Sunday, August 01, 2010

"Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues" / The Kinks

Just got home from a lovely evening at the B. B. King Blues Club here in New York City, where an ensemble calling themselves Muswell Hillbillies performed a nearly note-perfect rendition of (duh) the Kinks' 1971 album Muswell Hillbillies. Now, I'm a sucker for any Kinks-related activity, and Muswell Hillbillies is my favorite Kinks album, so you know I had to go, despite my natural skepticism about "tribute" bands. And all of my Kinks friends were there, so even if it had turned out to be a mediocre mess, I'd have had a good time.

The opening act, a genial act called The Blue Meanies, lived up to my expectations -- they rambled through a number of Kinks songs, strumming enthusiastically on their acoustic guitars and dutifully singing the lyrics, but with the original songs so alive in my head, these approximate versions were hardly satisfying.

But damned if Muswell Hillbillies didn't surprise me. Performing these songs is clearly a labor of love for these guys -- they'd taken the time to break down every track on the albums and painstakingly reproduce the arrangements. The lead singer (didn't catch his name -- was it Dave Simons?) was positively channeling Ray Davies in his vocals, while the lead guitarist ripped off those classic Dave licks as fresh as yesterday. Best of all, the group included a spiffy horn section of high school kids, many of whom doubled on backing vocals and percussion as well, so every track blossomed in its full dimensions. I swear, having those kids up on stage along with the adult band leaders gave the whole thing an extra freshness and energy. (I think it also helped that the whole gang were from Hadley, Massachusetts, and clearly excited to be performing on 42nd Street in the heart of Manhattan.)

As far as I'm concerned, tribute bands shouldn't "interpret" -- they should be as faithful as is humanly possible. (That's why I've always loved the Fab Faux's Beatles tributes.) You should be able to shut your eyes and imagine that you're just playing a pristine copy of the original vinyl on a superb record player. And Muswell Hillbillies pulled off that trick tonight.

Here's a video of these guys in action (amateur video, but still it gives you an idea), performing the album's second track, the blowsy, comical "Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues."

Now I know this really isn't fair, but for comparison's sake, here's a clip of the Kinks themselves, doing the same song:

As a man who has flirted with nervous breakdowns his entire life, Ray Davies does seem to have some special insight into the mental collapse the singer claims to be going through. He's deeply suspicious of everyone around him -- a thoroughly mundane crew of neighbors and shopkeepers in an ordinary suburban community -- and he's paralyzed: "I'm too terrified to walk out of my own front door," he laments. I love the quavers that Ray throws into his voice as he sings these lines.

Because of course we can't take it seriously. The Dixieland jazz arrangement tells us that; Ray's campy voice, the exaggerated situations, underscore it. The psychiatrist -- "my local head shrinker" -- shakes his head and pronounces this as "one of those cases of acute schizophrenia he's seen." The disease is, in fact, everywhere -- "I've got it, you've got it, we can't lose / Acute schizophrenia blues." So if everyone's mad, who is sane?

It's all part of Muswell Hillbillies' Side 1 satire on the pressures of modern life, from the lament of the "20th Century Man" -- a walking anachronism stuck in the wrong era -- to the anorexic of "Skin and Bone" and the drunkard of "Alcohol." Right after this song is the super-campy "Holiday," in which Ray's character minces his way through a seaside "rest cure." Oh, yes, it's all very funny -- and yet there's a poignance beneath it all, with so many characters incapable of coping with this brave new world they're living in.

Yet sitting in that club tonight, belting out "Schiz-o-phree-nia! schizo-phrenia!" was a wonderfully cathartic, therapeutic experience. I have no hope that I'll ever see the Kinks again, let alone see the Kinks performing Muswell Hillbillies in its entirety. But these Muswell Hillbillies delivered the next best thing, and I couldn't have enjoyed it more. Let's hope they are working on a new production for next year -- The Village Green Preservation Society, perhaps?


Anonymous said...

Wow, Holly, what a great nite you had! You sound so happy and released. Or as written somewhere on the original vinyl sleeve (purchased by yours truly in Buzzo's Bandits record store in Geneseo NY in 1974) your experience last evening epitomized "Cat's On Holiday").

It makes me less cynical and bitter that the young studs would take the time to learn the horn charts (did the Mike Cotton sound HAVE arrangements?), and that the band would do the whole album. The Muswell album is, and I think you'll agree, and has always been, a "sleeper." It seems that after all these years it is finally getting its due. I see from your prior postings that you have always been "on" it, and it's rep seems to be gathering more steam as the years, yes, the decades, pass. And like The Kinks themselves, those who like the MH album, REALLY like it.

Hope things you your way today,


Holly A Hughes said...

I'm still on a bit of a Muswell Hillbillies high, I must confess. I love the idea that the adults who got this project going have now hooked all those youngsters on the music of the Kinks. Watching their faces, I could tell that they were TOTALLY into it. Long live the Kinks!

Anonymous said...


re: the Kinks and Wim Wenders' "American Friend" y'all were talking about earlier in the year. Besides the Kinks' Too Much on My Mind and "Nothin' in This World", there's a third song played that I can't identify and has bothered me for years. Near the end when Hopper and Ganz are holed up in the mansion waiting for the gangsters to arrive, Hopper is seen nervously jabbing at his old jukebox. The song starts just as the intruder arrives. The lyric seems to go something like "if I could have read your mind, i would have warned you." The tune continues to play in the background during the action. I don't think it's the 60s Kinks, but it's definitely from the same era.It's not mentioned on any of the sites about the film. Any ideas?

wwolfe said...

A fun Kins-related fact I just discovered - one I thought you'd enjoy, too. At flickgrrl's movie blog, she asked about which Julie Christie movie we, her readers, would choose to see. I chose "Far From the Madding Crowd," because of its connection to "Waterloo Sunset." Another reader posted that "[Tom] Courtenay [who played opposite Christie in 'Dr. Zhivago'] was a teammate of Ray and Dave Davies on the London celebrity soccer team known as The Showbiz XI during the great 'Terry and Julie' mid-1960s era." I find myself completely delighted by the picture of Ray and Dave and Tom playing soccer together on the sporting fields of London at the height of the Swinging Sixties.

Anonymous said...

Good one, WWOLF, and I think Dr Zhivago was on TCM last weekend.


Old Yogi Berraism...It's 1962 and Yogi has taken the whole family for spring training to Fort Lauderdale. He comes home one afternoon, and his wife Carmen asks, "How did it go today?" Yogi responds, "Pretty good, I went two for three, Mickey hit a homer, and Whitey beat Baltimore 5-2. How about you, honey?"

"Well, I went to see Dr Zhivago today."
Yogi responds, "Sorry, I didn't know you weren't feeling well."


...I know, a long way to go.

Anyway, Ray did play soccer, although he didn't make a spectical of it by heading off balls while on stage ala Rod Stewart. And shock of schocks, although because of his somewhat inward nature you might think that he would play defense, no, he was an offense player, a striker.

Have a good one,


Holly A Hughes said...

Ray's still mad for football (Arsenal supporters die hard). I have seen pictures of that team with Tom Courtenay and Ray -- it's a toss-up which one of them looks skinniest and most neurasthenic. A treasure indeed.

Re: The American Friend -- as it happens, I just got it from Netflix, and last night I watched it halfway through, up to the part where Bruno Ganz is singing "Too Much On My Mind" under his breath. (Truly a lovely film moment.) I'll have to watch the rest to help you out with that last song!

Anonymous said...

I saw Dennis Hopper's "The Last Movie" on post at Camp Smith, Halawa Heights, HI, in 1972. Although only a quarter to get in, admission was overpriced. The Mad Genius (I'll take Casavettes and his "Minnie And Moskowitz" any day) laid a considerable egg with this effort and it brings to mind the old line concerning such films..."it wasn't escaped."


Anonymous said...

Kind of interesting that The Kinks revisited jazz at the same time many of their contemporaries were reverting to blues.