A Well Respected 20th Century Man
Ray Davies has never been just another face in the crowd. For over 30 years, he has cut a most flamboyant figure as the singer, rhythm guitarist and songwriter supreme for The Kinks. Always a commercial step behind such peers as the Beatles, Who and the Rolling Stones, but often a step ahead artistically, The Kinks, through such genre-expanding hits as "You Really Got Me," "Well Respected Man," "Waterloo Sunset," and "Lola," as well as an unparalleled canon of unique rock/theater "concept" albums and tours, are undeniably one of the cornerstone British rock bands. But for the past year, Davies has been on the road alone. Well, OK, he has been accompanied by a guitarist, Pete Mathison, and his own witty "unauthorized autobiography" X-Ray. But armed with only those two accouterments, Davies has been entertaining audiences all over the world with stories and songs that not only chronicle his 30-odd years years in the rock business, but also celebrate his 50-odd years on the planet. So add his rich memoirs to his characteristic mix of raucous rock and roll, beer-soaked British music hall sing alongs and alternately piercing and touching ballads of social commentary - always served with heaping doses of good humor and charm - and you have an unforgettable evening with one of rock's true originals. Davies will bring a revised version of this show, now dubbed 20th Century Man: An Evening With Ray Davies - replete with a lobby that will be transformed into "Ray's Bar" with a pianist playing standards and British beer and snacks at the bar - back to New York for a two week engagement this month at the Westbeth Theater.
Your upcoming two week engagement in NYC is being billed as more theatrical
event. How will these shows differ form the ones you played here last fall?
It's a work-in-progress if you like. There's no one thing that I do differently, it's just the whole evening.
Are you trying to this into a "legit" off-Broadway, one-man show?
I don't think I could do that. This is about as "legit" as it gets. I have no pretensions to turn this into "legit" theater. It is what it is, and I think the audiences have enjoyed it, and with my music, it's always been important to have a special bond between the band and the audience. That's the way it is with The Kinks, and it's even more so with this show. I've got to be able to trust the audience, and also the audience has to be able to trust me because I'm going onstage reading from a book and explaining a lot about yourself. It's one of theses things that you have to flow along with. If it were to be a strict theater piece, I'd have to see it with an actor doing it before I could say whether it worked or not. I'd have to detach myself from it.
If that were the case, who would play you?
(Laughs) Well, there are many different incarnations of me on stage, I think it would have to be someone who has their feet in rock and roll, and in theater. Kind of a singing actor, and there's a lot of them about.
Is it true that you are revising some of The Kinks' great '70's concept albums, such as Preservation, into fully realized musicals?
Preservation is something I've been tinkering with. I've actually started to remix and resequence it. To me, that's a work that never really got completed. The Kinks toured with it, but it never got taken to it's fruition. So I've started to work on it and hopefully this year or the next we'll be re-releasing a new, "director's cut" version - if your like - of Preservation. If there's time to do that, I'd love to do it because that project is very close to me.
Do you see your body of work as almost a time capsule of 20th Century British life?
I try not to. Sure, someone living in a certain time...like listening to Bruce Springsteen's work is probably what it was like becoming an adult in New Jersey at that time. When you look back in hindsight it's easy to say why certain people wrote those songs. And obviously, the Kinks and England is something that people look back on. But strangely enough, our music has traveled much more that I would have imagined. Like "Come Dancing," which is so peculiarly English, was one of our biggest American hits. And that's a very English subject matter. I think taboos of nationality are not as rigid as people make out. I think music is flexible.
Will you be doing more film work?
Acting is a different discipline and one that I'm not really sure about. I've been asked to do several things, and in the past it's always conflicted with a Kinks tour or something. It's a string to my bow that I haven't really got wound up yet.
Why did you wait until this year to do a "proper" solo album?
Because I've always been happy to be in a band. I still think I play in a band. Doing the book X-Ray, made me realize that there is life outside the band. I'm not saying that this is the end of the band, just that there is life as a creative entity outside of the band, and I never really considered that before. Everything I've done before has been with the band in mind, even Preservation and that stuff. Interestingly enough, we're getting inquiries about the film rights to X-Ray, so that might be a film done down the line as well.
What would your role in that be?
I'd have nothing to do with it. When I was doing the book, it's such a complete form in itself that I didn't think about it in a film sense. I was more concerned with how it would work as a book. But now I'm thinking about it and I suppose if someone comes in with a really good view through the book, I'm sure it would make an interesting film.
Could you ever see yourself as being exclusively a solo artist, and there no longer being The Kinks?
No, I just like working with a team too much to give that up completely.
So as long as you continue to work in a band format, it would always be as The Kinks?
Not necessarily. I'm not that rigid about it, but I do like working, interacting with other human beings.
You've said that with Tommy, "Pete Townsend beat me to the North Pole." I was wondering, if you may have had similar feelings when Tommy was on Broadway? Being that Des McAnuff [Townsend's producing/directing collaborator in bringing Tommy to Broadway] just before that?
Des is a real ambitious guy. And a rock musical was just something that he had to do, and I'm pleased that he's done it. It couldn't have happened to two nicer guys. I think that they both deserve each other......I know that sounds terrible (laughs). It was very gracious of Pete to accept that there was work to do on it, and very bold of Des to go to Pete and say this isn't a perfect work for the stage, and how about this? It takes a big man to accept that things need to be changed a bit. They're reaping the rewards now, and the best of luck to them.
Is that something you would want to do with Preservation , after you complete the "director's" cut CD of it?
One day some smart kid's going to come along with a computerized version and say to me, "Isn't this better than what you thought of?" And I'm going to think, "Well, I can't admit that." But I know that there is a vision out there somewhere. The great thing now is that with all this technology, a vision isn't beyond the realm of possibility. People can come in with great ideas and show you that you don't know everything.
You've often said that "things never worked out for us" - us being The Kinks, can you expand on that?
That's the saving grace, I think. Because if it had worked out for us, I think we wouldn't have been together as a band. We would have had that immediate success that would've lasted for maybe five years. We would've played at Woodstock and done all of the logical things that rock stars are supposed to do. But it didn't happen that way and I think we benefited through it, as a result. I certainly feel I'm better for it.
Alvin Eng, The Island Ear, February 5, 1996.