Sunday, 26 December 2010

Kinks 1

There are very few songs where the first couple of bars announce themselves in what we now call iconic fashion. That is not merely in retrospect, meaning immediately recognizable when we hear it now, later, but recognized there and then, straight off. The first chords of the Elvis's Jailhouse Rock and the Beatles Hard Day's Night were that. It is the first five notes of You Really Got Me. I don't have the sheet music but it's the equivalent of F-G-G-F-G. It is very simple, raw, hard, straight and aggressive, no fancy chords. Then Ray Davies's voice comes, hitting the tune early, slightly whiny, faintly feminine, cracking a little, in unison with the last G and the song is up and running.

If it's as simple as that why can't anyone do it, or even the same performers do it every time? This ties in with something I always advise my poetry students: ENTER FIRMLY, STEP OFF LIGHTLY. Yes, but enter firm and fresh. I have no recollection of hearing that precise combination of first five notes before, not in that way. It was fresh.

Once started the tune doesn't stop but simply swells from raw to roar, upping its stakes. It retreats briefly to solo voice, then comes the guitar riff with the unrelenting bass, then it ups stakes again. Essentially, the song seems to be climbing pitch all the way to the end, where it suddenly stops on four chords.


It took a little getting used to the Ray Davies face. It looked young and old at once, maybe because of the gap tooth, maybe because of the strong lines forming round the mouth. There was nothing innocent about it, in fact it looked slightly debauched. For a sheltered fifteen year old, if one was going to look debauched (whatever that was) this was a good model, not too pretty or handsome (one was never going to be handsome) but with character (one might, eventually, possess character).

I was in my fourth year of what was then Kingsbury County Grammar School, a roughly twenty minute walk from home across the busy main road and the park. The fourth year was a relatively good one in a long, generally unhappy period. My school subjects were going well enough but I had no girlfriend, nor prospect of one, and was already falling in love with this or that far-out-of-reach pretty face. In the video above, at about 2 minutes, the camera picks out a pretty girl in the crowd of dancers, straight hair, fringe, lovely smile. She is dancing with someone, who turns round. He is a self-confident good-looking smug prat wearing dark glasses. He is what I was always going to be up against. Everything was always going to be out of reach. Out-of-reach was what defined life. On the other hand I was running and playing football which was something. It meant I was surviving. But then came The Beatles, The Kinks and the rest. Excitement and aspiration at once.

Aspiration to what? I had no idea. Perhaps only to this level of energy, a level of desire as raw and as self-confident as this. Having been brought up with middle-brow classical music, in a refugee blend of timidity, hysteria and expectation, You Really Got Me arrived at the door like a not quite permitted, not quite legitimate friend of a friend, someone you had to be careful of, someone not to be let into the house, and, ideally, avoided.

But what can you do? Those first five notes go straight into your spine and hit you very hard. Furthermore it was not only my spine it was pounding through, but through the very air. F-G-G-F-G. For something is happening here and you don't know what it is, do you Mr Jones? It was the sound of pavements breaking, something hammering through.


Anonymous said...

"Aspiration to what? I had no idea." Referring back to last week's conversation about young male suicide, I think you might be onto something here. One of the downsides to having a youth culture come to predominance is that, for those who buy into it, there isn't anything to aspire to (in quite the same way) afterwards.

Furthermore, as you say, aspire to what, exactly? and, yes, aspiration to a certain set of elevated emotional states - importantly, emotional states that are explicitly unusual in everyday working life.

If someone takes it all too seriously, where is there to grow up to, to look forward to and work towards in your forties, fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties and beyond? That's quite a lot of life to have looking like aftermath and decline. Especially if that drive to experience peak states ends up in a drugs spiral or in isolation from community and family acceptance and esteem.

I'd throw in Nick Hornby's comment about so much popular music (not "You Really Got Me" mind you) is written in (theoretically depressive) minor keys. Did he have a point? 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and early 60s stuff was much more cheerful generally than what came later.

Especially when times are tough, jobs hard to come by, society hard to get into on an equal basis and no clear sexual role to fulfil exists any more.

It all adds up to only a tiny snippet of a contribution to an explanation of high young male suicide rates, naturally, but there might be something in it.

Don't know what other people think. Psychobabble, or is there something in all this?

Great idea for a series, and cracking start. Can't wait for the others in successive weeks.

George S said...

Furthermore, as you say, aspire to what, exactly? and, yes, aspiration to a certain set of elevated emotional states - importantly, emotional states that are explicitly unusual in everyday working life.

I do think this is a serious argument, Anon. I remember - a long time ago now - seeing interviews with young, mainly black, schoolkids. What did they want to do? asked the interview. They wanted to be rock stars, of course. Anything else? Any fallback? No.

Let me die a young man's death, wrote Roger McGough (then a reasonably young man).

Hope I die before I get old - The Who

A pattern seems to be emerging, doesn't it?

And aren't they (and even we - assuming you might me be of much the same generation as I am, forgive me if not) the children of the post-post-post Romantic period, squaring up to the thought of the Sublime, but without the aid of literature or revolution. or indeed a lifebelt of any sort? Ever less responsible, ever more jejune, ever more lost and without a role.

T-t-t-talking 'bout my generation, etc. But more of the one after.