Time, Place and Musicians Collide in Expansive Rock History Book

The Patti Smith Group in the 1970's: Jay Daugherty, Lenny Kaye, Patti Smith, Richard Sohl, and Ivan Kral.
The Patti Smith Group in the 1970's: Jay Daugherty, Lenny Kaye, Patti Smith, Richard Sohl, and Ivan Kral. Arista Records publicity photo
Lenny Kaye is best known as the guitarist, songwriter, and musical partner of Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Patti Smith since the 1974 inception of the Patti Smith Group and her later solo work. And record nerds are forever grateful to him for compiling 1972’s Nuggets, the seminal and influential compilation of ‘60s garage and psychedelic rock.

But less is known about his work as a music journalist for magazines and books. Those overdue accolades should come to him with the publication of the doorstop-sized Lightning Striking: Ten Transformative Moments in Rock and Roll (512 pp., $28.99, Ecco).

The title is actually something of a misnomer. Kaye chronicles hundreds and hundreds of moments, bands, and records in this tome. Each chapter is tent-poled to city and year (i.e., Memphis, 1954; Philadelphia, 1959; San Francisco, 1967; New York, 1975; Los Angeles, 1984; Seattle, 1991). And then it’s off to the races.

With a rapid speed and chock full of super detailed-details, Kaye’s expansive combination of history, biography and personal observation plows through nearly 40 years of development in rock, R&B, soul, punk and grunge. And how they all fit into the bigger jigsaw puzzle of music.

There’s plenty of interesting tidbits throughout. Like how Elvis Presley’s manager Col. Tom Parker—always on the lookout to make a buck and appeal to the widest audience base possible—had different souvenir buttons printed up that said both “I Love Elvis” and “I Hate Elvis.”

Or how just two years before the massive success of Nevermind, Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic were in the early stage of creating their own cleaning business (Pine Tree Janitorial Services) if the music thing didn’t bring in some bucks. And the list of bands and performers covered go from the biggest names to cult faves known only to crate diggers (The Rationals! Crabby Appleton! The Frost! Dust!).
And beginning with the San Francisco chapter, Kaye intersperses tales of his own musical travels and connections, often with that you-are-there perspective. Everything goes at a brisk pace, which is perfect for the reader with A.D.D., though Kaye does pick some places to go into greater detail (the chapters on New Orleans and Seattle are particularly good in this area).

There’s certainly plenty to digest with Lightning Striking, and it may not be for the general or casual rock fan. But for those who want to go both deep and wide, and like their authors words to come with a bit of their personality, it’s electrifying.
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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero