,” “I Couldn’t Get High,” and “The Nothing Song,” they were catalysts of what Tuli Kupferberg calls “a kind of beat-hippie-bohemian defiance of the status quo, the establishment, and the America that sucks.” That was 1965. Seventeen years later, it seems an era has come and gone. Or has it?
We’d printed some of Tuli Kupferberg’s recent cartoons but knew little else about him since his years with The Fugs. I was planning a trip to New York, and Jeff Badgett, THE SUN’s assistant editor, suggested I give Kupferberg a call. He agreed to the interview readily, adding “Of course, I’m a bit different from your usual subjects. I don’t buy that New Agey spiritual stuff.” “Good,” I said, “my cynical side could use a little prodding.” “Well, let’s not call it cynicism,” he suggested, “maybe realism. . . .”
Having spent the day before with Schlomo Carlebach, I knew that this would be a major change of pace. When we arrived at his fifth-floor apartment Kupferberg said, with a mischievous smile, that I’d caught him in a vicious mood. He was ready to “let the readers have it.” We spoke around the kitchen table, by the aisles of books that were most of the room’s furnishings. His wife Sylvia finished the dishes behind us. “You know,” she said, “the last article done on Tuli spent more time describing our unfinished bathroom than anything he said.” I promised to include both. Through the opening banter his voice was a reluctant mumble, then as talk grew livelier, a livelier mumble. His wit was quick and abundant, good-humored though sarcastic.
Again and again the talk turned to politics. When asked by Jerome Rubin, my father and photographer, to define his own, he had no easy answer. “I’m a man who’s still looking for an effective radical politics.” It’s a search he began more than 40 years ago. He’s felt the frustration of watching the fall of countless promising movements, and seeing the inability of leftist thought, thus far, to provide workable alternatives to the inequalities of capitalist culture. He’s wise enough to see the faults in all the perfect theories, the clay feet of all his heroes. Still, his sincerity shines through.
I found our talk fascinating, especially as we role-played the old argument about the relation of politics or work in the world, and spirituality. Are the ideals mutually exclusive, or intertwined and inseparable, one lending strength to the other? To me it seems that a sharp distinction between the two denies an essential connection: political action is impotent without a keen moral or spiritual sense, spirituality dead-ends when divorced from action. Tuli felt that the other-worldliness he’s seen labelled as spirituality is cop-out, a placebo. We felt it important to air his view, though the discussion seemed more semantic than substantial. “I suppose it’s really the the same thing,” he said, “but I prefer my kind of social activism.” He summed it up well: “It’s not so much what you think you think, but what you do and how you really feel.”
— Howard Jay Rubin
SUN: Who is Tuli Kupferberg?
KUPFERBERG: He’s as yet undefined. That was pretty helpful, wasn’t it?
SUN: That was fine. A couple of facts: you have a wife, what’s her name?
KUPFERBERG: This is my wife, What’s-her-name. Sylvia.
SUN: And a daughter. How old is she?
KUPFERBERG: She’s eight. And I have a twelve-year-old son, and a thirty-three year old son, who’s not here, by a previous engagement.
SUN: In an old SUN, you were described as an artist and a writer. What are you working on now?
KUPFERBERG: I don’t like people who define themselves as being artists or writers, or even, by extension, by their craft, unless it’s a very down-to-earth one. I think those are very egotistical descriptions.
SUN: So, what kind of stuff are you doing these days?
KUPFERBERG: I’m taking care of the children and drawing cartoons.
SUN: A lot of cartoons?
KUPFERBERG: Yeah, they only take me about three minutes each. See, I don’t know how to draw, but I’m a good cartoonist. It’s really a literary form.
SUN: Let’s look at the Fugs. What were things like when they started, and what were the Fugs about?
KUPFERBERG: Well, things were more exciting when they started, now things are more depressing. We were at the beginning of a kind of upswing then, in ’65, and now we’re at the depth of a downswing, and some think that it’s the beginning of an upswing.
SUN: Do you think that?
KUPFERBERG: Well, it may be. It’s not the end of the beginning, but is it the beginning of the end? People have always had these end-of-the-world feelings about their period, especially when they get over 50 years of age.
SUN: So, what brought the Fugs together?
KUPFERBERG: Fate. You want to know the specifics? We were reading our poetry, and reading poetry is a kind of sedentary thing, although the beats tried to liven it up, making it into a more dramatic art. We’d sit at the Metro on Second Avenue, which was a cafe run by someone who gained most of their income from a bookie operation at the same place. Maybe it was a good thing. I mean, at least it was a lively venture. After our readings we would go around the corner to a place called the Dome. There was a bar with a jukebox that had Beatles and Stones records. And the fat-assed poets would be shamed by all the others into dancing. Ed got the idea for forming a rock group that would have lyrics that were a little more meaningful than the standard known at the time. I picked the name Fugs from Norman Mailer’s expression for the word fuck in The Naked and the Dead, and we were on our way. Ken Weaver was in there too, so we three started the Fugs.
SUN: Can you think of any of the lyrics that seem representative to you?
KUPFERBERG: Yeah, it was Ted Berrigan who gave us what I thought was maybe the best Fugs song. It was called “Doin’ All Right,” and it goes like this: “When I walk down the street, the people that I meet hold their noses and say, ‘How are you fixed for blades?’ But don’t mind ’em, I walk right on by, ’cause I’m high, and I’m getting almost as much pussy as the spades.” I think he said more pussy, but that was revised as being too racist. And I think it’s never sung that way any more, because it is a kind of racist and sexist line. Then it went on, and if I had to pick two lines that represented the Fugs I would pick these two, “I ain’t ever gonna go to Vietnam, gonna stay right here at home and screw your mom.” I think it starts, “I got hairs growing around my nose and throat, I don’t ever exercise the right to vote. When you see me on the street you yell, ‘Jesus Christ,’ but I’m getting mine, I’m doin’ all right.” So that was the beginning of a kind of beat-hippie-bohemian defiance of the status quo, the establishment, and the America that sucks.
SUN: What kind of reaction did the Fugs get?
KUPFERBERG: An amazingly enthusiastic and friendly reaction. We played for our friends at the beginning, and it was probably more fun then than it ever was. It was very communal, half the audience would come on the stage, anything could happen at a show, and sometimes did, although that was true all during our career.
We were basically theater, because we would act out each song. I would do a good part of that since Ed had decided I shouldn’t sing, for good reason. So when you hear the records you only hear about a quarter of what we were. We would improvise every night, and I would construct a dramatic piece around each song, with a lot of costume changes and a lot of weird things, props.
SUN: Were you ever famous enough to have to deal with people treating you as a celebrity?
KUPFERBERG: There can be ten people who know you and you’ll still have to deal with that sometimes. The first way you deal with it is by accepting it all, because it’s such a welcome relief from being a non-entity and a piece of shit the way society treats most people. But then you realize that it has its built-in stupidities and drawbacks, which is that you get to believe, if you’re stupid enough yourself, that the adulation has some sort of proportion to what you really are. The other bad thing is that so much is expected from you by these people who want you to fill out their lives. I know this because I’ve been at both ends of it, I’ve hero-worshipped myself so I know what’s involved.
SUN: Who were your heroes back then?
KUPFERBERG: Oh, the usual. Dylan, maybe. I’ve had literary people I’ve admired. I can’t remember them because they soon devolved into being less than heroes. My latest hero with clay feet is George Grosz the German cartoonist. Cartoonist is a very mild word because he was an incredible social critic of Germany in the period between the wars and then he came to America and sort of mildly attacked everything he stood for. He called the people — meaning the masses — idiots. Maybe they’re not the brightest, but. . . . Then he was asked to draw by some left-wing magazines for no money and he said he’d had enough of that, as if the people who make these magazines were making money off him. I’m sure they weren’t. They were also working for nothing, almost nothing. So he was the latest hero to go, but woe to the land that needs heroes.
SUN: Were you part of the Yippie myth?
KUPFERBERG: Myth? The Yippies were not a myth.
SUN: Then what were they?
KUPFERBERG: They weren’t a myth because they knew they were a myth, you see. It’s hard to say if there was a Yippie myth because it was very effective for a period. Something that was effective can hardly be a myth. It maybe wasn’t what it seemed to be.
SUN: What was your part in that?
KUPFERBERG: Well, I was in on it from the beginning, almost. I went to Chicago during the ’68 convention and the Fugs were supposed to play there but part of our band was in California and they were too afraid to come. I was afraid too, but I figured we promised to go so we should go. I wasn’t quite sure it was a smart thing to do, because I thought people would be killed there. I think it was a wonderful idea to disrupt the convention, but not at the price of a lot of dead young people.
SUN: What was your experience there?
KUPFERBERG: Horrible. We came a few days before it was supposed to start, and were informed that a young Indian boy had been shot to death on the streets. I don’t know if he had a weapon or not, but the cops said he looked like he had a weapon, and he was just shot to death. That was the only death in that period, but it certainly cast a pall over what was going to happen for me. I don’t claim to be a physically brave person, and I was terrified of the Chicago police. They looked like brutes, like caricatures of policemen, and they certainly hated any young person who seemed to be having a good time or who showed disrespect for the institutions they thought made America. I was in the park those nights, and I was in some of the demonstrations, but I had the misfortune to take something — it’s argued whether it was the first THC or a horse tranquilizer. There were provocateurs there from about ten different government agencies, some of whom I’m sure were spying on each other. So that would have been something that one of those agencies might have put into this stuff that was being passed around. Anyway, that incapacitated me for three or four days during a lot of the action. I was just out somewhere, at a couple’s house who had come to Chicago to do some sort of social work or maybe as part of their school term, some Midwestern, liberal, progressive college like Antioch or Oberlin where you did a term’s work outside, and they had become early followers of Mahara-ji, and they insisted while I was trying to come out of my fog that I visit them in New York and visit Mahara-ji . And here while the world was being turned upside down in Chicago, while the whole world was watching, they were interested in the perfect little master. I couldn’t believe it. I’m sure the readers of THE SUN will be taken with my observation.
SUN: The PEN club just released a report about the harassment of the underground press back then. Do you think the underground press was effective?
KUPFERBERG: That was released a year ago, and none of the major media covered that story at all, and here was something that was compiled specifically to show how the press was being harassed, seduced, framed, sent to jail. You remember the reports that the Times had its reporters working for the CIA? Well you see, the Times doesn’t work for the CIA, the CIA works for the Times. So, your question was?
SUN: Do you think that the underground press was effective?
KUPFERBERG: Sure it was effective. It was as effective as the movement. To a large extent the Sixties movement was one of ideas. And to a great extent the movement was the media. If you count the concrete accomplishments of the Sixties they were a speeding up of the end of the war in Vietnam, and a lot of young people changing their ideas about what their lives were about. The effect of the Sixties is still with us, especially in people who are now 30 or older. To the younger people, because of the media, it’s as if the Sixties had never happened, as if Vietnam never happened. It’s parallel to what I’m sure happens in Germany. The young people there know very little about Nazism and our young people know very little about what happened in the Sixties. See for me, the Vietnam experience for America is typified by what happened to Nixon. Nixon was thrown out. He was a mass murderer — I think he was responsible for the murder of hundreds of thousands of people — and he was impeached for wire-tapping, that’s why he lost the presidency. He was a wire-tapper, a very serious crime, almost as serious as littering.
SUN: Where do you get your news? How do you find out what’s going on?
KUPFERBERG: In very difficult ways. But first you have to have some sort of analysis of what society is about. My analysis is very simple. Basically, there is a ruling class that controls the state, the police, the army, the educational system by and large, and they control all the media. If you realize that, you realize that they will be lying a lot of the time. So you just proceed on that basis. Occasionally things come through, of course. There is an interesting article in Cockburn’s column in The Voice this week about a Times correspondent in Beirut. During the longest period of bombing by the Israelis, he wrote in his lead that the Israelis had bombed Beirut in an indiscriminate manner for the first time. They took out the word indiscriminate. And there is a long series of cables between the correspondent and the editors at the Times. This is what the Times does, and it does it much less obviously than that. If you look at the Times everything just seems to happen. They have no theory of society, except they do, they have the theory that everything is in general going pretty well and we just have to fix a few things, and I’m okay Jack.
SUN: If you were to pick up a magic wand and fix something, what would you fix?
KUPFERBERG: I’d start with the important things, like the toilet and the sink. O.K., the people in control of industry and the schools and so on are also in control of all the different media and the means of education. So it’s a cycle. Now if you can break in at any point, for example, if by some miracle you could control industry — say there was a very radical labor movement that by a general strike took over industry, then by their very nature they would, for instance, take over newspapers, at least they would share the power. They would be able to publish what they wanted and get it distributed, instead of the owners now publishing what they want. There isn’t any one magical thing you can do. The point is that you have to get in at a particular place. No one has been able to figure that out, how to do this, otherwise we would have had the revolution. So we don’t know what to do because it doesn’t matter what kind of perfect theory you have, if you can’t effect it it’s not a perfect theory because a part of it is missing: how to get it into action.
SUN: New York is a place that is extremely media-conscious, media overridden. What effect do you think this has on the culture here?
KUPFERBERG: What effect it has is to give a lot of people work. Most people in the media are not doing anything worthwhile, they are just perpetuating the system. Sports, for example, serves two functions, one to dull and use up people’s time and energy, a sort of idiot-making function, and the other is as a rehearsal for capitalist struggle, the army. Football is a perfect paradigm of war, and all the other sports, they’re sports, that means someone wins or loses. Boxing in Rome and Greece was boxing to the death. Boxing is banned in Sweden, but in America people go to a ring to see someone get the shit beat out of them. That’s the same reason they go to auto races, to see a car crash. In tennis matches they may go to see someone win, but someone always loses when someone wins. It’s funny that it works that way.
SUN: What are your feelings about living here in New York?
KUPFERBERG: New York? It’s the most exciting cesspool in the world. I have this cartoon I just did where someone’s interviewing Mayor Koch and he says, “Mayor Koch, what do you think makes a New Yorker the remarkable person he is?” And Mayor Koch says, “I think it is his uncanny ability to avoid all the misery around him.” Everyone comes to New York for a different reason. I didn’t come to New York, I was born here, and it’s just been hard to get away. But I can honestly say, in the more than 50 years that I’ve lived here, there’s been a steady decline in the quality of living. I grew up in a working-class tenement. It was clean, safe, and comparatively friendly. It was no paradise. New York was never a paradise. And a lot of the mugging and violence existed in the nineteenth century, so it’s sort of being recycled now. But people don’t come here to be in New York, they come here to do a specific thing. If they’re young and attracted to the arts, this is the place to come. If they need a job and they’re Puerto Rican or black, this is why they came, and millions came. And for a while there were jobs and then they were left high and dry, so New York has almost two million people on welfare. That means Puerto Rico and Georgia and Alabama and North Carolina have less people on welfare. But now the new federalism is going to spread the welfare all over the country so there will be more people on welfare but they’ll get less. I think that Reagan believes in sharing the misery, at least among the welfare recipients.
SUN: What are the big changes you’ve seen since the Sixties?
KUPFERBERG: A change in the attitudes between men and women, First, the admission in the early Sixties that there were men and women, two different sexes, a kind of freeing up of sexuality, a lot of it not perfect, that struggle is still going on of course. Also, a realization that the authority of institutions is not God-given, inevitable, or even desirable in American society, that there are a lot of institutions that are horrible, like the justice system, the military, capitalism if you will, parts of it. Thirdly, the idea that it was possible, at least theoretically, to step outside the entire structure. The young people in particular were able to do this because they had no responsibility, they had some financial support, and they had the traditional freedom of being a student or just being young. And to step out of it and not automatically follow the nine-to-five path to oblivion — which meant go to school up to a certain age, get a job, get married, have children, pay your taxes, go to war, be a good citizen, retire when you’re 65 and too old to enjoy anything, get drunk on Friday night, watch TV, and die, and pass this way of life on to your children.
SUN: How have your ideas changed in recent years?
KUPFERBERG: They haven’t changed (laughs). Because my ideas are correct (laughs). Well, they’ve changed in that I once thought that we were closer to the realization of better times. I think radicals have to believe that, because it’s pretty hard to be a radical. I guess I’ve been disabused of that, although now that we have Reagan we have another shot at it. But at the same time, the catastrophes and the potential for destruction have become even more immense, and the misery just permeates all of society, the whole world, so much so that you don’t know what to do.
SUN: Have your views about yourself changed much in these years?
KUPFERBERG: Well, when you get older . . .
SUN: How much older did you get?
KUPFERBERG: I’m 59. You get sort of impatient and you realize that you shouldn’t waste any time. So, I’ve decided that getting even is a worthwhile motivation, which is what I do in my cartoons, in a very gentle way I suppose. But I feel I want to get it all out. Older people are more direct because they have less to lose. They don’t have to kiss ass so much.
SUN: When we spoke on the phone, you said you were probably different from most people I interview because your aren’t “New-Agey.” What is New-Agey?
KUPFERBERG: First of all, I am eminently qualified to speak about it because I know very little about it, but I’ll give you my impressions. I started off from a Jewish rationalist point of view. We Jewish rationalists were lucky, when we rejected religion we did it whole-heartedly and a lot of us became the radicals of the world, from Karl Marx on. I myself am an agnostic because I’m a coward, I want to play both parts, you know. What have I got to lose? As far as the New Age, I’ll analyze it into two parts. One, the afterlife. Also the rebirth, the reincarnations. Incarnation is very big, it exists in some of the Eastern religions, but it’s big in America too. But everyone was someone like Cleopatra, Frederick the Great, Moses, hardly anyone was this poor schmuck that was building a pyramid, or a peasant, or a murderer, hardly anyone was ever reincarnated like that. Some of this is pie-in-the-sky. This is a standard part of religion — you delay all of your satisfactions until the next life. This is a religion for slaves. I knew this would come up, so I have this book by a Greek who was captured by Romans and taken back there, sold out and became a historian at their service. This is 125 B.C.: “Since the masses of the people are inconsistent, full of unruly desire, passionate and reckless of consequence, they must be filled with fears to keep them in order. The ancients did well, therefore, to invent gods, and the belief in punishment after death.” So that’s the afterlife. Now . . .
SUN: Let’s stay with that for a second. Without that particular sustenance, those beliefs, how do you think about death?
KUPFERBERG: That’s the other part of it that I was going to discuss. That takes care of the afterlife, but you still have to adjust to life today, so what do you do? You need something to keep you going now. I suppose it’s really the same thing, you throw yourself completely at the mercy of a god or a system of help or a great teacher. But I prefer my kind of social activism, my radicalism. It’s the same sort of thing, really, except I believe that mine is more in touch with the real world, the problems of the real world, whereas a lot people who are defeated in their attempts to solve the problems of the real world opt for this otherworldy solution. And it’s understandable, and who am I to forgive, but it’s forgivable. They have the solace of their religion. For some, of course, opium is the religion of the people. This is another way out. These are ways of confronting the horrors of everyday life. So there’s religion, New Age and Old Age, dope, art, and revolution. Money is just power, and you have to define what you want power for, some people want it for sex, some people want it for sadism, some people have forgotten why they want it. Then there’s the family, and there must be other things that I don’t know about. These are various solutions to the problem of living.
SUN: When you come up against something that scares you, what’s your support?
KUPFERBERG: Well, my family, I guess, my beliefs, and sometimes there isn’t any support. Sometimes you’re scared shitless, you don’t know what to do. That’s why I say these are all understandable as long as they are not taken for what they are not. I don’t think believing in God is a way of solving the problem of the 20 million people who are on welfare. It’s important not to get the categories confused, and there are some church people who don’t get them confused. There are a lot of very respectable religious radicals in this country. And there are very weak, foolish, crazy, and impotent political radicals.
SUN: If you could get one thing done, in any field, what would you do?
KUPFERBERG: (Laughs.) I wouldn’t say I’m at the zenith of my political, moral, ethical, religious strength at this point, so if I could keep the subway from making so much noise. . . . I’ll tell you why that’s so hard to answer, because there isn’t one thing. If I could get one thing, if I could get this subway noise stopped, someone else is going to have to pay higher taxes to put rubber wheels on the subways, and it’s probably going to be me. So I’m not willing to spend a hundred dollars a year to get the subway quieter, because there’s still the auto noise out there. Let’s put it another way. What are the important things that need immediate fixing? I’ll tell you what pisses me off more than anything — the incredible stupidity of armies. The very fact of nation-states. If we could get rid of them that would be nice. But there are a few states that don’t have any armies, that have almost no armies, so it’s possible even now. But the world’s armaments cost maybe a trillion dollars a year, and it’s trite and commonplace, but if you would spend all that constructively . . . well, we don’t. I have another cartoon where a reporter says, “Mr. Reagan, you cut the welfare program, you cut all the social programs and nobody complains about that. People complain about taxes, but they never complain about taxes for the armed forces. Why is that?” And Reagan answers, “I guess everybody likes a good murder.” The fact that this is institutionalized and accepted in America and all over the world is incredibly disappointing. People oppose the draft, but they don’t oppose the army. We should be talking about unilateral disarmament in every country in the world. When they tell you to join the army and learn a trade, the trade is murder. They don’t tell you that in the commercials. The trade is how to kill people in different ways — hand to hand, chemically, electronically. So, if you could arrange for THE SUN magazine to get rid of the U.S. army. . . .
SUN: I’ll see what we can come up with. Have you read THE SUN?
KUPFERBERG: I read it, but I can’t take New Age materials so I don’t read it very carefully. I gave it a chance. I know that there is worthwhile stuff even in New Age material, but it’s like my reading of poetry. I don’t read little magazines anymore because I know that one out of 500 poems will be really great. But I don’t have time to read through all the mush for the one gem.
SUN: There is an attempt in THE SUN to cut through a lot of the New Age mush. It’s hard to say how well it works. . . .
KUPFERBERG: Well, I’ll let you be the judge of that. To me it still seems too spiritual. If I would ask you to define that word, what would you say?
SUN: It’s a hard word to define. Everyone has a different definition.
KUPFERBERG: But you have to define it. It’s used all the time in the literature. In fact, it’s what distinguishes it from the materialist or the practical. I could define materialist.
SUN: Go ahead.
KUPFERBERG: It means one who deals with everyday life, dealing with the basic necessities which I would define as food, shelter, clothing, companionship, the ability to work at something that is satisfying, the freedom from terror, the freedom to self-actualize, to use the jargon, in the arts or the spirit. I’ll even use that word, but that comes at the end because it’s hard to be very spiritual in the concentration camp, some people can, but I don’t think we should ask that of everybody.
The spiritualist, I would say, is someone who doesn’t have to worry about taking care of the basic necessities, and starts to think about how he can develop himself while ignoring everyone else. In other words I think that it really helps to be upper-middle class if you’re going to be New Age. There are a lot of upper middle class anarchists too, but a higher proportion of New Age people.
SUN: My problem in defining spiritual is that any definition I would find workable has to include all of that — taking care of necessities, relationships, responsibilities and so on.
KUPFERBERG: I’m sure that there are some thinkers whom we think of primarily as spiritual who agree with that, but my impression is that they are in the minority. Trotsky said that after the revolution people would not stop having problems, but that the problems would be on a higher plane. So, I would accept that. That’s why I resent people who think of themselves as artists and above it all. I wonder whether they have the right to ask society to support them when others are passing through hell and starving to death. I always try to spend part of the day working on something menial. I don’t think you should lose touch with that which other people have to go through every day just because you consider yourself a superior person.
JEROME RUBIN: You’re 59, so you were around in the Forties.
KUPFERBERG: I was around in the Forties, yeah.
JEROME RUBIN: So you were around 40 years before the Sixties came around. How did you, born in the Twenties, become a child of the Sixties?
KUPFERBERG: Interesting question. In 1932 I was nine or ten, I remember the Depression well. And I remember that in Central Park there were shanty towns, I remember visiting them. Homeless men covered the wide part where the reservoir now is. And I remember problems in my house with money. So I became a Communist, a radical, and I attended my first political meeting in high school when I was 13, some sort of Commie-front organization. At 18, when I left my parochial immigrant’s family, I discovered there were different universes. I discovered Greenwich Village and bohemianism. So the link between me and the Sixties is the double link of political radicalism and bohemianism, which have always been linked. It goes back to the France of the 1840’s, 1860’s. Then the war came and wiped everything out, wiped the slate clean. Then after the war came the Fifties, which were death, death to everything. America became normal again. And the beats were in a direct line from the bohemians, and all these lines meet in the Sixties. So the Sixties were nothing new to me. The only thing new about them to America was that it was on a huge scale, and it seemed as if it might work, it was coming together. In the Thirties a lot of artists were radicalized, the Village was radicalized. The streams were always together, and the Sixties seemed to be a real fruition of this period. It seemed as if it was going into the mainstream. The mistake, of course, was that it was just a youth movement, and it made no contact with anything past student life. And when the main student issue, which was the war, dissolved it was seen to be organizationally and theoretically a weak movement, because it was not able to link up with the rest of the country, the working class, the middle class, and with the older age groups.
SUN: How do you feel about the idea that to create any effective change in society you have to start with a change in yourself, and that the two go hand in hand?
KUPFERBERG: That’s always been a cop-out as far as I’m concerned. Now I’ve often found people who had my political ideas who were horrible, and if they ever attempted to put them into actuality they’d only fuck things up worse. And I’ve met people who I supposedly differed with politically who were very charitable and good people. So it’s not so much what you think you think, but what you do and how you really feel. It’s a chicken-and-egg question as to which comes first. But I will say that if you think you’re going to wait to become a perfect being before you start to live in the real world, you’re going to have to wait a long time.
SUN: Anything else?
KUPFERBERG: I hate to end on a depressing note. I will say that what we have going for us is our biology, or nature, which has a lot in it, not all completely wonderful, but we do have the potentiality for a much better world than we have because we’ve seen glimpses of it all the time in our personal life and even in periods of history that have been short but have existed. I leave you to find out which ones they were and to make some new ones.
Howard Jay Rubin