Monday, March 31, 2014

Random Dial-Up

A new feature wherein I write about the first song that comes up on my shuffle -- sort of a musical Russian Roulette. So here goes...and the wheel lands on...

"Quiet Life" / Ray Davies

From the Julian Temple film Absolute Beginners, a musical adaptation of Colin McInnes' novel (itself well worth reading) about 1950s London and the birth of British rock 'n' roll -- if you haven't seen it, check it out; it's one of my guilty pleasures. The story rambles, but it's visually stunning, and it's appropriately packed with musical guest stars: David Bowie, Sade, Sandie Shaw, Zoot Money, Tenpole Tudor, and -- my primary reason for seeing the film in the first place -- the ever delicious Mr. Ray Davies. Here's a clip of Ray's scene in the movie (hang in there, there's a minute or so of dialog before you get to the song itself).

Unfortunately this is only part of the movie in which Ray appears, but it's beyond wonderful. Playing the much-put-upon father of the main character, young photographer Colin, Ray doesn't exactly look glamorous in his undershirt and braces, his hair slicked back and grayed at the temples. But Ray's bit is totally entertaining, and his dancing is simply to die for.

Anybody who was ever in doubt about Ray Davies' fondness for English music hall tunes only has to listen to "Quiet Life." Underlaid with Dixieland horns and jazzy percussion, it's a classic softshoe, tripping lightly along. Yet while the sound of the song is like Noel Coward champagne, the storyline is more Ealing comedy slapstick, with a Monty Python nudge-nudge wink-wink thrown in for good measure.

"Something's happening, but I'm just gonna turn a blind eye," Ray begins the patter, in his breathy, earnest innocent-bystander voice. "If I see no evil, I ask no questions and I hear no lies" -- his whole existence is a masterwork of self-protective denial. In low, confiding tones, Ray keeps suavely declaring that he's not such a fool as everyone thinks -- "Confidentially between these walls / I'm on top of it all." And indeed, he does see all the salacious shenanigans in his household -- it's like a saucy seaside postcard come to life. But he shows no intention of doing a bloody thing about it, so what's the point of knowing?

Listen to how Ray's voice trembles and squawks on the high-pitched refrain -- "All I need is a QUIET life!", like a blowsy trombone wail. Keeping his head in the sand takes every ounce of energy this hapless bloke has. It's a lovely little comic portrait, and Ray hits every mark. Oh, the rest of the soundtrack has some other gems -- I particularly love Bowie's rendition of the theme song, Style Council's "Have You Ever Had It Blue?", and Sade's "Killer Blow." But in the end, there's one reason I go back to this film again and again. Ray.


Beth Greene Thompson said...

Yes! Delicious.

PaulD said...

I too was brought to "Absolute Beginners" to see Ray. As a life-long Kinks fan, it was a must! But another song from the soundtrack that I really like is the song "Selling Out" with it's frantic horn riff.

ACravan said...

Quiet Life is a little masterpiece of a song -- the brightest spot in a hideously awful film, almost as bad in its way as the filmed version of The Wiz. I think Bowie's set piece is ok also, but Quiet Life is superb. Curtis Roberts