“What I try to do probably doesn’t come out. What I’ve worked out what I do – I might not be right – is to do something very personal, and then suddenly I look at it, up in the air. I blow it up and look at it and then I come down again – a better man.”
Ray Davies, formerly of the Kinks
So last night Ray Davies played the Chicago Theatre for a packed house including myself and my daughter. There was a moment at the end when everyone was spelling out and singing L-O-L-A Lola, and Ray was playing acoustic guitar and urging the crowd on, and it was all really ragged and cool.
For Davies, thank goodness, his songs have always been about something, from A Well Respected Man to Tired of Waiting to Till the End of the Night. The Kinks were the antidote to what was stupid and shallow about rock in the 60s. Last night Davies played songs that reminded me why he is part of rock royalty, and part of the grand tradition of British troubadours to which all American rock fans owe a great debt.
In the 60s, the “British Invasion” was represented on one front by bands like Herman’s Hermits, who portrayed themselves as innocent British youth and sang ridiculous tripe such as “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter.”
On the other side were bands like the Kinks, who sang songs like, “You Really Got Me” and “Tired of Waiting.”
As a kid in the 60s, I didn’t want rock to go the way of Herman’s Hermits, with crappy lyrics like, “I’m Henry the eighth I am, Henry the eighth I am, I am, I got married to the widow next door, she’s been married seven times before.”
Married? Screw that. What planet are you from, dude? This is supposed to be rock n’ roll.
I wanted rock songs to mean something.
And I loved Ray’s lyrics–even if I didn’t know why.
Teen angst? Listen to Tired of Waiting, where Ray is talking to a girl he is obviously too in love with, obsessed with, pleading with in that earnest, desperate British manner. The girl, (possibly the real Mrs. Brown’s Daughter?) is somebody he is waiting and waiting for, a girl who will never call him back, but who he still can’t give up on.
“It’s your Life, and you can do what you want to do….
Do what you like
But please don’t keep-a-me-waiting
Please don’t keep-a-me waiting”
As a young man, I wanted rock songs to tell me what to do about the girl who breaks your heart.
The Kinks took songs and made the words count and did things nobody else did with rhyme and understated humor. “I met her in a club down in old Soho, where they drink champagne and it tastes just like cherry cola. C-o-l-a Cola.”
I guess Ray didn’t buy into the whole “art scene” in Soho. The thing that makes Davies different is that he has the chops to back up this attitude. He was an art student himself, after all, back in the day.
The show last night had one song after another that made you listen to the words.
A Dedicated Follower of Fashion
All Day and All of the Night
You Really Got Me
I’m Not Like Everybody Else
Til the End of the Day
I remember listening to A Well Respected Man in my rainy, depressing, teenage bedroom in Tacoma, Washington, not knowing why the song made me glad, only that it did.
“And he’s oh so good, and he’s oh so fine, and he’s oh so healthy in his body and his mind.”
It’s called irony, but at the time I was just a confused teenager who only knew something was wrong with being a “well respected man.” It felt good knowing what you were supposed to be when you grew up wasn’t what it pretended to be.
To heck with Herman’s Hermits. Give me the Kinks any day.
Davies is such a good performer, he actually read from a book during last night’s show and pulled it off. The writing was from his memoir X-Ray, and it was actually very political in its content. As a former Berkeley grad who cringes at anything that smacks of political posing, I appreciate Ray Davies and the wry smile that accompanies most of what he says.
The show was packed with great music and stories. There were lots of anecdotes about Ray’s feelings about his brother Dave. Ray talked about how the Kinks were banned from the US for 4 years, and how he never quite knew why. He talked about some new projects he is working on, including a new collaboration album called See My Friends. On this album, he performs Kinks classics with Bruce Springsteen, Lucinda Williams, and others.
He talked about how he performed Til the End of the Day with Alex Chilton, who sang possibly the greatest song ever (The Letter).
The highlight of last night’s show was when Ray and his band tore the roof off the classic “You Really Got Me.” There was Ray up on stage, singing:
“See, don’t ever set me free
I always wanna be by your side
Girl, you really got me now
You got me so I can’t sleep at night”
As Ray ripped through the chords on a chilly night at the Chicago Theatre, stopping and starting the song when he wanted to, talking, smiling with the audience, signing autographs, urging us on, I think it was clear we all wanted the same thing: we’ll all take the obsessed, sleep deprived guy in love or lust with some girl who might someday cheat on him anytime. And Ray, we always want to be by your side.