Wednesday, October 28, 2009


(As you have known for quite some time)...boy do I hate Autumn! At least I hate it until the leaves are raked/bagged and the place "winterized", not to mention the rain gutters cleaned out of leaves and cat doody...then it's pretty much smooth sailing until the winter season arrives and I have to awaken at five in the morning to shovel the massive driveway! But then again I love those short winter days because I don't have to toil in the outdoors until sundown like I during the hot summer months and can snuggle up with a load of fanzines and other reading sundries for an entire evening while choice music purrs from my bedside Cee-Dee player. Only wish I had my vinyl turntable and collection up here with me so's I could enjoy plenty more music at the reach of my fingertips, but there's only so much space that can be utilized without crowding me out of house and home!

But read on I will in between doing all of that sundry outdoor work, and thankfully there's been a lotta good reading entering these portals over the past few days to keep me from digging into well-stored boxes of various eighties examples of fanzine nada that has clung to my collection like fat to the inner portions of my heart chambers. All pretty good reads too that have kept me captivated at least as much as my aging brain can stand...not as captivated as I was when I was 13 reading old comic book-era MAD paperbacks Friday after school (being forbidden to read comics during the school week until the grades zipped upward) but captivated enough that I thought I should write about some of my recent acquisitions in order to make this more of a fun extended mid-week article 'stead of some quickie record review churnout that you (and I) are most accustomed to.

If I can believe what I read (and nowadays, one has to be mighty cautious to venture very far from this blog lest the truth be damned), there were a few rock snoots out there who really upped their noses at FUSION magazine. I remember reading an interview in which one well known critic of a Bruce Springsteenish hagiographical design really tore into this not-so-long-lived magazine of Boston origin, calling it a load of subpar sputum hooey that certainly would not be worth the time and trouble to remember, let alone read. Such a statement only goes to show you that the more some "critics" get puffed up and promoted and write reams of books on whom many would consider superficial fluff entertainers (making them out to be larger-than-life demigods straight from the top of Mount Olympus), the more they can spout off whatever inanities cross their pointy heads and people will lap it all up as if it were the honest-to-Meltzer truth!

Contrary to this person's offhanded dismissiveness, FUSION was not quite the bastion of poor writing and lousy "hip" journalism that this still-active hack made it out to be or else I wouldn't be writing about it and pardner, let me tell you that this mag was definitely one of the better of the late-sixties/early-seventies rock rags that not only looked way more striking on the stands than ROLLING STONE, but read better. Much better. Almost as good as CREEM but that had punkitude going for it and the Scions of Walled Lake knew enough to jettison the New Left Youth Revolt schtick to the point where even Lester Bangs was hoping they'd keep John Sinclair in prison for a long time! FUSION...well, their politics might have had a tad bit of a similarity to STONE's radical paens to...I dunno, longhaired kids smoking pot in a peaceful new civilization or something like that but like CREEM they had an ear for high energy rock and intelligent scribing as well, something that seemed to become less and less of a matter at STONE as they slowly sunk from their hip radical self-consciousness to settling into the whole singer/songwriter comfiness of downhome!

So whereas STONE was infested with the worst aspects of the San Francisco New Left hipsterisms soon to manifest itself in the far fringe of the Democratic Party FUSION took a more serious and perhaps cynical look at their subject matter. They also had a way more intelligent array of subject matter to write about, from Wilhelm Reich to the mindnapping Michael Metelleca/Spirit in the Flesh religious hippie scam to even the New Youth Press of STONE and fanzines. And they didn't even come off like vegged out Marin County rejects, even when they'd get into their way more digestible Nixon bashing which came off a lot better than the stuff heard once everybody started jumping on the hate Nixon bandwagon. Plus where else was anybody going to read Wayne McGuire's "Aquarian Journal" or Lester Bangs reviewing long-gone sixties garage band albums for that matter?

The ish that I just received (#78. September 1972) is one of the better seen not counting the early fold-over tabloids like STONE, PHONOGRAPH RECORD MAGAZINE and CREEM used to have before getting into a handier format you could read on the toilet. Nice touch putting Lou Reed on the cover, he still being a cult figure and not quite the star he would be after "Walk on the Wild Side" and ROCK 'N ROLL ANIMAL thrust him into the ranks of superstardom. After all, the Velvet Underground had pretty much held court in both Boston and Cleveland throughout the late-sixties (and if there happened to be a major Cleveland rock publication coming out at the time I'm sure Lou woulda been front and center on its cover!) and what better way of Boston reflecting its ginchy-goochy thanks than by putting Lou on the cover of a mag that typified Boston's response to the new rock anyway. I mean, they used to print his poetry and gave the Velvets plenty of article and review space in the past which even prompted a letter to FUSION by one John Felice so why not?

It's a good try of an article, but too short especially for a cover feature. And it ain't quite as much an interview as Lou and some guy by the name McCormick more or less having a "conversation" before Lou gets drunk and goes home (don't laugh, that's exactly how this was billed by FUSION during its run as a back issue!). A few nice comments here/there (I liked the one where Lou relates telling a reporter about the difference between the Grateful Dead and the Velvets, where the Dead take kiddies backstage and turn 'em on while the Velvets take 'em backstage and shoot 'em up!) and a few nice pics that were probably unseen since their publication are used, but I was hoping for something meatier in the Velvets dept. here. (I did get it, in editor Robert Somma's magazine forward as well as a review of the Max's album in which Gary Kenton actually drops the Modern Lovers name a good four years before that became trendy!)

The rest of the magazine is pretty up-to-snuff as far as youth-oriented intelligent publications went. The article on William F. Buckley was surprisingly copasetic as that it showed exactly what is was in the sixties and seventies that made Buckley an outta-right-field household name and pretty much nails down his politics and behavioral traits long before the guy tried to become "nicer" just so liberal people would like him (as if they ever would). In many ways this article could have been written at least in part by the Buckleyite fanzine editor Mark Jenkins during his HYPERION days even though it is plainly obvious the piece's author ain't exactly gonna join the YAF any day soon. This particular tome, oddly enough, reminded me as to what that weird concept of conservatism used to mean in the days before it became waylaid, it then being a lot more hard hitting and offensive (and perhaps downright mean, an attribute if you haven't caught on yet) making me wonder where the new Sam Francis or Joseph Sobrans might be hiding these days. Heck, it all fell into the ocean a good decade back anyway.

That's just some of the more interesting things in this ish and if you're a fan of J. D. Salinger and Randy Newman there's more, but what I'm more concerned with at this time are those few choice moments when punkitude rears its pimply little head. It can be found on the letters page, where Alan Betrock writes in about his fanzine JAMZ and corrects author David Newberger for saying that the 'zine did not bother much about discographical data (let's just say that Newberger couldn't've been further from the truth!). The record review section has a nice, for once positive write-up of the Velvets' Max's album which I had mentioned earlier, and hey that's Greg Shaw writing a long piece on Phil Spector, how about that! (And given Spector's recent legal troubles these early histories seem to come in handy making a fella like me wanna mutter "wha' 'app'd?") And one big surprise can be found at the end of I. C. Lotz's "Quick Cuts" mini-review section where she gives a nice long 'n well-deserved plug to that new and upcoming fanzine FLASH which at that point had only published two issues...and that's all they were gonna publish unfortunately but it was still nice to read some professional kudos for a kitchen table enterprise such as that.

Unfortunately FUSION's fortunes would eventually fade and the magazine go the way of all of those other youth culture cash-ins that never did make it out of the seventies alive. The worst thing is that most of the mags that didn't make it out alive weren't that good to begin with, while FUSION had more than its fair share of above-competent writing and snide wariness to have made it compatico with the early/mid-seventies' general air of jadedness. Maybe it would have turned into a terrible late-seventies travesty like CREEM eventually did not to mention STONE (which really never did make it outta Wenner's womb intact), but for the time FUSION would have remained vital I'm sure it would have left a good portion of the competition in the dust. And at least such things as the Mad Peck cartoons and Richard Meltzer articles did live other, maybe less-deserving publications.
Did I ever review an issue of COMSTOCK LODE in these "pages" before? Oh yeah, I did a few's one in case you're interested. It was a rather above-par fanzine, heavy on the San Francisco which doesn't always suit me but at least editor John Platt and crew tended to "view" the SF scene from the fresh viewpoint of how it was in '66 rather than STONE's appreciation of it through consumer hack eyes. As you may know, I've learned not to hate San Francisco Rock but to appreciate the burgh's finer moments during those mid-sixties days of discovery, and for me that "scene" was at its best when groups like the Charlatans, Mystery Trend, Moby Grape, Big Brother and the Holding Company and naturally the Flamin' Groovies were rockin' away. Everyone else...well, let's just say that I do have to set my rockscam meter on full blast before treading into Grateful Dead territory, not that I have done that much if at all these past thirtysome years.

So whereas mags like RELIX reportedly dove head first off into the entire cliched peace/love fashion, at least COMSTOCK LODE had their tastes and appreciations on pretty tight which is why I just love the dickens out of each and every issue I possess. And thankfully I now own the entire line, for the once-obscure #4, the "International Artists" issue, has finally arrived after years and years of fruitless searching and ebay outbids at the last minute!

Now, I've owned that special Red Crayola fanzine which reprinted the interview Platt did with Mayo Thompson here along with some lyrics and the snap of Mayo Thompson with Epic Soundtracks, Gina Birch and Laura Logic for ages, but having an actual flesh-and-pulp issue was another thing entirely. But let me tell you one sure woulda served me better had I latched onto this magazine then rather than now, mainly because immediacy and instant gratification are what rools and maybe some of its initial impact is lost to time, kinda like those movies that were blockbusters but you waited until they played the 99-cent theatres at the shopping plaza and by then the adrenalin rush was long gone.

But despite the near-three decade wait it's a boffo addition to my library. It has a fannish and informative for the day International Artists rundown/discog which I know has been updated many times since this '79 publication, along with the aforementioned Mayo Thompson interview and a saga on SF poet Gary Snyder for those readers who bought this for more of the boho West Coast coverage that still had quite a following. There's even part two of a Pete Brown interview conducted by Pete Frame where you can find out more about those Battered Ornament albums that mailorder businesses were trying to dump on us back in the eighties! Now tell me, which would you rather do, read this groundbreaking fanzine (in the English trad. starting with FAT ANGEL and living on through BUCKETFUL OF BRAINS) or spend your time reading the current stack of rock mags with that dribble that passes for rock criticism these days? And once you get down to it, the only real thing that comes close as far as West Coast worship goes would be Alec Palao's CREAM PUFF WAR and how many of those have come out lately?
Finally on today's reading schedule's this late-eighties English rarity I knew nothing about until recently, a mag that I must say should have won some aware for "Most Peculiarly Packaged" or "Boy You're Gonna Tear This One To Shreds Trying To Get It Out Of The Envelope" or something to that effect! Y'see, A LETTER FROM HOME is a fanzine that comes in a large envelope which more or less serves as its cover. Once you open the flap and carefully pull the magazine out from the rather flimsy sleeve you will find a fanzine printed on color paper, one-sided at that, with articles on a whole bunch of late-sixties psychedelic/proto-punk groups complete with discographics and typical fanzine-ish record reviews of the latest sixties reissues and the like. The magazine actually reminds me of JAMZ, especially the final issue which was so big that Alan Betrock had to divide it into two portions, and frankly knowing that something like this existed in the late-eighties, a time when fanzines more or less moved on to better things, is quite mind-boggling!

The two issues I luckily latched onto are, as I said, pretty much in that glorious pre-tech early-fanzine style highly reminiscent not only of JAMZ but the early WHO PUT THE BOMP! and a few other similar-minded excursions into early-seventies amateur rock screeding that will come to mind within a minute or two (NEW HAVEN ROCK PRESS anyone?) Issue #2 of A LETTER FROM HOME features the Nashville Teens on the cover and the Misunderstood, Sharon Tandy and Fleur de Lys, "Hey Joe" covers and loads of reviews of then-current psychogaragin' rock & roll records that we were too poor to get back then! (Strangely enough, the only thing this magazine made me really nostalgic for was the old BOMP rare records catalog!) It's only twenty years old (and thus far out of the Golden Age of Fanzine range) but this ish of A LETTER FROM HOME ranks with the classic early-seventies mags with its xerox/mimeo look and of course those pages filled with classic reprints from the British weeklies and record labels that always made these fanzines look all the more sophisticated despite their limited printing capabilities.

The following ish is the one that got me all hopped up due to the promise of a Deviants article, and I must admit it's a hands-down success even if it's only an edited interview with drummer Russell Hunter. Anal retentives like myself will be thrilled with the heretofore unknown shards of Devies info which are presented (such as that these guys used to do the Mothers' "Hey Punk" [or as it is known on the WE'RE ONLY IN IT FOR THE MONEY album "Flower Punk"] and that before becoming the group's full-time bass guitarist Duncan Sanderson was a backup singer/"straight man" for Mick Farren!) plus we do get to learn more about their mysterious original drummer, this short-haired fellow who was either a Born Again Christian or a Born Again Zionist depending on who you talked to who used to chastise pot smokers at Deviants shows as well as tell scantily clad girls to cover up! Kinda makes me wonder how he put up with the usual Deviant antics that were going around, especially when they'd use some of the sex toys found at the Happening 44 club as part of their stage act.

There's also a good interview with Thom Mooney about the Nazz, filling us in on some of the lesser-known things that I certainly wasn't aware of regarding their partnership for wont of a better word with the future Cheap Trick guys, plus a piece on Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders that perhaps said more than I wanted to know (not being familiar with them outside of their two US hits) but it's there if I want it. The same wonderful quality as #2 is resplendent here, and it's too bad A LETTER FROM HOME didn't get out the way that it should or perhaps the entire history of rock music from the late-eighties on might have been changed for the better! Just kidding, but don't you think we could have used a lot more A LETTER FROM HOME and a lot less ALTERNATIVE PRESS back in those confused times?


Jeff said...

Well I finally listened to side 2 of that Hydra disk and once you accept that it's only southern boogie rock with no glam elements in it, it's just a fine naturally pleasing listen.

I'm going to go make some enriched rice with green beans with some thousand island dressing and warchestershire mixed in and greebop facons

Bill said...

I love your vintage fanzine coverage. This is important archival work and there's no one better qualified to do it.
You capture the excitement that you and I would have had upon finding these things back in 1975 or whenever.
Just another reason why BLOG TO COMM is essential!

Bill S.

Sen. Joe McCarthy said...

Not bad.

Christopher said...

'n judging from your blasphemous use of the late senator's name..."not good".

Dick Tayter said...

I think Lou Reed is a CREEP!