Bob Dylan on The Fugs – CIA Man

Bob Dylan‘s long-awaited Philosophy of Modern Song has finally appeared.

See our recent posting here.

As a postscript, we have a particular interest in one of the 66 songs – The Fugs CIA Man,

originally released on the album Virgin Fugs (ESP-Disk, 1967),
written by the remarkable Tuli Kupferberg


Tuli Kupferberg (1923-2010)

Dylan, in The Philosophy of Modern Song,  writes:  “Sam Phillips would’ve loved this record. He couldn’t have released it but would have wished he’d recorded it – maybe with Jerry Lee (Lewis) who wouldn’t have known what to make of it either but would’ve been glad to have recorded it and boogied it up like nobody’s business. It definitely would have been an underground hit .The lyrics are anything but generic (“Who can kill a general in his bed….Overthrow dictators if they’re Red….Fuckin’-A man…..CIA man”). If these lyrics don’t get your attention, then you must be comatose. It’s amazing how powerful The Fugs could be with just a few edgy instruments.

This song turns a CIA man into a comic book character. You kind have to wonder why DC comics or Marvel don’t come up with a CIA man. Stan Lee would have had a ball drawing up this guy. This record is the paranoiac’s flip side to Johnny Rivers’Secret Agent Man“. But this is much stronger and more to the point

The Fugs recorded this song a couple of times – live and slick and weird and primitive. They’re both good and right on the money.

The Fugs get their name from a Norman Mailer novel called The Naked and the Dead
When The Naked and the Dead came out in 1948, censorship rules at the time forced Mailer to substitute the word fug for fuck . The Fugs could just have well called themselves The Fucks but decided to go the safer route so the records could be purchased in a record store and not in a back alley.
Norman Mailer or The Fugs notwithstanding, the word fug never caught on as a substitute for fuck. You don’t say fug you or what the fug or that ain’t no fuggin’ good. We still use the proper terminology.
You get the feeling the Fugs never really used all their real talent or strength any any one time. You always felt that they were holding something back and could explode at any moment.
Buying records by the Fugs was like buying some Sun Ra records, you had no idea what you would get. One record would sound pretty slick – well, as slick as they could sound – but slick as in recorded in a studio with a band that stopped and started at the same time. Then you’d pick up another release and it sounded like it was recorded by a tomato can telephone on the end of a broom handle. Seems like The Fugs could record anywhere, and sometimes the liner notes on their albums were in Esperanto. They dared you to figure out what they were about.
One of the ways creativity works is the brain tries to fill the holes and gaps. We fill in missing bits of pictures, snatches of dialogue, we finish rhymes and invent stories to explain things we do not know. When you don’t know who Johnny Pissoff or a Slum Goddess is, when you have no clue about Coca-Cola douches, your imagination just fires away.”

Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg of The Fugs- photo: Chris Ramirez


  1. I thought the same but was happy to find it mentioned by Dylan, not overlooked.Dylan is a longtime Fugs fan, once even told the press they were his favorite band.

  2. It wasn’t The. Fugs writing in Esperanto, it was Bernard Stollman ,president of ESP-Disk who believed if the world spoke the same language there would be peace on earth.

  3. Wow, saw the fugs at the family dog in Denver, they sang this wild song about homecoming, and rolling up a girls legs in the windows. I’ll never forget it because it was my school’s homecoming night.

  4. Seems everyone always wants “more” from Bob Dylan. I was happy to see CIA Man chosen for the book and not disappointed with the content. Dylan is not overtly political and never was. He once referred to himself as a “song and dance man” which he is and so much more. He contains multitudes and not a one-trick pony. Much of the book begs people to explore each artist further. Dylan does this in a respectful and corny way. The book is full of old-man jokes but also informative.

    Like Tuli, he is asking us to Try to Be Joyful! Check out the Theme Time Radio on Nothing. Bob says, “Nobody knows nothing like the Fugs”.

    I enjoyed the book and will read it again.

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