The Kitchen Sink Kink
Fingering a half-smoked cigar and looking pensive in a mackintosh, Ray Davies of the Kinks gazes out over the Thames. Eight bridges further along to the right is Waterloo, where he watched his fictional lovers Terry' and Julie meet, cross over and head into the West End. That was 27 years ago. These days, Davies con-firms sadly, the couple have long since split up. although he hears - he hopes - that they are considering making a go of it one more time.
Like the rest of us, Davies has heard the apocryphal story that Terry' was Terence Stamp and Julie, Julie Christie, and that he had observed their meeting at Waterloo Station from the vantage point of a nearby office. It wasn't true. "Terry was fatter," Davies says distractedly. Behind us as we stroll through Wandsworth Park, chaps are playing out one of the season's last cricket games. Across the road is Davies' parked car, a recent NIOT-failure of a Nissan Micra. After acquiring limousine-level wealth in his heyday, Davies finally learned to drive six years ago, at the age of 44. He calls it the single biggest mistake of his life.
Is this a rock star we see before us? No, it is Raymond Douglas Davies, a misfit since school, a songwriter who was proud to be unfashionable and wistful while all around him were psychedelic and futuristic, a man who once expressed his intention to write pop songs "for waitresses and divorced people".
"There's something sexy about waitresses, he says, with a laugh. "And waiters. I find them fascinating people." In interviews, Ray Davies has always made the point that the narrator in his songs is not necessarily himself. His songs are peopled by characters: happy ones, miserable ones, self-important ones, bored ones. most of them coming alive in a sudden, two-line burst of clever detail. But this month sees Davies's greatest example of stylistic legerdemain to date. Re has managed to write his autobiography in such a way that he is not even the narrator of his own life. The book, X-Ray' (Viking, £17.50), was commissioned four-and-a-half years ago, but he was promising an auto-biography in the mid-Sixties. A handful of Kinks biographies have been written by other authors without any co-operation from the man himself. They invariably home in on the extraordinary relationship Davies has with his younger brother, Dave, the group's guitarist. Whatever way you tell it, much of the Kinks' career is downright hilarious. With such a rich cast of comic - and violent - characters, you could hardly fail.
But it was never clear from these books what Ray Davies thought of his own life. He has always been an elusive personality, liable to describe himself, as he does today, as "an enthusiastic amateur in work and in love". But any expectations of a cockle-warming autobiography are instantly dashed. X-Rav will no doubt shock people. Lewd, grubby and extremely bitter, it is arguably the least self-serving autobiography ever delivered by a rock musician. Not only that, but Davies employs a series of literary devices intended to cast doubt on the veracity of the book as a is whole. For a start, Ray Davies is only mentioned twice by name. For the purposes of 'X-Ray' he becomes Raymond Douglas (a.k.a. RD), a 71 Yea-old man recounting his tragi-comic life in lusty unsavoury gulps between cups of tea. The actual hero of 'X-Ray', if it has such a thing is a nameless 19 year-old cub journalist who has been assigned the job of cracking the R D enigma by his faceless, sinister bosses in the Corporation. The whiff of Orwell is compounded by a character named Julie, who plays both Raymond Douglas's long-lost first love from his Muswell Hill childhood, and the journalist's cold-hearted girlfriend, who will eventually betray him to The Corporation.
The fun doesn't end there. Owing to an unscheduled event - though no unexpected in 70-year-old-men - the action stops abruptly in 1975, thus sparing Ray Davies the awkward task of tackling his notorious romance with Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders (which made all the best gossip columns in 1983) or the sad slump in quality of the Kinks' recent records. Truth to tell, fans of Davies's languid, waspish songs may well blanch at some of the prose on offer in 'X-Ray', for example: "Mick [Avory, the Drummer] professed to be a bum man, but he was not averse to a bit of tit. One night he was drinking with some of his mates and a girl singer, a delightful maiden with more than generous knockers..." The septuagenarian RD is quite frankly a disgusting old sod, which means that in order to locate fabulous tales (and there are a few) of the golden age of he Kinks, one first has to negotiate a minefield of knicker fetishes, breast-related asides and Carry-On-Mr-Repressed- homosexual oneliners. So rusty are RD's social skills, meanwhile, that he invariably bids the cub reporter adieu with scandalous lack of finesse ("Now piss off, I'm knackered").
If you put any of these points to the real Ray Davies, he will nod thoughtfully and say: "There's a kind of anarchistic streak to me that's been repressed for a long time. When I wrote "Return to Waterloo" for Channel 4 (in 1984), I wanted to have the most pornographic sex scene. I said 'I want people to fall over when they look at this, and say aaaarrghh!. But the next day I'd turn up and look at the actors and think, well, I can't do this to them. My initial reaction to doing a book like this is, firstly, I wouldn't like it to be ghosted. If I can't write, I want to be seen not to be able to write. I've got enough ghosts in me, I don't need another one."
Yet for all its foul-mouthed faults, 'X-Ray' does hold the reader in a morbid grip. Can Davies's life get any more harrowing? What treacheries will he find in his wife's diaries? Will the other members of the Kinks kill each other or simply fornicate their way to death? Davies is glad that be has opened this dark side to public viewing. It makes a change from being celebrated as a kindly, batty old pop uncle by young rock bands such as Blur. Then again, X-Ray could easily be seen as a gigantic cry for help.
"I kind of thought to myself: shall I let people see that much?" he says. "I justified it by saying: you must show the extremes, otherwise you would be lying to everybody. I've toned a lot of it down, actually'." Maybe so, but that still leaves an incident where somebody has sex with a dog.
"Yeah, but listen - whatever you're into," he laughs. "That was not me personally, I might add." What about the don't'get-me'wrong-I'm-not-queer passages? "I don't know what I am," he laughs again. "I've got female traits in me, male and female. I prefer people who are not ashamed to exhibit both. That doesn't mean to say I have any bias one way or the other."
There is something battered and distinguished about Ray Davies in person. He is friendly. yet keeps his distance. He doesn't know much about modern pop, but he knows Blur based their last video on Resnais' film Last Year at Afanenbad. He hates the Murdoch press. Unlike, say, Mick Jagger or Rod Stewart, he does not pretend to be any younger than he is, 50. When he mentions a fellow rock star he seems almost apologetic about name-dropping.
Wistfully, self-deprecatingly, he mentions his awards, the Ivor Novello Lifetime Achievement Award and a much-deserved place in the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. Both came too late to warrant a mention in his book. But exist they do. For Ray Davies was once the consummate British songwriter.
In 1959, at the age of 15, Ray Davies took a bus ride from his Muswell Hill home into Soho. It was a very out-of-character thing for him to have done. He was the seventh child in a sprawling family of mostly women; one of his elder sisters, Rose, was also his best friend. Already introverted and glum, Davies failed his lI-plus on purpose, moped around and suffered from had back pain; he had been informed by a doctor that there was a possibility he would grow up crippled.
"I'm still very restricted." he says now, with a wince. "I take Panadol. Thank God I don't have to take very strong pills for it any more. It's a different era we're talking about, when I was ill. If you had a bad back, they simply put you in a corset for the rest of your life, hence you lose all control of your muscles and they seize up. I remember doing 'Ready, Steady, Go! and standing completely bolt upright. Fortunately, we were miming. I couldn't move without falling over with the pain. Not many people know that". His teenage trip to Soho was a memorable eye-opener. There, he saw neon for the first time, as well as the transvestites that would fascinate him well into middle age, notably on the Kinks 1970 hit song, "Lola". Faced with the glare of WC2, he could not believe how secluded his life had been.
"There was one black boy at school", he remembers. "I didn't realize there were millions of them out there.' At 20, he was Number One in the charts with "You Really Got Me", the Kinks' third single. He had formed the band with Dave, initially an R& B outfit to play dances, later watching and obeying as first their two upper-class managers Grenville Collin and Robert Wace, and then the more hardnosed pop impresario Larry Page, fed their photogenic faces into the pop machine.
The gap-toothed Davies felt gauche, but the Kinks were thrown headlong into a world of groupies, dodgy deals, hit singles and violence. Dave was still in his teens. Over the course of the next six or seven singles, Davies's observational gift flowered - his great misery epic, "See My Friends" (1965), also proving he had an ingenious ear for a strange melody - and he branched out into characterization. Davies was working-class, but he wrote right across the class spectrum: "A Well Respected Man" (upper-class Young Tory fool), "Situation Vacant" (middle-class but idle), "Sunny Afternoon" (nouveau riche pop-star trash), "Dead End Street" (working-class grin-and-bear-it) and on "Two Sisters" (from the 1967 LP "Something Else By The Kinks"), the jealousy one sister feels for her upwardly mobile sibling, who is better dressed and has smarter friends. But there was a twist. At the end of 'Two Sisters" - it only lasts two minutes and three seconds - the jealous sister sees her children playing in the nursery, and realizes "she was better off than the wayward lass that her sister had been".
Childbirth. Deep Suspicion of promiscuity. A good, solid family base. You really can't get much less revolutionairy than that. "I never knowingly sat down and said I'm going to write kitchen-sink music," Davies says defensively. "I just wrote about normal, everyday people, their hopes and fears." He sure did. Arthur(1969) was an entire album's worth of songs about a man whose son and daughter-in-law intended to emigrate to Australia. Davies planned to turn it into a drama for Granada, written by Julian Mitchell, with Frank Finlay as Arthur. Or failing that, a rock opera. Unfortunately, just at that moment, the Who released Tommy, and people were noticeably keener to follow the exploits of Pete Townshend's pinball-shooting rock messiah than poor old Arthur, whose most interesting hobby was going for a drive.
Davies, however, could not be stopped. "Muswell Hillbillies" (1971) had songs, very good ones, too - about drinking tea; going on holiday; and having a pint. "Soap Opera" (1975) was a concept album in which a mischievous Starmaker located the most tediously normal human being on Earth - he was called Norman, to nail the issue once and for all - and turned him into a massively successful rock star. All the while, Davies's ideas for staging these albums became more theatrical and grandiose. The Kinks' stage act moved towards vaudeville, with Davies appearing in white pancake make-up as the corrupt Mr. Flash, an ex-secondhand car salesman turned classic music-hall boo-hiss character. He pictured Flash as a cross between Max Miller and Richard Nixon. The critics were not wildly impressed. Having alienated most of the teenagers who grew up adoring them, the Kinks found surprising fame in the Eighties in America, a country that had banned them in 1965 for being abusive and unprofessional. (The ban was lifted in 1968.) In the same decade, the subtlety had all but disappeared from Davies's songwriting, to he replaced by bog-standard metal guitar riffs and - as on their last album, Phobia - uninspiring bursts of middle-aged paranoia.
Nowadays, it takes a pretty thick-skinned breed of pop epicure to place the Kinks ahead of the Beatles and the Stones as the greatest band in British pop.
"It doesn't bother me that much," says Davies. "I just know that we were better. It's as simple as that. I played in a very exciting band and when we were great there was nobody that could touch us. Some nights, we were better than the Beatles in the same way that some nights Euschio was better than Romerio". He talks of the Kinks as though they no longer exist, which is a moot point.
His relationship with Dave, always volatile, has deteriorated recently, to the point where the brothers cannot stand to be alone together.
"You go through a lot with people," he says distantly "and you suddenly look at them and you sit down and you are too tense to have dinner together. We just can't be that civilized about it any more. It's got to be done by fax. I think the music's the only thing that's held us together, quite frankly. We argued the last time we spoke, so I wrote him a letter afterwards. I wrote him another letter today. We are seeing each other the day after tomorrow, I think." Along with drummer Mick Avory and bassist Pete Quaife, Dave sails through the sixties in "X-Ray" like the ebullient. over-sexed teenager that he undoubtedly was.
Always ready with a sly quip, always game for a barney, he had his head slashed with a cymbal by Avory onstage at the Capital Cinema in Cardiff one night in May 1965. Dave had taunted Avory beyond the point of endurance by kicking his drum-kit across the stage. The blood flowed accordingly. While Dave was being bandaged up and consoled, Avory was running through the Welsh streets, convinced he had committed murder.
"The incident with Dave and Mick horrified me", says Davies. "I was scared it was going to happen again. Seeing people reduced to that level and talking to the police afterwards who wanted to arrest Mick for GBH. It was a pretty horrible time." Avory was still in the band 16 years later when, at a concert in Long Island, Dave insulted him in front of the audience. The drummer walked off, flinging his sticks at the guitarist. Davies explained to the crowd with magnificent sang-froid: "I think our drummer's just had a phone call." At the Santa Monica Auditorium in March 1977, Dave spat in the face of each member of the band in turn, before walking offstage.
"Spitting isn't Dave's worst point", reflects his older brother pensively. "The funniest, and potentially most harrowing thing was when we were playing this very sedate outdoor gig in Santa Barbara. I said something about him onstage. I heard a noise, a whistling sound, and I saw a Fender Stratocaster hurtling through the air. It just missed me. I was so angry I threw my guitar at the drum kit." At one point in 'X-Ray', Davies, via his RD character, mentioned taking an overdose of valium and Dom Perignon in 1973, and having to be revived by his press secretary from near-death in the bath He admits now that it was probably a suicide attempt. His first wife, Rasa, had left him, taking their two daughters. He was sick of the Kinks. Indeed, at the next concert they played, at White City, he took the opportunity to announce from the stage the group's disbandment, although his record company, fearing such an event, had had the PA turned off. Davies, meanwhile, collapsed backstage and was taken to hospital, still in his stage clothes, which included a large, floppy bow-tie. He had secretly been knocking back fistfuls of pills given to him by a doctor in Chelsea.
"Hello," he said to the nurses. "My name is Ray Davies. I am the lead singer of the Kinks. I am dying." One of them then asked him for his autograph. "It was funny," insists Davies now, and laughs a lot to prove it. "It was even funny at the time. When you're that down, everything is funny." Against the advice of a doctor, he discharged himself from the hospital. "You're going to die if you leave," the doctor warned him. Davies recalls leaving the hospital in the style of an old music-hall comedian, Jimmy Wheeler: "Ta-ta for now, folks. Aye-aye. That's your lot." That same year, he spent Christmas Day going round and round on the Circle Line on the Underground, drinking cans of Kronenbourg.
Now, sitting on a park bench in his mac with his half-smoked cigar, he has the look of a man upon whom rock stardom has yet really to have an effect. Has he, you can't help wondering, never used his wealth to cocoon himself from the outside world? "When I had money, I did," he admits. "But it didn't work." Are you saying you don't have money? "I don't think I'll ever be extremely rich. Royalties come in, but a dollar's not worth what it was. I don't spend a lot of money, I live very modestly. No, I'll never be rich." You are a millionaire, though, surely? "No. Don't think so. Too scared to ask."
Do you have any rock star mates? He thinks for quite a while. "I was very touched when Roger Daltrey did a tribute to Pete Townshend at Carnegie Hall in February and he phoned me from New York and said: 'Come on over, Ray, we can't do this without you'. And he said - really nice thing, you know - he said: 'We wouldn't have written those songs like "Pictures of Lily" if it hadn't been for you.' I realize, there, I had a friend. I'd love to go for a pint with him, actually." Re brightens considerably. "Game of darts! That's what we should do!' Would you write about your relationship with Chrissie Hynde if there were a sequel to 'X-Ray'? "I never thought about that, actually," he muses. "I would have to address the situation, rather than the individual, and the situation was very interesting now I've been able to take a step back. I didn't marry her," he says suddenly, with a don't-get-me-wrong look. "I nearly did. It wasn't through want of trying. But the gods were up there. Somebody did something right." In fact, having provided him with a daughter in 1983, Hynde made it as far as the registry office with her fiancee, before the whole affair was called off in typical tragicomic Davies style.
"It's all so close, that," he says sadly.
Now he's uneasy about revealing whether or not he is currently married he is believed to be), or revealing anything of his present personal life. He is clearly an intensely emotional man; although he has never once voted, when he heard the news of John Smith's death on his car radio, he was so moved that he sought comfort in a nearby church. What, finally, can Ray Davies do, in the course of the next 20 years, to ensure he does not turn into the bitter, twisted old Raymond Douglas? "I am him," he laughs. "I'm belligerent, stubborn, passionate, frustrated because I can't do things with my body that I want to, innocent, conniving... and gentle. And dangerous." He smiles, looking ever so melancholy.
"I know who I'm going to be like, and he wasn't such a bad guy." In a flash, he reminds you of someone. That gap in the teeth. Those funny-sad clown's eyes. That look of momentary mortal pain. It's Laurence Olivier as Archie Rice in the film of The Entertainer. As the Inland Revenue moved in on him, as his awful pier-side show closed and his life collapsed around him, he offered the audience one last fatalistic shrug and said: "I have a go. Don't I, lady, eh? I do. I have a go.'
Chris George, The Independent, August 27, 1994