Many of the songs on Ray Davies’ new solo album deal with how it feels to be shot through the heart. But you’d be forgiven for assuming they’re really about getting shot in the leg.
The last time the legendary Kinks frontman was in the news, it was for his own New Orleans disaster. In the first week of 2004, Davies was walking with his girlfriend near the French Quarter when a pair of thieves absconded with her purse. He chased after them and took a bullet for his trouble. News media initially reported that it was just a flesh wound. But the injury was more serious than Davies publicly let on, and the singer spent several weeks inside what he describes as ”the poorest hospital in the world, with all these things coming out of me.”
Getting shot seems like great fodder for an album, and sure enough, Davies’ new CD, Other People’s Lives (in stores Feb. 21), is rife with dozens of references to some undefined but seemingly catastrophic personal setback — lines like ”After the fall is over, you’ll be on your own.” But don’t read too much into it, warns Davies. ”People who know a bit about my recent history think, ‘Oh, he’s written that because he’s getting off his crutches,”’ he says, sitting in a New York hotel suite. ”But all the songs were written and recorded before my accident.” He pauses, realizing that ”accident” is just a bit too euphemistic for what he endured. ”Where I was attacked. That’s what’s eerie about it. What worries me is that the songs happened, then life happened. The sequence was out of order.”
In fact, nothing about the creation of Other People’s Lives has been linear. The album has suffered years of false starts and delays while Davies agonized over its creation. In 1999, six years after the last Kinks disc (the lackluster Phobia, which may not be their swan song; a band reunion is perpetually threatened), Davies signed on with Capitol, and he started recording demos. But he quickly confounded the label by refusing to let execs actually listen to the material. Capitol brass finally heard new tunes at a series of small New York shows in 2000, but it was clear that Davies was still extremely apprehensive about sharing his songs with the label. Ultimately, Capitol got tired of waiting, and in 2002 Davies left without giving them a single track. ”[He has] an intense mistrust of the system,” says former Capitol A&R exec Dave Ayers, who spent years trying to coax Davies into the studio. ”There’s a line in his book [the 1994 autobiography X-Ray] that says, ‘When in doubt, trust your paranoia,’ which says a lot.”
Davies, 61, has always been one of rock’s most difficult and inscrutable personalities — or one of its most charming bon vivants, depending on which day you catch him. What’s indisputable is his genius, and influence, in leading one of the greatest bands of the ’60s. The Kinks practically created both heavy metal thunder and ”twee” rock; it’s hard to imagine either Van Halen or Belle & Sebastian existing without them. Any guitarist who fires up a distorted riff is paying indirect homage to the Kinks’ 1964 hit ”You Really Got Me,” on which Ray’s brother, Kinks guitarist Dave Davies, virtually invented the power chord (Dave is currently recovering from a stroke he suffered in 2004). Just four years later, they radically changed course with The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, an arty, nostalgic, and almost defiantly acoustic masterpiece that lands on practically any serious rockaholic’s list of the most important LPs ever; other late-’60s albums like Something Else and Arthur produced a cache of classic tracks (see sidebar).