Reading through my Kinks Preservation Society email update today about the latest in a long line of impressive events and honors intended to cement Ray Davies' "Great Man" status in contemporary Great British life (could an equestrian statue be next?), I felt a little sad realizing that I didn't like this trend and, of course, that each such milestone seemed to increase the distance between Ossified, Reified Today and Vital, Rocking Yesterday.
Obviously, Ray Davies deserves the honors he is receiving and all the respect in the world. (He already has the money and, if what he has isn't enough for him, it really should be, and he can always go out, satisfy lucky audiences with his art, and earn more). It's just that when Ray himself described the creepiness and moldiness of the rock-becoming-respectable phenomenon at the 1990 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame awards evening (the The Kinks' own induction ceremony) with his witty, unexpected "what a bummer" punchline, he nailed it, as he usually does.
Ray and Dave, Arthur photo sessions, 1969
Now that Ray been chosen to "curate" (formerly a very good, precisely applied word, that's recently been co-opted by today's "Mad Men" to add a touch of museum-quality dignity to any old activity involving the act of considering for inclusion) the 2011 Meltdown Festival in London, it feels more like another nail in the coffin than a welcome breakthrough. Rock and roll curated? Stop the world, I want to get off.
Unfortunately, what became apparent a long time ago (which anyone with ears can hear, which easily could have been foreseen) is that Ray Davies without Dave Davies is an incomplete artistic entity, a ghost of his former self, last year's pretty Postcard From London and Ray's great personal charm and sartorial splendor notwithstanding.
Ray obviously knows this and said as much many years ago at the time he was forced to record the soundtrack for his Return To Waterloo movie without Dave's participation. (For non-fans, Dave refused to play on the soundtrack because he felt the film represented an inappropriate diversion of attention from band activities.) Although it was fascinating hearing Ray play all guitars on the record, which was a superb collection of songs that provided the lyrical script to that otherwise silent movie, Dave's absence was palpable and left a cold void where there should have been fire, ice and tears.
The brothers always, always completed each other's thoughts, and Dave especially Ray's.
Silly as it may be that I'm still obsessed with The Kinks as a band, I've finally accepted that it's over, has been for a long time and will never happen again. The Louvin Brothers never re-formed. The Everly Brothers did and it didn't greatly matter. Ray was right to strike out on his own after the band plumbed the bottom of their commercial trough (promoting the excellent, but unappreciated Phobia record) and he has made a great success of his later career, including all the "great man/elder statesman" fol-de-rol. I will always try to keep listening with an open mind, but caring less and less I'm afraid.
This is why I'm grateful to have Doug Hinman's wonderful The Kinks -- All Day And All Of The Night, Day-by-day concerts, recordings and broadcasts, 1961-1996 (San Francisco, Backbeat Books, 2004), available to me always. Hinman, who is both a musician and a professional reference librarian, obviously gained the band's trust as no other journalist had ever before and was permitted to trawl through recording files, business records and band archives, producing a major archeological work covering the group's 35-year career.
His day-by-day (it feels more like minute-by-minute) chronology lets the group's story tell itself without any unwanted, irrelevant rock critical interference. If you read closely enough (text and indexes), most of your nagging questions (including those of the "why did they cancel this show? tour? again? variety -- highly relevant for this band) will be answered, the answers to certain questions suggesting recurring behavior patterns answering others.
The book is coffee-table size, beautifully laid out and produced and would make an excellent Christmas gift for yourself, if you don't have it already, for treasured friends, and for children you know who will one day thank you for thinking ahead.
Note to readers: The following link isn't directly Kinks-related, but is something I wanted to share and seems appropriate to link to this London-est of rock bands. The London Daily Photo blog is a treasure, a gift that keeps on giving:
3/24/11 Additional Note to Reader: This morning's Guardian included an article and interview with Ray Davies announcing his preliminary selections and thoughts regarding the 2011 Meltdown Festival. While the views I originally expressed remain the same, I must say that Ray has some great ideas and has made some excellent choices:
No. 6 Denmark Terrace, Fortis Green, Muswell Hill, London -- Where it all began
View from Waterloo Bridge