The Kinks, Cain and Abel and the world according to Ray
One of the last survivors of the first British Invasion, the Kinks have suffered black eyes, bruised egos, life-threatening illnesses, long bouts of public indifference and a sibling rivalry straight out of a soap opera, if not Cain and Abel, on the way to an astonishing 30 albums.
When reached at his London home, Kinks auteur Ray Davies was busy working on album number 31, "To The Bone," consisting of unplugged material with bonus tracks, that he hopes to see released in the US as a double CD pending a record deal.
But next week Davies will be looking back. His crackling autobiography "X-Ray" (Overlook Press) has spawned an acoustic show in which Davies, accompanied only by a second guitarist, sings, strums, reads and reminisces, all in the name of some of the best pop songs written in the 20th century - from "Waterloo Sunset" to perhaps the strangest love song to crack the top 10, "Lola."
The show musically embellishes the book, a novelistic and frequently surrealistic account of Davies' life told through the eyes of a 19-year old reporter - who is not coincidentally the same age Davies was when he formed the Kinks with younger brother Dave in London.
"I didn't want a dry retelling of events, the air of inevitability that most autobiographies have", Davies says of the book's structural daring. "The idea of this third-person narrator, who is essentially me looking in at myself made it appealing to write."
The book's mixture of contrivance and insight, entertaining lies and painfully truthful emotion, is also the essence of Davies songwriting. And he says that only through listening to the music could he begin to reassemble his past in a manuscript.
"I'd play the records back and hear a drum beat missing or a blown vocal part, and it would instantly bring back something about the time," he says. "There are no surprises in the book because it's already there in my songs."
In the 60's, the Kinks graduated from the ringing rock anthems of teen anxiety, such as "You Really Got Me" and "All Day and All of the Night," to socially conscious pop songs, by turns glib and poignant, that reflected a more literate if no less contented viewpoint: "A Well Respected Man," "David Watts," "Dedicated Follower of Fashion."
"I didn't realize how affected I was by things around me," Davies says. "Our early stuff was more R&B based and then this Englishness, this folk music style, took over. I suppose it was then that I moved over to become the leader of the band. Until then, basically Dave was the front man with the way he moved on stage and how loud his guitar was. I was just the quiet one standing at the side with strange-looking teeth."
The terminal outsider, even then, Davies found the tension within the band both a source of continual frustration and inspiration. "If we'd all been friends, if everyone was patting each other on the back, we wouldn't have lasted five minutes," he says. "Hate is the only thing that lasts."
Greg Kot, Chicago Tribune, April 12, 1996.