The Kinks Kronikled
When the Kinks started out, Jack Kennedy was President of the United States, the East Germans were scouting around for bricks to erect the greatest symbolic barrier to peace in out time, and Madonna's greatest fashion delimma was avoiding diaper rash.
Times change, but the Kinks have remained unfazed. The band's always been too good to be bothered by such minute details as the passage of a quarterof a century.
Besides, time has only been another subject for Ray Davies to scrutinize, evaluate and transform into artistic expressions that others can only admire and envy.
So who's surprised? When Ray and Dave Davies assembled the band in 1962, the world had to realize something special was underfoot. While the Merseybeat was bringing a bounce to music fans' steps. Dave's savage guitar riffs shook them with a fury never dreamed of before.
Meanwhile, Ray's satirical wit and observations provided an extended and insightful glimpse into the way the world really worked. He redefined British pop music with "Well Respected Man" in 1965 with an intelligent look into the mindless pursuit of "success." But Davies was always expanding the parameters of rock. They only existed for him to experiment with and revise.
He wrote the first rock opera in 1969 and penned a series of intelligent concept albums in the early 1970's.
Lean years followed in the middle '70's, only to have Davies and the Kinks strike back at their would-be pall bearers with a powerful pledge of life in "Rock and Roll Fantasy" off Misfits.
Ever since, it's been business as usual for the band. Solid music, better performances, and social commentaries that would give David Brinkley pause for thought. Through it all, Ray Davies continues to put one foot in front of the other, with each step miles ahead of any of his competitor.
Always critically hailed for their efforts, the Kinks have mysteriously never broken through with the public with the impact of such contemporaries as the Stones, the Beatles or the Who. For too long, Davies has been the victim of "Oh, he wrote that?" disease.
Along with his recorded and live work, Davies is increasingly involving himself in other media. In 1985, he wrote, directed and composed songs for "Return To Waterloo," for British TV and selected U.S. screenings. He appeared in the film "Absolute Beginners" last year and is currently working on his long- awaited musical based on the life of Jules Verne, "80 Days."
A thoughtful man, Davies views his relative anonymity with more bemusement than anger. The groups latest project, The Road , is a live retrospective look at their concert performances throughout the '80s. The album's single and title track delves further into Kinks history and evokes the names of departed friends and former group members.
Davies recently sat unrecoginzed in a Manhattan
restaurant discussing the Kinks past and future, as
well as all his eyes have seen on the long and storied
road the group has traveled. The surprising sting of
his comments were quickly soothed with the smile with
which they were delivered.
I guess the most impressive thing about the Kinks, besides the quality of the music, is the longevity of the group. How have you managed to keep it together with all the volatile personalities, including your own brother?
It's willpower. Every day I think I want to quit. I write songs and the band is a good vehicle for them. It's an interesting band to play in. They're good musicians from different backgrounds, whose experience spans years. The Kinks are not like a treadmill. They're the first bunch of guys I recored with. It's almost like a habit with us. But it would be nice to work with other people. That's how you pick up new inspirations and new techniques.
I read where you were ready to chuck it all at a concert at the White City Festival in London in 1973. Your wife had left you and you were in a down period. The story goes that Dave and Mick Avory talked you out of it.
I was going to give it up, but I went on hoiday with my brother to Denmark to see a bunch of shows in the clubs. We were like a couple fo punk rock "punters" wanting to get back on stage again. The experience washed away all my tedium. That White City concert did give the Kinks a new life in a way. After that holiday, we started with records like Preservation and Soap Opera. It was the turning point I was looking for to happen.
People say you and Dave are not as close as you once were. Are the Kinks something that comes between you, or does the band serve as something that has kept you together?
It was interesting doing this new promo for The Road. Dave has changed more than anybody in the band. You can see it in the old films. He was closer to being himself around the time we were doing stuff like Village Green Preservation Society. He was very happy then; a great kid to know. Now, I don't know. Sometimes it's like he's just a workmate you see in the studio. I think if you are ambitious, any your sibling achieves your goals, you have a natural tendency to feel shut out. I think he felt that for a while. But he's OK right now. I think he's resolving that now.
What about when you were kids?
Your know, I was carrying the show when I was 3 years old. I'd sing Temptations tunes solo at weddings in front of 200 people.
Are you a ham?
I'm not really a ham, but I was kind of born into it. I'm really very introverted and hard to get going. But once I'm committed to performing, I'll go out there and do it all the way. I think you'll find most performers are introverted.
Your stage persona is very different from you off-stage personality then? The greatest living actor in world, Sir Alec Guiness, is the most boring man. It often happens. If you don't turn off at some point....Jimi Hendrix simply died of exhaustion. He was a very special, fragile man. I don't know if bands like Led Zeppelin had what he possessed though they were a good rock and roll band.
It's interesting that you bring up Led Zeppelin. I've heard that Keith Richards is not a big fan of theirs. It's sad he doesn't approve of their treatment of their blues origins.
I must say something about Jimmy Page; I like him. He's a nice guy. But all this controversy about him playing on "You Really Got Me" is utter nonsense. The truth is, he was very jealous of the Kinks. When the Kinks had that hit, even the Yardbirds were jealous of us. We had taken the blues format and made a pop hit out of it. When you look at their first hit, "For Your Love" had nothing to do with the blues.
Do you think Dave's been short-changed as a guitarist? When people think of guitar greats, names like Page, Hendrix and Clapton invariably come up. But Dave essentially invented "power chords" on "You Really Got Me."
Absolutely. I think that may be part of the resentment he's had for me. He's never really been recognized for his input into the early band. He's a great guitar player.
What about Clapton?
I've had this on again, off again thing with Eric. I've known him through his Bluesbreaker days and his Yardbird days....He's in it for the chicks. Apart from that, he's a very talented guitar player. But I've got to tell you, he runs the same routine he had in 1963. I saw him in a pub about four years ago. He was smoking a cigarette in the back. Everyone cried out: "Let Eric play!" Then he smoked a cigarette behind a pillar. It took four hours to get him on and six hours to get him off. But I do admire his work. He's a more controlled player than Dave. Dave sometimes just says "fuck it!" and turns up. Unfortunately it's usually when I'm doing a ballad.
Tell me about the atmosphere among the British Invasion bands of the early '60s.
Oh, it was incredible. The Beatles were waiting for the next Kinks album, while the Who were waiting for the next Beatles record. It was a very exciting time. There was even more anticipation among the artists than the fans. It was sort of like being in the impressionist movement.
Was it very competitive?
Paul McCartney was one of the most competitive people I've ever met. Lennon wasn't. He just thought everyone else was shit. Townsend was very competitive. But there was a six-month period when we were bigger than any of those bands. We had three straight number ones in 1964. I was 19. But, you know, I didn't get the royalites I should've for the first 30 songs I wrote, right up to "Well Respected Man."
On Muswell Hillbilies, you write about the working class London you grew up with.
Well, we just signed a deal with RCA. They had even given me a box of cigars. I thought I shouldn't get carried away with it, so I made the most working class album I could. It's about the urban redevelopment of inner London and how it's really become an urban waste land. There are places where people just can't go anymore. They built cheap housing and packed people in like rats. The kids there have no jobs and no future. It's everything the smart-asses like Johnny Rotten described, I think he used to be quite visionary in that way.
The punks attacked the Who as "fat cats." But they never attacked the Kinks.
They knew they could never attack the Kinks because we could out-punk them. If Sid Vicious ever came up to me, I would've killed him. But his is a sad story. He was a product of Hackney London. He's just what I was singing about in Muswell Hillbillies. But he looks like Cary Grant compared to some of the kids in London today. It's becoming a terrifying place. Packs of kids run into shops and restaurants to loot out of utter frustration. But Sid, he was just an artist's tool employed by Malcolm McLaren. I don't like the man, but he didn't do anything that Brian Epstein or Andrew Loog Oldham hadn't done before him.
John Lydon bases a lot of resentment against the crown on his Irish Catholic heritage.
The he should act like it. I think he should politicize his thoughts more. He should act on them.
This is a great era of collaboration for celebrated causes. Yet, in events like Live Aid and the Prince's Trust concerts, the Kinks have been conspicuously absent.
Dave was very impassioned about doing Live Aid. He rung up Bob Geldof's office and was told that they only wanted famous acts. I guess the Kinks just are not as big as the Boomtown Rats.
But do you want to continue to pursue such collaborations?
Who's going to sing lead vocals? Sure, I desire to do things like that, but I want to set up a genuine trust. I would prefer to do something on a more hands- on or community basis. Something for the desperate situation I described in North London. I don't want to just stand in front of Prince Charles for no other reason than to be there.
What did you think of Bono's comments at the Grammys?
They were rather irresponsible. I think it's bad to say things without actually physically doing something about it. But I suppose it's good to fall attention to good causes. But his comments about South Africa and the like, who does he think he is, Roosevelt? Give me a break!
How do you feel about the way your new live album, The Road, is being promoted by MCA?
I'm upset about it. I believe in this record. It's what the Kinks are all about. I'm going to work for it. I'll break it or it'll break me, and I'm not ready to be broken.
What about the future of the band as you enter your 25th year with the Kinks?
Well, if they don't like this record, they'll never like the band as it exists today. I may have to make changes. Who knows, maybe we'll bring Mick back and go with two drummers. In any case, changes would have to occur.
Mike Hammer, RockBill, May 1988.