Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A Kinks Cure in Times of Trouble

"Where Have All the Good Times Gone" / The Kinks

And well you might ask.

1966, The Kink Kontroversy. Scrambling to remain "relevant," Ray was looking for a template for satire, and he found it in Bob Dylan (listen to this song; he could segue any minute into "Like A Rolling Stone"). It's got that twang, that talking blues thing: "Well, lived my life and never stopped to worry 'bout a thing / Opened up and shouted out and never tried to sing."

While Dylan is skewering some old girlfriend, Ray is skewering himself -- or at any rate, some fictional version of himself, your prototypical 60s British rocker. Now, he laments, the musical trend is running on empty: "Wondering if I'd done wrong / Will this depression last for long?" But the gutsy wail of the chorus is totally heartfelt: "Won't you tell me / Where have all the good times gone? / Where have all the good times gone?" I love how matey and boozy the Kinks sound on the chorus, with its lurching rhythm, the chromatic melody sliding back and forth between F and G. Discordant and sloppy, with those trademark crunchy riffs, it's like an old-fashioned pub singalong.

Long before "American Pie," Ray Davies cleverly name-checks other artists' work in his verses -- the Rolling Stones ("Time was on our side and I had everything to gain"), the Beatles ("Yesterday was such an easy game for you to play"). In verse three he goes more autobiographical -- "Ma and Pa look back at all the things they used to do / Didn't have no money and they always told the truth / Daddy didn't have no toys / And mummy didn't need no boys" -- but he's also making fun of people who live in a fantasy past (nostalgia ain't what it used to be).

Ray Davies has always had a complex reaction to nostalgia. On one hand, he longs to live in the past, when life was less complicated (the chimerical hope of "Make America Great Again"); on the other, he's suspicious that the past can be a prison. (The whole Village Green Preservation Society album is Ray's conflicted dance with nostalgia.) "Where Have All the Good Times Gone" sits right on that fence; it's an obituary for the British Invasion and a declaration of independence, but it's also tinged with regret. The good times were good, and he owes that musical revolution everything. But now it's time to move on.

So you've got two choices: Live in the past, or embrace the possibilities of a more vital future.

I know which option I voted for on November 8th. So how about you?

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