You Really Got Me

Up close and personal with rock legend Ray Davies

Published May 21, 1996 1:27PM (EDT)

the kinks were one of my favorite bands in high school -- I remember defacing many a spiral notebook cover with the lyrics to "Lola," "Waterloo Sunset" and "Celluloid Heroes" while I was supposed to be learning how to conjugate irregular Spanish verbs in the past perfect tense.

I had a schoolgirl crush on Ray Davies, the band's brilliant leader and songwriter. Didn't matter that he had 20 years on me. Someday we would meet and he wouldn't be able to resist me.

Well, I never did learn those verbs (I eventually switched to French), but I did get the chance to fulfill my adolescent fanstasy of meeting Ray Davies. On a recent Saturday night, Davies responded to an interview request I passed to him at the Alcazar Theatre in San Francisco, where he just concluded a two-week run of his spoken word/unplugged performance piece, "20th Century Man."

The show chronicles his early life growing up in Muswell Hill, district of London, the forming of the Kinks with his brother Dave and his tumultuous relationship with the American entertainment industry. He reads excerpts from "X-Ray," his "unauthorized autobiography," and dips into his extensive archive of songs, playing acoustic guitar and backed by virtuoso blues guitarist Pete Mathison.

Mr. Davies proved to be a gracious, charming, soft-spoken gentleman, who escorted me backstage and pointed out where the microphone on my tape recorder was (it was upside down, I was a little nervous) without the slightest hint of condescension. But a randy rock 'n' roller still lurks beneath the veneer of the "well-respected gentleman." When we embraced after the interview, I felt his hand firmly and affectionately take hold of my left cheek. And I'm not talking about the one on my face.

There is a lot of historical content in your book as well as in the show "20th Century Man." What were you hoping to document for your readers and audiences?

I think it explains what it was like to grow up in a suburb of North London in the late '50s and '60s at a time of great change, and how a person coming from a certain part of society dealt with a world that, until that time, and certainly before the Second World War, had been prohibitive. Lots of playwrights and actors couldn't find their way. There was a minority control over a lot of things -- in the theater especially.
So I think this period was a coming of age for working class people, the middle class breaking down a bit. The book is about what it was like to grow up in the suburbs and to make a name in the music industry at the end of the 20th century, when music took over the world really.

Your brother Dave has written his version of these events, a book called "Kink." Have you read it?

No, I haven't read it.

What is your relationship with Dave like now?

My brother? He's a bit of a concern to me, only in that I think he should find his own way in the world. I always remember him as being... it might sound odd for me to say "remember" him, but I've got no real recollection of him after the band started. He was just somebody I worked with. But my recollection of him as a young person was someone who was a very bright kid and lived life to the full, totally. I think he should find his own way, it's very important for everybody to do their job but also find a little bit of peace inside somehow. I'm reconciled that I'll never be a peaceful person, I know that, but I'm happy to know that. But I think Dave needs to find a little bit of his own fufillment.

In your show and in the book, you talk with considerable bitterness about your early experiences touring the States. How do your feel about your experience this time around?

Obviously now it's years down the line from that first time we came here. I think the bigger cities in America are much more liberal than they were. I think people are much broader, the sense of humor has changed a bit here now. People have got much more of an ability to laugh at themselves, and a sense of irony. I think it's because of TV and all the different channels -- you can get British comedy on and stuff. I think the humor aspect is the thing that has really changed a lot.

With this show, "20th Century Man," you're working in small theater venues. Do you miss the arena shows you played with the Kinks?

Not really, I don't miss it. I can always do it again, it's always there. These smaller shows are great, I love doing this size theater, but the stadium things are good in another way. You know, it's still just as intimate.We've played Madison Square Garden and mangaged to turn it into an intimate gig.

What is the current status of the Kinks?

The Kinks are doing a very big show in Sweden next month in front of about 200,000 people. But I've got no fixed plans on what the Kinks are going to do, I don't know yet. We've got a new CD coming out at the end of this year which is our retrospective, with two new songs on it, a double CD package that will be called "To The Bone".

Any solo projects in the works?

I'm doing a solo record this year and it will be a lot of blues-based stuff because that is the music I came from, sort of the tail end of jazz and into blues.

What kind of music do you listen to when you are kicking back by yourself?

I listen to everything. The best way to describe it is when I go into a record store, I'll look at the alternative section, see what's playing, buy some sort of lo-fi music, then I'll go to the classical section and look for any modern composers that I fancy and then something kind of eclectic, Finnish music, whatever. And I listen to a lot of blues.

What was your most recent record store purchase?

The latest thing I bought was for a friend, an old Eric Satie record, the French composer, and I bought a group called "The Heathens." I think they're either Norweigen or Finnish. They're a folk band but they play kind of Algerian-sounding music.

Are you online?

I've got all the equipment, I just don't have everything plugged in at the moment. There's no point 'cause I'm here. It's something I think I'll find to be quite helpful to me.

By Lisa L. Crovo

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