The old East Village gathers for Kupferberg
Tuli Kupferberg, 1923-2010.(Steve Ben Israel; additional photos by the author)
One speaker at Tuli Kupferberg’s memorial service, which was Saturday at St. Mark’s Church, observes that the ‘60s radical bohemian par excellence and co-founder of underground rock band The Fugs had been a living testament to the principle that, in the end, “It’s not about the aspiration to great heights, but the perspiration.” The 150 or so folks packed in—yes, a funeral for a Jew on Shabbat at a church (Tuli died last Monday)—should have patted themselves on the back for fully living up to this tenet: It was well over 90 degrees outside, well over 80 inside, and perspiration came, to everyone except Tuli, as easily as breathing.
It was the kind of event that could make an upper-middle-class twenty-something who lives in a market-rate apartment nearby—for example, me—feel that maybe, even now, there still is something to the idea of the East Village. The previous happening that had so comprehensively attracted this group, according to one guy I overhear, was the auction of Allen Ginsberg’s possessions. This man says that he had bid on a tape recorder that Dylan had given Ginsberg; he then casually mentions that he had been there the night Dylan had made the gift; or, rather, he corrects himself after a pause, he had been there the morning after, and had heard about it then. Responds his friend, a woman named Judith Cohn: “Oy, it’s hot.”
The crowd skews old and, surely, Jewish and lefty: The sorts of people you imagine listening to NPR religiously, or producing NPR programs. Judith Malina, founder of The Living Theatre, is pointed out to me like she is a major star (which, in this orbit, she is). One guy is literally carrying around his own hair: Light gray and hard-stringy, like a metal sponge, it flows down, almost to the floor, but only because its bottom nine inches have been doubled back up onto the prior nine inches and held in place with a cafeteria-server-style netting; at times, this man would hold this big hunk of hair in the crook of his arm while chatting with people. The median age cannot be below 50, although one small boy—I find out that he is there because his babysitter is Tuli’s daughter, Samara—is there to drag down the mean. I am one of no more than seven people wearing a tie.