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Book Review: Fug You – A History of the Counterculture by Ed Sanders

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Ed Sanders is best known as the founder of one of the ultimate underground sixties bands, The Fugs, as well as being the author of the definitive study of the Manson case, The Family. His new autobiography Fug You basically covers his life during the sixties, not only with The Fugs, but as owner of the Peace Eye bookstore, and publisher of the Fuck You/ A Magazine of the Arts literary paper. As is probably obvious by the name of his magazine, Sanders believed in freedom of speech and in questioning authority at every level. In the sixties, the government did not take kindly to such endeavors, and Fug You chronicles the ups and downs of that turbulent era from deep inside the underground.

Sanders made his home in the Lower East Side of New York, where he operated the Peace Eye bookstore and his magazine. These endeavors afforded him the opportunity to meet a great number of the movers and shakers of the time. I have read a fair amount of accounts of the sixties, including The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe, but what makes Fug You special is how Sanders provides a nearly seamless bridge between the Beats of the fifties to the hippies of the sixties.

When he arrived in New York, Sanders was immediately drawn to the Lower East Side, where the coffeehouses, poetry readings, and folk music scenes were in full bloom. He considered himself a poet in the beginning, and something of a “radical” publisher who would print whatever suited his fancy. This led to trouble with the cops, as they did their best to shut his presses down. As the sixties moved forward, Sanders came to realize that music was a far more effective method of expression than poetry, and formed The Fugs.

With songs like “Coca-Cola Douche,” “Kill For Peace,” and “Boobs A Lot,” The Fugs were one of the most outrageous bands on the scene. Sanders was involved in the formation of the “Yippies,” and was on hand at the 1968 Democratic Convention demonstrations, among many other actions. Fug You lays out the basic historical events of the sixties that defined the generation. The assassinations of JFK, RFK, and Martin Luther King, the Vietnam War, the growing popularity of marijuana and LSD, and of course the music are all major components of the story. Sanders brings more of a cynical eye towards these things than many of the other accounts I have read, which is a refreshing change.

The Fug You narrative ends (appropriately enough) in 1970, just as Sanders is beginning his research into the Manson family. He uses words like “growing up” at this point, and getting out of the Lower East Side to raise his own family. I think there is a lot more to his story than just the sixties, but for now, that will have to do. This is a great history of the era by someone who shouldn’t remember things, but actually does. Ed Sanders still knows where the bodies are buried.

Fug You is recommended for those like myself who were too young to know what was going on around us, or for that matter, for those who were there. It remains a fascinating time in our history, and Sanders tells his memorable story quite effectively.

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About Greg Barbrick