A Salute to The Kinks

I’m a music lover. During the darkest days of my early 20s, I relied heavily on music to make my life endurable.

One of my favourite bands since childhood was The Kinks, led by brothers Dave Davies, who was the guitarist, and Ray Davies, vocalist and principal songwriter. I loved them when I was a kid for their killer rock riffs (You Really Got Me), uplifting yet slightly melancholy ballads (Waterloo Sunset) and drily satirical observations on society (A Well Respected Man, Dedicated Follower of Fashion). There’s a lyric in the latter song that made me prick up my ears when I heard it: “And when he pulls his frilly nylon panties right up tight / He feels a dedicated follower of fashion” As a child with a secret, I clutched at the smallest of things to keep from feeling alone.

And then, when I was 15 years old, the Kinks released Lola.

LolaLola is the story of a young man’s sexual awakening at the hands of a trans woman. It opens with a guitar strum from Dave Davies that creates anticipation for the song that follows, which does not disappoint. Lola was released in 1970, just three years after homosexuality was decriminalized in England and Wales. Despite being a hit, it was controversial, with some radio stations fading the song out before Lola’s biological sex was revealed. Ray Davies responded with, “It really doesn’t matter what sex Lola is. I think she’s alright”.

I’d lost touch with The Kinks by the time their album Misfits was released in 1978. Society hadn’t changed much in the eight years since Lola’s release. The media’s interest in the album focused on Out of the Wardrobe, a song about a crossdresser. That song, and my love for the Kinks, was enough for me to buy the album.

While Out of the Wardrobe is a pleasant piece of whimsy (“‘He shouldn’t be hidden, he should be seen / ‘cos when he puts on that dress / He feels like a princess”), two other songs were more meaningful to me because they encapsulated the way I was feeling.

MisfitsThe title track Misfits starts slowly before gradually building in musical and emotional intensity. “You’re a misfit, afraid of yourself, so you run away and hide / You’ve been a misfit all your life / Why don’t you join the crowd / And come inside.”

‘I’m trying, Ray,’ I’d think. ‘But people won’t let me.’ I can’t listen to this song today without becoming emotional. It sends me right back to the dark place I was in at the time. The song concludes in a hopeful way, however, telling the supposed misfit (me), “This is your chance, this is your time / so don’t throw it all away.”

The other song on the album I loved was A Rock ‘n Roll Fantasy.

There’s a guy on my block, he lives for rock
He plays records day and night
And when he feels down, he puts some rock ‘n roll on
And it makes him feel alright
And when he feels the world is closing in
He turns his stereo way up high
He just spends his life, living in a rock ‘n roll fantasy
He just spends his life, living on the edge of reality

That was me. I turned my stereo way up high so often it’s a wonder I didn’t get thrown out of my apartment. Ironically, this was one of the songs I liked to crank up. Despite the depressing story, this song too ends on a hopeful note, with both Ray’s vocals and Dave’s guitar rising in a crescendo of empowerment that had me singing at the top of my voice: “Don’t want to spend my life, living on the edge of reality / Don’t want to waste my life, hiding away anymore.”

The Kinks weren’t solely responsible for getting me out of the deep funk I was in. I still had to do the hard work to come out and escape my “rock ‘n roll fantasy”. I needed hope to keep going, however, and I relied on music very much to deliver it. Music has the power to provide comfort and, for a short while at least, the power to free your soul.