Respect the Kinks!
After being flooded with previews and highlights of the Royal Wedding, it is easy to resent Great Britain. As far as I can tell, the only value of the nuptial is that it served as a reminder of why our forefathers needed to revolt in 1776. There are not words to express the degree to which I do not give a shit about the route of the Royal Procession — If I got my kicks by watching wealthy inbred lovers, I’d buy the Beverly Hillbillies boxset.
But it is important to remember that Great Britain is more than just an island of affluent landowners playing dress-up. It is the birthplace of some of the finest songwriters in history: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Pete Townshend, and countless others. And it is because of these talented men that Rock and Roll changed forever.
Yet, for all the fame and genius of the Beatles, the Stones and the Who, it is another gang of Brits that has tickled my fancy in recent days.
The Davies brothers, the front-men of the Kinks, were a pair of rambunctious idealists that never grew up. They were banned from touring the United States from 1965-1969 because of their violent hooliganism on stage — they were famous for their arguments and ruthless fights. If they could have toned it down, if they could have toured around America during the middle-1960s, perhaps they would be mentioned in the same breath as the Big Three of British Rock. But they’re not, which is why I felt the need to write about this increasingly hidden gem of a band.
The Kinks’ best album, The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society, is a nostalgic nod to a simpler time. The message of the record, released in November 1968, remains just as relevant today – the title track places the Kinks as the protectors of an old world that is rapidly fading away.
Being a San Franciscan who was raised on tales of the Summer of Love, I am nostalgic for a time I never knew. And the Kinks, writing at that very moment for which I long, are tormented by their own imagined nostalgia: “We are the Office Block Persecution Affinity / God save little shops, china cups and virginity.”
The album is a bouncy wail for a vanishing simplicity, a protest piece fully self-aware that it has no power to stop the change.
And yet, it does manage to succeed; though the purity of the Village Green (and Haight Street) cannot survive the wave of progress, at least music can entomb its essence within a collection of well-composed songs.
Though I love the entire album, the second song, “Do You Remember Walter?”, specifically strikes a chord with my current self. In the song, Ray Davies addresses an old friend who has grown up and forgotten his past. My friends and I graduate from college in 5 weeks and I worry that as we scatter, some of us will become Walters — my greatest fear of all is that I, myself, will turn to a Walter one day.
During the 2:28 track, Ray Davies first remembers a fun-loving childhood, then tells of cast-aside dreams, and finally shows us a bored old man who has forgotten it all: “Walter, you are just an echo of a world I knew so long ago / If you saw me now you wouldn’t even know my name.”
The final line — “People often change but memories of people can remain” — should be read as the Kinks’ goal in making this album. Though they cannot save the simplicity of the Village Green, through their music the Kinks have preserved its spirit.
As I drove down Mission St. in Santa Cruz yesterday, past the Burger King, Taco Bell, McDonald’s and Panda Express, Ray Davies sang, “It’s a hard, hard world, if it gets you down / Dreams often fade and die in a bad, bad world / I’ll take you where real animals are playing / And people are real people not just playing / It’s a quiet, quiet life / By a dirty old shack / That we called our home / I want to be back there.”
I grew up in a city where the streets were paved, the buses were loud and everybody was doing something and going somewhere. I’ve never been to the village green, but after listening to this incredible album, I have to agree with Davies: I want to be back there, in a world I’ve never known that is becoming ever harder to find.
Here are three Kinks tracks that aren’t on The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society that you really ought to hear:
One of the great summer day songs ever written: Sunny Afternoon
Another nostalgic piece, this time for the Victorian English Empire: Victoria
Hard to sum this one up in just one sentence: Waterloo Sunset
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