So, to continue, not quite from where I left off.
In the early 70s, outwardly things seem fine, although behind the scenes Ray’s marriage (to Rasa Didzpetris) is breaking up. He is all ineffectual hair tosses, fey gestures and camp turns of the head, striking some very pretty poses, affecting extreme bashfulness at applause, smiling a coy downward smile.
This charming man always looked more louche than his markedly sluttier brother, who retained (indeed retains) that air of purity and innocence despite all his debauched escapades. I’ve no idea how he does it but he looks somehow untouched.
Even though of all the shocking behaviour detailed in Dave’s autobiography Kink, the thing that stood out for me was when, after reliably demonstrating throughout that he’d shag anything with a heartbeat (not so much morally loose as entirely dismantled), the infamously stroppy strumpet suddenly and inconveniently developed some discrimination. To avoid having to couple with one unfortunate girl he belatedly realised he didn’t particularly fancy, he instead opted to distract her by trashing an entire hotel. Hope she hasn’t read the book. You can be honest to a fault, you know, Dave.
He even dares to say at one point of someone fearful of the damage likely to ensue from an encounter with the band, ‘Our reputation had led them to imagine the worst …’. I’m not sure anyone could have imagined anything worse. Alone, Dave was like a one-man tornado raging through your premises. I guess it was in keeping with Rob Chapman’s lovely description of him in Mojo as an ‘attractive bit of dandified rough’. (Dave had also married young, to Lisbet Thorkil-Petersen in 1967, but it didn’t seem to impact significantly on his promiscuity while on tour.)
Ray may be more of a conundrum yet his peculiarly self-aggrandising brand of humility is still utterly endearing in interview. There’s a touching vulnerability to his almost defensive arrogance and knack of snatching all your sympathy. Maybe his whole bid to take over was his way of getting back at Dave for being born, being cute and being talented, not to mention starting the best band in the world without him. Perhaps he was shoring up the defences to his own insecurities with vicious attempts to sabotage his brother’s self-esteem, sometimes blatant, sometimes more insidious. And so bouts of affectionate indulgence alternate with icy disdain.
For instance, in the article pictured in the last blog, Ray says of Dave’s nascent solo career: ‘I feel a bit guilty about it because I put him up to it. He’s very sensitive about the situation – Dave has changed.’ This, however, seems to have been said before ‘Death of a Clown’ hit the top of the charts. Indeed, in X-Ray he mentions how he encouraged Dave to branch out into this solo project.
He acknowledged in BBC4 documentary Imagine: Ray Davies, Imaginary Man that Dave brought ‘the angst, the energy and an incredible right hand’ (not to mention the raw material for many songs) and says of his erstwhile band members that he misses them more than they could possibly know. In The World From My Window, a 2003 documentary, (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Q04DO91GgA&list=WL3CF5CC663F1FC21B&feature=mh_lolz) he says, ‘There are certain bands that can thrash out chords but no one has that edge that Dave has. It’s totally self-taught and it’s brilliant.’ At other times he’s voiced appreciation of the special blend of his and Dave’s voices and will often look over at Dave and smile when those amazing vocals kick in.
However, siblings can be remarkably unsupportive creatures at the best of times so it’s no real surprise that they can be found wanting when things get tough. When Dave seemed to suffer a real crisis of confidence, perhaps self-inflicted through abuse of alcohol and drugs, he definitely could have done with his brother’s help. According to Kink, this was mostly unforthcoming, but I doubt if anyone could really have understood or alleviated matters much. Ray had his own problems, after all, relationship breakdowns and his legendary sensitivity, as well as the strain of having to shoulder much of the responsibility for the band’s activities, touring, promotion and recording-wise. Though it does appear that Dave was often there for Ray at critical times, after (though before might have been preferable) histrionic suicide attempts or mini-breakdowns.
I get frustrated with Dave sometimes though, when he implies in interviews that he didn’t enjoy any of his time with the band because of the fights and so on. He is so evidently having the time of his life at points – see this Julie Felix show footage of ‘Last of the Steam Powered Trains’ and ‘Picturebook’. But at least he recognises that the tension between him and Ray somehow resulted in a fantastic cradle of creativity.
There were times in the 80s when things seemed more evenly divided (live gigs available on YouTube when the camera actually captures Dave when he’s playing guitar rather than focusing on Ray throughout) and periods when the brothers were getting on well. I believe there were harmonious periods even into the 90s. Why couldn’t this happen again?
But these days, Dave says he can’t bear to be in the same room as Ray for more than an hour while Ray exhibits impatience with Dave’s spiritual side: ‘It’s about moving on to another world, which is my brother’s speciality.’ Miaow. Plus on stage in New York in 2011, he referred to Dave as his ‘hateful, spiteful’ brother. But who can blame him when Dave so regularly assassinates Ray’s character in the media? He’d have to be a saint not to retaliate.
I thought I knew you then but will I know you now?
There’s gotta be a place for us to meet
I’ll call you when I’ve found it
I only hope that life has made us a little more grounded.
From an account of this episode, it did seem that Ray was constrained to negotiate some kind of obscure obstacle course in order just to meet with his brother. Ray sometimes insists that the major stumbling block to a reunion is Dave’s pride. For the sake of the music you make together, guys, please ‘do it again’ for us ‘one more time’.
Of course, the danger is that you can’t help reading into the lyrics of band members during and after bad break-ups. It would be natural for them to channel residual animosity into their work, rendering some songs revealing and heartfelt post-mortems of what went wrong, imbuing them with an especially poignant resonance. This is easier to do with Ray’s work than Dave’s. Dave doesn’t seem to have found Ray particularly inspiring, which is strange as I think he’s ideal material, so mercurial, unfathomable and beautifully, humanly flawed.
Though disrespectful to Dave in person, Ray speaks to him so much more eloquently and pleadingly through his songs. Sometimes he’s playfully moralistic, admonitory but indulgent, as in ‘Dandy’, at other times admiring (‘All Night Stand’) or jealous (‘Two Sisters’) and often he purports to understand – ‘Better Things’, ‘Rock’n’Roll Fantasy’. It’s true he doesn’t exactly say sorry (I don’t think that’s ever going to happen) but he seems to recognise that things have gone wrong and genuinely want to make amends. But you never know with Ray, do you? As he sings in this amazing performance of ‘Yo-yo’ (great guitarwork from Dave),
Ah, you thought you knew me pretty well,
But with people like me you never can tell.
You can only guess which way I’ll go.
The upshot is that you can never really know what it’s like to be in someone else’s family.