For the accomplished 50 years or so, I accept been a fan of Ray Davies, or Sir Ray Davies, as he now is. At one stage, I endemic every distinct almanac by The Kinks, and knew best of their lyrics by heart.
When about every added pop artisan was autograph abandoned about falling in love, Davies was autograph about a all-inclusive spectrum of animal animosity and impulses – loneliness, nostalgia, respectability, fashionability, poverty, laziness, hero-worship, alcoholism – and all in the choir of a array of altered characters.
A few years ago, I spotted him in our bounded Co-op, and realised, as I stalked him, goggle-eyed, about the aisles, that my fandom was far from over.
Sure enough, aback he got to the till, I was appropriate abaft him, so that aback he asked the accountant if there was a greengrocer in town, and she said she didn’t know, I was able to dent in with ‘Turn appropriate and you’ll acquisition one a hundred yards forth on the right.’ Imagine my joy aback the abundant man said ‘Thank you actual much,’ adding, as he got to the door: ‘Merry Christmas!’
I had bumped into him already before, additionally about Christmas time. I was travelling on the London Underground in December 1973, aback I saw him through the window abutting the carriages. On impulse, I got out at the abutting stop and nipped into his carriage. I afresh sat and told him how abundant I’d enjoyed The Kinks’ concert at the White City amphitheater that summer. I bethink him groaning, and adage agilely that it wasn’t one of their best. He got out at the abutting stop with a animated ‘goodbye’, but I sensed that he was planning to get aback in added along, at a safe ambit from his over-familiar fan.
It was added than ten years later, on account Jon Savage’s accomplished authorised adventures of the band, that I apparent that Ray Davies was actuality artlessly chaste aback he said he hadn’t enjoyed that White City concert: it angry out that he had attempted suicide afterwards it. ‘I did try to annihilate myself that day,’ he told Savage. ‘I took what charge accept been uppers, the accomplished bottle. I went to Whittington Hospital and I said, “My name is Ray Davies and I’m dying.” And they laughed. I had my date composition on and a clown’s outfit, and they said, “Oh, we accept you. Why don’t you aloof address bottomward the names of two bodies who are abutting of kin?” I wrote the aboriginal one. The additional one I couldn’t see. I fell over and they knew they had a absolute case. They abject me into the ward, got the abdomen pump and fabricated me bandy up. I bethink such abhorrent guilt.’
This affecting adventure is mentioned abandoned in casual in Mark Doyle’s new book about The Kinks. As the Professor of History at Middle Tennessee Accompaniment University, Doyle has added things on his mind. ‘The Kinks’ accord to banal England is the axial affair of this book,’ he announces in the introduction, adding: ‘This is an exercise in what I accept absitively to alarm historically abreast bedrock criticism: bury the article of assay aural its actual context.’
Thus, Doyle follows an ever-increasing band of academics who attack to absolve pop music with stuffiness. In so doing, they extinguish its blaze in a abundant buzz of akin jargon.
‘For historians,’ writes Doyle, ‘Davies’s lyrics action advantageous primary antecedent advice about the changes Britain underwent in the 1960s, address ablaze on such assorted capacity as banal affluence, accepted attitudes appear the abundance accompaniment and alteration account about sexuality.’
Well, yes and no. Davies is a actual accurate array of songwriter, not a abstract sociologist who collates statistics. To attending to him for ‘information about the changes Britain underwent in the 1960s’ is like attractive to Picasso for advice about the beasts industry, or Tommy Cooper for the history of the fez.
The Kinks’ aboriginal big hit, You Absolutely Got Me, came in 1964. It charcoal a abundant ball song, consistently added raw and burning than any added British hit of the time. Doyle quotes Davies as adage it was aggressive by a adolescent babe he spotted at a club in Piccadilly. ‘She had admirable lips. Thin, but not skinny. A bit agnate to Françoise Hardy. Not continued hair, but bottomward to about there. Continued abundant to put your easily through… continued abundant to hold. I wrote You Absolutely Got Me for her, alike admitting I never met her.’
But academics are accomplished never to leave able-bodied alone, so Professor Doyle can’t abide the appetite to adjudge his pipe-sucking abolitionist overviews amid the song and its listeners. ‘Yet in its body You Absolutely Got Me charcoal a dejection song,’ he insists, professorially, ‘a bark of depression from a accurate time and a accurate abode that bidding the frustrations and passions of its performers aloof as absolutely as the folk-blues of the Mississippi Delta had done in their time and place… Its actual inarticulacy tells added about what it acquainted like to be a jailbait in a post-war, post-rationing, post-National Service North London than a hundred well-crafted words could do.’
And so he goes on, axis the abundant Kinks songs – Dedicated Follower Of Fashion, Days, Autumn Almanac, Waterloo Dusk – into black hangers aloft which to affectation his standard, hand-me-down anti-Establishment analyses of post-war Britain.
Of the agreeable Dedicated Follower Of Fashion, Doyle concludes, ‘one of his [Davies’s] arch impulses was to catechism the bread-and-butter and political bounds aloft which the allegory of Swinging London rested’. In fact, best of Davies’s songs are afterpiece in spirit to Noël Coward, Flanders and Swann and Gilbert and Sullivan than to annihilation added candidly political. There is consistently the glint of atrocity in them, a adumbration of fun in the air.
Having set Davies up as a key affiliate of those bookish chic warriors who ‘subjected their apple to… relentless, sometimes austere interrogation’, Doyle feels the charge to brand this apocryphal character on all Davies songs, no amount how whimsical, claimed or amusing.
In accurate bookish style, he compares the airy Autumn Almanac with Louis MacNeice, Dylan Thomas and L. S. Lowry afore clearing on the rural Victorian artist John Clare. ‘Clare’s anti-enclosure laments and balladry of adolescence chastity accept a acerb Kinksian arena to them.’ Oddly enough, he says that, in Autumn Almanac, ‘Davies sings like an old man, arthritic aback and all’, but Jon Savage’s adventures makes it bright that Davies himself has continued suffered from a aback problem. Far from actuality anti-anything, Davies commendations the song as ‘a actual up song about a man, a contented little gardener’.
Believing, like abounding academics, that anguish equals worth, Doyle transforms Davies’s masterpiece, Waterloo Sunset, into article slyly afflicted and equivocal, artlessly because the final choir says: ‘Waterloo Sunset’s fine.’ ‘Not brilliant, not heavenly, not transcendent, but fine,’ Doyle chips in. ‘It is as if Davies has anchored a tiny escape article into the song, aloof in case somebody should appear forth and say that the dusk isn’t so amazing afterwards all. Nobody said it was spectacular, he can reply; I aloof said it was fine.’
Come again? Davies himself has said that as a adolescent he was taken to St Thomas’ Hospital on the Thames. He told Jon Savage: ‘I about died. I had a tracheotomy and the airship burst. I was absorbed to a machine… Two or three or four canicule afterwards I couldn’t allege because of the operation. Two nurses wheeled me out on to the balcony, area I could see the River Thames. It was aloof a actual anapestic moment for me. So I anticipation about that time – I capital to address a absolutely abundant London song. There’s no anamnesis of that song that isn’t pleasure.’
So Doyle has loaded on to this abundant adorning song a faculty of anguish and doom that it has done annihilation to deserve. Po-faced acceptance and advisers may be able to abstract article from this blurred book; admirers would be bigger off activity aback to the songs.
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