God Save the Kinks: A Biography
By Rob Jovanovic
Quarto Publishing Group, 330 pp., $14.95
As battling brothers Ray and Dave Davies continue to go back and forth with each other — and in the press — with sometimes wholly different views on what if anything the Kinks will do to mark their 50th anniversary, this new bio offers a fresh and insightful look into the band’s music and history.
Jovanovic. who has also written books on the Velvet Underground, Nirvana, Big Star, Kate Bush, and R.E.M., pens a brisk and often hilarious narrative. He utilizes both previously published material including the brothers own books, Ray’s X-Ray and Dave’s Kink, and the more than two dozen original interviews conducted with band members, business associates, fellow musicians, fans, and journalists.
But, of course, the Davies boys take center stage. “Outright warfare with periodic truces” is how one interviewee describes their relationship, perhaps the only consistent theme of the Kinks’ career. Ray is an egotistical control-freak twat, Dave is a jealous libertine wanker. And the book details plenty of fights, both physical and verbal, between them.
But they needed each other to make the music, though as singer and main songwriter Ray has the upper hand, which he will be the first to tell you. And the battling wasn’t limited to the brothers.
When drummer Mick Avory punches out Dave, the latter shows up for a concert wearing sunglasses to hide two black eyes. And during one show, when Dave tells Mick he would sound better “if he drummed with his cock,” Avory throws a drum pedal at Dave’s head, knocking him cold.
Thinking he might have actually killed his bandmate onstage in front of an audience, Avory goes on the lam, still wearing his stage clothes, “disappearing into the Welsh night with his frilly shirt and hunting jacket flapping about him.”
Oh, and the local promoter handling one Illinois show, who kept the band at his house until 4 a.m. and then, specifically asked Dave to stay longer alone? The guy later traded in his career in music promotion for professional clowning, and then serial murder. His name was John Wayne Gacy.
As far as the music goes, there is plenty about its creation and recording, and the book does a particularly goody job detailing the touring era when the band (under Ray’s insistence) began churning out “concept” records like Preservation Acts I and II, Soap Opera, and Schoolboys in Disgrace.
With the increasing pomp and theatrical ambitions of the stage shows, with more actors onstage at any given point than musicians, plus all the costume changes, projected film clips, and complex narratives perhaps lost on the average chemically-induced concertgoer, the Kinks not named Ray Davies began to feel highly marginalized and shunted aside, like interchangeable bit players in their own show.
God Save the Kinks does not really shed any more light than other tomes or interviews on the supposed “ban” against the Kinks coming to and touring America in the mid-’60s, thus robbing them of exposure to a lucrative American market.
This hazy story has been repeated over and over, though even Ray Davies himself isn’t clear on truth vs. perception. And no official paperwork from band, union or immigration authorities discussing, implementing, or lifting said “ban” has ever been uncovered.
Jovanovic actually argues that this forced absence actually helped the Kinks’ career, giving them a highly successful second act as a hard-rock touring unit in the ’70s and early ’80s.
A string of sizable latter-day hits like “Lola,” “Come Dancing” and “A Rock ‘n Roll Fantasy,” completely separate from the years of “You Really Got Me” — their third and arguably most famous single, and a make-or-break release — “Sunny Afternoon,” and “Dedicated Follower of Fashion”
The Kinks effectively ended as an active group in 1996, though both Davies brothers have recorded and toured solo projects, Ray in particular giving birth to the “Storyteller” format. And both have suffered health issues: Dave’s stroke left him partially paralyzed for awhile, and Ray’s altercation with a mugger on the streets of New Orleans left him with a gunshot wound to the leg and to a long physical rehabilitation. [Note: this paragraph has been modified from the original version to correct the nature of the brothers’ respective ailments.]
So…will the Kinks ever reunite for a tour, one-off show, or record? Founding bassist Pete Quaife died in 2010. But the Davies brothers, Avory, later core members John Dalton and John Gosling, and a bevy of even later members are all still around.
The answer, like that of any Kinks question, lies in the space between Ray and Dave Davies. Even if no one would ever want to be in that space at any given time.