On the occasion of the 70th birthday of Ray Davies, once and future frontman of the Kinks....
"See My Friends" / The Kinks
Not only do I love Ray Davies, I also love the many amazing friends I've made over the past decade of following Ray, on-line and in-person and in any other configuration you've got. (You know who you are, Kinksters.)
And so this one seems a particularly apt birthday tribute to The Man Who Makes It All Worthwhile.
It's fascinating, really, when you listen to this track, to realize that Dave Davies isn't playing the sitar; he's just faking it on a regular electric guitar. The shimmery-spangly weirdness of this raga is the same, and in true Kinks fashion, if they only did one psychedelic track it would be a real humdinger. The Kinks were always great musical chameleons, borrowing from music hall here, jazz there, blues here, country music there. Even if psychedelic raga wasn't their signature sound, when they turned their collective hand to it they were bound to nail it.
Not only nail it; nail it. What Ray somehow intuitively grasped was the power of the circular form of the raga, like a poetic villanelle. Sure, the modern Western verse/chorus-verse/chorus-bridge-verse/chorus form implies a progression of thought, but the Eastern form allows us to return over and over to the undeniable truth of loss. So what if we don't end up anywhere different?
Just try singing this song -- it's incredibly powerful. It's almost mandatory to throw your heart into the recurrent phrases and chord shifts. Everything always shifting and morphing -- how psychedelic is that?
Ray say he wrote this in Bombay, listening to fishermen's voices floating over the water. In 1965, everybody who was anybody was going to India in those days for spiritual enlightenment. But in true Ray Davies fashion, at the same time he was emotionally being pulled home to England; those mournful voices triggered him to brood over the death of his sister Rene, who died when he was 13. Rene was the sister who bought him his first guitar; this had to have hit him hard.
"She just went," Ray muses in the second verse; "She just went / Went across the river." Crossing the river, a classic image of death. Though Ray darkly follows that up with "Now she's gone / Wish that I'd gone with her" -- whoa, nothing like a little suicidal note to skew a song. But hey, it's the 60s, we were all into that then.
Ray's no fool; the lyrics are ambiguous enough to let listeners apply it to a romantic break-up ("she is gone / She is gone and now there's now one left / But my friends"), but the emotional reality of this song for me is that of a mourner. That melismatic melody line, keening from one note to another nearby note -- isn't that the wail of grief?
Maybe I hear that especially hard because I'm still mourning my brother, who died in March. But Ray, too, recently lost another sister, Joyce, as a result of which he couldn't make it to his June 12th induction into the US Songwriters Hall of Fame. We're on the same page, Ray. I'd like to think that this song comforts you now as it did then.
It sure rings true for me.