A memoir about the 1960s that reflects the slapdash spirit of that decade’s underground press.
Sanders is a writer of renown and accomplishment—a published poet, author of prize-winning short stories and a controversial account of the Manson Family murders (The Family, 1971)—yet this hodge-podge shows little evidence of such craft. Instead it functions more like an annotated diary, with entries by topic or date rarely longer than a couple of paragraphs, padded with illustrations that function more as historical artifacts than art. Sanders had his fingers in many of lower Manhattan’s counter-cultural pies: He published a mimeographed arts journal with an obscene name, ran an alternative bookstore, helped to found the notorious Yippie anti-party and “levitate” the Pentagon and proselytized for legalized marijuana and mass fornication in the streets. But he remains best known for fronting the Fugs, a notorious rock band of politically minded poets who landed a major-label contract and (amazingly enough) earned Sanders the cover of Life magazine and spots on national TV. The most extended and hilariously engaging part of the book is a transcript from William F. Buckley’s Firing Line, with Sanders joining the conservative host, a clueless academic, and Jack Kerouac, who had become an alcoholic reactionary, in a discussion that Buckley introduced with, “Our topic tonight is the Hippies, the understanding of which we must, I guess, acquire or die painfully.” The entire program was a joke that only Sanders and occasionally Kerouac seemed to get. The matter-of-fact tone through much of the narrative makes it difficult to distinguish satire from delusion. Of the Fugs, he writes, “Some of the songs on our second album are not what is currently known as PC, or politically correct, and we might not now write them in quite the same way, but they were true to the testosterone-crazed era in which they were created.” One might say the same about the book, except that it was written now, about then.
A collection of solid archival material for a better book.