Welcome to the fourth installment of “Real Men of Genius,” the semi-semi-regular feature that celebrates creative artists who, while successful, have been largely under-appreciated by the general public (with apologies to Bud Light for letting me rip off their commercial theme).
A few weeks ago I posted a blog called “Innovators and Imitators,” which addressed how wannabe performers inevitably follow in the wake of greatness (think of those who cashed in on Elvis, the Beatles and Nirvana, among others). Usually the sound-alikes flame out quickly, serving only as oddly-fascinating answers to game show trivia questions. But every now and then, they transcend their imitator beginnings to establish credible careers of their own.
I remember the first time I heard John Cougar on his 1980 album “Nothin’ Matters and What if it Did.” (That’s still my favorite title, by the way.) Although I enjoyed some of the tracks, particularly “Ain’t Even Done with the Night,” I figured he’d never be more than a second-rate Springsteen. Shows what I know. By the time he felt comfortable using his real name, the Bruce comparisons had become legit. Today (and I hope this stirs up some comments), I think he’s every bit the artist the Boss is, doing for the Midwest what Springsteen has done for New Jersey. His output from 1987 – 1994, which includes “Scarecrow,” “Lonesome Jubilee” and “Human Wheels,” shows a writer in full command of his craft.
But, believe it or not, this blog isn’t about Mellencamp. It’s about Ray Davies, cofounder and front man of the Kinks. In my previous blog, I wrote that the Kinks began life as Beatles clones (albeit good ones) before quickly rising above the first wave British invasion crowd. While the band as a whole, and Davies on his own, have been successful, I feel they haven’t been given their proper due.
It all starts with the song writing, and Davies is one of the best. By turns sardonic, subversive, playful and wistful, his attitude infused the band with a number of trademark themes.
In “Apeman” and “20th Century Man,” the emptiness and stupidity of modern life . . . I think I’m so educated and I’m so civilized
‘Cos I’m a strict vegetarian.
And with the over population
And inflation and starvation and the crazy politi-shians.
I don’t feel safe in this world no more. I don’t wanna die in a nuclear war.
I want to sail away to a distant shore And make like an APEMAN.
I was born in a welfare state Ruled by bureaucracy. Controlled by civil servants And people dressed in grey.
Got no privacy, got no liberty ‘Cos the twentieth century people Took it all away from me.
Don’t wanna get myself shot down By some trigger happy policeman. Gotta keep a hold on my sanity
I’m a twentieth century man but I don’t wanna die here.
In “Sunny Afternoon,” the joys of losing everything . . . The tax man’s taken all my dough,
And left me in my stately home, Lazing on a sunny afternoon.
And I can’t sail my yacht, He’s taken everything I’ve got,
All I’ve got’s this sunny afternoon.
In “Celluloid Heroes,” the downside of fame and the lure of make-believe . . . You can see all the stars as you walk along Hollywood Boulevard.
Some that you recognize, some that you’ve hardly even heard of. People who worked and suffered and struggled for fame,
Some who succeeded and some who suffered in vain.
I wish my life was a non-stop Hollywood movie show, A fantasy world of celluloid villains and heroes. Because celluloid heroes never feel any pain,
And celluloid heroes never really die.
And, of course, “Lola,” with sexual ambiguity married to an iconic riff . . . That’s the way that I want it to stay
I always want it to be that way for my Lola, L-L-Lola.
Girls will be boys and boys will be girls
It’s a mixed up muddled up, shook up world Except for Lola, L-L-Lola.
And ending with one of the cleverest lyrics in rock history . . . Well, I’m not the world’s most masculine man
But I know what I am and I’m glad I’m a man
And so is Lola.
For that line alone, Ray Davies is the recipient of this blog’s “Real Men of Genius Award.”
Plus, he dated Chrissie Hynde in her prime.