Messing Up in Public

Davies is too proud to be openly bitter -- thus X-Ray's caustic and at times monomaniacal sentiments are somewhat blurred by its narrative structure, a faux interview between a young journalist with a bitter old man called R.D. But he's still ambitious enough to recognize the power of his own past. Between concerts, he's working up a new musical project spun out of "Come Dancing" and a more conventionally anecdotal follow-up to X-Ray.

"I don't want to think that I'm a writer," he says of the next book. "That's the biggest mistake anyone could ever make. 'Cause I'm not trained to do that. Who is? So I'm trying to let that personality come through that people recognize as me, rather than just write a story."

Meanwhile, the discovery of prose has changed the reading habits of the famously literate Davies, whose current plane book is The Butcher Boy by Irish novelist Patrick McCabe. "I'm interested to know how different people approach it," he says of the craft of writing. "Like this guy, he sets up characters longer than other people. Other writers come straight in at it -- you know, like Elmore Leonard or somebody -- come straight in with an action, and the characters just kind of gel with it. I think a lot of my things are character driven."

Davies reassures that all of this should not be taken to mean that To the Bone is a Kinks swan song. He's continued to say that the band will continue to record together "as long as it's not torture," and that future one-shot arena shows (such as its performance at last year's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction) remain a possibility. And as for the band's reaction to Storyteller, Davies says: "I think it's generally, 'Oh, well, he's doing it. As long as it's going well, we don't mind.'" And then he laughs. In other words, Ray still has his best friend to look out for. This is, after all, the guy who told NME back in '64 that his "personal ambition" was "to be exceedingly successful and highly esteemed among my friends."

Exceedingly successful? Guess it depends how you measure it. Davies and the Kinks never imploded, but they never really exploded the way some of their contemporaries did. No surprise then, that X-Ray, currently out in paperback, was published by something called the Overlook Press, and To the Bone was released on Guardian, a very un-major label. All of this is to be expected from a band whose perpetual outsider status, despite its having produced consistently strong work for three decades, has by now taken on the quality of an epic -- or at least a grand farce.

Then again, if it's true, as Ray remarks of the Kinks on To the Bone, that "everybody's always expecting us to do wonderful things, and we mess it all up usually," then that's at least in part because the band clings to a certain integrity. And integrity has not been proven, shall we say, to be a key ingredient in the ongoing success of certain middle-age pop artists. Thus Kiss shows up on the cover of Forbes, Mick Jagger necks with Uma Thurman at the Viper Room, and Pete Townshend ("Hope I die before I win a T-T-Tony") leads the Who in a series of rehashings of Quadrophenia in arenas across America. Ah, well. No one needs to tell a Kinks fan there's no justice in rock and roll.

Ray Davies performs Friday, November 22, at the Carefree Theatre, 2000 S Dixie Hwy, West Palm Beach; 833-7305. Showtime is 8:00 p.m. Tickets cost $25.

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