Saturday, November 19, 2016

A Kinks Cure in Times of Trouble

"Catch Me Now I'm Falling" /
The Kinks

Well, the votes have been cast and counted, victory and concession speeches made, and the president-elect is beginning to show his true colors by a steadily-growing list of political appointments. 

You can find all that news elsewhere on the web. Here, we talk about the Kinks.

1979. What a year.  We had the Iran hostage crisis, Three Mile Island, the Twinkie defense, the Unabomber, the Greensboro Massacre, the Chrysler bailout, and the rise of the Sandinistas.  (C'mon, folks, if you don't know, Google it.) Etan Patz disappeared, Mardi Gras was canceled, and a school shooter in San Diego said she did it because "I don't like Mondays." The economy was floundering, the energy crisis led to long lines at the gas pumps, and massive anti-nuclear and gay-rights marches filled the streets. It wasn't the end of civilization, but it kind of felt like it. And for me, returning to the US in 1978 after two years abroad, it was culture shock indeed. 
[Granted, it wasn't all bad. The Salt II agreement and the Egyptian-Israel Peace Treaty were signed. Michael Jackson released Off the Wall. The Susan B. Anthony dollar and the Happy Meal were introduced. for those.]
Never a man to shy from social commentary, Ray Davies filled the Kinks' 1979 LP Low Budget with pointed songs about the state of the world. This was their third album for Clive Davis' Arista label; the pressure was on to create anthem rock and disco-friendly tracks (methinks our Ray suffered many a sleepless night trying to satisfy those demands). But political satire was Ray Davies' home court, and Low Budget may be the Kinks' most political album, in a broad-stroke kinda way. He addresses inflation ("Low Budget"), UK health care ("National Health"), gas prices ("A Gallon of Gas"), the fitness craze ("Wish I Could Be Like Superman"). 
Still, it's a bit of a game-changer to find the ultra-Brit Ray Davies writing a song like this, addressing the rest of the world from an American standpoint. Remember, though, Ray had been living in New York for a while; Low Budget was recorded in New York. And so we can forgive him for writing a song that's totally in the American voice.

I happen to love this track. I am no fan of arena rock or disco; in fact, Low Budget was the album that at the time made me fall away from the Kinks. (Just Google what else was happening in music in 1979 before you judge me.) But now that I'm back in the fold, I recognize this track for what it is: What the French would call a crie de coeur, a cry from the heart.
Ray summons up the comic book hero Captain America -- and corny as he may be, the message is plangent. Yeah, the guy's a straight-arrow dork, and for years now we've been dissing straight-arrow dorks. But they're the ones we depend upon to hold the door and carry our bags for us. And when the chips are down....
All the power chord riffs are there, plus a hot sax solo in the middle eight (twice!). And there's the eerie call-and-response, where Ray sings "fallin'" and brother Dave chillingly echoes it an octave higher.
"I remember / When you were down / And you needed a helping hand / I came to feed you" -- hello, Marshall Plan.  I wasn't around then, but even as a child of the 1960s I knew that the US had bailed out its European allies in their post-war straits.
I'll admit, I have no idea whether the US actually applied to its European allies for help in the dark days of 1978-1979. So the line about "Now I call your office on the telephone / And your secretary tells me that she's sorry / But you've gone out of town" -- this could just be Ray Davies' imagination running wild.
Still -- those alliances should still matter. The fact that our President-elect has no idea how to navigate them is downright terrifying. And their economic systems depend upon ours more than ever. 
So hello, rest of the world. Anything you can do to give us a boost would be welcome. Several of us (most of us, really, as the popular vote would attest) feel like we're in free-fall mode. If anybody has a safety net to offer...