Again, without knowing anything much about it apart from what I read in the press and what I read into footage posted on YouTube.
To begin, a quote on ‘artists’ from Steve Toltz’s novel A Fraction of the Whole:
‘These are not nice people. They’re selfish, narciss- istic and vicious types who spend their good days in a suicidal depres- sion.’
In his ‘unauthorized autobiography’ X-Ray, Ray Davies identifies himself as an ‘artist’ and perhaps brother Dave Davies would consider the above description accurate to some extent. Although the word that seems to crop up most in relation to Ray in Dave interviews is ‘arsehole’. Indeed, although self-avowedly boasting the greatest arse in show business, attested to by erstwhile Konk stablemate Tom Robinson (relations between the two quickly turned decidedly sour),
(‘It was tremendous, a tremendous arse’ – no dispute from me on that one, by the way), Dave might say Ray is the greatest arse in show business.
Mind you, also in the book, Ray himself recognises that artists are ‘unreliable, randy buggers’, as well as being adept at ‘deceit, seduction and debauchery’. Hold on, though, doesn’t this just describe men in general?
Straightforward as ever, Dave leaves us in little doubt about his feelings. Although often confessing that he loves his brother, he also tends to indulge in periodic vitriolic invectives against Ray, using each interview to unleash another blistering torrent of abuse. For his part, the senior Davies appears to weather the onslaught with the remnants of a bruised and battered dignity. His ripostes seem more measured and circumspect, as if he doesn’t want to burn the bridges that Dave has already consigned to oblivion. Just endures each new diatribe with philosophical equanimity and hopes that one day it’ll all work out.
Now and again, he takes a swipe back, for instance at a 2011 live show in the US he reputedly said of Dave ‘when he was young he was beautiful, but now he is misguided’. But when a friend spoke to him after another show on the same tour, asking him to make up with Dave, he just said, ‘I don’t know what else to do.’
It makes you start to feel sorry for Ray, who’s much keener on the idea of a Kinks reunion than his sibling; and who consistently paints Dave as the fly in the ointment. But deep down, I’m sure he can’t be like this when they actually get together. Let’s face it, he could say something apparently innocuous and destroy you with a look.
No, Ray’s behaviour is much more passive-aggressive, on the surface reasonable, but at the same time evidently practised at the subtle put-down, the age-old art of damning with faint praise, lauding Dave’s guitar playing, as if Dave were just the guitarist in Ray’s band. Perhaps the ultimate insult he delivers is to hardly mention Dave in his autobiography. The sin of omission. It’s like he doesn’t consider him important enough. He’s a mere peripheral character, almost an extra, in the narrative of Ray’s life.
Maybe if Ray were to acknowledge and value Dave’s contribution, and the fact that it was instrumental to the development of much of their material, like most of the rest of us do, things might run a bit more smoothly.
Dave for his part makes Ray sound like the devil incarnate. True, I haven’t met him so can’t really know what he’s like, and especially to his intimates. Some of my close family members seem okay to outsiders when it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if I were to find out they’d been serial killers since before I was born. Let’s just say, if they dug up bodies in my Dad’s back garden, none of his kids would blink an eye. Yet everyone who meets him seems to consider him agreeable.
I know other fans have met Ray and found him completely charming, humble and appreciative. Well, I can’t imagine anyone saying quite that about my Dad but they might say, ‘Oh, he seemed like a nice chap, very quiet, kept himself to himself’, etc., in fact the usual stuff people say about sadistic habitual murderers who’ve been living unknown in their midst. Not that I think Ray’s committed any murders, I hasten to add. I’m just not so sure about my Dad.
Even observing the Kinks through the medium of YouTube, you can vaguely see how things developed and deteriorated though the volatility of the fraternal relationship is not always immediately apparent.
Dave seemed to sing nearly as many songs as Ray in the early days, more gregarious and suited to attention than his sweetly diffident brother. But his efforts even then tended to be relegated to B-sides. In a previous blog I highlighted his performance in ‘Milk Cow Blues’, flipside to ‘A Well-respected Man’, in France in 1965 (check it out at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xMJireGRMn8). Gorgeous and supremely confident, his smile irrepressible, he looks and sounds every inch the frontman.
But, even by the time of a 1966 TV appearance for ‘I Gotta Move’,
Ray is really growing into his sex appeal. He delivers his lines in a vaguely sarcastic sneer, scowling in a dangerously dispassionate and rather contemptuous manner, a study in sexy disdain. His beautiful dark eyes seem to reveal something deeply sad in his soul.
In a German TV rendition of ‘Mr Pleasant’ from 1967, who can fail to be dazzled by Dave’s incandescent adolescent beauty? Though he’s evidently more distracted by his own appearance than particularly involved in the song. Still, how easily the scene-stealer carries off a daft hat and absurd facial hair. And how bewitching is the blend of the sad, sweet melody (and angelic backing vocals) and the satirical, observational lyrical content.
Did Dave lose his most reliable ally when bassist Pete Quaife left the band? Did and does drummer Mick Avory side with Ray?
So the scene is definitively set … and I’ll continue to look at how the relationship develops in the next blog.
PS Some online news sources seem to have reported on the longed-for Kinks reunion at this month’s Grammy gala. This one (http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/02/12/us-usa-whitneyhouston-clivedavis-idUSTRE81B09520120212) says
The Kinks came together to sing a collection of their hits including “Waterloo Sunset” with Jackson Browne and “The Days” with Elvis Costello, before livening up the party with their famous 1964 single “You Really Got Me.”
but I’m fairly certain this was probably Ray with a different band. If only it had really happened and someone had filmed it.