Sep 092011

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!


  21 Responses to “The Rock Town Hall Interview: Lenny Kaye’s Nuggets of Inspiration”

  1. bostonhistorian

    Absolutely fantastic Mr. Moderator! Thank you, and thanks to Lenny Kaye.

  2. That’s really cool.

    It’s interesting that his take on the Nuggets scene (for lack of a better phrase), is similar to the Punk scene that he would help launch. Both were just a disparate collection of songs/groups, who’s main similarity was that they didn’t fit in anywhere else, before they were codified after the fact.

  3. Excellent Work, Mr Mod!

  4. misterioso

    That was great. I did not know the Nuggets comp as such when I was growing up, but a big part of my rock history education came from an “oldies” show on a New Hampshire rock station, and it was only later that I realized how much that drew from Nuggets.

  5. Top shelf, Moddy! Glad Lenny got to straighten our asses out as to the original intent of the comp. Cool guy, that Mr. Kaye!

  6. Very nice, thank you!

  7. 2000 Man

    That was great! Lenny certainly deserves Good Egg status, and it’s awesome that he really answered all the questions, especially about something he did so long ago. So many people would just be brief and say they don’t remember, but Lenny really explained a lot. Great job, Mr. Mod!

  8. mockcarr

    AHA! Lenny liked these “songs”. So my methodology was correct in not paying too much attention to nuggeticity and nuggettorifferey.

  9. hrrundivbakshi

    What a cool interview of a cool guy. Well done, and thanks, Lenny!

  10. Great job . . . .and the fact he wanted 96 Tears on the original is priceless.

  11. machinery

    Nice job Mr. Mod.

  12. An excellent interview. Hopefully one that will come up anytime someone Googles Nuggets + Lenny Kaye. So, once and for all the best song on Nuggets is “Psychotic Reaction” AND “Pushin’ Too Hard”.

  13. BigSteve

    I really enjoyed that. It’s interesting to hear how the tracklisting was not the result of a clear philosophy. It’s also good to be reminded how recent these ‘forgotten’ tracks were when the LP came out.

  14. tonyola

    Great interview. I’m still carrying a torch for “Liar, Liar”, though.

  15. A fine interview, and really fun to read. I thought the most fascinating moment was when Kaye pointed out that the songs were only a few years old at the time he was putting the collection together. It’s so easy to assume that it was some kind of musical history recovery project, like going to the south to find aging bluesmen, but it wasn’t that at all.

  16. That is an interesting point, but just look how drastically music changed in the years 1965 to 1972. One-off singles didn’t take long to drop off the radar of people’s memory. If it hadn’t been for Kaye’s efforts, a lot of marginal music would probably have remained undiscovered for a long time.

  17. BigSteve

    I hate to pince nez Lenny Kaye, but Brian Jones plays dulcimer, not sitar, on Lady Jane.

  18. Pince nez REJECTED! Maybe my transcription didn’t do his words justice, but he was throwing out generalities: the era when Jones would play sitar and when the band played songs featuring Jones’ sensibilities, like “Lady Jane.”

  19. Interesting as well how bands like the Patti Smith Group and the Flamin’ Groovies et al embraced the cover tune not just live but on their records. Bands these days seem so afraid of not just copping to, but celebrating what made them want to rock out in the first place.

  20. misterioso

    That is a good point. A similar point dawned on me when I bought the Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music, when it was reissued in the 90s. The time separating the first release of the compilation in 1952 and the recordings is larger than the gap between Nuggets and the “Nuggets era”: the Anthology recordings date from 1927 to 1933. Still, 20-25 years is not that long, and one gets the sense that even in the early 50s those records already sounded like they came from a different century.

  21. shawnkilroy

    That was GREAT!

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