The genesis of 33 ⅓: The Modern Lovers’ Modern Lovers occurred right here in these pages. Three years ago, we put together a cover package touching the career of legendary local troubadour Jonathan Richman. We traced his career from his native Natick, to predicting the aesthetic dimensions of punk rock, to priming the world for indie rock and back, all the way to Cambridge. The story was jam-packed, but we also left a veritable shit-ton of material on the cutting room floor.
When Bloomsbury put out a call for submissions for its 33 ⅓ series of short books about single albums, The Modern Lovers felt like a perfect fit. As I prepared the proposal—which is like writing a book report for a book that doesn’t exist—I couldn’t shake the idea that much of the development I was looking at was intimately tied to the rise of underground publications here in town. Which was like hitting the history nerd jackpot because it meant I got to hang out at the Boston Public Library and mainline microfiche.
Here are the essential historical documents from the birth of Boston rock …
This baroque-psychedelic newspaper had a short run but a profound impact. An Aquarian arts rag, Avatar openly clashed with the city establishment at the end of the ‘60s and helped end the stranglehold that the city censors had on culture. The design was brilliant, flowing Art Nouveau mutations and vibey layouts. The writing was mostly garbage, but they were really into the Velvet Underground. Eventually the editorial board was overtaken by a Fort Hill-based cult.
The creation of Boston-raised writer Paul Williams, Crawdaddy! Was one of America’s first rock magazines. It started as a mimeographed fanzine, quickly becoming a professional outfit with national distribution just as rock music was becoming a serious cultural concern. Crawdaddy! helped pioneer a more expressionistic style of pop criticism, while Williams also become involved with the aforementioned cult and also developed a personal and professional relationship with sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick.
Fusion was the east coast answer to Rolling Stone. Did you know that Boston used to have its very own Rolling Stone, by the way, which was actually cooler than the original because it was really into The Stooges and the Velvet Underground, and had supercool writers like Lenny Kaye freelancing for them? Neither did I. I grew up here and nobody mentioned it. Assholes. Fusion had a really clean readable design and smart, well-edited writing, but nonetheless failed to survive the Nixon administration.
The Boston Phoenix (1965-2013)
While the history of the Phoenix warrants its own book, the early years really struck me during my research. Watching multiple small publications collide and merge like asteroids in a primordial solar system, only to become a citywide behemoth, must have been fascinating. Especially as they turned youth culture into capital that would cement Boston’s reputation as a legendary rock town.
Join Sean L. Maloney for a release party for The Modern Lovers on Feb 12 from 3 to 5pm at Deep Thoughts in Jamaica Plain, and on Feb 14 for a Somerville Valentine’s Day release party at Winter Hill Brewing.
Sean L. Maloney is a Boston-based, Nashville-trained journalist and content creator. His work has appeared in The Boston Globe, Nashville Scene and New York Magazine. He is also the author of 33 1/3: The Modern Lovers from Bloomsbury Publishing.