A 21ST CENTURY MAN?
April 7, 2008
By ROBERT BIESELIN,
WHO: Ray Davies.
WHEN: 8 p.m. Tuesday.
WHERE: Beacon Theatre, 2124 Broadway; 212- 465-6500 or beacon theatre.com.
HOW MUCH: $50 to $99.
Ray Davies doesn't wear a trench coat. He doesn't smoke a pipe. His gait isn't recognizable by its awkward lurch and stagger.
And regarded as one of the more pertinent products of the British Invasion — both lyrically and musically — he is by no means a Luddite at odds with the modern world, incapable of coping with its advances.
And yet, this is a character description the 63-year-old founder of the Kinks partially identifies with on his new record, "Working Man's Caf," his fourth album as a solo artist.
"[The perspective from which I wrote] 'Working Man's Caf' is kind of my Monsieur Hulot character," Davies said during a recent phone interview, referring to the helpless, clumsy personality made popular in the 1950s and '60s by French comedian Jacques Tati.
"It's somebody who's walking obliviously through the world and who's suddenly confronted by the reality that he's trying to recapture and meet someone from his past, and they can't find each other in the city where they grew up because everything's changed and there's a museum up where they used to eat."
After saying this, he paused to look out the window of his San Francisco hotel and comment on a lot that he remembered being full of low-rent houses on his last visit. Now it's the site of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art — a nice structure, Davies says, but also a symbol of a changing world that's increasingly difficult to recognize.
This new world, as he sees it, is an American shopping mall; an entertainment center; a technological vacuum powered by the illusions of communication and connection.
"I think people live more isolated lives now," he said. "What isolates people is the illusion that they're communicating all the time. They're not. All people do is sit in their houses alone in a cyber world. ... You can have all this at your fingertips, but there's something about humanity that works best when there's another breathing human being in the room with you."
For all the gloomy talk, Davies swears he's not a pessimist, and does so convincingly.
Comparing "Working Man's Cafe" to the 1971 Kinks song "20th Century Man," which also decried the horrors of an increasingly modern world, he cites each as hopeful in their defiance.
Surrendering is something occasionally considered but impossible to do for the songwriter.
In 2004, while working on "Other People's Lives," Davies was shot in the leg after chasing down a thief who stole his girlfriend's purse in the French Quarter of New Orleans. These days, he talks about the incident acceptingly, saying "what happened happened." At the time, he wasn't so nonchalant.
"I think while I was recovering in New Orleans, I contemplated the idea of never doing anything again with music," he said. "I was frightened at the time."
Instead of giving in to fear, he got a pad from an orderly and started writing again. From his hospital bed, hopeful amid the gloom, he penned "Morphine Song," which appears on his latest album.
Now back in the groove, he doesn't think he'll ever stop playing.
"I don't think retirement is a good option for me," he said with a chuckle. "I think I'll just keep writing till the end."
Between then and now he's planning some interesting projects, citing a desire to collaborate with newer artists — possibly Green Day — and also with people he's a tad more familiar with.
"We're trying to do a [Kinks] reunion. It's coming together, but my brother's a stumbling block," he said of his longtime band mate Dave Davies.
If the reunion does happen, which Davies gives a "50-50 shot," he said it would likely be announced at the end of the year to coincide with the release of a new Kinks box set spanning the band's 30-year-plus career. Along with a tour, Davies said he'd like to record new "creative" material and re-form with the original members as well as other players they've had over the years including John Gosling, John Dalton, Ian Gibbons and Jim Rodford.
Ultimately though, it comes down to his brother. Davies has long had a tumultuous relationship with him.
"The longer this goes on, I think the more he'll see the benefit of doing [a reunion]," Daviessaid of his brother, who suffered a stroke in 2004. "Even though [Dave's] been sick, I tell him that this can be something to drive him forward. ... I tell him 'music validates you as a person,' but he's not convinced yet."
If the reunion happens, Davies says, it'll be the result of hopeful intentions and hard work; the only things that can push aside that clumsy Monsieur Hulot outlook — trench coat, pipe, disassociation and all — and allow people to reconnect to their past worlds and relationships, no matter how unfamiliar they may seem.
"The last bit of writing I did on the song 'Working Man's Cafe,' I wrote with [Dave] in mind after meeting with him and having a talk," said Davies. "It says it all: 'I thought I knew you then, but will I know you now? / There's got to be a place for us to meet. / I'll call you when I've found it.' "
NAME: Ray Davies.
BIGGEST HITS (WITH THE KINKS): "You Really Got Me," "All Day and All of the Night," "Lola," "Sunny Afternoon," "Come Dancing," "Well Respected Man," "Tired of Waiting for You."
CURRENT PROJECT: Solo album, "Working Man's Cafe" (2008)
QUOTE: "We're trying to do a [Kinks] reunion. It's coming together, but my brother's a stumbling block. ... At this point, it's a 50-50 shot."
Copyright 2008 Bergen Record Corp. All rights reserved.