"I'm a 20th century man . . . but I don't wanna be here."Ray Davies and the Kinks - `20th Century Man,' 1971
Ah, but he does -- or at least he's made peace with the inevitable and the obvious. And he is here.
Raymond Douglas Davies, 51, is back on his '20th Century Man Tour,' the one-man (sort of) show of readings and Kinks' music he first undertook in London in 1994. He brought it to the United States last year, recorded it for VH1's 'Songwriters' series, and returns now for a two-month, 50-performance stretch that began in Stockbridge last week and kicks off Tuesday (for six sold-out shows) at the Lansdowne Street Playhouse in Boston.
What keeps the performance fresh night after night? `I'm not that well trained as a solo performer,' says Davies, `so I don't know how to go through the mind games that an actor would, but something happens every night that is different. And although it's about me and the band, I also enter the arena, if you like, as a kind of actor would. When it gets too emotional, I have to do that. I pretend I'm talking about somebody else, and that's the whole joy, I think. And the interesting thing about the show is that people forget who I am sometimes and then they say, `Hang on, that's the real person up there.'
`But it switches backwards and forwards, and with every audience it changes. It's so intimate -- the personalities of the audience are right on top of me, and it's like them coming to see my in my house, if you like.'
Twelve years ago, when I first interviewed Davies, he suggested, 'My music is nicer than I am. And the aspects you discover about me are much more interesting than my music.'
And those are precisely the things you don't like discussing? 'That's right,' said Davies, smiling. Obviously, times have changed. Davies, in concert, is dipping back into the repertory of his heyday, from the mid- to late 1960s -- performing songs from `Face to Face,' `The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society,' `Something Else,' `Arthur' and others. For that matter, he has even written an `Unauthorized Autobiography' called 'X-Ray.' It's a self-lacerating effort, portraying an aging RD as an embittered hermit.
`A cranky old guy,' Davies says, with a slight laugh, on the phone from London. He is one of the most accomplished songwriters of the pop era, but his pride seems to do daily battle with low self-esteem. Discussing a personal relationship that seems to have run aground, Davies says, 'We get what we deserve.
Like just about every pop songwriter, Davies started off with love and lust for his material, in the hits `You Really Got Me' and `All Day and All of the Night.' He was soon on to more ambitious concerns: love's darker side ('Set Me Free'), the quest for identity in a conformist world ('I'm Not Like Everybody Else'). His highly detailed, observational songs helped earn rock a certain respect; Davies could step outside himself, to create mini-dramas ('Waterloo Sunset'), paint pictures of society rarely considered by rockers ('Sunny Afternoon'), or skewer terminal faddishness ('Dedicated Follower of Fashion'). One of his best songs, 'Days' (covered recently by Elvis Costello), was a look back at failed love -- not in the anger so often heard in kiss-off songs, but in the glow of respect for what once was.
Davies certainly has a political streak, and decidedly positioned to the left. But he has never trafficked in sloganeering. You'll hear about the toll unemployment takes on one's income and esteem in 'Get Back in the Line,' about poverty in 'Dead End Street.' You'll hear a subtle call for environmental consciousness in the humorous 'Apeman'; you'll hear about war's effect on the common soldier in 'Yes Sir, No Sir' and 'Some Mother's Son.'
And you'll learn about the toll runaway capitalism and rampant profiteering have taken on mankind throughout the body of his work, from 'Lola vs. the Powerman and the Moneygoround' onward. You'll hear about a corrupt political system and an even more corrupt would-be reformist in `Preservation Act 2.' That's one of Davies' big recurring themes: the individual vs. the institution, government serving little but its own cause.
It's a device he employs in 'X-Ray' as well. A young scribe is sent from the faceless Corporation to chronicle Davies' life, for posterity or whatever. `Raymond Douglas was indeed senile or confused by the years of litigation and questions and answers and interviews, all blending into one another like an endless interrogation,' says the inquisitor, who of course is also the writer. `I knew he was old but I preferred to think of him as confused rather than hopelessly senile. Even though he was a bitter old man -- and at times an obviously outrageous liar -- I rather liked him.'
Davies writes, often, about England -- about its values and mores. He half sends up the old ways, half embraces them. He writes about the faded empire. As in the personal songs, there's a lot about shortcoming.
In the new show, Davies reads bits from his book, weaving together written sections, songs and extemporaneous thoughts. Guitarist Pete Mathison backs him.
`It's wonderful how it's developed,' says Davies. 'It started off when I was doing readings, and I did this one show in London at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club and it was a book launch. Pete knew about four or five songs and I did a tour with the Kinks, and Pete and I just kept getting together, learning more songs. Then I phoned him up and said, `Look, we're doing the first show,' and we got in the van together and I wrote down the running order of the songs. He knew all the songs, and it was very easy. I think the contribution of any part of a show like this -- it's more what you don't do than what you do. It's knowing the spaces. Obviously, it's a team up there and it's very valuable to have the right chemistry.'
Well, that kicks a certain door open. Couldn't Ray's younger brother -- his guitarist, bandmate in the Kinks, rival, foil, friend and enemy -- couldn't Dave Davies play this part?
`Not as Dave Davies, he couldn't,' says Ray Davies. 'Maybe as a sideman. But it wouldn't work in the same way. . . . In some strange way, I think there is still a potency in Dave and I working together, if the electricity triggers something off, it's worth nurturing and keeping together.'
The Battling Brothers of Rock. There have been the Everlys, the Davieses, the Ramones (well, sort of), the Gallaghers of Oasis, many more. Ray and Dave, who avoid each other except on stage, are perhaps the most infamous. 'I try to sort of move along,' says Ray about Dave. 'When we get on stage, if it still works on stage, that's all I care about. We're a little bit further along than the guys in Oasis.'
When the Gallaghers recently had a punch-up (and scrapped their band's tour), many a journalist tried to track down Davies for his thoughts. 'I don't sort of do interviews about it,' he says now. 'I just know what it's like, you know -- they can't help it. They weren't taught how to be what they are. They weren't taught to be rock stars. It wasn't until I read some of the reports that I realized the similarities between the two sets of brothers are quite terrifying.'
Dave Davies has penned his own autobiography, 'Kink,' now out in England. Dave writes that Ray was 'so abusive, so cruel and creatively draining, he displays an almost resentful and sometimes condescending loathing for his past, his family. He is at times venomous, and completely self-involved.'
`Oh, really,' says Ray, when informed of this scathing judgment. `Good, good. What else can one expect? I haven't read anything about it.'
Where are the Kinks during Ray Davies' autumnal trek through the States? 'Well, the band,' says Davies, using a careful third person, 'they've got this LP coming out, `To the Bone.' It was recorded about two years ago, really. It's sort of unplugged. The touring band in the studio, and also the recording we did around that time at the end of the `Phobia' tour. I sort of merged them together. Actually, it worked rather well.'
Davies says the record was intended for release but was hung up in legal entanglements. (It will come out Oct. 15 on the Angel/EMI subsidiary Guardian.) It would have coincided with a Kinks tour -- they would have toured to promote it -- and now it just happens to coincide with a Davies solo tour.
Might there be some jealousy involved?
'I know the keyboard player Ian Gibbons came to see the show in London when we did it,' says Davies, 'and he was really knocked out with it. I don't think there's any jealousy as such. Obviously, they must be questioning, . . . you know, is this going to take the place of the band? Professionally, it must have some effect on them. But I think they're quite proud about it, really.' The full-fledged Kinks, Davies says, should tour in the spring.
Davies has long been a man of many projects: theater, film, BBC-TV. He's working up demo songs and an outline for a musical based upon his song 'Come Dancing.' 'It's mainly based on a couple of my sisters,' he says. 'Their story -- a coming-of-age kind of thing, at the time when they used to go to dance halls, before my generation came along. They would go to the dance halls and hear the big bands. It's about London, but not tied down to London, in the sense that it's about people and the problems they can relate to. Doesn't matter where they live, really. It's the end of the '50s and beginning of the '60s. It's just before my generation came in and took over. And all the girls remember their matinee idols -- the standard Rock Hudson types, before the scruffy brothers took over. It was an interesting time, when youth really came to the fore. But it's an interesting political time as well, just before the Christine Keeler and Profumo scandal, which kind of rocked the establishment. The establishment was crumbling at that time, but it hadn't gone yet. There was still an old order, we had the West Indian influx of immigrants and the conflict there. It was a time that the British Empire was going through a time of change -- just before the fall, really.'
He's created a gigolo, Harry, who is a bus conductor by day and a dance-hall character at night. Davies hopes to stage the musical in February.
Davies is also writing another book, 'going through the first stages,' he says. `It's not a follow-up to `X-Ray.' Not at all. It's a different book entirely, more like a novel. It's about England in the 1980s -- when in 1988 there was a crash, the big bang and all that. The effect it has on a group of people. How big world events don't only affect the US stock exchange, they have an effect down the social line. The reverberation. Peple suffering from the reverberation of what happens in the big picture.'
Video? Director Julian Temple, with whom he worked in the movie 'Absolute Beginners,' has been calling him, wanting him for a cameo in a new one: singer Cathy Dennis' version of Ray's 'Waterloo Sunset.' 'I'm trying to be philosophical about it,' says Ray about anyone trying to top this sad, gorgeous ballad.
And film? 'Word is out in Hollywood that they want to do my show as a film,' Davies says. `I'm a bit skeptical about Hollywood. I don't think it's a Hollywood project. I think it'll be made as a European movie or at least an East Coast movie -- like a Coen brothers movie, rather than a Warner Bros.'
And if that happened, it'll likely be a dark and bloody affair . . . `Well, you know,' says Davies, letting the thought trail off in a laugh.
By Jim Sullivan, Boston Globe