Tuesday, September 02, 2008

"Sweet Lady Genevieve" /
The Kinks

Sorry I haven't been attending to matters here as I should -- I got hit by the one-two punch of a malfunctioning computer and a looming deadline. Between now and Columbus Day, I will be so under the gun, workwise, I won't be able to do my usual posts. But I'm way too hooked on this blogging business to give it up entirely, so here's my Labor Day resolution: Daily posts, but quickies only. Let's see if I can keep it up.

And this is a song I've been longing to write about for weeks. It's from Preservation Act I, part of the Kinks' baffling early 70s descent into rock theater (baffling even to some of the Kinks themselves, but who's gonna argue with Ray Davies when he gets a notion?) Lots of Kinks fans hate the Preservation period, but not me. Act I doesn't have much of a story line, just little vignettes of various English social types -- the vicar, the businessman, the rocker -- laced together by the musings of a character called the Tramp, another Ray Davies alter-ego. But the songs are superb.

The Tramp sings this song, charming his way back into the good graces of a girl he took advantage of years ago. "Once under a scarlet sky [love that "scarlet" when we're expecting "starlit"] / I told you never-ending lies," he confesses. But now he's willing to admit the error of his ways: "But those were words of a drunken vagabond / Who knew very well he would break your heart before long / Oh, forgive me, Genevieve." Now, he insists, he's willing to give her all that boring security she wanted. He's changed, honest -- "I'm not the impetuous fool you used to know." In the chorus he starts to rock out, punching out his pleas with sexual aggression: "Let me rock you, hold you, / Take you in my arms" -- but just in time, he turns winsome and tender: "Smile away all your sadness, put your trust in me." Well, if I were Genevieve, I'd still be skeptical of this operator.

As the verses go on, he elaborates on that summer night when he took advantage of her -- "I drank too much whiskey on that soft summer night / I acted so sly because you were acting so shy." Aha, here come the excuses, the rationalizations. With the lilting Caribbean syncopation, the offbeat stresses he gives certain words, it sounds to me like double-talk, all smoke and mirrors. And in the last verse, he sort of leans toward her and notes, "You're not the child who smiled so innocently / And I'm not the rogue that I used to be." Well, if she's not so innocent anymore, who's to blame, eh?

Ray Davies can't write a simple love song to save his life; they're always full of complicated evasions and accusations, and usually more about the singer and his own hang-ups than they are about the girl. It's rare than he even lets himself yearn as openly as he does here. It's an odd little song, all right, and it has nothing to do with the Preservation story -- except that it does deal with lost innocence, and a new age of moral complexity. I just think Ray wrote a lovely song and stuffed it into this half-baked idea he had for a rock opera. But it's a really lovely song, so I'm glad he did.


Mark said...

I agree, this is a lovely little song. It's one of my favorite songs from "Celluloid Heroes," the best-of from the Kinks' RCA years. (I don't have all the RCA albums yet, it's the only gap in my Kinks Kollection.)

Any song that uses big words like "impetuous" and "vagabond" gets points from me. I also like the "scarlet" when we are totally expecting "starlit." Clever.

Holly A Hughes said...

I'll be REALLY interested to hear what you think of Preservation when you finally hear it, Mark. It's sort of a dividing point for Kinksters. Personally I don't trust any Kinks fan who doesn't like Preservation, but that's just me!

44 said...

"... this half-baked idea he had for a Rock Opera?"

Really, hollyh. Was Herman's better?

Holly A Hughes said...

How do we know what unpublished masterpieces are still hidden in the shoebox under Peter Noone's bed?

But of course the term "half-baked" was meant ironically, my dear 44. You of all people know what a Preservation fan I am! (Nice to see you here, by the way).