Back Lenny Kaye, “The Best of Acapella”

Lenny Kaye (b. 1946)
From Shake It Up: Great American Writing on Rock and Pop from Elvis to Jay Z

View inside Times Square Records, Manhattan, early 1960s. In his essay Kaye writes, “If Slim was a world in himself, his store was a veritable universe. Records lined the walls, sparkling in all manners of color.” Photo by American photographer Jack Robinson (1928–1997). (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Before Lenny Kaye became Patti Smith’s guitar player and all-around collaborator, he had already earned respect as a music critic and historian.

“I’ve been a rock journalist for fifty years,” he recently told a reporter for the Santa Cruz Sentinel. “To find the rhythm and melody in writing is, in a sense, like playing a great guitar solo. So I find a lot of cross-talk between each side of my brain; the analytical and the intuitive.” Now both 72 (they were born three days apart), he and Smith continue to tour. Kaye also hosts the radio program Underground Garage twice a week on Sirius while working on his next book, which chronicles the “flashpoints” of rock music history.

The two musicians met each other at Kaye’s day job, the Manhattan record shop Bleecker Bob’s. Smith dropped by and introduced herself after reading one of his magazine articles, which was originally published fifty years ago this fall. The article ostensibly recalls a brief period when acapella music was all the rage among the patrons of certain independent record stores, but today it evokes something different: a lost world in which local shops were hangouts for musicians and fans. Kaye’s place of employment became one such magnet: “Bob’s was more than a record store,” he says. “It was an important gathering place to introduce and hear the new and progressive as well as honoring the past, how music lives on to influence and discover its new forms.”

As our Story of the Week selection, then, we present the piece that permanently entwined the careers of two legendary musicians.

Read “The Best of Acapella” by Lenny Kaye

Library of America

A champion of America’s great writers and timeless works, Library of America guides readers in finding and exploring the exceptional writing that reflects the nation’s history and culture.

Learn More

From poetry, novels, and memoirs to journalism, crime writing, and science fiction, the more than 300 volumes published by Library of America are widely recognized as America’s literary canon.

Browse our books Subscribe

With contributions from donors, Library of America preserves and celebrates a vital part of our cultural heritage for generations to come.

Support our mission