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My Life and the Kinks

Part 3

In 1998 I hit bit of a rough patch, and suddenly “Better Things” popped up as the perfect song of inspiration.  I was living solo in a trailer in Chelsea, and my fairly small cd collection was mine to rediscover in a more intimate setting.  Soon I was turning things around on a personal level; I started dating Julie in January 99, and by 2001 we were married.  I lost the urge to whoop it up into the wee hours every weekend, and I really started to appreciate life and the good things it has brought me. With a career developing and a life partner supporting me things began to feel settled, and my weight of insecurities less important.  I guess I really needed to buck up and pull myself into a position where I felt secure in life, financially and emotionally, before I could face my fears and be a whole person.  Psychobabble and introspection aside, I began to develop my interests and hobbies as recreation rather than escape.  It was when Julie and I moved into our first apartment that I invested in my first component stereo system since living with my brother in college. Hitched to a crappy JVC “AV” receiver and some funky Pyle studio monitors was an EBay-purchased Dual 506-1 turntable.  I was ready to rediscover vinyl, and pulled my old stash out of my parent’s attic.

Some of my first vinyl spins, naturally, included the old Kinks records I has picked up as a kid.  I know that part of it was that I was in a new state of mind, and part that I was playing them on a modestly improved system, but these songs began to really speak to me again.  I was especially into the Misfits album, that gem from my insecure teenage days. But now I can relate to it as the songwriting gem that it is, removing myself from the title track.  I soon had the bug and began collecting more records.  A Vermont record store institution, Tones, was going out of business and I dropped $250 on new vinyl for my meager collection.  I had a pretty diverse lot, as Jeff noted while ringing me up, including some jazz (Coltrane), indie (Guided by Voices, cub, Band of Susans) 60’s garage (Sonics, Wailers, Velvet Underground) and what have you.  Probably most important in this stash was an original reprise pressing of the Kinks’ Village Green Preservation Society.  I had heard some of these tracks on the poor-sounding Kronikles collection, but this album was a real eye-opener.  Penned while the boys were banned from touring the US, the writing looks reflectively on modern-day British life and the traditions that were being pushed aside.  Naturally I found this album allegorical not only to modern life in Vermont, but also to my life growing up on a small farm which was just now going through the decision to sell off the herd.  I won’t say that it’s a carbon copy of that window of my life, but the platter really spoke to me.  While the whole album is pretty killer, standout tracks include “Do You Remember Walter?,” “ Animal Farm,” “Wicked Annabella,” the Title Track, and possibly the greatest power pop song ever recorded, “Picture Book.”  It was now time to keep digging.

Village Green Preservation Society MP3

It was about this time, after (re?)discovering Village Green that I came across an article in Perfect Sound Forever on the Kinks’ Golden Years.  It was through this piece that I realized that my Davies fascination did not even come near there best stuff, and I had to fill in the gaps.  I picked up cd copies of Something Else, Arthur, and Face to Face. The two former albums were Reprise reissues from the 80’s, maybe late 90’s, and their sound accordingly leaves a bit to be desired.  The latter is a 1998 Castle re-release with good remastering and extra tracks hand-selected by Ray.  For anyone who wants to get this material I highly recommend these re-releases.  That said, I am still interested in picking up vinyl copies of them.

Ray’s songwriting during this era ranks among the best of any in pop music history, including contemporary output from his peers including Dylan and the Beatles.  Much   ink has been bled about Ray’s overlooked contributions o 60’s rock and ‘firsts’ including his use of eastern instrumentation (“See My Friends”) and arguably writing the first Rock Opera (Arthur).  Alongside this we have a man coming of age and adding more depth to the songs than he had previously during the garage/R&B/skiffle era.  Class consciousness was always on his mind, as evidenced most clearly in such tracks as “Sunny Afternoon”, “Most Exclusive Residence for Sale”, “Dead End Street”, “Davis Watts,” and my favorite of the bunch “Get Back in Line” from the Lola vs. Powerman… album:            

Facing the world ain't easy when there isn't anything going
Standing at the corner waiting watching time go by
Will I go to work today or shall I bide my time
'Cos when I see that union man walking down the street
He's the man who decides if I live or I die, if I starve, or I eat
Then he walks up to me and the sun begins to shine
Then he walks right past and I know that I've got to get back in the line
Now I think of what my mamma told me
She always said that it would never ever work out
But all I want to do is make some money
And bring you home some wine
For I don't ever want you to see me
Standing in that line
'Cause that union man's got such a hold over me
He's the man who decides if I live or I die, if I starve, or I eat
Then he walks up to me and the sun begins to shine
Then he walks right past and I know that I've got to get back in the line

Get Back In Line MP3

But not only does he shine a light on the underclass, but also directs his beam on the materially happy but emotionally empty, returning to the earlier theme of “Where Have All the Good Times Gone?” with this one from Arthur:

Now that you've found your paradise
This is your Kingdom to command
You can go outside and polish your car
Or sit by the fire in your Shangri-la
Here is your reward for working so hard
Gone are the lavatories in the back yard
Gone are the days when you dreamed of that car
You just want to sit in your Shangri-la…. 

And all the houses in the street have got a name
'Cos all the houses in the street they look the same
Same chimney pots, same little cars, same window panes
The neighbors call to tell you things that you should know
They say their lines, they drink their tea, and then they go
They tell your business in another Shangri-la
The gas bills and the water rates, and payments on the car
Too scared to think about how insecure you are
Life ain't so happy in your little Shangri-la
Shangri-la, Shangri-la la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la

Shangri-La MP3

Along with these ideas supporting the common man were Ray’s reflections on relationships, and often of lost friends and lovers.  Around this time I was turning 27, a time I understand when many people undergo dramatic life changes as they shift fully from youth to adulthood.  Many life changes tend to occur in one’s 27th year including marriages, breakups, having children, settling into a home.  It was then that I too was finally fully settling into an adult life. I got married that year and the following one bought our home way up in the isolating hills of Calais.   At the same time I began to understand that many of my previous friendships were fading away with time and distance, something I haven’t been good about repairing especially since a baby came onto the scene.   Ray’s insight is appreciated on these matters, it being interesting to note that he wrote many on these songs in his late twenties as he was retreating from fame, a failing marriage, and into his isolating home in the country.  We now have “See My Friends,” with its haunting Eastern drone backing the wistful lines,

See my friends
See my friends
Playing across the river…
She is gone, she is gone
And now there’s nothing left for me
Except my friends…

Another great song where Ray reflects on bygone friends is “Days,” 

Thank you for the days,
Those endless days, those sacred days you gave me.
I'm thinking of the days,
I won't forget a single day, believe me.

I bless the light,
I bless the light that lights on you believe me.
And though you're gone,
You're with me every single day, believe me.

Days I'll remember all my life,
Days when you can't see wrong from right.
You took my life,
But then I knew that very soon you'd leave me,
But it's all right,
Now I'm not frightened of this world, believe me.

Days MP3

Of course this point of reflection is not a sad one, but rather a look back from a new stage in life.  Two tracks appeal to me in this sense, the first one “Waterloo Sunset” where I can place myself literally in the third-person role with Julie, yet still appreciate Ray’s sentiment that all is okay in life:

Dirty old river, must you keep rolling
Flowing into the night
People so busy, makes me feel dizzy
Taxi light shines so bright
But I don't need no friends
As long as I gaze on Waterloo sunset
I am in paradise

Every day I look at the world from my window
But chilly, chilly is the evening time
Waterloo sunset's fine

Terry meets Julie, at Waterloo Station
Every Friday night
But I am so lazy, don't want to wander
I stay at home at night
But I don't feel afraid
As long as I gaze on Waterloo sunset
I am in paradise

Every day I look at the world from my window
But chilly, chilly is the evening time
Waterloo sunset's fine

Millions of people swarming like flies 'round Waterloo underground
But Terry and Julie cross over the river
Where they feel safe and sound
And the don't need no friends
As long as they gaze on Waterloo sunset
They are in paradise

Waterloo sunset's fine

Waterloo Sunset MP3

And then there’s a final resignation that life is good wherever you’re at in “This is Where I Belong”:

I can't think of a place I'd rather be.
The whole wide world doesn't mean so much to me,
For this is where I belong,
This is where I belong.

Tell me now if you want me to stay.
It don't matter, 'cause I'd stay here anyway.
For this is where I belong,
This is where I belong.

This Is Where I Belong MP3

 

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All sound samples are of a crappy quality for a reason.   You should listen, learn, and buy the damned albums.  Don't be cheap!

 

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All material Copyright Terence Bradshaw 2006-2014

terryb at lostmeadowvt dot com