It was a thrill to hear Ray Davies' familiar Muswell Hill drawl on my stupid Nokia. I had even strewn my yellowed copy of the Kinks' Face to Face nearby, strictly for irony's sake. But that's about all I accomplished on the morning of June 1, when I took part in a teleconference promoting Ray Davies' tour in support of his new solo album Other People's Lives, which brings him to Detroit this week. Unfortunately, my inability to press "1" on cue meant flacks from such fish-wraps as the Podunk Observer got to ask twice as many questions as yours truly.
You can see the appeal of a teleconference to an artist of Davies' stature. Since most of the writers and reporters participating will ask similar questions, the fiber optic roundtable format allows him to give a well-considered answer to a question once before moving on. On the downside, everyone gets the same interview, and has access to everyone else's Big Brilliant Questions. I didn't get a chance to ask mine (I press "1" when?), so we may never know what Davies felt when "Lola," his closest shot to having an American No. 1, was boxed out of that top nook by the Partridge Family, pop pretenders who actually ripped off their wardrobe of ruffled shirts and red velvet hunting jackets from the early Kinks. If Davies is signing tour programs at TasteFest, shove a copy of the P-Family's Up to Date under his nose, and watch his nostrils flare.
In the meantime, here are some questions I'd prepared for Davies, which he was nice enough to answer while fielding other writers' Big Brilliant Questions.
Metro Times: Is there any technology that you as a Village Green Preservationist can embrace?
Ray Davies: Well, I'm working with a computer at the moment that's more powerful than the one that put a man on the moon. It's scary. But it's because of stupidity that people walked on the moon. I think stupidity is a good thing.
MT: Has writer's block been a factor in not writing an entire new album for 10 years? And is it easier to write when you're younger and more stupid?
Davies: There's something really pure and wonderful about naiveté. It's true you know more when you're 50, but also you know less. You forget. Stupidity has a lot to do with coming up with ideas. With the Kinks, we did three albums in about 18 months, at one stage. But it's harder now finding time to write because there's so much other stuff to do around the record. "Next Door Neighbor," the first song I wrote for this album, was around '96. But I think the songs have evolved over a 10-year period.
MT: To many ears, this album and "Next Door Neighbor" in particular harken back to the detailed narrative style of your early work. Were you conscious of that as you were writing it?
Davies: My studio where I work is probably less than a mile from where I grew up. So I'm very close to my origins, and walking around here, I think about where have all these neighbors gone that I grew up with? I think they are the basis of all my work. It was a good place to start because this album is about getting away from the origins, leaving, going to a new place.
MT: Happily, this album wasn't a posthumous one. But a mugger did shoot you in the leg shortly after you finished recording it.
Davies: I chased him across the street. His getaway car it was classic movie material pulled up about 20 yards away. He took a classic shot, two hands on the gun, crouched slightly, got his aim together and shot. Anyone who has been shot will know it's just the absolute coldness that goes through your body. It just looked like a dot on my leg, but actually my leg was smashed. And I still wonder something that worries me where are my pants that I was wearing? I was wearing a new pair of brown cords, and I really liked those so much. I remember they were trying to get to my wound. I said, "But these are new pants," and they said, "Sir, we don't give a shit."
8:30 p.m., Saturday, July 1, at Comerica TasteFest on the MotorCity Casino Main Stage.Serene Dominic is a freelance writer. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org