Doggie Tricks and Bizness Licks
This is the true story of a street dog and his best friend - an incorrigible pair who get to see each other only on Sundays when they nap together, sing in harmony and share a breakfast of raw eggs and tea. It's a strange, irregular tale and not all that easy to grasp. I'm not sure I really understand it myself.
We can start by tripping back to 1964 when a gadfly from Muswell Hill, who turned out to be Ray Davies, made a hit record with his Kinks called "You Really Got Me."
Instantly, he began answering ferocious questionnaires from music papers demanding tiny intricacies like what is your favorite soft drink? and what do you do when you get a schoolgirl alone in a hotel room? Are you impressed with Bartok? Do you tell her?
Ray Davies faced just such a crucial examination and in the spot marked "Best Friend" answered "Me", and in the spot marked "Most Thrilling Moment" answered that it was truly the first time he met his best friend.
Now I know this to be true because last Friday this invaluable document was in the NME files.
"I remember this one", says Davies, folding it a couple times and pushing it into his jacket pocket. "And it's true you know....perfectly true. But I THINK I've got rid of him at last. I don't know but I think I'll be able to tell you after Sunday.
"I would like to get rid of him now. He's been a friend for long time and now I'm looking for someone else...if you know what I mean."
It was the "after Sunday" bit - whispered secretly - that sounded a bit ominous. Pennie 'Snaps' Smith was worried afterwards that it might mean he was contemplating a leap from a tall building. After Sunday?
Sunday was, in fact, the last day of a Kinks tour of Britain and, just as surely, the final moments of the friend Ray Davies ran into 10 years ago - a closet companion and marksman, equipped with a marauding mind and all the little chopping strokes a rock and roll star needs to rock and roll.
No, don't go away. I think we've got this same thing worked out, in that same questionnaire he was talking about replacing his absent dog with a stuffed one. Mummified dogs, he pointed out, didn't need feeding and never crapped on the floor.
"Yes", he affirmed. "I'd rather have a stuffed dog than no dog. But then dogs frighten me. They really do. I was sitting in Pond Square, Highgate, and a mongrel comes up to me and it looks at me and instantly I knew everything about me. Then it sniffs me and walks away. Because it had everything it wanted from me.
"They're very clever, you know, especially mongrel dogs..I think they are ultra-intelligent." More so than cats, I wondered. "More so than people and I reckon they've got more of a chance. It's cynical really. I wrote a little poem for my dog before it ran away. I was writing one night and my dog was asleep having a nightmare and I really couldn't talk to him. That was the most upsetting thing. I couldn't talk to my dog and he couldn't talk to me, which was worse for him. I think if they could talk to us it would really be interesting because they really get kicked around. Let's face it, it's a hard life for a mongrel."
They grow up tough, though, I suggested. Maybe you're something of a street dog. "Yeah, maybe I'm a street dog. I can see a lot of myself in that dog. Yeah, I'm a dog."
He needed all his doggie tricks to come through what has clearly been one of the severest periods of his life. Less than three months ago, at the end of a Kinks set at the White City, Davies announced to a blandly incredulous audience that his playing days were over. Thanks for the memories, but that's it.
It seemed such an abrupt and grotesquely inadequate finale. Nothing like we might have expected from a man of such ample imagination. Then we learn that his wife had taken off with the kids that same day and Ray had splintered like a piece of rare China.
There wasn't even a happy ending where the wife appears through the shadows one night and the pair sob in blessed relief. She has since filed for a separation and Ray has seconded it with an application for divorce.
For a while he drank in quantities that began frightening his friend and press aide Marion Rainford. "Ray never drinks", she said. "When he does it's not a very good sign." How did he get himself back in shape? "Oh, it's a long story. It's a novel. Things like that I haven't the ability or the intelligence to sum it up in one or two sentences. It suddenly occurred to me it might have been the simple fact that what I intended to be our last concert wasn't a particularly good concert. I said 'Well, I'm gonna go off on something better than that.' It started from that.
"I really do like playing, you know. It's part of me."
Yes, and so does his best friend who accompanied him on the previous night's gig in Newcastle where he growled at the Kinks roadie for giving some fans a bad time. He was also in the sleeper down to London where drummer Mick Avory ran an epic card school from the bottom bunk and blotted out any hope of sleep. Now he was motioning towards and invisible swelling on his cheek and predicting that disease was about to overtake his body.
"We did 'Lola' last night. I did that one three years ago and now it's only just emerging on a national level. I think that's true with the 'Village Green Preservation Society'. What that album was a series of ideas for a possible musical. You see, ever since 'Dedicated Follower,' ever since 'Well Respected Man', people have been wanting me to write one. But they wanted me to write one for all the wrong reasons. You know, to appreciate someone's work you've got to like their failures, too. If somebody wants me to write a second 'Hair' because I have a record in the charts, I don't want to know. But if somebody wants me to write a musical because they like one of my songs, that's a good enough reason to do it."
"It happened with 'Lola'. We had 'Lola' number 1 in the NME and somebody came up to us and asked us to do a film ('Percy'). I'm sure they looked down the charts and they thought 'Well, who's in the charts this week? We'll get them to write a film score for us.' I don't know if these people ever heard my work. I doubt it. I did the film and treated it with what it deserved."
Which prompted a question on whether he felt like breaking more bonds with The Bizness. He now, after all, had his own studio, and was well advanced with plans for a label. His mind suddenly made one of those weird skips and came down heavily on the Rolling Stones.
"I said some things about the Rolling Stones and I still stand by them. I think they've got too much money and too many people telling them what to do. I reckon they should stop playing and do something in a little club. So people get turned away. Maybe you'll only get a thousand in a club, which is a lot anyway! But I still think they should do it. I think it's what Keith Richard wants to do. I think that's what he enjoys...I've always hated the business side of it. I know they want to live abroad because of the tax side of it. All this crap with people saying they're disillusioned with England. It's all to do with tax. And in about five years time I hope those people have got good lawyers. Really good ones. Because people are come up to you and say 'Ray you've got to get a good lawyer, a good accountant, who can stop you paying taxes...There's two ways of dealing with taxes: you either pay them or you don't. That's why they went abroad. It's money. Yeah, the Stones are a great band but then I watched them on the telly the other night and I thought it was really sad, really sad. I don't think Michael Lindsay Hogg as a director has ever known how to shoot the Rolling Stones. Also I think they were trying everything they possibly could do to keep the attention of the audience - and all they really have to do is to enjoy what they're playing."
And the Who? He scratched a little in that direction too - mostly for the band's formularized posturing for the panting TV cameras: "Keith's token angry look" and Daltry's "swinging round of the mike at the end bit."
"It's pretty well off pat but that doesn't mean it's not good because they enjoy what they're doing. They still enjoy it. I thought the number was colossal and I hope it's a success."
How did he confront the Kinks own stereotype?
"I'll tell you what happened. We had "You Really Got Me" in the Autumn of 1964 and we had "All Day and All of the Night" in November and December 1964. We went on a world tour in 1965 and we came back March 1965, switched on the radio and heard "I Can't Explain" and I thought "Ooooh - someone's pinched our sound......"
"But they went on to create things. They had to start from somewhere. So we were about eight months ahead."
He then related the story of how, just minutes before, he'd attempted to pay off his phone bill at the local post office and found himself being verbally roughed up by the lady clerk. She had studied his signature on the check, as though it were the mark of Satan, and then launched into a sap-draining obedient civil-servant cross-examination routine. She accepted the check in the end, of course, but Ray couldn't see the relevance of the exercise. "She probably had an unhappy childhood", he said.
Did you have an unhappy childhood, I wondered. "That's a novel". Could we have the first chapter?
"Yeah (laughter). You know, I'm still only five years old. I'm trying to convince this person at the weekend's that I'm still five and that's all I want to be. I don't want to be anymore because as things are, I'm able to communicate on a very basic level. I know what food I like to eat. I've got two pair of shoes - one for on and one for offstage and when they wear out I buy another pair. I'm reasonable all right. I've got enough teabags and maybe I can start writing again, which would be a good thing."
New Musical Express, October 13, 1973