And so, just like that, I’m back in 2011, the year I finally discovered the Kinks, the flame rekindled, courtesy of a BBC strand on the band. What does it this time is a documentary called I’m Not Like Everybody Else, which has interviews with both Ray and Dave Davies, and Mick Avory and Pete Quaife and music clips. End up singing Shangri-La for days. Oh, that particular gift that Ray has with major and minor, minutiae and melancholy, every tiny triumph pricked by irony, a herald to defeat, every loss resigned to, ‘every everything’ as my friend the late and great Grant Hart might say. It’s all there in the writing and the delivery. And that intelligence, that he plays down a lot. Of course, you’re a poet, Ray, but so much more than that.
And Dave. And Dave. What can I say? The cheekiness of the ten-year-old has never left him. Disarmingly honest, I fall victim to his charisma once more. His artless manner allows him to call his brother a ‘manipulative arsehole’ and get away with it.
So, the first Kinks song I remember hearing, and loving, was Celluloid Heroes (released in 1979) (probably the first time I'd heard the word 'celluloid'), because it was played a lot on Radio Caroline. It is such a tour de force and a typical Kinks song, in that it was atypical and unlike the rest of the music of the time. Full of melodrama and bathos, it told a story, it had a message – the power and the transience of fame ('Success walks hand in hand with failure along Hollywood Boulevard') and the price you might pay for it, how the glamour is merely an illusion. I presume I did hear the 60s and early 70s tracks on the Golden Oldies shows at the time but I never really connected any of them with the band who made Celluloid Heroes.
I feel as if Ray Davies is an old soul. That, even as a young man, he could understand and imagine what it might be like to be a middle-aged man, or an old man. And then capture it in a character in a song, who, even if slightly ridiculed, is ridiculed with affection and compassion (Mr Pleasant, A Well-Respected Man). He moves on, innovates, changes tack but he will still be looking at the scene in the rearview mirror, then encapsulating it in song – such as Come Dancing, Working Man’s Café (Ray solo). I’m like Ray. I was nostalgic by the age of 11. Dave says ‘If something good happens, Ray will construct a situation to make it go wrong.’ The thing is Dave just accepts something good has happened – its face value – but Ray is already looking the gift horse in the mouth or maybe even remembering the Trojan horse.
And Dave Davies is a new soul. He seems to regenerate, be able to leave and leave behind without rancour or regret. And maybe he doesn't even register the fact that he has left anything behind. He's moved on. His moment is everything. It’s as if he lived the life a CBT counsellor advised me to, carpe diem, without ever pausing to consider the past or the future but ready to connect right here, right now. It would probably be uncool of me to quote a John Denver song at this point but, if you have ever read any of my blogs, you’ll know that being thought uncool does not give me sleepless nights: ‘I can’t be contented with yesterday’s story/I can’t live on promises, winter to spring/Today is my moment, and now is my story/Who cares what tomorrow will bring?’ (Today – John Denver)
I think I used the phrase ‘emotional intelligence’ to convey Dave’s writing and performing, perhaps in my blog comparing Dave’s role in the Kinks to George Harrison’s in the Beatles, and Dave’s solo career to George Harrison’s. Dave's music is transparent, immediate, accessible and stirring but, if you started to analyse the lyrics, you would find they don’t make total sense – it’s more a tide of feeling that carries you along (Strangers). Sometimes it’s like magic (Flowers in the Rain – Dave solo). Don’t get me wrong (to gratuitously quote Different Drum – Stone Poneys, written by Mike Nesmith), Ray has that emotional intelligence too and can create a song that’s sublime, subtle, simple, beautiful, of its time and of all time (to paraphrase the late, beloved Glenn Frey, speaking of the Eagles), like the incomparable Waterloo Sunset, but he’s also a consummate craftsman. When he paints a portrait or a landscape, any detail can be extracted and enlarged, and reveal more about the scene. Or say, if it were a character in a movie, there would be a backstory complete enough to satisfy Dustin Hoffman. The tune will be as contagious as Covid. Dave is more of an Impressionist. He paints in broad brush strokes.
It's not that Ray isn't optimistic. He's a realist. Listen to Real World. How else to explain it? Ray sees the wood and the trees within them. Dave sees the trees. And guess, what, I'm back to Different Drum.
Dedicated to John Gosling, 1948 - 2023. Rest in Peace.