A revised version of this essay appears in Preservation: The Kinks’ Music 1964-1974, available in paperback , hardback, Kindle (US), Kindle (UK) , and for all non-Kindle devices from Smashwords.
Lola Versus Powerman And The Moneygoround, Part One is a difficult album to assess from this distance. Artistically, it’s a clear step down from Arthur, but at the same time it sparked a short-lived commercial resurgence for the band, at least in the singles chart, providing the Kinks with their last two UK top ten singles in Lola and Apeman.
Musically, the album is as inventive as ever, if in a heavier rock style than the band had had prior to Arthur, but lyrically the album is somewhat lacking, being self-obsessed in a way that the earlier albums hadn’t been. Fully half the songs are about how hard it is being a rock star and how managers, record companies, publishing companies and the rest of the music business are all out to make pop singers’ lives as difficult as possible.
Of course, for those of us who aren’t rock stars, this may seem a little hard to relate to — it’s hard to feel much sympathy for someone who is still, in the grand scheme of things, being paid vast sums of money for doing a job that is far more enjoyable than most people could dream of.
However, while it may be hard to sympathise, Ray Davies had a real reason to be angry. A contractual dispute with Eddie Kassner, his publisher, dating back to 1965 had meant that for the previous five years — the Kinks’ prime earning period — he had not received a penny of the songwriting royalties he was due. He’d eventually settled out of court in order to get any of the money at all, agreeing to a lower royalty rate and paying Kassner £30,000 (the equivalent of £653,000 in 2012 money) so he could get some of what he was owed. One can perhaps understand his frustration.
Lola vs Powerman is a transitional album for the Kinks in a number of ways. It was their last proper studio album for Pye records, the label they’d been with from the start of their career — they recorded the largely-instrumental soundtrack to the film Percy and then left for RCA Records. It’s also the first album to feature new keyboard player John “Baptist” Gosling, and is a clear step toward the blend of country music and heavy rock the band would achieve on their last truly great album, Muswell Hillbillies, though it’s not quite there yet. However, the songwriting is tighter than it was on Arthur, with almost all the songs coming in under four minutes, and almost half being under three. When a song begins to pall, another one will be along soon, and there’s still a better than average chance it’ll be a good one.
In this piece I will have to deal slightly more with the personal lives of the band members than I like to, simply because the songs themselves are so personal.
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies
This track starts with a lovely little two-chord bluegrass harmony section, Ray and Dave Davies harmonising with each other over a dobro and banjo backing, sounding almost like the ‘rebel country’ music made by people like Steve Earle a few decades later, before crashing into a Canned Heat style harmonica-led boogie (and a key change from E to A), with some of the best harmonica playing on a Kinks record.
Lyrically, this seems to be in equal parts about Davies’ wish to escape from domesticity (his first marriage was rapidly heading towards collapse at this point) and about his ambitions for the band — he doesn’t want to be a manual worker or to go into a respectable job, but he’s “got to get out of this life somehow”. When he sings “We’re not the greatest when when we’re separated/But when we’re together I think we’re going to make it”, he could be singing to the “little mammy” of the first line (presumably his first wife, Rasa), but equally he sounds like he’s singing to his brother and the rest of his bandmates.
Writer: Dave Davies
Lead Vocalist: Dave Davies
So it’s appropriate that the next song (which is segued into — the album is sequenced almost without gaps between the songs) would be this outstretched hand from Dave Davies to his brother.
The first song that Dave Davies had had on an album since Something Else, this may be the best song he ever wrote. Around the time that Lola Vs Powerman was being recorded, Dave Davies had had a mental breakdown, but communication between the brothers had got so bad (and Ray Davies was under so much pressure himself) that Ray had not even been aware of this. However, Dave had managed to pull himself back from the brink with a variety of New Age beliefs, and now saw himself at the beginning of a new spiritual journey.
The song recognises that Dave Davies is starting from a place where all his previous certainties have been shattered, but that he can see a way forward — and that while his brother can’t see that way forward, he knows that he’s been in a similar situation, and wants to offer him help. He recognises that the two are drifting apart, but there’s a deeper bond between them.
With Dave Davies’ trademark metrical irregularity, but with a very simple backing track (two acoustic guitars, piano, organ, and what sounds like just a kick drum and floor tom), this is a wonderfully tender, touching song of brotherly love, and the best thing on the album.
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies
A rather slight song about the music publishing industry (Denmark Street was the street in London where almost all the UK’s music publishers were based), this combines pub-singalong piano, country-rock and 1940s pop (one section sounds very like George Formby) into a style which prefigures quite a lot of the pub rock sound of the late 70s. Were this song slightly more funky, it could fit musically quite comfortably with the work of Ian Dury and The Blockheads.
Lyrically, however, it’s a nothing piece of fluff, just saying that music publishers don’t necessarily like the music they publish.
Get Back In The Line
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies
This is possibly the hardest song on this album to judge from the perspective of the twenty-first century, because it’s a very political song, but talking about something that no longer exists.
In the 1970s, unions were far more powerful in the UK than they are today. Between the decline of Britain’s manufacturing and mining industries, legislation brought in by the Thatcher and Major governments, and European law banning ‘closed shops’, unions in Britain today have little power and relatively low membership. In the 1970s, however, they were a major political force, and there was a growing consensus that they were using that power harmfully.
This consensus (which is the accepted view on nearly every side today) may or may not have been correct (I have relatives who were trade union officials at the time whose stories of some of the more prominent causes celebres of the time differ wildly from the accepted view), but that was certainly the belief among an increasing proportion of society at the time, and that clearly included Ray Davies.
So in this ballad, one of the best melodies he wrote on the album, he writes from the point of view of a working man trying to earn a living and being blocked by “the union man”.
It may seem that this song, about British working-class life, has no place on an album which is mostly about the music business, but Ray Davies had had his own problems with unions. From 1965 through 1969 — the band’s prime years as a singles band in the UK — they had been banned from playing in the USA as a result of a dispute with the US Musicians’ Union, a dispute which had led to their career crashing into obscurity over there.
Davies clearly (and understandably) thought that the frustrations he experienced from the Musicians’ Union were much of a piece with the problems he was having with his managers, publishers and record company, and so felt a great deal of sympathy with those who were in the power of the unions in the UK.
Musically, this is the clearest example for a while of how Ray Davies’ love of descending scalar basslines is clearly influenced by Bach. Here the organ part gives the song something of the flavour of organ works like Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier or O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig, though the melody is all Davies’ own. The bassline is more cleverly worked out than some of the earlier stepwise basslines have been, though — while in the chorus it’s mostly based around a descending scale in G, when the chord gets to Em, the bassline suddenly starts rising, getting to A — a tone higher than it started — before dropping back to D, which would have been the natural next note in the descent after Em, and continuing to go down.
This sudden rise to higher than the bassline has been previously, followed by a precipitous drop to lower than it was before, melds beautifully with the lyrics — the rise from E to A starts on the phrase “the sun begins to shine”, before the drop down and descent on the line “Then he walks right past and I know that I’ve got to get back in the line”. Rarely has Davies ever matched musical form with lyrical content to such devastating effect.
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies
The Kinks’ biggest hit for many years — their first UK top ten hit for three years and their first in the US since Well-Respected Man — was this track about meeting a trans person [FOOTNOTE In the song it’s not made clear whether Lola is transgendered or transvestite, or even if Davies was entirely aware of the difference between the two, so I shall be using the term ‘trans’ to cover both in this piece.] in a bar, and going back to have sex with her unaware she’s trans — and then not minding too much when he finds out.
I’ve dreaded writing about this song, because it’s witty, clever, and one of the catchiest things Ray Davies ever wrote, but it also perpetuates some negative stereotypes about trans people. However, it also shows more respect to trans people than any other pop song I could think of, so I decided to ask some of my trans friends what they thought of the song. The poet Rachel Zall responded:
Well, speaking for myself as a trans woman:
Certainly it’s hard to argue that it doesn’t repeat and reinforce all sorts of tired transmisogynist tropes, or that the song doesn’t have a nasty hetero-cis sneer underneath it.
But for lots of folks, as you said, it was at least a mention that we exist that was framed in a non-hostile way, and for folks who’ve never heard themselves represented before, a song suggesting that one might at least be lovable to someone somewhere, even ironically, can mean a lot. (I mean, four decades later, can you name another love song to a trans woman? I can’t.)
Personally, for just that reason it meant a lot to me when I was a kid (along with “Walk On The Wild Side” and Rachel Pollack’s run on Doom Patrol), so I’m always a bit kinder to it than I can justify.
Having said all that, I think this speaks more to the desperation many trans women feel trying to find any even theoretically positive depiction of ourselves in popular culture. Divorced from the culture around it, the song is hugely problematic and hard to defend, but in context, it seems better than it is by virtue of being a small, sickly fish in an otherwise empty pond. Which is kinda sad, actually.
Which is about what I thought the reaction would be — the song is problematic now, even though at the time it was a fairly progressive song.
(And incidentally, no, I can’t think of any other songs about being attracted to a trans woman, off the top of my head — other than, actually, the Kinks’ later song Out Of The Wardrobe, which manages to urge tolerance for trans people while simultaneously being rather homophobic, a trick not many people have managed).
Lola was actually based on several real experiences the band and people around them had. Most of the Kinks were not entirely heterosexual, and Mick Avory apparently spent a lot of time in trans nightclubs. At various times, Ray Davies has said the song is about Avory, about his own (apparently non-sexual) meeting with Candy Darling, and about the Kinks’ manager Robert Wace going home with a trans woman, too drunk to care.
Oddly, the biggest problem this song had with getting radio play was not the subject matter, nor the ending of the song (with its implication of our protagonist performing fellatio on Lola), but the mention of “Coca Cola” in the lyric — the BBC were then not allowed to mention brand names, and Davies had to make a 6000-mile round trip to overdub the word “cherry” over “Coca” for the single release, in order to get it played. Both versions of the song are on the current release of the album.
Dave Davies has often claimed that he wrote the music for this song, uncredited. Whatever the correct credits, this is one of the best singles the Kinks ever released, and has now entered the popular culture to such an extent that this was the song chosen for Ray Davies to play when he performed at the Queen’s Jubilee concert in 2002.
Top Of The Pops
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies
A tedious heavy riffer with no real reason to exist, this is just a song about how having a hit single makes you popular, a sentiment that very few of the listeners will be able to appreciate.
The two main points of interest here are the line “I’ve been invited to a dinner with a prominent queen”, presumably included so that Lola would fit in with the rest of the album (other than that line there are no connections between the subject of Lola and the music-business stresses of the rest of the album), and the last line, in which Davies puts on an ‘hilarious’ mock-Jewish voice to play an agent.
One of the more positive changes over the last forty years in the UK is that outright mockery of ethnic minorities is no longer considered acceptable, but in the early 1970s — and even into the mid-80s — there was considered nothing wrong with even fairly small-l liberal comedians blacking up or making fun of Jewish people. In that context, Davies’ ‘comedy’ voice at the end of this song was perfectly acceptable — he’s doing a caricature of the stereotypical showbiz agent, not dissimilar to those done by people like Monty Python or The Goodies. Today, it mars the album, and comes across as very unpleasant.
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies
The best of the music-business songs on the album by a long way, this is a short (one minute forty-three) romp, in the style of Noel Coward or Flanders And Swann, through the details of the contracts that Davies was enmeshed in. While it’s obviously biased towards Davies (Robert Wace and Grenville Collins, both of whom are named in the lyric, have objected to the line “do they all deserve/money from a song that they’ve never heard?”, claiming that they knew and loved the music of the band when they were managing them), the description is one that anyone who knows about the music industry at that time will recognise as being largely accurate, with layers of publishers and managers all taking a cut before the artist gets a penny.
Musically, this is a pre-war show tune, from the almost-ragtime verses (with yet another Davies descending bassline) to the melodramatic bridge (Davies sounding wonderfully hammy on “I thought they were my friends”, his tongue firmly in cheek even as the point of the song is serious) and the bouncy chorus, with its lyrical quote from The Music Goes Round And Round. The Moneygoround also has a slight musical resemblance to that song, a hit for the Tommy Dorsey band in 1936 that was a pop standard when Davies was growing up. The resemblance to The Music Goes Round And Round can be heard most closely in Russ Conway’s piano version, though I don’t recommend anyone listen to that track.
This, however, is a delight. Funny, clever, and entertaining, and complaining about a real problem without being angsty.
This Time Tomorrow
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies
Side two opens with this, one of the most affecting tracks on the album, even though like many of the better tracks on this album it admits of less analysis than some of the more complex music on the band’s mid-sixties records.
Staying almost entirely in the key of G (apart from an occasional B major chord, usually just as a passing chord), this is a curiously melancholy upbeat song about a long plane journey home, to “fields full of houses”. The most interesting feature in the track, and the one that lifts it into the top tier of the band’s early-70s work, is the way the banjo part (played by Dave Davies, with a very unusual attack — he’s playing it like a guitar player, rather than a banjo player), with its fast-picked arpeggios, is doubled by Gosling’s piano. The odd, skipping, rippling effect created by having two such different instruments play such a fast arpeggiated part on an otherwise mid-tempo song is one that must have been hellish to achieve in the studio, but which paid off, making this track endlessly listenable.
A Long Way From Home
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies
And after the plane touches down, you find “you’re still a long way from home”. This piano ballad seems to be addressed to both Dave Davies and to Ray himself. For Ray Davies throughout his career, losing touch with one’s roots seems to be the single worst thing possible, even as he clearly grows to have less and less in common with the poor North London people he grew up with.
Here he sings about how “your wealth will never make you stronger”, because “you don’t know me” from the perspective of someone who knew a rich star when he was a “runny-nosed and scruffy kid”. Whether this is Ray singing to Dave, or Ray taking on the persona of someone from Muswell Hill talking to Ray, it’s fair to say that the critique in the song summed up how both men felt at the time.
The song is very pretty, but curiously forgettable — I have listened to this album hundreds of times, and on the day I wrote this piece I listened to the album five times in a row before I started writing, but I still thought “Which one was that, then?” when I came to write about it. It works in the context of the album, and it clearly meant a lot to the band, but it’s not a highlight.
Writer: Dave Davies
Lead Vocalist: Dave Davies
Musically, Dave Davies’ second song on the album is an early heavy metal track that could have been recorded by Deep Purple or Black Sabbath with little change. It’s not a genre I particularly like, but it seems a competent enough example of the style, if out of place on this album.
Lyrically, however, this is one of the strongest and strangest things on the record, a hallucinatory scream of despair at the music business people he sees as “rats jumping on and off my back” whose “hate spreads just like infection”. It’s clearly the work of a troubled man, and is possibly the most unfiltered, honest thing on the whole album. It was the B-side to Apeman.
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies
The second single from the album, and the band’s last top ten hit in the UK, was this calypso song, which returns to Davies’ regular themes of wanting to get back to nature and a simpler life, rather than live in a civilised world with “the over-population and inflation and starvation and the crazy politicians”.
Much like Top Of The Pops, this song has been accused of having what gets described euphemistically as “outdated racial attitudes”. And in a sense it does — this song is from a time when it was considered reasonable to sing in a comedy fake-Carribean voice, which would probably be considered unacceptable today by most people but was, like the “Jewish” voice in Top Of The Pops, considered perfectly normal at the time. The voice is ‘outdated’, but no worse in that respect than many other products of its times (which is not necessarily to defend those other products).
The problem comes when the ‘outdated’ comedy voice is combined with lyrics that contain the line “I’m a King Kong man, I’m a voodoo man, I’m an apeman”. The combination of a stereotypically ‘black’ vocal sound with references to apes and voodoo is at best an unfortunate one, and one that has caused several people to see the song as racist.
However, while I’m not going to argue that there is nothing problematic about the song, I don’t believe this song was intended in a racist manner, and I can’t imagine that it occurred to Davies for a millisecond that the conjunction of the ape imagery and the voice could be taken to have any racist implications.
Certainly, the faux-Carribean feel of the song seems to have been taken by real calypsonians as being a mostly-sincere tribute, rather than an insult — a cover version of this was recorded less than a year later by the Esso Trinidad Steel Band as the opening track of their self-titled album [FOOTNOTE This was reissued in 2011 on Bananastan Records, the label of Van Dyke Parks, the album’s producer, and is essential listening.].
Certainly, in retrospect, it would have been better had Davies not put on that particular ‘funny’ voice when singing that particular set of lyrics, but I do think intentions count for a lot, and this isn’t the song of someone with bad intentions.
Leaving that to one side, is the song any good?
Well, yes, it is. Other than the piano part at the start (played to sound like a steel band), this is musically almost a straight reworking of Lola, with similar instrumentation (including the prominent dobro that’s all over the album), feel and chord sequence. It seems a clear attempt to recapture lightning, having much the same resemblance to Lola that All Day (And All Of The Night) had to You Really Got Me. Apeman was so much Lola part two that Davies even had to make another transatlantic plane trip to drop in another single word to get the song played on the radio, this time when the BBC weren’t sure whether the air pollution was “fogging” or “fucking” up Davies’ eyes.
Apeman, however, floats where Lola lumbers. Where Lola is by far the more instantly impressive track, Apeman sticks with the listener, and is an absolutely perfect pop record, and the last truly great Kinks single.
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies
A dull, plodding rocker, comparing the “Powerman” who’s “got my money and my publishing rights” with Napoleon, Genghis Khan, Hitler and Mussolini. Possibly comparing Edward Kassner (whose parents died in Auschwitz) with Adolf Hitler was not the best way to get people’s sympathy. Failing that, Davies could have tried writing a more interesting song to put the comparison in.
Got To Be Free
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies
And we finish the album with a song that ties together its themes, both lyrically (the themes of wanting to escape from the people making Davies a “slave” and live free like “a flea or a proud butterfly”– he even reuses the line about “the bugs and the spiders and flies” from Apeman) and musically. In particular it returns to the bluegrass section from the start of The Contenders and turns it into a full song.
The verses, which stick closely to the feel of that section of The Contenders, work well, with surprisingly authentic-sounding bluegrass banjo and dobro playing. The choruses work a little less well, sounding like an attempt to sound like the Rolling Stones in their more country-blues moments.
The song, like the album it’s closing, is something of a curate’s egg, veering from dull to surprisingly effective. The best moments of the album are as good as anything the band had done, but even those are problematic in a way earlier work hadn’t been, while the worst moments were inferior to anything the band had done since Face To Face.
remarkable material i intend to read more in.depth tomorrow. i will add that – for many younger Americans – exposure to this album’s *non*Lola material came by way of the rudderless film The Darjeeling Limited (even when his cinematic vision falls flat, Wes Anderson can pull together some mighty soundtracks / this one includes “Powerman,” “Strangers,” “This Time Tomorrow.”).
ALSO: “(And incidentally, no, I can’t think of any other songs about being attracted to a trans woman, off the top of my head ..)”
there is this, at least / very “Lola”esque in presentation, and likewise problematic/entertaining:
I am honestly curious to know what Andrew thinks of Wes Anderson, since judging by the soundtracks to his films, they have almost exactly the same taste in music. :)
Not exactly the same taste — my tastes are much wider than his as far as I can tell — but his is definitely a subset of mine, and he uses music very well in his films. I absolutely loved his use of The Way I Feel Inside in The Life Aquatic. As for his films, I loved The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic when they came out, but I’ve not seen anything he’s done since, or rewatched them in several years.
If I may, I STRONGLY recommend The Fantastic Mr. Fox. I thought Anderson was losing it a bit after The Darjeeling Limited, which (like you say of A Long Way From Home) was clearly a personal work for him but didn’t really work for me or, judging from the general response, a lot of other people. (Oddly, Darjeeling features several of the songs from this particular album–he makes particularly good use of “Strangers”.)
But “Mr. Fox” is an absolute joy, an animated movie with a unique and distinct sensibility (though it’s much more Anderson’s than Roald Dahl’s) and a legitimately sophisticated set of themes. It’s also, in my opinion, the first Anderson film to be really laugh-out-loud funny–I feel like his sense of humour is often too dry and detached, like he’s telling jokes for his own benefit and relying primarily on Bill Murray or Owen Wilson to connect with his audience–but in this instance the absurdity clicked for me on every level. I thought, after watching it, that Anderson might be better served by moving permanently to animation, which is a great fit with his ultra-controlled, visually exacting sensibility. At the very least I really, really want him to make another animated film soon.
> ‘I mean, four decades later, can you name another love song to a trans woman? I can’t’
But isn’t Lola written from the point of view of someone’s innocence *and* ignorance?
Well, I left home just a week before
and I’d never ever kissed a woman before
But Lola smiled and took me by the hand
Said good boy gonna make you a man
I’ve also read the imagined ‘continuation’ of Lola to be that the narrator goes home with Lola, and thus has his mind broadened about a pansexuality that, in his innocence, he’s never even imagined…?
”But isn’t Lola written from the point of view of someone’s innocence *and* ignorance?”
Admittedly I’m not transgender so feel free to tell me I’m giving reign to my subconscious prejudices, but I rather agree with that comment. It’s the narrator who’s really the butt of the joke. It’s not “aren’t trannies strange and bizarre, and therefore a good subject for mirth”, it’s more “boy was I out of my depth.” I tend to think of it in the context of the Sixties as a clash of cultures, and some poor innocent who’s blithely unaware of how far they’ve actually swung. Something akin to Zappa’s ‘Bobby Brown.’ (Okay, that was written later…)
I may be influenced by the fact the all-girl band the Raincoats covered it, giving all the gender twists another reorienting. That always felt like they were celebrating the song not subverting it.
But if I was to argue the other way… A surprising amount of Sixties bands, the Kinks among them, sought to satirise their own scene. And ‘Lola’s flow of oxymorons (“electric candlelight” and so on) does seem remarkably similar to something like the Who’s ‘Substitute’. (With the “plastic spoon in my mouth…” and so on.)
WordPress has a very annoying, and doctrinaire, habit of forcing you to log on as your Gravatar account. My name’s not actually Lucid Frenzy, that’s my blog. Which ironically it won’t let me link to! Think i’ll just delete my Gravatar account if there’s no way round it.
I got your email and replied, BTW, but you’re one of several people where I think your email provider has a problem with my emails (and vice versa) — I’ve had to fish emails from you out of the spam folder on a couple of occasions, and I’ve sent emails to you before that you’ve not seemed to see — so check your spam folder and stuff…
Nice that no one’s shown up to defend the indefensible elements of this album yet. It amazes me that some people can’t accept that the entertainment and art they enjoy might have some problems, but then I suppose some of the folk commenting on your earlier post simply didn’t see the issues you identified as problems in the first place.
Dunno if the above comment is directed my way, but I have to say that I’m not a fan of the Kinks at all (boring rock music) – that what I’m writing isn’t a ‘defence’ in any way, shape or form, just a series of observations…
No, Adam’s definitely talking about the people who showed up last time when kindakinks.net linked one of my posts. What you’ve been doing (as I understand it) has been trying to clarify and refine points I’ve made, and open up discussion. What some of them appeared to be doing was attempting to close down discussion, by asserting that there was no possible way I was right about Black Messiah being a racist song, or by saying that I wasn’t entitled to an opinion on ‘Rock Music’ (capital r, capital m) because I didn’t know some 70s Rolling Stones track or other. Big difference.
As for the Kinks — at their worst, they definitely are ‘boring rock music’ (and I have little more time for rock than you do — the rest of my listening this week has been Derek Bailey, the Swingle Singers And The Modern Jazz Quartet and the Esso Trinidad Steel Band — in fact I’ve argued before that the world of music would be a better place if all guitars and drums were banned for ten years so people were forced to get creative again), but at their best (Something Else, Village Green Preservation Society, parts of Arthur and odd tracks from 1970 through 74), they were working from a much wider palette, though hampered by a lack of budget from their record label that meant they were largely confined to standard rock-group instrumentation. A song like Autumn Almanac is a far more complex composition than it first sounds, and has far less to do with the rock music they’ve been better-known for.
It was that kneejerk stuff I read in the other thread that prompted my own kneejerk…but yeah, I was only trying to draw attention to the fact that you might be projecting your own personal beliefs onto someone else’s work, and that maybe this was why you were getting those kinds of responses, and I worried that you might feel rather under siege…
I do think, personally, that issues of gender (or race), in songs written in the late 60s/early 70s, and in the UK, might be problematic to consider without some kind of social context. Lola is part of a cultural history that is curiously-English, with its history of crossdressing (gay *and* straight) entertainers, plus the then-recent legalisation of (male) homosexuality. In the light of the latter, Lola’s status in the ‘classic rock’ ‘canon’ says a lot about a positively-progressive ‘message’. But I am personally-suspicious of ‘messages’ in music or art or anything else however – Nabokov says (and I’m paraphrasing wildly cos I can’t find the quote) ‘if I had a message I’d write a letter, not a novel’. But some people will look for messages and ‘statements’ in pop music, cos its perception is almost completely subjective. A ‘canon’ is a marketing strategy, and a self-perpetuating myth. What is great for some people might suck for others. No one, it would seem, is actually *right*. And I speak as a Jandek listener.
My only reading of Ray Davies as a writer is that, as mentioned on the other discussion, he’s an observer, a reporter. Attributing personal beliefs as somehow ‘snuck in’ to an observational-fiction, for me, runs the *risk* of a misreading.
But I don’t even like the Kinks, so I’ll step away from this – but hope you enjoyed the Shock Headed Peter’s tune!
I did indeed feel under siege somewhat.
I don’t think, though, that I was projecting my personal beliefs (though I can see why you might think that). While I agree with you that reading messages into others’ work is often a fool’s errand, in Ray Davies’ case he’s often been clear that he positively wants the listener to do just that, usually when he thinks he’s got “something to say” (those songs being by far his worst, generally).
And while Davies is an observer in many of his songs, he’s definitely not a neutral observer — the persona he takes on, which seems similar to what he lets out of the ‘real’ him in interviews, is suspicious of change, tolerant but mocking of non-cis/heterosexual people, angry at authority in a somewhat diffuse way, believes people should stick with their own kind, small-c conservative but rather keen on the idea of eccentricity… classic ‘One Nation Tory’ stuff, with a little liberalism and libertarianism mixed in, the kind of Telegraph reader who says “they’re all as bad as each other”. I might, of course, be totally misreading him, but if I am I think it’s a misreading he’s positively begging for.
I couldn’t agree more about the idea of ‘canon’. Generally speaking, if you’re using that word and it’s not in a religious context or followed by the words ‘and fugue’, you’re trying to assert that your own narrow tastes are more valid than someone else’s broader ones. (I actually did a whole book that was essentially about how canons are a really bad idea, though it was referring to comics and science fiction more than music).
You’re right about how Lola should be considered in the context of drag acts, Carry On films and so on — quite why I didn’t mention anything about that I’m not sure, given that I’ve spent much of the last week in an ongoing conversation about English cultural references that are lost to USians with a friend of mine who emigrated to the US. It should have been on my mind, but in fact I totally missed nothing that. When I rework these for the book I’ll put something in.
Also, haven’t yet had a chance to listen to the two Youtube videos posted here, as Flash on my desktop machine is playing up — I’ll give them both a listen on the laptop later.
Just a note from a professional music critic: If you can’t handle people disagreeing with what you say, don’t put your opinions out there for all to see.
I’m absolutely fine with people disagreeing with what I say. I’m rather less fine with people “disagreeing” with me based on things I didn’t say.
No, not at you. I had a similar impression of Lola, but I can’t say I’ve ever given the song much in the way of thought.
Great review – thoughtful with some really interesting observations. thanks. My only quibble is that you say that Muswell Hillbillies is their last great album. You are spot on in your comments that the songs must be considered in the context and environment in which they were written. With that in mind, as a kid in the 70s and a teenager of the 80s, I think “Schoolboys in Disgrace” “Low Budget” and “State of Confusion” should all be considered “great” for many reasons.
While I try to look at the music in context, context can only go so far, and I was born in 1978 and so can only judge based on how the albums stand up now. I’ve certainly read that Schoolboys worked very well indeed on the stage, but it sounds pretty dull to me from this vantage point.
That said, I’m also (as I’ve been saying above to Arkhonia) not a huge fan of ‘rock music’, and the closer something gets to the traditional rock band sound the less I’m interested. I like the Kinks the most when they’re incorporating a range of influences from Glenn Miller to George Formby to Bach to Hank Williams. Once they start trying to sound like Aerosmith or someone, I lose interest. It might be good music of its type (I’m sure it is, as the Kinks were always good musicians) but it’s not something that has any great appeal to me. That’s one reason why I’m only going to cover the albums up to Preservation Act II (I find quite a bit to like in Act I, and the first ten years seems like a natural timespan to cover.)
“…The Kinks were always good musicians…”
I’m glad you mentioned this because I almost commented on this earlier. One of the attractions of Arthur (and Preservation probably) to me growing up was hearing the band loosen up a little. I guess part of that is being 15 and almost everybody else is listening to Led Zeppelin or Queen and hearing virtuoso drumming and blazing guitar solos and having to counter with “check out this nifty harpsichord bit or this blort of tuba here”. I guess rather than good musicians I might call them generally tasteful and I think that deserted them as they dallied with arena rock. But, back to Arthur (and LvP), although Australia wasn’t exactly Dark Star, it was a new stepping out beyond previous boundaries. I think Dalton was a big part of that in general and the bass lines became more adventurous and interesting. I think DD’s guitar was unique, especially at the time, to not be slavishly bluesy. I love touches like the arpeggios on Nothing To Say, and the B-WONG sliding chord changes on that and at least one other song. And although there were distinct hard rock influences on LvP, as you point out there were banjos, great acoustic guitar tones and the dobro, which was (I believe) later to make such a stunning appearance on their masterpiece 20th Century Man.
Thanks again for a great discussion of LvP!
The Smile stuff I’m writing is informed by a very specific personal methodology, that of trying to put myself into a ‘contemporary mode’: imagining what 1966 was like, when Smile could have still been released, without 1967 having happened yet. It’s difficult, but not impossible, if it’s informed by contemporary texts like Paul Williams’ Crawdaddy stuff in How Deep Is The Ocean, the Inside Pop doc, LLVS’s press archive, and all the music from the time.
It has nothing to do with my age (I was tiny when Smile didn’t come out), but more how uninformed *I* personally feel without that contemporary stuff as corroboration. I’d be uncomfortable without ‘research’ (my bibliography is substantial), and would also feel that I leave myself open to criticism from people who know more than me – you being one of them! Some real pertinent points have been volunteered by you in comments and emails, which I’ve taken onboard. When it comes to Beach Boys lore, I know of no one more knowledgeable. Your observations about Let The Wind Blow are *crucial* to what I will write about it…
I think you may be over analysing the accents aspects. Ray Davies often adopts different accents – Low Budget – Cockney, Bernadette – his ex wife’s?, occasionally American, frequently English upper class, for eg. Why should these offend any one group more than another? He’s a piss taker who also uses the accents as humour to communicate his particular views on issues in society and his anger about them.
I don’t believe I’m overanalysing at all — both of those points are ones I’ve seen people complaining about (and in the case of Apeman, a *lot* of people have claimed that the song is racist — google Kinks Apeman racist and you’ll see what I mean). I don’t think they overpower the rest of the record, but it would have been wrong not to have dealt with the issues. I think in the case of Apeman the motivation is exactly as you say — although that doesn’t mean it’s not an ill-advised choice. For the accent at the end of Top Of The Pops, I think it’s a specific dig at a specific person…
So a lot of people on the net think Apeman is racist! Well that settles that then… I think it would be more interesting to set the song in it’s social context and explore Ray Davies concerns and intentions in writing it and the mechanisms he uses to try to communicate these rather than some spurious speculation of racism. If a writer is racist you’re not going to need to consider a couple of songs, you’ll have a whole body of work to think about as well as the way he’s lived his life.
Yeah, Andrew you should have looked at a wide range of the Kink’s output, perhaps even a few albums, before…
…oh wait, hang on a minute!
If a lot of listeners, all independently, think a song is racist then it behoves anyone who wants to deal with the song critically to at least look at that criticism. You will note that when I talk about Apeman I am mildly *defensive* of it, precisely *because* of the cultural climate at the time. If anything, given that the same writer wrote Black Messiah, and on the same album does an at least arguably anti-semitic “Jewish agent” voice, before comparing a man whose family died in Auschwitz with Hitler, I could have been much, *much* harder on the song, had I *not* taken the context of the times and the reaction of people at the time into account.
And I didn’t say Ray Davies is racist, have never said that, and frankly wish that people who say I’ve said that would learn to read. People can produce racist work without themselves being racist, by unthinkingly echoing popular cultural stereotypes, and any fair-minded critic has to take the possibility that even the most well-intentioned person can cross that line into account. I didn’t even say that Apeman itself is racist, merely that others have claimed it is and that the criticism, while to my mind it goes too far, has an element of validity to it.
So a lot of people on the net think Apeman is racist! Well that settles that then.
Uh…yes, it rather does, actually. Otherwise, the fact that a lot of people think the song is racist doesn’t settle it, and that then leaves us in a world where all those people’s opinions don’t matter. And since a lot of them will be members of the group being stereotyped (or people sympathetic to the members of that group), ignoring them would also be racist.
I think the trouble here comes about when people equate “X did/said something racist” with “X is a racist.” Those are very different things. A person may hold racist beliefs and say or do things deliberately to hurt people because of those beliefs. I think that’s what we all think of when we think of “a racist”: the KKK/skinhead/neo-Nazi/Bernard Manning sort of Platonic Racist. But it’s just as possible for someone to have good or innocent intentions and still be offensive and hurtful.
And then all there is to do really is say either “wow, it sucks that this is offensive or hurtful to all these people on the net” or else “those people aren’t allowed to be offended because X probably didn’t mean to offend them.”
Yes intentions matter, but only to a point. Anyone reading this will readily be able to think of times when they put their foot in their mouth or otherwise inadvertantly hurt someone. Whatever your intentions, the person’s still hurt.
I think Shakesville say this better than I could: If I tell myself “I’m not a racist” because I don’t resemble or act or speak like the Platonic Racist, I conclude that this means things I do or think or say must not be motivated by racial prejudice. I can provide rationalizations and explanations of why they’re not racist, if I’m pressed. But the real reason they’re not racist is that I did or thought or said them, and I’m Not A Racist. To be A Racist is to be a bad person, obviously, and I’m not a bad person, so I must not be A Racist, so whatever I did can’t have been racist.
‘So a lot of people on the net think Apeman is racist! Well that settles that then. Uh…yes, it rather does, actually. ‘
I’m not sure that it does – you can find supporters of *any* point of view on the internet, and I think that was the point of the criticism: not that it *isn’t* racist, but that his corroboration as offered was via a Google search. Different points.
Although of course I wasn’t trying to provide corroboration for the idea that Apeman is racist (partly because I’m not even sure myself if it is or not), just for the fact that enough people have claimed it as racist that the question is worth discussing. A Google search is certainly enough corroboration for the latter point, but not enough for the former point.
Neat analysis, Andrew. I tend to see 1965-68 as the Kinks’ peak period bleeding over into ’69 with Arthur after which the band’s work begins to lose cohesion and rather more irritating elements become increasingly apparent. The 1970-74 period certainly has some pretty good work and one good-to-very-good album in Muswell Hillbillies (which, of course, some see as their best album) but it also sees Ray Davies’s writing slip, in my opinion, as he begins to miss his targets and the songs fluctuate wildly in quality e.g. the annoying Supersonic Rocket Ship on the one hand and the fine Sweet Lady Genevieve on the other. Lola Versus…is a handy gateway into this period, This Time Tomorrow, Strangers, and Lola itself being examples of Good Kinks Plc while Denmark Street and Apeman are my candidates for Kinks Krap Korp tho’ I’m being unfair there as they aren’t actively *bad*, still I can’t stand Apeman much as I might try to. Ray’s horrific cod vocal and that twee mock calypso sound aren’t for me. I much prefer Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da or Get Back, they not be “about” anything but controversy aside they are better pop songs aside from which I find Apeman Davies’s most dubious treatment of his “getting away from the modern world theme but that’s just me! This era is really interesting as a study of how a band’s previous artistic success can be a burden and how it can distort their sense of who they are and what they are good at (tho’ this applies more to Ray as the “benevolent” dictator.
Agreed with most of this, except I do prefer Apeman (and, indeed, Supersonic Rocket Ship) to Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da — I have a soft spot for real calypso (I *love* stuff like Mighty Sparrow and Lord Melody) and Ray Davies seems to be treating the music with respect, even as he’s also treating it as a novelty style, in a way that McCartney doesn’t on his song.
I’m just glad that the comments here have been so thoughtful, so far, after the way the “Question About The Kinks Book” thread degenerated. I’m still getting people trying to post comments there, even a week later and after specifically saying in the post that I would not let any further comments about Black Messiah through, and so I was really worried that given that this post manages to touch (however tangentially) on subjects like racism, anti-semitism, transphobia, and me not liking guitar rock music very much, that there’d be actual threats of violence by now ;) Funny the things that are controversial and the things that aren’t.
“Ray Davies seems to be treating the music with respect, even as he’s also treating it as a novelty style.”
‘Lola’ and ‘Apeman’ probably make for quite a good comparison, as they (sort of) represent the two sources popular music most commonly plundered – black culture and gay culture. And your quite kind of hits it, there’s a bizarre combination of veneration with ripping off. I suspect white kids listening to black music had an impact on the breadth and popularity of the civil rights movement. And there’s quite a narrow gap between homosexuality getting legalised and Bowie appearing on an album cover in a dress. Yet Jiohn Lee Hooker didn’t get rich, Led Zeppelin got rich. You (or someone) could probably write a whole piece just on that theme…
Your comments on the “problematic” nature of Lola, and those of your friend Rachel, were interesting but from a – very – cursory look at comments elsewhere on the internet seem to miss some important points though of course those were your opinions it’s not as if you were presenting them as the last word (any more than Rachel would, presumably, speak for all trans people) and it’d be silly to claim so. Firstly, it’s important to say that there are people who identify themselves as trans who *really like* Lola and don’t find it problematic *at all* because as you say it’s a good song that doesn’t portray a trans(vestite in this case) in a bad way, there is always the danger of slipping into thinking of people in terms of groups and assuming in that manufactured group feels or thinks the same way, I’m wary of this kind of thinking because I would not like to be put in a “group” myself and resent/loathe people interpreting *my* behaviour. As for the “transmisogyny” and the “hetero-cis sneer” that Rachel sees in the song both of those points are to say the least highly arguable but then that’s why the word is “opinion” and not “fact” I suppose. I can only speak for myself but I always heard – before I suffered hearing-loss not-so-ironically – Lola as a joyous song about a not-too-bright man who discovers that the woman he’s attracted to is a man and though briefly disconcerted finally wholeheartedly accepts it, depending on how I listened to it it could also be about him rejoicing in his discovered homosexuality, the music is too euphoric for the song to be considered hateful in any way. One might pick at the lyrics for some slightly dubious stereotypes but to expect this particular song to carry a weighty burden seems pretty silly when it’s so upbeat, other Kinks songs maybe but not this, Davies wants to play up the ambiguity so he puts in the “broke my spine” and “talked like a man” bits but the ending of the song is celebratory, aside from which Lola is one specific person and people can *be* almost anything so –
I do agree here with everything you say, and I think Lola is far more a positive song than a negative one. However, there definitely are problematic *aspects* — notably the sexualisation and othering of trans people, and the line “I’m glad I’m a man and so is Lola”, which could be argued to misgender Lola (something many trans people get *extraordinarily* upset by — it’s seen as an attack on their identity).
I think that it’s far, *FAR* better to have a song like Lola in existence — a song which is both a good song and which seems a genuine attempt at something mildly progressive — than not to have it, but I thought it better to ask the opinion of trans people as it’s interesting and important when discussing representations of a minority to ask members of that group, and because I remember Roz Kaveney having a very similar glass-half-full attitude to The Rocky Horror Show. I actually asked for feedback from all my trans friends (for some reason a startling proportion of my friends and acquaintances are trans) but only Rachel replied, and I thought her response was interesting and nuanced enough to quote in full.
Hit post too soon on the previous comment — I meant to add “so I certainly didn’t intend that Rachel’s response be taken as an indication that all trans people think the same way about the song, and I wasn’t trying to ask her as a token, but I can see how it could look like that”.
Cont’d – it doesn’t make much sense to complain that as a character s/he doesn’t fit a particular bill, it isn’t as if all trans people are the same and who is to say what is a “negative stereotype” in this case, s/he doesn’t/can’t represent all transvestites or all transgender people. I find this annoying because it falls into the trap of categorizing people, “yeah if you’re heterosexual you’re like this” or “if you’re transgender then you *can’t* be that”, almost as if being hetero “cis” is to be a stereotype but being trans means that you couldn’t possibly correspond to any stereotype which is a bit much, I understand where that drive comes from, I don’t see many people like me on say television I’m not trans or even gay but I don’t correspond to the cookie cutter presentation of humanity, but it’s self-defeating and dismissive of the infinite variety of humanity.
Long ago when I started this lunatic ramble I meant to make but a couple of points here’s the second, reading comments elsewhere I was surprised to find statements like this – “sure, it’s about a crossdresser but it’s a good song” while someone else complained about over-analysis of the song as they *weren’t aware of what the song was about*! They were uncomfortable with the – obvious – subject matter and preferred not to think about it because it “f***ing rocks”. Both of these comments suggest that there isn’t much that is problematic about the song, the fact that it features a trans/homosexual (I know we could argue over definitions but it becomes a distraction) subtext is still a good deed in a naughty world, so to speak when people are still so unenlightened (I’m *far* from perfect of course).
Well, I’ve been doing this for some time while ill, tired, and woozy so I apologize if these comments are nonsensical, intemperate and unhinged but that’s my speciality. ;)
Both of these comments suggest that there isn’t much that is problematic about the song
I think this is interesting because you say above that the opinions of one trans person Andrew happens to know shouldn’t be construed as applying to every trans person (which is absolutely true, though I’d emphasize that an opinion doesn’t need to get a majority before it’s respected)…but then you say the opinons of two people who have no problems with the song mean that there are none?
Not to worry, Andrew, I didn’t think you intended Rachel as a token. Your point about transpeople’s feelings about “misgendering” is taken, though of course it depends on the person. To clarify my rambling nonsense, I do for various reasons react badly to even the hint of a monolithic voice for a “group” even if it isn’t intended that way; I have a (possibly atavistic) dislike of “groups” anyway, partly because it can be *other people* who put you in that “group” in the first place, and partly because I tend to link groups with idea of people losing their individuality or purposely retiring their own judgement as an excuse to be vile (this may be the result of too much reading on particular subjects or just personal observation but being aspergic may affect that), of course I may just be an equal opportunity misanthrope or your garden variety nut, there is that. I hope that I haven’t become as incomprehensible as those who love Simon Cowell or as offensive as those who think J. J. Abrams is a great director (ha).
But sometimes it’s necessary for oppressed people to adopt a group identity in order to take collective action against oppression (for example, the US civil rights movement). Libertarian individualism tends to perpetuate inequality.
Actually I didn’t have time to write that comment properly so probably shouldn’t have written it at all. Wasn’t supposed to look like I was accusing you of being a libertarian!
The idea that my ineloquence might make me appear to be a libertarian or Howard Roarke is scary…but that’s what I get for writing impenetrable, incomprehensible, gibberish!
Obviously, collective endeavour is and has been tremendously important in fighting sundry inequalities and evils but such group activities didn’t lessen the individual diversity of those involved except in the eyes of opponents (though seeing as said opponents tend to be the kind of people who use words such as “commies” and worse, I think we can safely dismiss *them*!). I certainly wouldn’t want it thought that I wasn’t aware of that ;). I just become antsy when there’s even the hint of the notion that every person in a particular “group” is of the same mind because that’s rarely if ever the case, of course often there *isn’t* even a hint and I’m merely being paranoid. It’s my wariness of bullying and the loathing of having *myself* pigeon-holed making themselves plain. And then quite apart from that, there’s the way that group prejudice is manipulated by unscrupulous politicians and the worst sectors of the media (basically it goes “yes, you people are “normal” but *these* people are the guilty ones, they are all part of *this* group and they are all the same” strangely enough the supposed “guilty ones” are often the vulnerable, odd that, almost like it’s an excuse for bullying, wot?) yes, I sound neurotic what of it?! It’s a difficult task being this inarticulate…
Just to say, you don’t have to be so apologetic about your writing style. It’s one I recognise well from myself — the desire to see every possible side of a question, and thinking out your own opinion while writing — and a number of the other commenters here do the same thing, as well. We respect thoughtfulness and debate around here. (I’ve only ever banned people or got angry in comments when they have been thought*less* or trollish).
As for your point… how best to respond…. I think the point is that yes, no-one should be taken to be representative of a group and only representative of a group, and people can be however they like, even down to behaving like a stereotype, *but*…
I’m sure that there exists at least one black man in the world who has a natural sense of rhythm, and who likes eating watermelon and fried chicken and having sex with white women. It is not in principle, then, beyond the bounds of possibility for a white writer to write about such a character and have it be entirely innocent. “Oh yeah, I based that character on my mate Dave. He really does like his fried chicken a *lot*, and he’s a great dancer. Have you met him?”
But if that were the only portrayal of a black person in the whole of that writer’s work (and if portrayals of black people were as vanishingly rare in the media as portrayals of trans people as people rather than punchlines are), then it would be reasonable to have a problem with that portrayal — even though none of the stereotypes it reinforces are in themselves negative. And while I don’t think Lola is anything like that bad, having a song about picking up a trans woman in a clip joint as one of a tiny number of representations of trans people in pop music is more problematic than if it had been just one of a number of songs about trans people, and the rest of them had been about trans political activists, poets, graphic designers, writers for broadsheet newspapers or what have you.
Forming a group identity surely must surely acknowledge an inner diversity or it’s going to get nowhere. Some gay rights groups in the Sixties actively denounced trans people for “giving us a bad name”, which of course seems astonishing from here.
If only it *did* seem astonishing. Gay rights groups still have an at best ambivalent attitude to trans people (and to a slightly lesser extent bi people). See Stonewall, for example, giving an award to the loathsome Julie Bindel.
This debate, though interesting, is getting beyond my area of subject matter expertise!
Nevertheless, I think you’d be hard pressed to find a modern gay man who thought trans people should be barred from meetings or the like. Bindel represents a minority of feminists who seem to imagine trans issues are all about men dragging up in order to infiltrate the Women’s Centre, an idea which seems to have more basis in a Two Ronnies sketch than reality. (Or it may simply be about self-publicity through notoriety. Anyone who writes articles called things like ‘Gender Benders Beware’ is basically a shock-jock.)
LGBT (or Lesbian, Gay, Bi and Trans) seems the clunky but inclusive monicker most used here in Brighton.
Incidentally, Wikipedia claims Bindel was nominated for a Stonewall award but didn’t actually get one. Though of course it’s bad news that she was even nominated.
LGBT, or LGBTQI, or QUILTBAG, or similar, are generally used by people who want to be inclusive, but Stonewall regard themselves very firmly as an LGB organisation without any T (and in fact most bisexual people I know say they only mention the B when it comes to funding, and they should be regarded as an LG!!!b organisation — I know people who call them S’onewall, because they keep ignoring the T. (Incidentally, small world — that wikipedia thing says that Zoe, who just commented in today’s post about communications interception, led the anti-Stonewall protests — I didn’t know her then). Even lots of those organisations who use “LGBT” use the term interchangeably with “gay”.
There’s been a lot of minor transphobic stuff in the gay community recently, though — Roz Kaveney and several other trans women being stopped from using the women’s toilets at Pride in London, and stuff like that — and a general sense from the more ‘moderate’ gay rights organisations that the fight for trans rights hinders mainstream gay acceptance and so trans people should be thrown under a bus.
The sense I get from a lot of my friends (I’m no expert in LGBT+ rights either, but I am very close to a lot of the executive of LGBT+ Lib Dems, so I end up absorbing this stuff by osmosis) is that the group that is most likely to be openly transphobic (or biphobic) is ‘respectable’ gay men. I can’t provide more examples because it’s all stuff I’ve picked up from conversations, but it’s still *very* possible to be a gay rights campaigner and be quite openly transphobic.
In all honesty I would love you to be wrong here, but you certainly sound more socially knowledgeable than me so alas I suppose you must be right. Though I live in one of the UK’s main gay towns, I mostly hang around with comics nerds or political anoraks or (most commonly of all) myself. LGBT is the term I’m familiar with, but of course it’s true most prejudice is more surreptitious than that. Perhaps some do spell the word out that way but think of the T as silent.
As one of the protestors says in the Wikipedia piece I linked to, Stonewall’s involvement is the problematic part. Protesting about Bindel would be like protesting about Jeremy Clarkson, busywork at best. Hopefully they had a banner saying “some people are trans, get used to it!”
Incidentally I’d never heard QUILTBAG before and had to look it up. Seems another variant is FABGLITTER! Probably too inventive to catch on, unfortunately.
Anyway, the Kinks, you say…
FABGLITTER is alive and well; it’s the favorite of a friend of mine (and another friend detests “QUILTBAG” with an inexplicable vengeance, though I think it’s kind of cute and clever (I like the idea of a bag we can throw in/take out all these labels and identities at will) so you’d be surprised what catches on :) In its own little circles of course, just like political slang or comics jargon.
Hopefully they had a banner saying “some people are trans, get used to it!”
They certainly had badges made; I’ve got one of them :)
LGBT is the popularly used term in government policies, charities, and so on, not just in Brighton but in all of the UK and Europe and North America at least. It is considered suboptimal by a lot of L, G, B and/or T, though — not least because it does get used as just another word for “gay”; the T is for tokenism and the B is invisible — and generally lumping together T, which is about gender, with the rest, which are about sexual identity, is fraught with problems.
I thought of rephrasing it alphabetically but that came out as BGLT which sounds like a sandwich!
It’s an interesting question whether having one term reinforces the idea of there being two kinds of sexuality, ‘normal’ and ‘deviant’. I tend to think the opposite, as you can always say to people “you accept gay people but not trans then, how come?” But, as I feel I should keep emphasising, a middle-aged comic fan isn’t necessarily the best authority on this subject.
And of course even if we had trans people feeling it better to organise autonomously, more explicitly gay groups should still be working in solidarity with them. An analogy might be a group like the Black Panthers, who wanted to organise autonomously, but in solidarity with other racial minority groups or white anti-racist groups.
Good point well put, Andrew. I loved your hilarious example of the black man with an enthusiasm for water melon and I know what you mean. I find it difficult to even read what I write because it always seems so far away from what I want it to be and it’s even *more* difficult not to believe that it reads as stupid rather than thoughtful. You are correct that I’m thinking and reconsidering as I write and doing so quickly (which is also my excuse for typos) whilst wanting to “see” things properly or at least explain my perspective(s), which leads to me being incredibly long-winded. Of course, I also believe in what I’m writing and there’s *so* much *to* say. I may not think that I really accomplish saying what I want to in the way I want to (I don’t have much faith in my ability) but to have a pleasant forum in which to say it is a pleasure certainly as one is able to disagree (yes, I like Lovely Rita and With a Little Help from my Friends!) or employ sarcasm and irony without being cast into the outer darkness or attacked by troglodytes.
Off topic for when you have time – I wonder, what is your favourite era of Doctor Who and who your favourite Doctor, and why? Unless that is the subject of a previous post?
My favourite era of Doctor Who is actually the late 90s and very early 2000s. Strange answer, I know, but between the Faction Paradox books and the interesting stuff Big Finish were doing around then, I think it was the most creative period in the show’s history, even though it was at its lowest point commercially.
As for favourite Doctor, I’m afraid it’s a four-way tie. I find Hartnell’s performance absolutely spellbinding, Troughton is obviously the best actor of the lot, Tom Baker had the most high points, while Colin Baker is “my Doctor”, the one I grew up with, and while not all his TV output is great he’s superb in the audios.
Of the others, Pertwee was good but the show seemed fundamentally different from what Doctor Who should be, Davison had a long run of tedious scripts (though he’s had a few very good audios too), McCoy is good but I don’t think they quite got the balance right between adolescent darkness for the sake of darkness in his scripts, and McGann is superb in the part but has had the weakest of the scripts for his audios by a long way.
I thought Eccleston had promise, and I thought “If they get rid of the bad stuff in the scripts and keep the good, he could be great”, but instead they got rid of both Eccleston and the good stuff in the scripts. Tennant, to my mind, simply wasn’t playing the Doctor — I can’t find any connection at all between the character he played and the one that any of the previous characters played, either in speech pattern, sense of humour, intelligence level, dress sense or morality, which is a shame because he seems like a nice bloke. And Matt Smith seems to be trying desperately hard to play the actual Doctor while saddled with Tennantesque scripts but with a bit more “I’m mad, me” thrown in.
I could hardly agree more with your comments on Tennant (must… refrain…from…ranting) and your hilarious “I’m Mad Me” characterization of the Matt Smith (almost called him Matt Baker, a geordie with a dog might have been a more interesting choice) Doctor performance amused me when you first used it and it still does because it’s dead-on, by association this brings me to Moffat’s use of “Madman with a Box” to describe the Doctor, I absolutely *detest* that idea and hate to see it used by others elsewhere. The Doctor *isn’t* “mad” I don’t understand why any one would think that was an apt descriptor (oops, ranting) or why anyone who is interesting, eccentric, or “different” is tagged *as
(oops, posted prematurely) * “mad” it’s so dully conformist, there are disconcerting attitudes abroad.
If you haven’t read Lawrence Miles and Tat Wood’s About Time series – which is unlikely – I think you’d enjoy it there’s plenty to argue with their and many nits to pick.
My favourite Doctor is, predictably, Tom Baker particularly in the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era (I feel a kinship with the Fourth Doctor there, scarily) but also afterwards; after Tom it’s Hartnell and Troughton then Davison for specific stories and finally a mixture of Pertwee and McCoy (despite their fluctuating performances) as both those characterizations brougt different colours to the Doctor without making him *not* the Doctor, I found the Virgin NAs annoying when they used Remembrance and Curse of Fenric as an excuse to overdose on the concept of the Dark Doctor(which was as annoying as Moffat’s insistence that the Doctor is a “liar” and a “madman”) because it *did* in my view push him too far in a Not-Doctor direction, thankfully they eventually pulled back on that.
Holly, I don’t know if you’ll see this reply to your comment on my comment(s) down here but I can’t get it to go under yours unfortunately (an inelegantly constructed sentence I know). I must apologise as my “writing” seems to have given you the wrong impression. “Then you say the opinions of two people who have no problems with the song mean there are none”, no, I don’t think that simply because there are people who have a positive opinion of a song that therefore there aren’t other people who take a different view. As I say elsewhere I don’t find Apeman unproblematic and I *can* see how others have problems with Lola. In fact though you might not think so I’m not unaware of the dubiety of bits of the lyric. You say parenthetically that “an opinion doesn’t need to get a majority view before it’s respected”, well of course not and I’m sorry if you believe that I don’t respect Rachel’s view, if that is indeed what you are implying. If you scroll down beneath those comments you replied to, you will see a further comment or two that should clarify that I think my attempts at commenting/replying may be gibberish. I *didn’t* mean to imply that no one could find much that’s problematic in Lola – obviously some do. As you saw there are idiot people who find it “problematic” *because it’s about a trans person* (I admit I don’t respect *their* opinion at all) so certainly there are also *sensible* people with reason to find problems with it relating to stereotypes, etc. I’m not being sarcastic when I say I’m sorry you thought me dismissive.
I’m enjoying your appraisal of the Kinks reissues thus far, as I have previously been impressed by your blogs on the Monkees and, long before that, by some of your journal postings on last.fm about Nez. Skimming over the comments above regarding ‘Apeman’, no-one yet seems to have made the connection between its vocal styling and that of Harry Belafonte’s on his ‘Banana Boat Song’, which of course the Kinks excerpted on ‘Everybody’s In Showbiz’. As it happens, I’ve always found Ray’s dodgy impression of Belafonte the least likeable thing about the track and would much rather that credit was given to Dave Davies for his excellent harmonies, which elevate many of the Kinks’ songs in this particularly purple patch of their career.
Thanks — and I’m not sure if Davies is doing Belafonte specifically, or just more generally doing a ‘calypso’ voice, though he’s definitely doing Belafonte on Everybody’s In Showbiz of course…
I agree that as impressionists go, Ray Davies isn’t very good, but if he was to have acquired an inclination to do calypso anywhere, it must most probably have come from Belafonte. Apparently, his ‘Calypso’ album was the first LP to shift more than a million copies and it made him a massive international star when Davies was hitting his teens. Whether it was advisable for Davies to do his own calypso voice for laughs a decade or so later is debatable, of course. Curiously, Davies’s cod calypso voicing seems much less pronounced on the performance of ‘Banana Boat Song’ than it is on ‘Apeman’. In fact, it’s barely there at all.
For a less analytic take, thanks for reminding me about what a great song “Rats” truly is … Haven’t listened to it since … geez, maybe the first time I bought the record in ’79.
This album grows on me; I’m not convinced that Muswell Hillbillies is better, although it’s more aesthetically consistent and more accessible on the first several listens. “Denmark Street” and “Moneygoround” sound like throwaways the first several times through, but they’ve really grown on me, and even “Top of the Pops” gets pretty enjoyable after you get used to how little swing there is to it’s rhythm. Incidentally, I never would have noticed a Jewish accent on the first line if you hadn’t pointed it out, and I still can’t recognize it as particularly Jewish (but I think I’ve seen that claimed elsewhere, so I am not denying that it is). Ray Davies does so many weird and random accents, and half the time they just sound like accents he made up, that this would never have occurred to me. (For some reason, I usually kind of like it when he sings in a weird accent, although I doubt anybody else could get away with it).
“Powerman” is a bunch of generic riffs and cliched lyrics, but for some reason I think the final result is something beautiful. It has a haunting sound to it, and the choruses are really heavy in an early-70s way, but in a way that really works. If it had good lyrics it’d be a masterpiece, but as it is it’s still a great song.
It’s true that a lot of the lyrics are not very subtle in this era; I think that started on Arthur (and it could be argued that this was the case with some of their earlier stuff too, as great as “A Well Respected Man” is lyrically, some of it seems a bit too easy). But I don’t think this ruins the over all effect of the album.
Also, “Get Back In Line” puts me in mind of On The Waterfront, which may not be a direct reference but nonetheless seems worth mentioning.
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Hmm, I just commented but I think it was lost, I apologize if it’s just in moderation (and you can delete that one if it is).
After a couple of years to reflect, I think I like this better than Arthur or Muswell Hillbillies. The latter is probably the most consistent of the three, and the former has high points that maybe surpass the best stuff on Lola, but overall I think its the best of the three.
It was the first studio Kinks album I ever owned so I have a lot of memories of replaying songs in ten second intervals to learn the chords and such. I still think Arthur is the best of the three, maybe because it has their Gimme Shelter, Shangri-La. Apeman used to be a favorite but I have to admit the “voodoo man” lyric just bothers me too much. I do nominate This Time Tomorrow as the one Kinks song I wish had been a hit and was justly remembered and fondly covered. Great song!