Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Review: ‘You Really Got Me: The Story of The Kinks’

Power chord cro-magnons who grind out scrap-metal like “You Really Got Me” and “Destroyer” or sensitive fops who float out autumnal delicacies like “Days” and “Waterloo Sunset”? The Kinks’ career is a heap of contradictions both fascinating and disheartening. How could the soft-voiced soul famous for his empathy and his loyalty to tradition be so callous to his own brother? How could that beatific brother devoted to matters spiritual be so free with his fists? Listen closely to even the most fragile Kinks songs. Undercurrents of rage, regret, envy, and deep sadness are usually detectable. Perhaps that complexity is what so fascinates we Kinks fans.

Though The Kinks were one of the top four bands to emerge from the most thoroughly chronicled environment during the most thoroughly chronicled period in Rock & Roll history, their story is elusive because its two chief narrators are highly unreliable. The two most important books on the band were written by the brothers Davies. Ray’s X-Ray is a marvelous “unauthorized” autobiography that secrets The Kinks’ story (though only their 60s heyday) under a protective layer of science fiction. After revealing his life with greater forthrightness than he ever had before or since, the author refused to even admit that the “R.D.” in his book was even Ray Davies! Because Dave’s Kink is more traditionally told, the reader can assume that it is the more reliable story. But wait. The narrative veers off course with weird encounters with aliens. The timeline becomes jumbled. Tangents about Hollywood newsstands and Quentin Tarantino dance off topic with little purpose or sense. Can we rely on a writer with such a disarranged attention span to tell us the truth? Or one who is so bitter about his brother’s genius reputation?

Nick Hasted’s new biography You Really Got Me: The Story of The Kinks does not definitively answer all lingering questions about those inscrutable Kinks. Such a book will never exist. But by stringing together all the information available on the band, he comes as close as anyone ever will. Hasted conducted extensive interviews with Ray and Dave Davies, and their contributions are typical. Dave is angry. Ray— a man so repelled by truths he’d rather forget that he has raged against photography in song more than once— chooses to remold the past into a more pleasant portrait. Hasted sifts through the brothers’ recollections and augments them with possibly revelatory insights from drummers Mick Avory and Bob Henrit, the brother of deceased bassist Pete Quaife, filmmaker Julien Temple, and many others who’ve survived The Kinks’ tumultuous inner circle. Chrissie Hynde is more reticent about the disturbing nature of her and Ray’s short-lived relationship.

So what do we learn in You Really Got Me: The Story of The Kinks? We probably learn the real and deeply saddening reason Quaife left the band in 1969. Probably. Maybe we learn how Hynde factors into the Davies brothers’ beyond-repair relationship. Maybe. We possibly finally find out why The Kinks were really banned from America in the mid-‘60s. Possibly. Hasted’s book may raise as many new questions as the ones it may answer, but its quality is considerably less slippery. You Really Got Me is an impeccably researched, lovingly written, respectful yet honest attempt to make sense of decades of lies, spite, violence, and unequivocally beautiful music. It reads like a smashing mystery that evades definitive solving. It’s the Citizen Kane of Rock biographies, and like the title character of that film, the Davies brothers are defined by their evasiveness. In that sense, You Really Got Me may tell us everything we’ll ever need to know about The Kinks.

Get You Really Got Me: The Story of The Kinks at Amazon.com here.
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