Lenny Kaye travels to the rock capitals

In our globalized present, we tend to forget that the history of rock —that music of the 20th century that has not yet died out despite being just another tiny facet of the society of the spectacle— was put together through small outbreaks that occurred in a time and place , what we call scenes.

It is the starting point of the book. Lightning Striking: Ten Transformative Moments in Rock and Roll —British edition in White Rabbit— by Lenny Kaye (New York, 1946), who, traveling through old records and experiences of a life in sync with the evolution of the genre, transports the reader to the Memphis of 1954 and three years later to New Orleans, the Liverpool of 1962 where the Beatles were born, the Summer of Love in San Francisco in 1967 and the revolutionized Detroit of 1969. Already a participant in the events, the guitarist and accomplice of Patti Smith guides us through the New York of 1975 and the London of 1977, the gestation of punk.

“I like the local, I think that when things come from the roots they have a unique flavor,” says Kaye via Zoom. “It’s not what the industry thinks music should be, but something that comes out of the ground and emerges. That’s what I like about the scenes I’ve chosen, they’re still pure and they don’t really know what they want or who they aspire to be. They start out without form and gradually combine their sensibilities. This is the most interesting for me”.

Brian Eno refers to the phenomenon as scene, noting the various factors that have driven significant advances in art or science. First, there is mutual appreciation and healthy competition among the members of a scene; there is a determined exchange of techniques and tools in a community that speaks the same creative language; everyone benefits from the effects of its success and, within it, radical novelties are tolerated in a flourishing space for nonconformity.

“The ecology of a scene is created by the audience as well, their dress, their response, what they expect from the music,” adds Kaye. “I tried to understand how it goes up in a spiral similar to a strain of DNA; first it is something formless that is not even defined, but in the following two years an interpretive style is defined, it begins to travel around the world and requires a name for its classification. Then it becomes its own cliché and the process starts all over again, at another evolutionary level.”

“I like the local, I think that when things come from the roots they have a unique flavor,” he says

Far from brainy study, Kaye opts for the verbal present and colors her thesis with personal experiences. In fact, the lightning of the title reached him at the age of six when Tutti Frutti of Little Richard distorted the familiar transistor and felt a liberating sensation, the crazy prophecy of a new world. He saw in the flesh Little Anthony & The Imperials and Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and The Velvet Underground, a fledgling Ramones and Sex Pistols. He wrote about all this in the main musical headers, from the foundational crawdaddy to the British Melody Maker. And he produced a record anthology, Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968 (Elektra, 1976), which would produce a revival of garage-rock in the eighties, with special incidence in our country.

Writer of the country icon Waylong Jennings in his autobiography, published in 1996, published an exciting volume on the crooners from the thirties, You Call It Madness (Villard, 2004), where he comments on Bing Crosby’s rival, Russ Columbo, who disappeared at the age of 26. He has been nominated for a Grammy on several occasions for his briefing notes for record reissues and, remembering that he met Patti Smith while he was dependent on the legendary Village Oldies record store, it could be said that he has touched all the sticks in the business.

“I met him reading him,” she writes on the back cover. “Then as a guitarist, friend for life and collaborator. We have performed, side by side, on stages around the world for half a century, and shared their love for the evolution of our vocation. In Lightning Strike illuminates ten facets of that gem called rock’n’roll from a unique and scholarly perspective. It draws on a lifetime of inspiration and experience. A young man plugging in his first electric guitar, a fan stepping out onto the dance floor, a humble keeper of history, and the writer I always knew was in him.”

Kaye repeats that she only wanted to honor the music that inspired her so much. “Besides, I was there,” she adds. “I was able to feel the energy of San Francisco after driving across the country with my friend Larry in a ’56 Ford, drinking speed, turning up in Haight-Ashbury at eight in the morning and feeling overwhelmingly dazzled. In New York, in 1975, is where to my surprise I realize that I am where I have always wanted to be, the center of the action. I remember that moment on the sidewalk in front of CBGB when I realized that Talking Heads, Blondie, Television or the Ramones had the same resonance as the bands I had hanging on my wall, a Fillmore poster with the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Quicksilver. That magnetism, to see with surprise that a historical moment is emerging, is amazing.”

Sometimes, Kaye points out, the explosion is such that it sweeps away everything that came before. Although there was a lot of Bing Crosby in Elvis Presley, when he appears all the previous popular music sounds old-fashioned. The same thing happens with the Beatles or Bob Dylan, when they manifest themselves they transform the way a song is perceived. He has no prejudices: he equally enjoys the doo wop and country, reggae and death metal. It only takes one key to enter a particular style, he suggests, as he did with the jazz of the era bebop. I didn’t understand what made Charlie Parker a genius, until one day the catchy Bopmatisma recording by a Bird pianist, Dodo Marmarosa, and feel the energy and excitement that permeated 42nd Street in Manhattan in the late 1940s.

“I listen to what I have been listening to for sixty years, but I don’t feel nostalgic, I don’t think that music was better before.

“I listen to what I’ve been listening to for sixty years, but I don’t feel nostalgic, I don’t think that music was better before,” he concludes. “Music is music, it reaches people’s hearts; no matter how you do it, that’s how we progress. As she says Patti: ‘Progress is not the future, it is keeping up with the present’. And I think in our band we’ve done that over the years. Who knows what the future will bring. The way records are made is different and we know it’s going to influence the music we’ll be listening to in ten or twenty years, when rock’n’roll will be a thing of the past. But I don’t think he’s dead. I want to know what the future holds for us; This is how we advance as a human race.”

Although he loves the Internet in his explorations and is not afraid of virtual meetings, Lenny Kaye still prefers to be with his friends, talking on the street, exchanging ideas, a more visceral situation. This is how it will be when he goes on stage, along with Patti Smith and her band, on June 16 at Jardins de Pedralbes, Barcelona; 18, Azkena Rock Festival, Vitoria-Gasteiz; and 20, Botanical Nights, Madrid. And the miracle of rock’n’roll will work again. Even when?

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