My First Underground LP
Last December, Robert Plotnik, better known as Bleeker Bob, passed away. Back in the late 1960s he and his record shop, Bleeker Bob’s, were the Mecca of music for cool Village cats (many of whom despaired at ever having to go above 14th street) as well as the destination for any member of the “bridge and tunnel crowd” who yearned to purchase vinyl that went a step beyond (sometimes many steps beyond) the mainstream music offered by E.J. Korvettes and other suburban record outlets.
And so to Bleeker Bob’s (back then the store may have been called Village Oldies) journeyed this sheltered suburban high school junior one chilly Saturday in 1967 to acquire a copy of the Village Fugs Sing Ballads of Contemporary Protest, Point of Views, and General Dissatisfaction. I can’t recall how I first learned about the Fugs and their ground-breaking “underground” album. I might have read about them in the Village Voice or heard about the band on WBAI.
Back in those days, we listened to the grooviest new music from the west coast and Great Britain on WNEW FM, one of the first AOR (album-oriented rock) stations which, astonishingly for those times, not only broadcast in stereo but dared to play songs longer than the standard top-40 single length of three minutes or less. But for a truly authentic taste of radical anti-establishment news and music, one had to tune the radio dial to WBAI, which was the first station to air Arlo Guthrie’s nearly 19-minute long “Alice’s Restaurant”, and defied demands that it stop broadcasting Janis Ian's then-radical song about interracial relationships “Society's Child.” But even the disc jockeys at WBAI couldn’t risk playing the Fugs’ blasphemous and profane music on air.
What I recall about that day (after taking the LIRR from Roslyn to Penn Station and then the subway downtown), was going up to the record shop’s cluttered sales counter and asking for the Fugs’ album. The salesperson gave me a quick once over, then, apparently deciding that I was too young and long-haired to fit the profile of a member of the city’s vice squad, disappeared into the back of the store and returned with a Joan Baez album* in hand. Seeing my frown, he slid his fingers into the cover and pulled out the Fugs’ 33 rpm LP, featuring such gems as “Slum Goddess,” “My Baby Done Left Me/I Feel Like Homemade S#*t,” “I Couldn’t Get High,” and “Boobs A Lot.”
I returned to the suburbs of Long Island with my precious cargo and proceeded to shock and amaze my high school friends by playing it for them. We’d had no idea that such outlandish (at least, for that time) music existed, that such music was even allowed to exist. As I said, it was 1967 and we were only just beginning to comprehend the enormous cultural shifts taking place in the world around us.
*To this day I don’t know why the album was sold to me in this manner. Was it because of the reference to bestiality in “My Baby Done Left Me/I Feel Like Homemade S#*t”? Or simply because they’d run out of the actual album covers?