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Kinks - Ray Davies - Americana; The Kinks. the Road and the Perfect Riff

  by Lisa Torem

published: 9 / 8 / 2014

Kinks - Ray Davies - Americana; The Kinks. the Road and the Perfect Riff


In her book column 'Raging Pages' Lisa Torem reflects on the Kinks' Ray Davies' second book of autobiography, 'Americana: The Kinks, the Road and the Perfect Riff', which is about his love and hate relationship with the United States

Ray Davies has every reason to react like a scorned, bitter lover after the Kinks were banned from touring the US from 1965-69 and then after being physically assaulted in New Orleans in 2002. Yet the front man/chief songwriter of the Kinks, who with his British Invasion band created hits such as ‘You Really Got Me,’ ‘All Day and All of the Night,’ ‘Lola’ and ‘Come Dancing,’ just to name check a few, has more than made his peace with America. In his new autobiography, 'Americana: The Kinks, the Road and the Perfect Riff', Davies describes his early fascination with American roots music and how, in his post-war days, he drew inspiration from it. (Davies had previously published 'X-Ray' in 1994, which was more fantasy based). As the story unfolds, Davies describes a gruesome crime scene, which preceded his own vicious assault. Although a few reviewers have questioned his judgment on this angle, this life-changing incident was integral to his story. Davies' world changes at that point. He is faced with severe psychological and physiological damage, frequent flashbacks and a slew of professionals that either exploit his fame or work steadfastly on his recovery, only to later found out about his rock star status. Watching Davies try to make sense of the complicated American judicial system and field the host of locals he encounters is fascinating and humanising. His understandable confusion over regional differences make for some humorous anecdotes – but, despite the tragic circumstances, he remains vigilant and optimistic about helping underserved high school students in New Orleans. In 'Americana', Davies also fleshes out his professional and romantic life. Reflecting back at the legendary Kinks with a certain degree of fondness, he clearly remembers the days of in-fighting between drummer Mick Avory and their lead guitarist and his younger brother Dave Davies, and the sibling rivalry that made frequent headlines between the two, but he handles those early flares with a mature balance. Davies dances around the increasingly corporate world, which fills him with frustration. He misses the simpler times. He bonds with Arista Records Clive Davis, with whom he shares a similar sense of humour and appreciation for arranging, and locks horns with promoter Bill Graham over festival logistics. Although he prefers to spend his time writing songs or musicals and making film documentaries such as 'Weird Nightmare' about jazz musician/composer, Charles Mingus, the demanding industry forces him to make on-going business decisions. Despite this whirlwind, Davies never loses sight of his working-class upbringing - he has children and an entourage to support – and he does a great job sizing up the industry pecking order and parsing the idiosyncratic behaviour of his colourful colleagues. Davies is constantly juggling his responsibilities. One gripping story concerns his determination to visit his daughter, Eva, in Ireland on Christmas Eve. The stakes are high as their time together is limited. Prior to their visit, his car teeters on a cliff’s edge and it’s frigid outside. The emergency situation is presented as so much more than exposition - it illustrates his strong paternal impulses and how touring takes its tolls on families. Davies also muses about his flailing romances and about the instability and precariousness that accompanies fame: hangers-on flagrantly ignore boundaries, hard-working medical professionals work around the clock on his behalf and only later realise that he’s that English musician who has been shot - there is a disarming and surreal aspect to the stories, and it’s easy to imagine scenes being played out in slow motion on a giant screen and, as Davies navigates the wear and tear of the music business and the murky aftermath of the freaky accident unfolds, he captures his angst with clear, expressive language and acerbic wit. Where appropriate, he strengthens the chapters with related song lyrics. His cast of heroes include Jules Verne’s Phileas Fogg, for whom he dedicated a successful musical, loyal crew members like “Big Tony,” legendary bass player Jim Rodford, a New Orleans musician-turned-guardian-angel named Travis and Big Star front man, Alex Chilton. Pretenders vocalist Chrissie Hynde, with whom Davies had a long-term relationship, and for whom he dedicated profound material, makes several appearances. Davies finds success and freedom in working out a solo act after the Kinks' break-up, but he also finds working with pick-up musicians challenging and unsettling. So in a way, 'Americana' is all about respecting one’s own legacy. To that end, Ray Davies comes full circle in this exploratory book – he comes across as honest, fair and fiercely proud of his work. Will the book satisfy the curiosity of the rabid Kinks/Ray Davies fans? Certainly more information about production, touring agendas and gossip could have filled the pages but as it stands, it is at 300 pages and it is a lyrical and substantive read. More concert stats etc. would have weighed it down and compromised the flow and, despite a loose chronology, the flow is perfect. The photographs are also exciting to view and feature some brilliant Stones shots. Across the board, the narratives are stirring and palpable. Overall, ‘Americana’ is a phenomenal page-turner because Ray Davies puts himself completely on the line as a songwriter, author and observer.

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