Monday, May 19, 2014

An Ode to the Mundane Routine of Everyday Life: The Kinks "Do It Again"



Inspired by my recent band profile on The Kinks, I have been listening to all of their albums in chronological order over the past week. This has been a revelation for me since the bulk of my Kinks listening typically focuses on their great 1960s singles and their albums between 1966 and 1977; it's forced me to get reacquainted with their latter-day material from 1978 through to the end of their career in 1996. While doing this has reminded how many great songs and albums they really had in those later years, one song in particular blew me away and I can't believe I had ever forgotten about it. The song is "Do It Again" and it's from their 1984 album Word of Mouth. What struck me about it, besides the great music is that it's yet another great example of Ray Davies' skill as a master storyteller through song. The lyrics deal with the mundane and repetitive cycle of everyday life, but Ray is able to couch it in such a way that he doesn't come off as patronizing or insulting of the listener.  Instead, the words seem to offer encouragement and a way for the listener to take solace in the simple fact that by getting back up and doing it again, day after day, it somehow makes them worth celebrating. In typical Davies fashion, he's able to take a topic that seems kind of drab and get his message across with wry humor and an ability to reach deep inside the listener to evoke feelings and thoughts that, at first, might not seem as though they would go with the subject matter.

Who among us (myself included) gets up and goes to work every day and sometimes feels like it's just one endless cycle on the wheel, where we all act like robots on autopilot:

"And now we're back where we started,
Here we go round again.
Day after day I get up and I say
I better do it again.

Where are all the people going?
Round and round till we reach the end.
One day leading to another,
Get up, go out, do it again"

...it's enough to make you stop and think that, as pointless as it sometimes seems, tomorrow is a new day and it's worth trying again.

Or when it all seems so pointless and discouraging, hearing:

"And you think today is going to be better,
Change the world and do it again.
Give it all up and start all over,
You say you will but you don't know when" 

...and picking yourself back up off the floor to give it another go tomorrow, although uncertainty, fear of change, and breaking the cycle is enough to make most of us put it off instead of just doing it now.

Finally, I and (I'm sure) countless others often feel that we aren't where we'd like to be, which gets us down about life. But Ray is able to tell us that while we can make changes on the outside, it's what's inside us that counts and by simple virtue of refusing to stay down when life gets to be burdensome, we're already halfway to being where we want to be.

"The days go by and you wish you were a different guy,
Different friends and a new set of clothes.
You make alterations and affect a new pose,
A new house, a new car, a new job, a new nose.
But it's superficial and it's only skin deep,
Because the voices in your head keep shouting in your sleep.
Get back, get back."

Alternately, you could take the above paragraph and see it as Ray saying that, no matter what changes you make on the outside, it doesn't matter unless you change what's on the inside and, in any event, you're just going to get up and do it again tomorrow anyway so what does it matter? Thus, in order to really affect a change, you have to break free of the cycle, be bold, and just do it. I think both readings are valid and depending on my mood when I'm listening to the song, equally so.

Finally, the song is a great Kinks rocker, marrying their early 1960s sound with a more modern feel. The video is equally humorous, with Ray as a one-man-band busker in the London Underground (with drummer Mick Avory as his partner) who has a flashback to his father (also played by Ray in the "Spiv" character he used for many of their videos in the early 1980s) doing the same thing in the same tunnels during the Blitz of WWII, but in his case, swindling people out of their money as the bombs explode and they cower in fear of their lives. Ray realizes he doesn't want to be the same as his dad wanders out to the pier before realizing he can start over and change his life. He begins playing with the Kinks (in full clown costumes!) on the pier before packing it all in at the end and walking away, leaving Mick to pack everything up.

I love this song and the meaning behind the words. If you know the song, what's your take on it? And if you've never heard it before, have a listen and let me know what you think!

(full lyrics below)

"Do It Again" (written by Ray Davies, performed by The Kinks from Word of Mouth [1984])

Standing in the middle of nowhere,
Wondering how to begin.
Lost between tomorrow and yesterday,
Between now and then.

And now we're back where we started,
Here we go round again.
Day after day I get up and I say
I better do it again.

Where are all the people going?
Round and round till we reach the end.
One day leading to another,
Get up, go out, do it again.

Then it's back where you started,
Here we go round again.
Back where you started,
Come on do it again.

And you think today is going to be better,
Change the world and do it again.
Give it all up and start all over,
You say you will but you don't know when.

Then it's back where you started,
Here we go round again.
Day after day I get up and I say
Come on do it again.

The days go by and you wish you were a different guy,
Different friends and a new set of clothes.
You make alterations and affect a new pose,
A new house, a new car, a new job, a new nose.
But it's superficial and it's only skin deep,
Because the voices in your head keep shouting in your sleep.
Get back, get back.

Back where you started, here we go round again,
Back where you started, come on do it again.

Back where you started, here we go round again,
Day after day I get up and I say, do it again.
Do it again.
Day after day I get up and I say, come on do it again.

2 comments:

  1. I have heard this many times and seen the video almost as many. Ray provides the right amount of visual humor, arch commentary, biography and references to history. Combined with its great music and words, it is one of the best productions ever. The song "Do It Again" by itself was the audio lead-in to the metropolitan New York City radio program on politics and business, "The Steve Mayo Show," heard on WVOX, 1460 AM, Monday evenings, 6 to 7 pm.

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    1. Great analysis, dead on. What you said is actually true of most of Ray's work...he's direct enough, funny enough (but never too clever), and witty enough with the commentary without every hitting you over the head with it. That's one of the hallmarks of his genius as a writer.

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