Clip: Ray Davies on tour
- Rubien gives the Kinks' efforts in the early 80s short shrift, but
some context on where Davies's current work fits into his career.
DAVIES RISES ABOVE THE KINKS
Sunday, July 9, 2006
"You know, there's this e.e. cummings poem where there's this guy, I
don't remember exactly what happens, but the poem ends up that he
tried all these things and one day he died. And then he started a worm
farm. We all adapt, you know?"
Ray Davies is on the phone from his home in London, trying not to get
too distracted by the Ukraine vs. Switzerland World Cup soccer game on
the telly. He is referring to his younger brother -- and fellow
founder of the Kinks -- Dave, who is recovering from a stroke suffered
in 2004. But Ray Davies, 62, could easily have been talking about
himself and the remarkable career recovery he's been undergoing in
recent years, culminating with his solo album "Other People's Lives"
and the tour behind it that's taking him and a backing quartet to the
Mountain Winery in Saratoga on Wednesday and to the Warfield in San
Francisco on Thursday.
Recovery from what? Well, there was this slump. Nothing too serious --
only 25 years or so.
Yes, it's been about that long, since the early '70s, that Davies'
former band, the Kinks, who broke up in 1995, mattered. To an extent,
that's true of each of the four major British Invasion bands -- the
Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who and the Kinks. None could hold on
to the fire ignited by a combination of American rhythm and blues and
postwar British reimagination that forged the template of rock and pop
music as we know it.
How did these bands churn out such incredible music? Davies,
self-effacing in the extreme and prone to answering questions
sideways, steers back to the World Cup.
"I was listening to 'Sunny Afternoon' recently because it was No. 1
when England won the World Cup. I was listening to it and the
arrangement is so simple, such a cool arrangement, and we didn't know
what we were doing. It was all instinct."
In his 1995 autobiography, "X-Ray," Davies writes of that
serendipitous moment in 1966: "I wished that I had a machine gun, so
that I could kill us all and everything would stop there." By that
point, the Kinks had already been thrust to the top of the pops with
the mega-hits "You Really Got Me" and "All Day and All of the Night,"
which essentially christened the Kinks the fathers of hard rock. But
"Sunny Afternoon" signaled a sharp swing away from pounding guitars
and declarations of lust into a new genre of Davies' creation.
Nowadays they call it Britpop -- and, yes, Davies is its father -- but
then it didn't have a name. It was a chronicling of the England Davies
saw around him, the stately lawns, the queens, the fops, the
pensioners, tea time -- post-empire elegies that Davies delivered in
attitudes ranging from affectionate to acidly satiric. On a string of
six albums (seven if you count the out-of-print "Great Lost Kinks
Album"), beginning with "The Kink Kontroversy" in 1965 and ending with
"Lola vs. the Powerman and the Money-Go-Round" in 1970, Davies
delivered sharply written slices of British history wrapped in
melodies so beautiful you have to wonder why so few people bought the
records. Therein lies part of the explanation for the Kinks' decline.
The record company was demanding hits. Davies, a sensitive soul, shy
of the spotlight, possibly manic depressive -- not to mention an
actual father, barely out of his teens -- did not handle pressure
well. There were drugs in the '70s, onstage fights with his brother
and near nervous breakdowns. Davies' lack of ease with himself is
mirrored in the structure of "X-Ray," in which he presents himself as
a wizened old figure being interviewed by a callow journalist. Davies
kills off his character, ending the book in 1973. Now, on the phone,
he says, "I think that was a good full stop on the first phase of the
What came next was a period of highly theatrical concept albums for
the Kinks, like "Soap Opera" and "Schoolboys in Disgrace,"
idiosyncratic without really being inspired. By the late '80s, the
group had returned to its "You Really Got Me" hard-rock roots, with
heavy-metal pretensions layered on for a bland, arena-rock slickness.
The Kinks were selling tickets, but they had become "a corporate
band," Davies says, the antithesis of what they had been in their '60s
By 1995, with Ray and Dave the only original members remaining, the
Kinks came to an end. Dave went off to do solo projects, and Ray began
a slow and steady artistic resurrection.
The first step was to create an autobiographical show he called "The
Storyteller," which combined anecdotes with Kinks classics Davies
played on acoustic guitar. "I said I was going to do that for six
months, and that went on for six or seven years," Davies says,
The show, which started off VH1's "Storytellers" series, enjoyed a
weeks-long run at the Alcazar Theatre in San Francisco. Davies was
clearly back in his comfort zone.
But Davies had to remove himself from another comfort zone -- England
-- for fresh inspiration. He moved to New Orleans in 2000 and began
recording new songs. The result was his first true solo album, "Other
People's Lives." Released early this year, it's all about leaving the
past behind and starting over.
It blows away any Kinks album since "Lola." The slump is officially over.
Davies got a bit more than he bargained for in New Orleans when a
mugger shot him in the leg outside the French Quarter in 2004. Davies
had been walking with a friend when the mugger snatched her purse.
Davies gave chase and was shot. He recovered, although it took him "a
while to build up the psychological energy to go back to mixing" the
Davies was done with his New Orleans stint by the time Hurricane Katrina hit.
"The Katrina thing was just awful to see because obviously when I was
recovering there I made a lot of friends," Davies says. "And to see
all those streets and buildings covered with water ... it's going to
take a while for that city to recover."
And what of the Kinks? Rumors of a reunion always are afoot, and
Davies doesn't rule them out.
"I'm still waiting for the call to say let's get together and play,"
he says. "I mean, the Kinks were so much a part of my life, it's
difficult to live without them. I think I'm still in a bit of a
delayed shock for not having them around."
RAY DAVIES: 7:30 p.m. Wed. at Mountain Winery, 14831 Pierce Road,
Saratoga. $35-$59.50. (408) 741-2822; www.the mountainwinery.com. Also
8 p.m. Thurs. at the Warfield Theatre, 928 Market St., San Francisco.
$29.50-$35. (415) 775-7722, www.livenation.com