The Man in the Street

"It's allowed me to look at this period of music that, when I was doing it, I didn't really think of as a period in my career; it was just another album. But looking at it now, I was embarking on a kind of creative journey, unknown to myself, that was taking me away from what I started out as, which was as a pop writer, writing songs about England, primarily pop songs.

"Certainly looking at this period of music between 1972 and probably 1983/84, it shows me retracking my origins, if you like, and bringing it up to date," Davies continues. "Speaking mainly for myself, I think a lot of artists and writers take their inspiration from their own lives. I remember that Paul Schrader, the screenwriter and director, said something interesting: If you want to get a good story, get a personal problem and turn it into a metaphor. It does help to have that personal thing.

"But at the same time, you can't make your life an art, unless you are Andy Warhol. I am not my own subject matter. My subject matter started out being the man in the street, songs like 'Dead End Street.' But then I realized I was a man in the street, really, but for the fact that I played in a pop band. So I wanted to find out about my landscape, in a sense, where I came from. So that's why I did Muswell Hillbillies. It helped put myself into some perspective at the time. And I think it's a really interesting bunch of releases, and a perfect time for it to come out. Because I've done X-Ray now, and the book ended around 1973, and this work is taking over from there."

In writing his life story, Davies was determined to eschew the usual self-serving cliches of the genre. "I didn't want to write an ordinary autobiography," he explains. "I turned down the original proposal from the book company. I've got this kind of investigative streak in me, and I was thinking about how I would best approach myself from afar. And I thought that would be the best way to do it, was like an investigative journalist trying to expose something in this guy. I wanted to set myself up for something, in a strange way. But in the end, the investigator gets his comeuppance, in a sense. I guess it's kind of a cruel streak in me."

But one of Davies' major gifts has always been writing about people, often common folks, and really getting inside his characters, something a bit removed from the big fantasies and love songs that are often the pop- and rock-song staples. "I think it goes back to when I was an art student," ponders Davies. "I used to go out sketching for the day. Everybody had a project for that week to do. For my project I honed in on people in the parks, people I saw in railway stations sitting down and waiting for their trains, looking worried, looking happy, people in love -- a single person with a backdrop, with the world rushing forward. It was just finding a person in that moment in their life, almost like a still photographer who finds somebody and snaps it, and says, 'That's the moment.' I found them alive, or whatever, and I could grab that moment and write about it. That's maybe the way I started in my formative years as an artist, if you like, and it went on into my songwriting."

That unique sense of character and humanity is embodied in one of Ray's favorites among the rereleases, "Celluloid Heroes," which may be the best and truest pop song ever written on the subject of fame. "It's a song I never really thought about writing," Davies explains. "When I was on the Muswell Hillbillies tour, I did a home movie, just for my own reference, really, 16 millimeter. And at the end of the tour, I looked at it all and wrote the song as a kind of soundtrack to all the characters.

"I love characters, you see. Whenever we saw an interesting character, we'd stop and film them. It had nothing to do with the band, just people around us. That song was different for me. It was similar to 'Waterloo Sunset' in that it was me when I was really observing and thinking about something else and not thinking about my, as you say, personal metaphor or whatever. But because I'm not doing that, in a way it says more about me as a writer than the subject matter."

Though the activities of such Kinks contemporaries as the Stones and the Who have seemed market-driven for the past decade or more, the Kinks continue existing for the higher purpose of making music that matters. "We're always talking about these things -- doing another record. If I feel it means something to me, I'll do another Kinks record," Davies says. "In other words I don't want to do it for nostalgia. I want to do it because the songs and the performances are good enough. It doesn't make sense otherwise. It doesn't make sense if you're on your fiftieth album or your third album. It doesn't have anything to do with how long the band's been around. Even if it's your first album, it has to make sense."

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