Thursday, October 24, 2013

"Americana" by Ray Davies

Sterling ISBN 978-1-4027-7891-9

Ray Davies’ memoir regarding his "affair" with America and its culture is great on so many levels.  The book works on different platforms.  The major theme of this memoir is regarding his life or thoughts on America, which makes it sort of a perfect travel journal.  When I hear the two words together "Ray and Davies" I think of England and Noel Coward.  I think Davies, overall, sees himself as rocker, but the fact he's probably one of the great songwriters that came out of the 20th Century. So yeah of course he rocks, but he is one of the great portrait painters of song.  His "Waterloo Sunset," "Lola, " and others are classic samples of setting character with a melody.  On top of that he is one of the great entertainers, in the tradition of British music hall of the 19th and 20th Century. 

The beauty of this book is the character Ray Davies, who is not only super British, but a very troublesome soul as well.  He wears doubt and depression as one would wear a winter coat during a blizzard.  It is almost second-nature to him, and I think he uses that aspect of his personality for the songs he writes.  To be honest I am not a huge fan of his music done after the late '70's, and still, this book takes place mostly during the Kinks successful years in America.  Which at that time, they became boring to me, music wise - but in the '60's and '70's he couldn't have been better.  On a genius level his songwriting was great - and now, as a prose memoir writer, his genius comes out again.

if there is another character that comes out of this book besides Ray, it is the city of New Orleans.  Ironically enough my other favorite book on this city is by Mod-great Nic Cohn, whose memoir 'Triksta"  is a horror show of a ride.  Both books, written by Englishmen of a similar age, and from the same culture, wrote incredibly and heartbreaking narratives dealing with both the beauty and nightmare aspect of the city.  For Ray, he chose to live in New Orleans, and eventually got shot in the leg during a robbery.  

This of course becomes a huge turning point in his life, and in a way it is about the cultural differences between the British character and the New Orleans citizen.  Ray obviously loves the city and its music culture, but is of course is shocked by the violence of that culture.  Him being a victim, is both heartbreaking and profound.  in a way Davies goes from one crisis to another, but when he pauses a bit, to reflect, its a win-win situation for the reader.

All the usual suspects are in the book, his brother Dave and the rest of the Kinks, but they're sort of side-players in this narrative.  There is more of a focus on people like Bill Graham, his road managers, and dealing with life on the road while touring America.  As a narrative it is not A going to B going to C, but more of a reflection on the people he met in America and how they affected him, both as an artist and on a personal level.   One of the legendary characters that comes out through this book, but almost Phantom like, is the great Alex Chilton.   Clearly Davies thinks of him and his work fondly, and it is a nice surprise to know that he knew and also thought of him as a fellow artist.  Alex of course is part of the New Orleans narrative.

If one had to compare this book to another music memoir it would be Pete Townshend's recent autobiography, due that both are good writers and observers - but I think Ray Davies' is actually more profound, because he has such a strong everyday human element not only for his songs, but I think in life as well.

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