Tuesday, October 16, 2007

"Strangers" / The Kinks

It's not as if I haven't written about the Kinks before -- but here, for a change, is a Dave Davies original, which has been echoing in my brain ever since I saw the Wes Anderson film The Darjeeling Limited last weekend. The Darjeeling Limited is about three brothers and their complicated love-hate relationship, so how perfect is it to use songs by the warring Davies brothers. ("This Time Tomorrow" and "Powerman" are the other two Kinks tunes on the soundtrack.)

"Strangers" is one of those songs I tend to forget about, and not just because it's a Dave song -- with that heavy guitar strum, the distant echoing vocals, the lurching rhythm, it has a folky vibe I don't often associate with the Kinks. It could almost be a track from the Band; Dave's lonesome vocal here is distinctly Levon Helm-like. And the riddling question-and-answer lyrics definitely feel like a folk ballad: "Where are you going? / I don't mind / I've killed my world and I've killed my time / So where do I go, what do I see? / I see many people coming after me." I get a fugitive image there, for sure -- those people coming after him could easily be a posse riding him out of town. A classic folk ballad image, the exiled wanderer.

It's folky, yes, but apocalyptic too, and Dave is in truth-seeking mode here. Later on he says, "So you've been where I've just come / From the land that brings losers on / So we will share this road we walk / And mind our mouths and beware our talk / 'Till peace we find..." Whatever guru or messiah beckons at the end of this road, he's on some kind of a spiritual journey. (Though, as Owen Wilson says matter-of-factly late in the film, "We came here on a spiritual journey...but that didn't pan out.")

As the song lurches on, Dave begins to rebel against the whole spiritual shtick: "In a promised lie you made us believe / For many men there is so much grief / And my mind is proud but it aches with rage / And if I live too long I'm afraid I'll die." That's more like the Dave I know. I think back to 1970, when this song was released on the album Lola Versus Powerman and the Money-go-round Part One (by the way, Dave and Ray, we're still waiting for Part Two), and I recall George Harrison and all the hazy Eastern philosophy going around London's music world at the time. And there stands bad boy Dave Davies, wanting to believe in all this peace-and-love stuff, yet at the same time hating the idea of jumping on anybody else's flower-festooned bandwagon. Powerman is an album full of songs that reject accepted orthodoxies --labor unions, record company executives, music promoters, lawyers, bankers -- so why not kick back against religion while you're at it?
Still, the plaintive way Dave sings the chorus make his yearning for connection seem totally geniune. The quest still beckons, and it isn't a quest anyone should undertake alone. "So I will follow you wherever you go / If your offered hand is still open to me," Dave declares, leading into the refrain, "Strangers on this road we are on / We are not two we are one." It's a gorgeous hook, with its fluid, rippling triplets morphing from one key to another; I love how the voices split into harmony on the line "We are not two we are one," finally resolving on a major chord. Of course it's about the brotherhood of man, but for some reason I've never been able to hear this line without also thinking of Ray and Dave and their intense love-hate bond. Like it or not, it's been the one constant in their turbulent lives.
So what in the end does this song mean? I haven't got a clue. But then, neither does the singer of his song; he's just sitting at the side of the road, rubbing his aching feet and musing wistfully. The drums slap wearily along, an organ sighs like an exhaled breath. And somehow, all of this manages to come out haunting and evocative and tender. The moment when it bursts into the film, about two-thirds of the way through --well, I won't give away the plot, but it's a beautiful moment of acceptance and enlightenment, and this is the perfect song for that moment. Kudos to Wes Anderson for an absolutely inspired choice.

Strangers sample


ilesofsmiles said...

how coincidental, this is my current
MYSPACE song! I need to find a spiritual
peace in this very turbulent time.

We are NOT two we ARE one.

XO Smiley

Anonymous said...

It´s a beautiful song.


Chris Sears said...

i bought the kinks album tonight for this song. you are right. that moment in the darjeeling limited is very inspired.

lollo said...

i don't know how many times i've listened to this tune, and every time i want to cry

Anonymous said...

Atutally the credit for this inspired song choice should go, not to wes anderson, but to some youtuber who made a montage tribute many years ago to the unrequited love of margo and her brother(from the royal tenenbaums) It was a truly beautiful, creative, poignant and well edited montage with this song playing the the background and it was made more than two or three or maybe even four years ago. I used to listen to it very often and had it in my favorites but when I looked in my favorites page, the clip has disappeared. I wracked my brain trying to think of the song title and it finally came to me "stranger's by the kinks" whew! I looked it up and now I see Wes must have seen the youtuber's tribute and recognized the perfection of the song for his films and decided to use it in his next film, darjeeling. I really hope he gave credit where it was due and I hope the original youtube clip wasnt pulled for a fishy reason (like perhaps that people would realize that wes didnt dream up the song choice himself, which I can guarantee he didnt) The song is absolutely perfect for wes anderson's films but the inspiration belonged to a youtuber who was an early user of the site.

Anonymous said...

I always get Ionesco-Sartre vibes when I hear "Strangers."
A curtain opens and a man lies on the stage supine upon some driftwood.
I don't know why, but I accept it. Dave's strangled vocals (not wild, yet untamed) convey the anguish, the angst, and yes, the caring we might share with others in this no exit life.

Moving. And more moving than any other Kinks song.

We are all immediately drawn to anybody else on this swirling oblate spheroid who feels the same way about "Strangers" as we do.


Holly A Hughes said...

"Not wild, yet untamed . . ." -- that would still be a good description of Dave Davies today. And he's still on that road, still wondering...

Anonymous said...

The song started with a humorous Hank Williams line and "if I live too long I'm afraid I'll die"; sadly, the rest of the song is about a friend of Dave Davies who died of a drug overdose.

Peter Feldman said...

Maybe it has something to do with the sad election and its sad consequences, but I have woken up lately needing to hear this song, and it gets to me every time- heartbreaking, beautiful, desperate and resolved.
I really like what you wrote about it, and I made the same connection with The Band, particularly the line If I live too long I'm afraid i'll die.
When a great voice breaks, so do I.