This Friday night, the Alex Theater in Glendale will host an event celebrating the anniversary of a revival. Nuggets, first released fifty years ago as a vinyl 2-LP set, is a seminal collection of seemingly unconnected bands, all of whom came to a brief prominence in the mid 1960s through records on primarily small, regional labels. Some, like the Nazz’s Todd Rundgren, became legends in the coming years but plenty of others broke up, maybe without ever making an album, and vanished from the public eye. Those singles were the bands’ entire existence, and sounded like it. Taken together, they define and exemplify an aesthetic – a shared vibe more than a style – that was eventually known as Garage Rock, and which came back around right in time to nourish the first generation of punk rockers.
You can draw a straight line from the excitement of the Seeds and Chocolate Watchband to the New York Dolls, Blondie, Ramones and Patti Smith Group, the latter of which included Nuggets compiler Lenny Kaye as its guitarist. And it’s just as easy to connect those dots to Jack White, the Black Keys, and all kinds of acts up through current acts like the Darts and the Schizophonics. It’s a simple, straightforward, American kind of thing, and the number of bands in the pile of forgotten singles good for at least one all-time classic turns out to be staggeringly high. A five-LP version of Nuggets hit stores on the last Record Store Day and immediately sold out
Kaye is participating in this tribute show himself, along with a stellar cast of guests. Too numerous to list here in entirety, let’s just start with the people who made this music. This show will feature the Count Five, live – three of them, I’m told, which is more than respectable. That seems like one of those things you’d never see, if you weren’t hanging at the Hullballooo in ’65. There will be people from the Seeds, Love, Chocolate Watchband, the Electric Prunes and the Leaves. Van Dyke Parks will be there. And speaking of those first-line recipients of Nuggets inspiration, people from the Cars, REM, the Bangles, the Fleshtones, the GoGos, Dramarama and all of the Three O’Clock will be there. The Wild Honey Orchestra, led as always by Paul Rock, features some of the city’s finest players, banded together this time to raise money for Autism research. These nights are always memorable, and with this one, they’ve set a bar that will be mighty hard to top.
On the day he arrived in LA to begin rehearsal, Lenny Kaye was kind enough to send me an email response to some questions I asked him at the literal last minute. “Since you were kind enough to remember my Grand Funk at Shea Stadium article in Creem, I thought I’d give you a few quotable sentences.” Thanks, man! Heavy!
I read your piece about Grand Funk at Shea Stadium in 1971, which as I understand it, was shortly before you compiled this album. Now, I am a bit younger than you, but I had a stadium rock experience in 1982 involving the band Loverboy* that I personally credit for making me interested in the music underground of the past, because the vision of the mainstream present that I saw on display at that show was so patently false and objectionable. I wonder if that Grand Funk show had anything to do with crystallizing something for you at that time, in some way. (*I can only explain that I was waiting to see the Kinks, at the time.)
I did like the spectacular at Shea because in a certain way Grand Funk were the culmination of the garage band (they did start out as Terry Knight and the Pack), and in their grandeur, showed that things needed to be brought back to a human scale, to the elementals. When generations need to evolve, especially musically, it’s necessary to start over, to remember the original instinct that causes one to pick up a guitar, or any instrument really, and begin a new way of allowing new blood to emerge. I recognized that instinct in my book, Lightning Striking: Ten Transformative Moments in Rock and Roll (newly out in paperback, by the way) which traces the beginnings of “scenius” (as Brian Eno famously said, not just those artists leading the way but the entire ecology of a moment in time, the fans, the sartorial signifiers, what is being reacted against and what needs to change ) those moments in time and space where new energy is generated, much as planets forming from cosmic dust, and music takes on a new style and framework.
I believe Nuggets crystallizes that impulse, capturing a transitional moment in time where a sense of possibility mingles with desire and yearning and becoming into a new style. Musics have to respond to that, otherwise they calcify, and become overtly predictable.
LA is home to a lot of Nuggets sources, this show is bringing us face to face with the Count Five, Van Dyke Parks, people from Seeds, Love and Chocolate Watchband. What are your thoughts about LA as a music town?
The term garage rock didn’t exist when I put Nuggets together – I believe I referred to it as “punk rock,” inadvertently prescient about the future), and truly, many of the bands on the original Nuggets were not easily defined. The Beach Boys-ish “My World Fell Down” by Sagittarius is quite far in conception from the Seeds “Pushin’ Too Hard” and the fact that both of them came out off the creative cauldron of Los Angeles, with its combination of localized bands and savvy music business professionals is no accident. The youth quake that was Riot On Sunset Strip moved both high and low, and created a music scene that was very vibrant in Southern California. It is great to be able to celebrate this legacy, not to mention fifty years of Nuggets, at the Alex Theater.
The list names on the advertisement is awesome enough but, is there any remaining possibility of additional surprises?
Will there be any special guest artists not on the announced poster…gee, its going to be a marathon evening, and who knows who’ll show up?
I just feel very honored that the album I put together a half century ago is still remembered, that its beating heart continues to speak to new generations of musicians, and that the songs therein will stay alive as they are played and hosanna’d…. It was an album that I never thought I would still be talking about half a century in the future, and had I realized this, I’m sure I would’ve screwed it up, been too self-conscious, aware of the weight of history, and probably been overtly conceptual. As it is, I just had a good time working from instinct, segueing my favorite records, through the good graces of Elektra president Jac Holzman, who gave me the keys to the kingdom and allowed me an expansive field of exploration, to savor an era of music that clearly has stood the test of time. For which I am ever grateful.
Wild Honey With Lenny Kaye & Rhino Present A Tribute to Nuggets at the Alex Theater in Glendale on Friday, May 19. Tickets $40 to 75, at Ticketmaster.