a brief visit to the red light district

Logical positivist Alfred Jules Ayer was renowned both as a fierce debater and an audacious womanizer. As his stepdaughter Gully Wells told his biographer Ben Rogers, in 1987, shortly after his seventy-seventh birthday party, Ayer cleverly conjoined these competitive qualities in an unexpectedly philanthropic encounter with a besotted raper wannabe:

It was at another party, given a little later in the year by the highly fashionable clothes designer, Fernando Sanchez, that he had a widely reported encounter. Ayer had always had an ability to pick up unlikely people and at yet another party had befriended Sanchez. Ayer was now standing near the entrance to the great white living-room of Sanchez’s West 57th Street apartment, chatting to a group of young models and designers, when a woman rushed in saying that a friend was being assaulted in a bedroom. Ayer went to investigate and found Mike Tyson forcing himself on a young south London model called Naomi Campbell, then just beginning her career. Ayer warned Tyson to desist. Tyson: ‘Do you know who the fuck I am? I’m the heavyweight champion of the world.’ Ayer stood his ground: ‘And I am the former Wykeham Professor of Logic. We are both pre-eminent men in our held; I suggest that we talk about this like rational men.’ Ayer and Tyson began to talk. Naomi Campbell slipped out.

In the following year, a no less competitive confrontation with a more formidable adversity left Ayer bested in a far less festive setting. In the articles reproduced and glossed below, he recounts and analyzes a near-death experience, which pitted him against a bright and painful red light that governed the universe, and the guardians of space and time. Some time later Jonathan Miller commented to Dee Wells, Ayer’s final and antepenultimate wife: “Freddie is in spectacularly good form!” To which she replied: “He’s so much nicer since he died.” A character-building opportunity of this sort would improve almost all of us.

What I Saw When I Was Dead
A.J. Ayer

A.J. Ayer post mortem, London, 5 October 1988, photo by Steve Pyke
My first attack of pneumonia occurred in the United States. I was in hospital for ten days in New York, after which the doctors said that I was well enough to leave. A final X-ray, however, which I underwent on the last morning, revealed that one of my lungs was not yet free from infection. This caused the most sympathetic of my doctors to suggest that it would be good for me to spend a few more days in hospital. I respected his opinion but since I was already dressed and psychologically disposed to put my illness behind me, I decided to take the risk. I spent the next few days in my stepdaughter’s apartment, and then made arrangements to fly back to England. When I arrived I believed myself to be cured and incontinently plunged into an even more hectic social round than that to which I had become habituated before I went to America.
    Retribution struck me on Sunday, May 30. Continue reading a brief visit to the red light district

monday nothing

The Fugs, named after Norman Mailer’s euphemism punctuating the pages of The Naked and the Dead, were conceived in a former kosher meat store on East 10th Street in late 1964, when 26 year old Ed Sanders published 42 year old Tuli Kupferberg’s poetry in his highbrow literary journal, Fuck You: A Magazine of the Arts:

We drew inspiration for the Fugs from a long and varied tradition, going all the way back to the dances of Dionysus in the ancient Greek plays and the “Theory of the Spectacle” in Aristotle’s Poetics, and moving forward to the famous premier performance of Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi in 1896, to the poèmes simultanés of the Dadaists in Zurich’s Cabaret Voltaire in 1916, to the jazz-poetry of the Beats, to Charlie Parker’s seething sax, to the silence of John Cage, to the calm pushiness of the Happening movement, the songs of the Civil Rights movement, and to our concept that there was oodles of freedom guaranteed by the United States Constitution that was not being used.


Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg photographed by Richard Avedon in 1967
The Fugs consisted of three members: Tuli Kupferberg, native New Yorker and “one of the leading Anarchist theorists of our time,” Ken Weaver, humorist and poet, and Ed Sanders, fellow poet and leader of the group. Their inspiration was irreproachable. Their performance was parodic. There were musicians, there were noisemakers, and then there were The Fugs. “From now on nothing holds us back, cacophony forever”, crowed Ed Sanders during a 1964 recording session. The form suited the subject. Nothing is Kupferberg’s inspired paraphrase of a Yiddish potato folk song into a supreme ode to negativity:

Monday nothing, Tuesday nothing
Wednesday and Thursday nothing
Friday for a change a little more nothing
Saturday once more nothing

Sunday nothing, Monday nothing
Tuesday and Wednesday nothing
Thursday for a change a little more nothing
Friday once more nothing

Montik gar nicht dinstik gar nicht
Mitvokh und donershtik gar nicht
Fraytik in a noveneh a gar nicht kuggele
Shabes vayter garnicht

Lunes nada martes nada
Miércoles jueves nada
Viernes por cambio poco mas nada
Sábado otra más nada

January nothing, February nothing
March and April nothing
May and June a lot more nothing
Ju-u-ly nothing

29 nothing
32 nothing
39, 45 nothing
1965 a whole lot of nothing
1966 nothing

Reading nothing, writing nothing
Even arithmetic nothing
Geography, philosophy, history nothing
Social Anthropology nothing

Oh, Village Voice nothing, New Yorker nothing
Sing Out and Folkways nothing
Harry Smith and Allen Ginsberg
Nothing nothing nothing

Poetry nothing
Music nothing
Painting and dancing nothing
The world’s great books a great set of nothing
Arty and farty nothing.

Fucking nothing, sucking nothing
Flesh and sex nothing
Church and Times Square all a lot of nothing
Nothing nothing nothing

Stevenson nothing, Humphrey nothing
Averell Harriman nothing
John Stewart Mill nihil nihil
Franklin Delano nothing

Karlos Marx nothing, Engels nothing
Bakunin, Kropotkin nyothing
Leon Trotsky lots of nothing
Stalin less than nothing

Nothing nothing nothing nothing
The whole scene’s a whole lot of nothing
Nothing lots and lots of nothing
Nothing nothing nothing nothing NOTHING NOTHING NOTHING

NOTHING NOTHING NOTHING NOTHING NOTHING
Nothing nothing nothing NOTHING nothing
NOTHING NOTHING NOTHING nothing nothing
Lots of it

Nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing
Not a Goddam thing.

Here’s wishing Tuli Kupferberg a whole lot of Nothing.

Tuli Kupferberg and Ed Sanders photographed by Bob Gruen in 2003