Witnessing the explosion of youth culture in his hometown Boston, entrepreneur Barry Glovsky started publishing New England Teen Scene magazine in 1966-67. The following year, inspired by the emergence of rock magazines Crawdaddy! in New York and Rolling Stone in San Francisco, Glovsky and his Teen Scene colleague Ted Scourtis started up a new publication, Fusion Magazine, that aspired to expand coverage both geographically and topically.
After a brief period in which Walter Hitesman served as editor, Glovsky recruited a photographer and professor from Boston University, Roswell Angier, and New York-based critic Bobby Abrams to edit the newly minted bi-weekly, Fusion Magazine. For the next year or so, two sometimes contradictory strains began to emerge in the publication. First was a decision to take the burgeoning youth culture seriously as a subject worthy of critical analysis. Second was less of a decision and more part of the zeitgeist: Fusion as a celebration of a sociopolitical revolution, with music in the forefront.
But it was when Robert Somma assumed the role of editor in September 1969 that the identity of the magazine crystallized. Fusion embraced the underdogs and the mavericks, in its hometown of Boston but also New York. In the pre-punk 1970s, Fusion devoted significant attention to New York trendsetters like The Velvet Underground and provided a platform for New York iconoclasts (notably R. Meltzer and Nick Tosches). Where other rock magazines generally held to the idea that the writing should be understood as being in service to the music, Fusion often used the music and the youth culture as jumping-off points for the writing.
Among the reasons readers gave for subscribing to Fusion, the record review section was often cited. Established by the late Tim Jurgens and continued by the author of this entry, the reviews could be high-handed and irascible, they were generally informative and fair. Longer pieces on individual artists lent the review section an historical and analytical heft, often including full discographies. Writers such as Britishers Charlie Gillett and Simon Frith offered comprehensive examinations of the careers of notable rock artists. Peter Guralnick did likewise in the realm of the blues, rhythm & blues, country, and rockabilly. Others providing extended appreciations were Ken Emerson, Ben Gerson, Gene Sculatti, Lenny Kaye, and Greg Shaw.
The Fusion review section also featured the comics and commentary coming out of The Mad Peck Studios in Providence, R.I. The Mad Peck (aka John Peck) and I.C. Lotz (aka Vicky Hollmann), produced a unique visual element that was simultaneously retro and modern. Their idiosyncratic music and television reviews were told in 6- or 8-panel cartoons, visual vignettes featuring a consistent cast of sarcastic characters.
Speaking of visuals, no account of Fusion can fail to recognize the contribution of Ronn Campisi, who turned to graphic arts after his local band, The Rockin’ Ramrods, failed to crack the big time. Unique among the art directors of other rock-oriented magazines, Campisi crafted a spare, modernistic design that echoed the wit and attention to detail of the writing. (Campisi went on the become the long-time art director for the Boston Globe.)
Under Somma’s leadership, several new columns appeared, including ones devoted to movies, politics, books, television, and sports. Contributors included the late Jonathan Demme, before he became a celebrated film director; Rick Hertzberg, an editor at The New Yorker and The New Republic; and investigative reporter (and later performance artist) Paul Mills. The money was meagre and often came late, but Somma assured writers and photographers that the magazine would treat them respectfully (in terms of credit, space, proof-reading) and instilled in many of them a sense of being part of a worthy enterprise.
In retrospect, one of Fusion’s greatest contributions may have been in providing a platform for R. Meltzer, perhaps the most original and outrageous writer to emerge from the rock press. Meltzer never considered himself a rock critic, but he reveled in a contrarian orneriness that would later dovetail perfectly with punk rock (he briefly fronted his own punk band, called Vom). His reviews and essays didn’t so much comment on rock ‘n’ roll, they were rock ‘n’ roll.
Fusion clearly had its favorites. In addition to The Velvet Underground, Fusion unapologetically championed the work of Bob Dylan, The Kinks, Van Morrison, Patti Smith, and Neil Young, although excesses were not overlooked. Among the less-than-superstar artists who graced Fusion covers are Townes Van Zandt, Arthur Lee, John Sebastian, John Mayall, and Bonnie Bramlett. Political figures such as George McGovern, Richard Nixon, and Robert Kennedy also made it onto the cover, as did subjects such as television, drugs, party politics, health care, advertising, and food.
Although it never gained a large national audience, the narratives that emerge from Fusion’s pages offer a compelling and thought-provoking account of the cultural revolution of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
(by Gary Kenton – March 2022)
See also: Loyd Grossman, Tom Miller, Al Aronowitz, Jon Tiven, Ben Edmonds, Danny Goldberg, Robert (Robot) Hull, David Walley, Michael Lydon, Gary Von Tersch, Keith Maillard, Robert Greenfield, Mitchell Cohen, Barry Miles, Mike Saunders, Geoffrey Cannon, Billy Altman, Les Daniels, Ken Barnes, and R. Serge Denisoff.
NOTE: There are several other magazines called Fusion. One is the online arts magazine of the Berklee College of Music; another is Kent State University’s LGBTQ publication.