As our recent playoff series to determine, once and for all, the Best Song on the Original Nuggets got underway and Townsfolk began debating the essential “Nuggetness” of the entrants, I thought to myself, Wouldn’t it be funny if, like Woody Allen pulling Marshall McLuhan out from behind a wall to correct a pontificating moviegoer in Annie Hall, I could pull Lenny Kaye out to set us straight on our interpretations of the Nuggets collection he compiled for Elektra Records under the direction of Jac Holzman? Of course the regulars at Rock Town Hall are not the type to pontificate unduly, right? We keep it all in perspective, but still, Lenny Kaye had struck me as a sort of godfather to our shenanigans. He’d get where we’re coming from.
In short time he wrote me back, saying he’d be happy to chat. “Sounds like fun,” he wrote. “Went to the link, seems everybody has different ideas on what actually is Nuggets…” I was psyched.
A week later we were on the phone, waiting for the near-hurricane that swept through the northeast to hit. Lenny was as cool and friendly as his work and stage demeanor would suggest. His enthusiasm for his work in compiling this landmark collection of oddball psych-pop singles 40 years ago was impressive. Nuggets wasn’t some youthful fling for Lenny Kaye; the experience was clearly a springboard to and, to this day, a guiding light in his work with Patti Smith and beyond.
On our best days, as I see it, much of what we work to culture and share in the Halls of Rock is our initial, personal sense of love for music and the role it’s played in our lives. I couldn’t help thinking, while talking to Lenny Kaye, of my initial experiences with Nuggets in my late teens, how the album helped validate my childhood take on music and give me and my like-minded rock friends a toehold in developing our musical identities. My childhood friend and musical partner in crime Townsman andyr and I knew the significance of his old Disco Teen ’66 hits collection, which we used to analyze as yon’ teens. By freshman year in college, however, a thousand miles away from my blood brother, that album meant nothing to the new rock nerds I was befriending. Nuggets spoke to all of us, regardless of shared experiences and regional differences. The hyper kid from North Jersey, the wiseass from the suburbs of Chicago, and the long, lanky, laconic kid from Colorado all found this collection as stimulating and inspiring as I did. It was a happening.
As for my silly Annie Hall fantasy, fear not: Lenny’s not the type to put down any of us. I hope you’ll enjoy this chat at least half as much as I did. Read on!