Golden Nuggets: Lenny Kaye’s Classic Garage Rock Anthology Turns 50

MAGNET’s Mitch Myers had too much to dream last night and recalled his homage to Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From The First Psychedelic Era (1965-1968), which turns 50 this month.

The year is 1968, and it’s a quiet summer afternoon in Cleveland. Sid Garfinkle is on the telephone with one of his more friendly business associates. Sid’s office is a mess. Stacks of papers are everywhere, remnants of take-out litter the room, and the ashtrays are all filled to the brim with half-smoked butts. The shades are drawn and Sid is doodling on a yellowed invoice for an entire season’s worth of secretarial services.

“I don’t know, Manny,” he groans into the phone. “It was a hell of a lot easier when I was promoting hack comedians like Morey Amsterdam and Shecky Greene.” 

Sid crumples the unpaid invoice and lofts it toward an overflowing garbage can where it bounces off the rim and lands on the floor. He pauses for a quick slurp of hot coffee and burns the roof of his mouth. 

“Shit,” he mutters. “I’m telling you, Manny, all I can do nowadays is book these crazy rock ’n’ roll acts for a living. I don’t know where half of them come from. Every single region of the United States has more Beatles and Stones imitations than you can shake a stick at. These pimply faced kids, most of them aren’t 20 years old and never even been laid! They think they’re so clever with their ‘secret’ drug lingo—one look at them and you know they’re smoking more reefer than all the jazzmen in Harlem. And the clothes! One group came onstage with electric suits, no less. Most don’t bother to wear matching outfits—except for the ones dressed up like colonial soldiers. And I’ve never seen so much long hair and fringed vests since Doris and I drove Bobby to college out in Berkeley, Calif.”

Sid moves an empty pizza box from his desk and spreads out the mail. 

“You wouldn’t believe some of their gimmicks,” he laughs. “One group has this kid that blows an electric jug, and another bunch wear capes like Dracula. They all look completely ridiculous. I swear, I’ve booked two different bands that had a guy with a hook for a hand!”

Sid plops back in his chair and says, “At least some of them have a sense of humor, or their managers do. I got one bunch an entire week in Boston on the strength of their single, ‘Are You A Boy Or Are You A Girl?’ These groups each have one hit single, then fade back into the suburban garage oblivion from whence they came. Honestly, most of them should stick to local teen dances and stay away from the big time; they’re just not ready. I canceled one tour because some parents decided that their kids needed to go to summer school! Can you imagine?

“Yep, three weeks of music lessons and they all think they’re going to be stars. Of course, some get so scared when they first see a big audience they piss their pants. Occasionally, I’ll recognize one or two older kids from the last big dance craze. They think just because they’re wearing bangs now and singing with English accents that no one will care what snotty punks they were.” 

Sid counts the cash in his wallet and places a bank deposit slip in his breast pocket. “All this talk about psychedelic music doesn’t mean anything to me—it all sounds pretty much the same. Well, at least somebody’s buying something. I’d be totally screwed without these bands.

“You know, the funny thing is that almost every rock concert I’ve been to has one moment that stands out from the rest. Most of these groups have the sense to wait until the end of their show before playing their hit song; otherwise, the crowds would go home long before they’re finished. Anyway, the audience is there for the song they’ve heard on the radio, and when the band finally plays their hit single, the room goes wild. The band is so cocksure that they bear down on their instruments, and for one brief instant, everything falls together. The crowd adores the band, and the band gives every bit of intensity they’ve got right back to the audience. I hate to admit it, but the music sounds magical in a freaky, ominous kind of way. It feels like I’m being pulled into a strange cult ritual of a very secret society.” 

Sid rises slowly from his chair. “I have to head over to the bank, Manny. If I don’t deposit some money quick, every check that I that wrote this week will bounce from here to Akron. Hey, don’t forget to say hi to Gladys for me, and I’ll catch you at the pinochle game next Thursday.

“You know,” he adds. “As far as all those bands are concerned, nobody’s going to remember them in six months. Any kid in America can make music like this. The only thing I would do is take each one of their best records and put them all together in a big fancy package. Maybe then you’d have something worth remembering.” 

Nuff said?