“Where Are They Now?” / The Kinks
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, RAY DAVIES!
The first Kinks song that really got me was “Dedicated Follower of Fashion” – that tongue-in-cheek ironical satire, delivered in a camped-up effete British accent -- how could I fail to love it? Like the roguish Scarlet Pimpernel, “They seek him here / They seek him there / In Regent Street / And Leicester Square.” Besotted as I was with Swinging London, I felt very much in on the joke; I could laugh along with Ray Davies at this Mod fashion victim, “eagerly pursuing all the latest fads and trends.” And then in the chorus, when Ray's brother Dave snidely chimes in on back-up vocals – “Oh yes he is / [Oh yes he is] / Oh yes he is / [Oh yes he is]”. . . . I wonder if the vain poseur who inspired this song ever realized Ray meant him. Probably not.
That’s how things looked to Ray Davies in 1966; what a change by 1973, when “Where Are They Now?” came out on Preservation Act I, the first installment in Ray Davies’ two-part rock opera. (Plenty of Kinks fans are baffled by the Preservation albums, but those LPs are what made a Kinks fan of me forever.) This song is such an important part of the soundtrack of my life, I still forget that isn’t considered a major track in the Kinks canon. It's sung by a character called simply the Tramp, an outsider who gently muses from afar about the play’s action (I’m sorry Ray didn’t use him in Act 2). And whereas in The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, Ray declared himself the champion of “the old ways” – china cups and virginity and all those quaint concepts – here he’s written an elegy to a much more recent Lost England: that one brief shining moment after the British Invasion when London was the Fab Capital of the World.
“I'll sing a song about some people you might know / They made front pages in the news not long ago / But now they're just part of a crowd / And I wonder where they all are now,” he begins softly, tentatively, just Ray and a piano. From then on, as the guitars and drums and organ kick in grandly, it’s a catalog of glossy celebrity names -- Ossie Clark, Mary Quant, Christine Keeler, John Stephen, Alvaro. He throws in for good measure the hip writers who defined that era, Stan Barstow, John Osborne, Keith Waterhouse, and Alan Sillitoe (plus their fictional heroes Arthur Seaton, Charlie Bubbles, Jimmy Porter, Joe Lampton – matching writers to characters was like a mini-course in Eng. Lit. for me). He mourns the Teddy Boys (D.A. hairdos, drainpipe pants) and the beatniks (coffee bars, pullover sweaters), finally leading up to the verse that says it all to me: “I wonder what became of all the Rockers and the Mods / I hope they are making it and they've all got steady jobs, / Oh but rock and roll still lives on, / Yeah, rock and roll still lives on.”
As a girl who had long lived for the Rockers and the Mods, this pulled hard on my heartstrings. The melody is unbearably yearning and sad, matched only by the equally wistful “Sitting In My Hotel,” my favorite track from Everybody’s In Show Biz. I hadn’t yet been to London in 1973; “Where Are They Now?” was like a checklist of all the icons I longed to see – and now I never could. I’d missed the boat forever. And yet . . . I hadn’t, because Ray Davies was summing it all up for me, in this one exquisite song.
I bless the light that shines on you, Ray. Happy birthday.