Chapters: Gornisht mit gornisht - A Whole Lotta Nothin'

Written by:
Seth Rogovoy
Summer 2012 / 5772
Part of issue number:
Illustration by Victor Moscoso

When Tuli Kupferberg, a cofounder of the 1960s neo-Beatnik rock group The Fugs, set out to write the group’s nihilistic manifesto “Nothing,” he didn’t stray far from his Ashkenazic background. Tuli simply took the melody and format of the popular Yiddish folksong “Bulbes” and transmuted it for a new time and place, replacing bulbes (“potatoes”) with “nothing,” so that Montik—bulbes, dinstik—bulbes, mitvokh un donershtik—bulbes became Monday—nothing, Tuesday—nothing, Wednesday and Thursday—nothing.

Kupferberg even threw in a little Yiddish to acknowledge his source material:
Montik—gornisht, dinstik—gornisht, mitvokh un donershtik—gornisht . . .

The song went on to invoke a litany of nothingness:
Stevenson—nothing, Humphrey—nothing, Averell Harriman—nothing.
John Stuart Mill—nil nil, Franklin Delano—nothing.
Karlos Marx—nothing, Engels—nothing, Bakunin, Kropotkin—n(y)othing!
Leon Trotsky—lots of nothing. Stalin—less than nothing!

And so was born from “Bulbes” one of the iconic songs of an era.

—Seth Rogovoy