Literary Scene: ‘Lightning’ strikes for Lenny Kaye
Lenny Kaye documents the times and places that changed rock in his book “Lightning Striking: Ten Transformative Moments in Rock & Roll.” (HarperCollins, 2020, 338 pp.).
Some of Kaye’s moments are iconic, Elvis Presley recording in the Memphis, Tenn., Sun Studio and the Beatles at the Liverpool, England, Cavern Club.
Others are less well-known, like the New Orleans of Fats Domino and Professor Longhair, or the Detroit of the MC5 and Iggy and the Stooges.
Kaye’s detailed research and his stories let you feel the excitement of each chapter of rock history.
He was in the middle of one of them, at New York City’s CBGB club as guitarist for the Patti Smith Group.
Kaye performs, 7 p.m. May 19, Godfrey Daniels, Bethlehem. “An Evening With Lenny Kaye” combines reading, music, and stories related to the book. Concert admission includes a copy of “Lightning Striking,” which Kaye will sign.
“I wanted to write about the high points that changed the soundscape of rock and roll, which sometimes happened very quickly to make other music sound old-fashioned,” says Kaye in a phone interview from his home in East Stroudsburg.
He reflects on one of them as Smith’s guitarist, a relationship that exists to this day:
“I stood outside CBGB in 1975 and thought about the cluster of bands.”
The club, known for its gestation of American punk rock, embraced all forms of original music.
“The bands were not really punk, except for sensibility. The Talking Heads were different than Blondie, who were different from Television, who were different than the Ramones.
“They were starting to get record deals. It was very thrilling, like the San Francisco scene must have been at the time [covered in another chapter of the book]. It was a shot heard round the world.”
“Lightning Striking” documents the beginnings of new forms of music, when things are often the most interesting.
Scenes need time to develop. They all start really downmarket, as a refuge for the disenfranchised.
“They need a couple of years under the radar, people learning to understand what they are doing, making mistakes and changing band members, when things aren’t figured out yet.”
Kaye says that over time, music can become predictable and bands can become caricatures of themselves.
The pivotal moments that Kaye writes about could be a thing of the past, something that he thinks is largely affected by the Internet.
“It might be either unfortunate or interesting. A scene now does not have to be in a certain geographic area. But there are probably corners of the Internet where like-minded people are getting together.”
Kaye began his music career in a band that included playing at Lehigh University and Lafayette University. “It was four sets a night doing covers.” He graduated in 1967 from Rutgers University with a degree in American history.
“I majored as a cultural historian and minored playing in a band. It prepared me for my future employment. I can call myself a college success story.”
Kaye is the curator of “Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era 1965-68,” an album that collected garage and psychedelic songs of various bands. Some were chart hits, while others were nearly unknown.
This year, Rhino Records is to release a 50th anniversary, five-disc “Nuggets” box set. Now very influential, for many years the album was only known to rock connoisseurs.
“I didn’t realize it would be that earthshaking when I was doing it. After 10 years, Warner Bros quit sending me royalties because I never made back my $750 advance. But the people who needed to hear it heard it and liked it.”
Kaye appeared at Godfrey Daniels in 2019 with the roots music-based Jack Murray and The Blue Tarp Wranglers. He will perform solo this time, although he expects to have Murray join him on a few songs:
“It’s not completely planned, but it will be centered around the book.”
Of Godfrey’s, Kaye says, “It has more heart than any club I have ever played. The audiences are appreciative and understanding.”
Tickets: Godfrey Daniels, 7 E. Fourth St., Bethlehem, www.godfreydaniels.org; 610-867-2390
“Literary Scene” is a column about authors, books and publishing. To request coverage, email: Paul Willistein, Focus editor, email@example.com