Ray Davies seems to like America much more than it seems to like him. In his home country of Britain, he recently received that nation’s highest honer being knighted by the Queen. In America, he elicits mostly who’s he? responses. In London, there is a long running theatrical production about his life. In New York, he has a hard time selling out a small venue. Immediately after his first arrival in the States as a teenager with one of the world’s biggest songs on the charts, he was unceremoniously thrown out and banned from returning for years; Yet he still harbors a deep love and compassion for the red, white and blue. He details this love in great prose, as should be expected from one of the best songwriters to grace the planet, in his book Americana: The Kinks, The Riff, The Road: The Story.
Davies released the book a few years ago and frankly it sat on my night table for sometime. Like his band the Kinks, it seems Ray Davies is easy to take for granted. But that doesn’t bother him. He seems to like the anonymous status of his life in America. Davies is the forgotten general of the British Invasion. Certainly names like Lennon, McCartney, Richards and Jagger get significant credit for their conquering ways that started the late 1960s, but The Kinks came in their own raw and un-Americanized form as the “complete antithesis to the normal pop.” Davies puts it this way in his semi-autobiography, semi-music history text book, “we were aggressive, working class attitude put onto record.”
They certainly had the hits- ‘You Really Got Me,” “All Day and All of the Night,” “Tired Of Waiting For You”- but they also had the attitude and recklessness of a pre-punk movement and it cost them a lot of money and a certain amount of fame. Like a General who had his share of successes on the battlefield yet out of the arena failed miserably in the PR department, The Kinks were banned from performing in America for what still remains rather elusive reasons. (I had initially picked up this book to find out the real answer to the slight however, even Davies admits its unclear what kept them out of America during what should have been their hey day.) As Davies says, ‘Anyone who knew the Kinks at this time knew it was a bad time to go anywhere.”
Their back stage antics and disharmony when the bright lights were tuned off are a decent part of this book and form the nucleus of the theatrical must see musical based on their early years running in London called “Sunny Afternoon.” The Kinks could have been huge, deserved to be bigger and today remain an enigma. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with fellow invaders The Who and just a year behind, The Rolling Stones, they remain outcasts in the States.
Davies doesn’t really take it that badly. In fact, he is downright appreciative of America and its place in the world and music history much of which he explores with blazing insightfulness. This book is indeed a memoir of his time in the America both then and now, but it also serves as a travelogue of the USA from an outsider’s opinion-think of it like Tocqueville’s Democracy in America for rock and roll fans. Under appreciated on this side of the pond? Absolutely. Forgotten? Never. Take a plunge with Ray Davies and his great rock tome and then properly appreciate his band-you’ll get chance at Cover Rock this summer-just saying.