Wednesday, June 25, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Kink: An Autobiography by Dave Davies


Yes, it's time for a review of another Kinks book. Except this is one of the most important ones because it is Dave Davies' autobiography. Interestingly, it was released in 1996/1997 at the same time as Ray's first book, X-Ray. Even though Ray would release a second book on his life in 2013, there was a lot of tension between the brothers during this period as the Kinks wound down their career, calling it quits for good in late 1996. Amidst all of this, they were both working on memoirs, and while X-Ray ended up being a quirky tale of Ray's life told amidst the backdrop of dystopian fiction, Dave's was a more traditional telling. I first bought this book around the time it came out in the late 1990s and enjoyed reading it but it then sat on my shelf until I re-read it for this review.


While Ray is rightly hailed as the songwriting genius and frontman of the Kinks, Dave is equally important as the other half of the heart and soul of the band; his lead guitar, harmony vocals, and occasional songwriting are as essential and integral to the band as Ray's contributions. In addition to their brotherly bond, they are of course well known for their eternal sibling rivalry and feuding, which also added a component of tension and excitement to the band's records and live shows. However, while Ray has always been a bit withdrawn emotionally and tends to keep his cards close to the vest, Dave is the polar opposite. It is this honesty and openness that makes Kink not only deep and interesting, but also wildly shocking in places.

Dave tells the story of life starting from the beginning with a bit of family history, detailing how his family came to end up in Muswell Hill, north London and how Ray and he were the seventh and eighth, respectively, of their parents' eight children (and the only sons). Offering his own perspective on their relationship throughout the years, it's clear Dave approaches it from the viewpoint that in many ways he felt that even as the younger brother, he had to protect and look out for Ray given Ray's personality and emotional issues. It's clear from both brothers through their books that they love each other, although whereas Ray takes a somewhat condescending view of his brother's life choices over the years, Dave seems more hurt that Ray was never as emotionally supportive and close as he needed him to be, especially during several crucial times in their lives when Dave was there for Ray (ie Ray's divorce, his health scares later in the 1970s and 80s, and so on). However, he also offers perhaps the best insight on Ray that you're likely to read, and it's clear that while he does carry a lot of hurt and resentment, he's also extremely proud, loving, and defensive of his brother.

Where Dave differs from Ray, however, is in how he lived his life, especially during the heady days of the 1960s and early 1970s. Whereas Ray had his own drinking problems and emotional turmoil but was content to try and retain some semblance of normal family life as a husband and father, Dave lived up to every inch of his nickname "Dave the Rave."  Booze, drugs, parties, and numerous affairs with women (and some men) were all part of the whole experience for Dave, although to his credit by the late 1960s he began to tire of it all, realizing how phony and superficial it all was. Getting married and starting a family seemed to calm him down, although the incessant touring and recording the Kinks undertook once their ban from performing in the USA was lifted in 1969 wore him down to the point that he suffered several mental breakdowns which were only exacerbated by his prodigious drug intake. Eventually he had a strange metaphysical episode and spiritual awakening in 1982 that led to his now lifelong pursuit of alternative spirituality, yoga, and meditation. The book continues through the Kinks career up to the year it was released in 1996, but cuts off before the band split at the end of that year. Through it all, Dave offers up his candid opinions on the Kinks' various band members, their records, and his brother Ray, as well as contemporaries from the Beatles, Who, and Stones to the punk and new wave bands who cited the Kinks as inspirations during their late-career renaissance as arena megastars in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In addition to his thoughts on music and life, Dave is very upfront about the drug and alcohol abuse in his younger days, as well as his numerous sexual escapades. While he retells some of the incidents quite graphic detail, it never seems too gratuitous, and it's rather refreshing that he questioned what it all meant at the time and looking back on it, he has some regrets. Along these same lines, it's heartbreaking to read of Dave's anguish over the first love (and daughter) he never got to know as a young man and the jumbled emotions he carried with him for decades, which affected his attitudes toward women and marriage until he was finally able to reconcile everything in the early 1990s.

As for criticisms of the book, I don't have many apart from the fact that it does get bogged down a bit when Dave carries on about the voices he heard in his head and the new spirituality he awakened to in the late 1970s. It's not that I'm close-minded about it, and much of it is quite interesting. It's just that it tended to meander and go on longer than I felt necessary which killed the momentum of the book a little. Also, it would be nice if Dave updated this book to include the demise of the Kinks, his stroke and recovery in 2004, the death of Pete Quaife, and his ongoing and current rift with Ray the sadly continues to the present day.

While Kink is a more straightforward book than X-Ray, it's no less valuable or essential in trying to understand the two sides of the brothers who are the heart and soul of the Kinks. It's also a study in contrasts; as anyone with a close sibling will know, it's amazing how you can come from the same family and yet be almost polar opposites in every way. Any Kinks fan who ventures beyond the band biographies like God Save the Kinks, You Really Got Me, or All Day and All of the Night will need to read Kink (as well as X-Ray and Americana) to get a fuller picture of the band and the Davies brothers.

MY RATING: 8.5/10

2 comments:

  1. I liked this book too.
    Have you read John Mendelssohn's 1985 book The Kinks Kronikles? My ex gave it to me for my 26th birthday( a long time ago...lalala...). The relationship didn't last but my love of the Kinks endures.

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  2. I haven't read it but I definitely know if it. If I'm not mistake it is the only authorized Kinks bio? (or is that Johnny Rogan's book from around that same time? I can't remember...).

    And hey, coincidence as it's Dave's birthday today!

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