Imagine: Ray Davies, Imaginary Man, BBC One | New music reviews, news & interviews
Imagine: Ray Davies, Imaginary Man, BBC One
Absorbing and revealing portrait of The Kinks's leader and songwriter
"Compared to the way I feel now", said Ray Davies 50 minutes in, “having a nervous breakdown was a jaunt.” His voice was even, matter of fact. He didn’t look distressed, merely appeared to be stating what he thinks is obvious. Julian Temple’s documentary about The Kinks’s leader and songwriter was packed with such moments – revealing and so open that it was impossible not to be affected by Davies’s low-key passion. This assured portrait was more than the story of a pop star. With Davies as a unique guide, Temple captured an alternative portrait of how the Sixties unfolded.
The broadcast of Ray Davies, Imaginary Man comes on the back of the release of Davies’s new album See My Friends, a largely disastrous set of re-recordings of songs from his back catalogue made with some ill-fitting and unlikely collaborators. It’s a cliché that The Kinks invented heavy metal with "You Really Got Me”, but a new version with Metallica plumbs the lowest levels of triteness. It's awful too.
As he walked through his London Davies sang and hummed his songs, and it really did seem as though he was a ghost, unseen, unnoticed by passers-by
Still, getting this contemporary recognition has been a long process. The Kinks’s American stadium-rock years were never gong to capture the British imagination. The Jam covered The Kinks during the punk period, but it was the Britpop boom that brought The Kinks hipster credit. The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society sold almost nothing in 1968, but it’s now acknowledged as a musical and observational classic. The path to being stitched into rock’s rich tapestry has always been faltering though – a fine career-spanning box set arrived only in 2008. America’s equally important Byrds got theirs – the first of two – in 1990. Ray Davies, Imaginary Man must be seen as part of this lengthy, intermittent reclamation process.
Ray Davies himself is no stranger to self-examination, which must partly explain why things can take so long in his world. Classic songs like “Waterloo Sunset" draw from his home town and family. As he explained last night, “Come Dancing” was inspired by events at odds with its upbeat feel – the death of his oldest sister on the Lyceum ballroom’s dancefloor on his birthday just after she had bought him his first guitar. His 1994 third-person autobiography X-Ray was an engrossing, yet detached, examination of what made Ray Davies tick.
But Davies hasn't limited himself to music and the printed word. He directed the film Return to Waterloo in 1985 and completed Weird Nightmare, a documentary about Charles Mingus, in 1991. These and the distance with which X-Ray was written suggest that Davies himself is well qualified to make a documentary about himself. But instead, Ray Davies, Imaginary Man was directed by Julian Temple, a film-maker with one foot in the culture he grew up with – caught in the documentary Joe Strummer, The Future is Unwritten – and culture from a slightly more distant past – his 1986 film Absolute Beginners.
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