A Tribute: Harvey Pekar, Tuli Kupferberg, David Fanshawe

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KCRW DJ Tom Schnabel was compelled him to write a remembrance for three unusual musical personalities who passed away recently, including Harvey Pekar.

KCRW will be paying tribute to the cult phenomenon by broadcasting an original radio production of Pekar’s “American Splendor” on Friday, June 16 at 7:30pm. Dan Castellaneta, the voice of Homer Simpson, stars as Pekar in the production, which first aired on KCRW in 1991. More from Tom:

Three Passings: Tuli Kupferberg, David Fanshawe, and Harvey Pekar

FugsThree unusual musical personalities passed away this week.
The first is Tuli Kupferberg, who died at the age of 86. He was the founder of the Lower East Side band The Fugs in 1964, when he was already in his 40s, a somewhat superannuated age for a rock musician. The Fugs were anything but superannuated. Fugs were not really a rock band, but an early alternative art rock band that preceded both Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, not to mention the Velvet Underground. By the way, the only definition of the word “Fug” was “a stuffy atmosphere”.  The Fugs recorded their first album for ESP-DISK, and the liner notes were in Esperanto, the language that was supposed to bring the world’s disparate nations together.  They performed “Kill for Peace” to protest the Vietnam War. Veteran music executive Danny Goldberg said of The Fugs that “they….had a fearlessness, an intensity, an unwillingness to pander to any commercial norms that was very exciting.”

Hal Willner recently produced a benefit concert for Tuli that featured Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson, Sonic Youth, Philip Glass, and Lenny Kaye from the Patti Smith group.  Tuli had many fans in high places, though most people wouldn’t know who he was.

The second passing is that of David Fanshawe, an English composer who combined traditional African music with Western liturgical traditions. His masterpiece was “African Sanctus,” which premiered in 1972, long before the term “world music” was coined.  He was a true musical explorer, and like Ravi Shankar, Steve Reich or Philip Glass, explored ways of uniting diverse musical traditions and finding connections between them.

american-splendorThe third and final passing is a more familiar person, Harvey Pekar.  “American Splendor,” the book he wrote and film about him (with Paul Giamatti playing him) won him many new fans, not to mention his appearances on the David Letterman show (watch some on You Tube, they’re rambunctious).  I remember his reviews for Down Beat Magazine, which I read religiously for years. He once wrote a comic strip episode called “The Jazz Record Collector”, with Robert Crumb doing the illustration (they were synergistic collaborators).  It perfectly captured the obsessive jazz LP collector, the guy who spends all of his disposable income on buying jazz records, going broke in the process.  The climax comes when he finds a rare Allen Eager LP (an obscure tenor sax player) can’t afford to buy it, and has a nervous breakdown.  Only an original with deep knowledge of jazz could write this.  That’s why I love Harvey Pekar.

All three guys were true originals, unique, unforgettable characters, yet virtually unknown by most people. I hope that changes, but am not counting on it.

KCRW DJ Tom Schnabel