“I’m On An Island,” “Apeman,” “Drift Away” / The Kinks
MORE KINKS WEEK!
It’s a theme Ray Davies keeps coming back to – finding a safe haven from life’s overwhelming stresses. (What else can such a sensitive soul do?) I’ve already written about Complicated Life and State of Confusion, Ray’s complaints on the verge of a nervous breakdown; now here are three wistful songs about escape.
“I’m On An Island” has always been a sentimental favorite of mine. With its acoustic arrangement and calypso beat, it makes me picture a tropical hideway, although I’ve heard that Ray wrote it about Iceland. On the surface it echoes John Donne’s “No Man Is An Island,” but the ghost of a failed love affair haunts every line. “But there is nowhere else on Earth I'd rather be / Than if my long, lost little girl was here with me,” he sighs in the bridge. “I'm on an island / And I've got nowhere to run / Because I'm the only one / Who's on the island.” Yes, loneliness is hard, and heartbreak isolates him from the rest of humanity – but something in that sashaying beat, in his floaty singing, tells me that this island is an irresistible escape.
“Apeman” is more broadly satirical, like the album it comes from, 1970’s Lola V. Powerman and the Money-Go-Round. Ray’s escape here is a cartoon King Kong fantasy, a matter of sitting in coconut trees and eating bananas. (Mick Avory’s drumming sounds deliciously primitive.) Don’t you just love that bridge where Ray goes into vintage rock ‘n‘ roll mode to sing, “Come and love me,/ Be my apeman girl / And we will be so happy / In my apeman world”? Otherwise, it sticks with the calypso beat, adding a steel-drum sound on the keyboards, as he ticks off a list of society’s shams: “I think I'm so educated and I'm so civilized / 'Cos I'm a strict vegetarian / But with the over-population and inflation and starvation / And the crazy politicians….” In the middle eight, he sounds like a pompous documentary voice-over: “In man's evolution he has created the cities and the motor traffic rumble, but give me half a chance and I'd be taking off my clothes and living in the jungle.” That bit’s satire, but I feel his panic in the wailed refrain, “I don't feel safe in this world no more / I don't want to die in a nuclear war / I want to sail away to a distant shore / And make like an apeman.” There he is, looking for that island again.
Now let’s jump forward in time, to the Kinks’ most recent studio album (I refuse to call it their last), 1993’s Phobia. Right now this track’s my favorite from this uneven LP. Musically it splits in two – Ray’s opening cry “Sometimes I wish I could just drift away” is sung in a yearning folkie voice, but his vision of what the world’s come to is hammered out in savage punk-rock style: “They say there's gonna be a river of blood / It's apocalypse now / So we're waiting for the flood / The ice is gonna melt, the water gonna rise / And we'll all go to hell / So they're keeping us advised.” It builds and builds, until Ray just has to break in with that wistful longing again: “I think I'll just drift away / To that island of my dreams / Live in total fantasy / Close my eyes and drift away.” Eventually his satiric focus narrows to a specific target: “Newsmen winding up the nation / A little bad news helps circulation / Pass on the panic to the population” – Ray Davies never did like the press. But as he seeks his tropical fantasy, I imagine him sticking his fingers in his ears and singing la-la-la; that repeated "Drift away" gets increasingly desperate, and raw, and FURIOUS.
Ah, this island of Ray Davies’ – I can just imagine it. We all need to go there sometimes, don't we?
I'm On an Island -- sample not available
Drift Away sample