Kink's Ray Davies Is Seizing The Moment
The British rocker adds storytelling to his repertoire. He's appearing at the TLA.
"I think I'm slightly at odds with myself." Ray Davies is talking about his habit of writing songs that are nostalgic for a rosy past, despite his sneaking suspicion that the good old days weren't really so good after all.
"A lot of my songs are evocative of a time gone by," says the leader of Kinks over "bloody good" Indian fare and Kinkfisher beer at a Center City restaurant. "But I never thought the past was any good. Not really."
"This is as good as it gets," the London native adds, flashing his gap-toothed grin. "My whole career has been a preparation for this moment."
"This moment," as defined by Davies, 52, is the tour of his one-man show (plus guitarist Pete Mathison) show The Storyteller: An Evening with a 20th Century Man, which continues at the Theater of Living Arts through Saturday.
The semi-autobiographical show is a 2.5 hour tour de force by a gregarious, yet intensely private Rock and Roll Hall of Famer who is a "total ham," a life-long road warrior who has written mini-masterpieces about the simple pleasures of live in the London village of Muswell Hill.
20th Century Man, which Davies first brought to the TLA last October, began with X-Ray: The Unauthorized Autobiography, the unconventional life story he began writing while ill in Ireland in 1987. X-Ray finds the erudite British British rock legend - composer of British Invasion classics such as "All Day and All of the Night," "You Really Got Me" and 70's hits "Lola" and "Low Budget" - even more at odds with himself than usual.
Set in 2012, it involves a 19 year-old narrator who sets out to investigate the crusty 68 year old who was the leader of the Kinks. The truth-embriodering rock and roll retiree and the innocent boy are both based on Davies, a construct that makes for a maddening mix of convolution and revelation.
I don't like the idea of autobiography," explains Davies, who describes himself as "inward" yet arrives for dinner wearing his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame football jacket. "But there are ways of spilling your guts. They can be spilled in an interesting way."
In 20th Century Man, Davies acts out scenes from X-Ray and mixes new songs with Kinks standards. He's a raconteur with a flair for the dramatic (his experiments with musical theater began in with the 1968 rock opera The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society). And there are funny moments about an early appearance with the Beatles, his mother's sewing needles and the distorted guitar sound his brother Dave developed for "You Really Got Me." But the best parts are the songs: On Tuesday night, "You Really Got Me" and "Lola" were as rousing as ever, and "Days," "Village Green" and, particularly "Waterloo Sunset" were chillingly gorgeous.
Davie's solo show coincides with To the Bone, a 29-song compilation of live and acoustic versions of Kinks hits and obscurities, plus two new songs, including the title cut, which Davies performs in his show.
20th Century Man has given Davies a new lease on his creative life - more like "a second mortage," he quips. He'll take the production to five more cities on his current two month tour. He'll release his first solo album next year. And he hopes to continue work on a novel while in town.
The Kinks, he says, laughing, are "on life support" at the moment. They are not dead. They know what's happening." But there are unmistakable signs of a Kinks revival in the air. In England, Davies is considered a godfather of Britpop (he has been deified by Blur's Damon Albarn), and Oasis, Supergrass and others have acknowledged his influence. In the United States, underground bands including the Lillys and Philadelphia's the Interpreters flaunt their Kink-isms. And a Nissan commercial that employs Van Halens "You Really Got Me" is turning a new generation on to the band.
X-Ray and 20th Century Man allow Davies to choose which details of his life to reveal. Both end in the early 70's, so there's no mention of his 80's relationship with Pretenders singer Chrissie Hynde or their daughter Natalie. He is no more forthcoming in person. He reveals only that he lives "in the country" and hardly ever goes to his flat above Konk Studions in North London.
In the show, Davies speaks of his five older sisters, and says he became an observer because "I couldn't really participate in what they were at." In reality, he says, he and his younger brother Dave had six sisters. The oldest, Irene, died of a heart attack on Ray's 13th birthday, hours after giving him his first electric guitar.
I didn't talk for nearly a year after that," he says, "It was quite a trauma."
Davies is happy to discuss his ongoing rows with his brother, however. "There's always a war," he says. "The thing with the Gallagher brothers [in Oasis] reminds me very much of us...They're in an unreal world where you can't know where you are. You don't really recover from that.
His relationship with Dave will never be perfect, he concedes. "It's all right," he says with a groan. "He needs to sort out a few things and so have I, and then we can come together and do good work again."
In the meantime, their fans can find comfort in a canon of songs more intimate and uniquely English than those of their contemporaries, the Beatles, the Who and the Stones. "We kept in touch with our subject matter a little more," theorizes Davies. "Maybe if I had written about psychedelic kids in Shepherd's Bush who took drugs.....but I didn't want to write Quadrophrenia....."
"When I was very young, I wrote songs for older people and from an older generations point of view. If my Aunt Dottie didn't like the song, it wasn't worth putting out. And if my niece Karen didn't like it equally, it wasn't either.."
In X-Ray, Davies writes, "I'm bitter...I've learned to accept it....The secret is to lighten the bitterness with a little humor."
But in person, it's more of a sense of melancholy that he leavens with wit.
Among the projects Davies has in the works is a London stage musical based on the Kinks 1983 hit "Come Dancing," about his late sister Irene. He's excited, partly because it frees him to write lyrics from a perspective that's not his own.
"I love that, " he says, smiling again. "I love doing that. It takes me away from dreary reality."
Dan DeLuca, Philadelpia Enquirer, Oct. 24, 1996.