I certainly love the Kinks; it’s been fifteen months since I’ve had a new Kinks album in my house, and though I’ve been listening to them I’ve missed that pleasure. Bob played The Village Green Preservation Society for me when he bought a British copy, about a month ago, and I’ve played it twice since it arrived here this afternoon, and already the songs are slipping into my mind, each new hearing is a combined joy, of renewal and discovery. Such a joy, to make new friends! And each and every song Ray Davies has written is a different friend to me.
Ray makes statements, he says the sort of stuff that makes you delighted just to know that someone would say stuff like that. “As long as I gaze on Waterloo Sunset I won’t feel afraid.” “I’ll remember everything you said to me.” “There’s too much on my mind, and I can’t sleep at night thinking about it.” “There’s a crack up in the ceiling.” “I’m not content to be with you in the daytime.” “The world keeps going ’round.” “I’m on an island.” “You just can’t stop it, the world keeps going ’round.”
Oh, wonderful Kinks. They remind me of Erik Satie. “We are the Village Green Preservation Society.” The vocal is under-recorded, so you turn up the volume. The bass and drums sound so easy and sure. Everyone’s determined; no one’s in a hurry. “What more can we do?” Such very fine vocals. The tune, the rhythm, are more of a delight with each verse. Dave Davies’ lead lines are never wasted. It would be unbearable that the song’s over, but here’s another. “Walter, isn’t it a shame our little world has changed?” Now why is it Ray’s songs always sound like something else, a different something else with each song and sometimes with each hearing? Sure, he’s the world’s master plagiarist, but it’s more than that. It’s more a feeling that it’s all part of the same thing, it’s all music and isn’t it nice to run a cross this melody again? And it is, it’s never a repetition, it’s always some sort of opening. Ray Davies makes you realize how much there is all around us, waiting to be explored and explored again. Boredom? Every place you’ve been is a new frontier, now that you’re someone different.
It doesn’t matter what I say, I’m just happy to be writing about my boys. Ray, Dave, Pete and Mick: I’ve bought their every album as it’s been released, and that’s four years now and ten albums, every one satisfactory and worth far more than double your money back. “I’m the last of the steam-powered trains.” The song is completely itself, but you can’t overlook even on the first hearing the fact that it’s Howling Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning.” And that makes me smile, good old Kinks, finally recording “Smokestack Lightning,” and a good job of it too. A little fancy kineticism in the break, harmonica and bass and lead buildup, just so you know all the old tricks are as relevant to their music as any new tricks they might enjoy could be. They even throw on a “‘Til the End of the Day” ending, and that’s not the second time they’ve done that. Might be the fifth.
Each Kinks song a friend. I really mean that. I can lie in my bed thinking about “Love Me Till the Sun Shines,” and I wonder when I’ll hear it again, happy at the thought of its existence. Hearing “Big Sky” on this new album, I know we’ll get along just fine. “I think of the big sky and nothing matters much to me.” This is true, an experience I’ve shared. “Big sky’s too big to sympathize; big sky’s too occupied, though he would like to try.” What a fine modification of Stephen Crane. And who but Ray Davies would share my interest in the theme of “The Open Boat”?
You can dance to the Kinks. Move your arms up and down as you walk across the room to get a glass of water. Bob your head. Get up and rhumba. I don’t know what a rhumba is, but it sounds right, and you know that’s all that matters.
Ten albums. Have you ever listened to The Live Kinks? It’s almost musique concrete. Never has an audience so unselfconsciously part of the experience. Maybe because nothing could come off of a Kinks record that wasn’t part of their unique world-system, or maybe there’s some sort of real bond between Kinks-lovers the world over. I mean it’s not just some rock group. It’s more like a taste for fine wines from a certain valley, a devotion to a particular breed of cocker spaniel. How many people are there who would feel good to know that “Waterloo Sunset”‘s Terry and Julie are Terrence Stamp and Julie Christie — that its, they inspired the names, by appearing together in Far from the Madding Crowd? How many would understand not feeling afraid, as long as you gaze on that sunset? We’re a select few, no doubt, so we may as well love each other and stick together.
This Kinks-love is, I think, something that can be consciously related to the sense of nostalgia, which in turn is something that has less to do with time and things past, and more to do with texture. Texture is sensuous; if style is how you do it, texture is the way you make it feel. Ray Davies’ voice, with Dave Davies’ guitar just behind it, not only feels a certain way regardless of what it’s doing, it also establishes for you a certain relationship to things, which is maybe one reason why deja vu is such a large part of the Kinks listening experience. It’s not that you heard this before, necessarily, but that you felt this way about something before, the common denominator is that the relationship between A and B is the same as the relationship, with which you’re more familiar, between D and F. Looking at a little Maurice Sendak kid looking at a Wild Thing, you identify, not because you felt just that way when you last saw a Wild Thing, but because you know that exact feeling, you felt just that way when you last saw . . . Whatever it was, Maurice Sendak (or Ray Davies) couldn’t possibly know about it. But you two, artist and audience, still share something, a great deal in fact. The texture of that moment. Doesn’t it feel good?
Nostalgia is the recapturing of a certain feeling you once had before. How else classify a feeling, save through personal past experience? Ray Davies’ songs have a second-order relationship with the way people feel, not necessarily joy but the reaction to joy, if you follow me. Ray’s vignettes are wry, ironic — and one suspects it’s not just that he’s capable of a certain detachment, but also that he can’t escape that detachment, it’s the way he’s always known things are. “People take pictures of each other, just to prove that they really existed.” Can you reach through that to a certain sincere sadness? and further through to that most tenuous necessity, affirmation? It is, after all, kind of nice that we’re really here.
And when texture is beautiful, as it always is with Maurice Sendak, as it is in the gatefold photo of the Kinks on this new album, as of course it is in all (even despairing) Kinks-music, it’s an affirmation in itself, just for things to feel this fine is enough for now. “Sunny Afternoon” is the song Ray wrote after or maybe during his famous breakdown. It may be one of the songs of the century. Doing nothing, feeling like nothing or worse, you still feel like this song (“The taxman’s taken all my dough/And left me in my stately home/Lazing on a sunny afternoon/And I can’t sail my yacht/He’s taken everything I’ve got/All I’ve got this sunny afternoon”) and it’s one of the highest feelings man has yet recorded in art. Maybe just because it’s so real. Or maybe something more than that. (“Help me, help me, help me/Sail away/Give me two good reasons/Why I ought to stay/Cause I love to live so pleasantly/Live this life of luxury/Lazing on a sunny afternoon.”) It’s so far down, and raises me so far up. (“In the summer time …”) Surely, this is greatness.
I’m frustrated now. I was okay, trying to make you feel how good the Kinks make me feel, but I can’t pass on greatness. I can’t sit here and come up with phrases to argue genius, I can only shout, as modestly as possible, about how deeply I’m affected. I’m thinking, only genius could hit me so directly, destroy me and rebuild so completely, but that’s ontology, proving has nothing to do with making you believe. I’ve never had much luck turning people on to the Kinks. I can only hope you’re onto them already.
If you are, brother, I love you. We’ve got to stick together.