Nuggets at 50: I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)

it's a nugget if you dug it!

Nuggets at 50: I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)

Nuggets Golden Jubilee Celebration: City Winery, NYC, July 28 & 29, 2023

I don’t know if it’s gauche to quote yourself, but:

“Nuggets was a collection of amazing garage rock singles recorded in the mid-1960s that, by the early 70s, had virtually disappeared…The compilation didn’t sell that well on its initial release, but over time it turned into a cultural lodestone, where knowing the songs and bands that appeared on the record signified a shared ethos and common understanding of the important rudiments of rock and roll music.”

Why Patti Smith Matters, p. 33

Last week I drove from Detroit to New York in order to attend the concerts in honor of the 50th anniversary of Lenny Kaye’s Nuggets compilations last weekend. The connection between Nuggets and the CBGB Class of 1975 is one of the few things almost all of those bands had in common; you probably heard bands cover those songs more than you did the actual songs themselves. I was 11 at the time all of that was happening so the place I heard those songs live was about 10 years later when I was head over heels with the New American Underground Class of 1985. I gravitated towards those bands for many reasons, but one of them was because I felt and heard a kinship with punk rock, and layered on top of that was Nuggets. The reissue of the record in the 80s meant I could finally get my own copy of it, after living with a taped cassette for a decade. Would we all know the Seeds “Pushin’ Too Hard” or the Count Five’s “Psychotic Reaction” without Nuggets? Some of us would, but we definitely wouldn’t be singing “Dirty Water” after Red Sox games without it.

The songs on the record were the kind of thing that let you find your people, a way to easily find and identify the folks with whom you were going to share your vibe, your aesthetic, and understand what kind of thing you were trying to do. Steve Wynn talked about this during his time onstage, offering a heartfelt thanks to Lenny for the existence of the album, and how after he heard it, he put an ad in the paper: “Wanted: a band that sounded like the Standells and the 13th Floor Elevators.” This is how we eventually got Dream Syndicate, and everything else Wynn has contributed since that time.

The lineup for the NYC shows was a mix of old guard and new guard. So you had Patti Smith, Richard Lloyd, and Ivan Julian, but you also had Vicki Peterson, Bob Mould, Peter Buck, and Juliana Hatfield. And there were also an array of other folks for whom Nuggets was important or foundational and who wanted to be a part of the festivities - Tom Clark, Tammy Faye Starlight, Joe McGinty. What this show was not was not an oldies caravan, where the remaining originators got to have their moment in the spotlight; the LA version of this evening had some of that to offer, but that was mostly because of geographics. I mean, Todd Rundgren didn’t show up for either one but he lives in Hawaii (I only mention him because he was one of the first people I thought should be there but wasn’t).

They were all backed by Lenny, clad in a flowy psychedelic blouse that looked an awful lot like the design on the cover of the original Nuggets album, alongside Jimmy Mastro, Dennis Diken, Tony Shanahan, Jack Petruzzelli and Glen Burtnick. If anything, this band was almost too good for a bunch of garage rock but I am also not complaining. I think if I was disappointed by anything it was that these are songs that you want to hear in a dark bar when you’ve had a lot to drink and we were standing on a polished concrete floor at the new City Winery location while other people who paid $200 for the privilege sat at tables and ate salads and drank wine. But that is a complaint about the commodification of rock and roll in general, and not directed at the spirit of the evening.

Patti opened, delivering a gorgeous “I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)” and a stunning version of “Hey Joe” where, instead of some free verse about Patty Hearst (as she did on the original), she riffed a bit on the impact that the death of Joan Vollmer, William Burroughs’ wife, had on his life and career. I hate that Vollmer’s legacy is just about the impact of her death on her husband and not on her own contribution to Beat culture, but that is tangential at best to this evening.

(You can read more about all of this here. I know someone’s saying “Why are you harshing the vibe” but in case there was anyone else reading this who felt the same way, well, you weren’t alone, and it is the one thing I can do to keep Vollmer’s name in the conversation. We don’t need any more women erased from culture and history.)

Lenny’s partner in musical shenanigans, Tom Clark, walked onstage with an autoharp just as Lenny made a spirited case on how the Lovin’ Spoonful were absolutely a garage band, and they gave us “Do You Believe In Magic.” Joe McGinty sang “Dirty Water.” Vicki Peterson and John Cowsill delivered rock-solid renditions of “Laugh, Laugh” and “Lies.” Tammy Faye raised the energy with “I Want Candy.” Peter Buck wandered on and off stage for a variety of numbers, notably joining Steve Wynn who graced us with “99th Floor” and “You’re Gonna Miss Me.” Everyone was happy and earnest and proclaiming their love and adoration towards Nuggets, garage rock, and Lenny, who absolutely deserved all of it.

concentration, adoration, confusion

My favorite moments were the most chaotic - Richard Lloyd offering his interpretation of the Vagrants’ rendition of Otis’ “Respect,” with an introduction that dissed Aretha by referring to her as “that chick [who] took from him and made it into a big hit.” I yelled something like “don’t you blaspheme here” and some of it is, Lloyd is cantankerous and a character but also, can we not dismiss one of the greatest American artists, but if he was a friend of mine I’d just give him the middle finger and make sure he saw it and never let him forget about the time he said a really dumb thing about Aretha Franklin. She did steal it from Otis and she did make it into a hit and Otis’ reaction was “that’s her song now” and everyone covered everyone else’s songs and if you don’t want someone else’s version to become a hit, then, do a better version. He was still entitled to the publishing royalties!1  

Richard Lloyd’s second number was, in hindsight, obvious as hell, the most perfect alliance of material and artist, gave us “Psychotic Reaction” which was both faithful and ranging far afield, which is what you would want to hear from a man who is still inventing ways to play the guitar in riotous (im)precision on this song or any other one, but especially this one, which wasn’t meant to become a formative capstone of generations of rock and roll, and yet did. And Ivan Julian woke everyone up in the back half of the show, performing “Pushin’ Too Hard” and “Talk Talk” as a vocalist, given that there were already three guitars on the stage. He shouted, he screamed, he laid down on the floor and yelled into the mic. It was messy, loud, chaotic, and absolutely perfect.

I had to get the train back to Jersey, so like a true bridge and tunnel girl, I made my way out of the club just as Lenny announced “the garage rock national anthem,” those three chords, the highest and (literally) the most glorious, and everyone who was left came back out to sing along. This was homage and tribute and going back to deep, deep roots, and celebrating a cultural milestone that was never intended to be one; Lenny began both nights by saying that if he’d known he’d be celebrating this project 50 years later, he probably would have fucked it up. It’s a volume that had tremendous impact, but it’s one that most people don’t even know exists. It’s nice that we got to get together to remind ourselves of what we love and how we got here and the foundation on which multiple subdivisions were built. And three cheers for Lenny Kaye, who has never looked for the gravitas that he earned through three chords and the truth, but has always, always been deserving of.

  1. I say “entitled” because I did not want to get lost in the rabbit hole of figuring out if Otis got paid what he should have gotten paid, and let’s just assume he didn’t because no one did.

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