Kink-y Paleocons?

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It’s
easy for a Republican to get an inferiority complex in Manhattan.
When the guy at the desk beside you with the Nader poster is also
a published poet who fronts a jazz band at night, it can be hard
for a conservative to retain intellectual assurance. Cool sophisticates
never show up at the Stupid Party:

We've
got few authors and even fewer actors.

Rock
stars? There's Ted Nugent and that guy in the Ramones who voted
for Reagan. And even those are unsatisfying. Nugent's "Yank
Me Crank Me" and "Wang Dang Sweet Poon-Tang" do indeed
express powerful emotions, yet his body of work often fails to impress
the soi-disant.

Then
there's Ray Davies, singer-songwriter for The Kinks, who sang in
1971:

"I
was born in a welfare state/ruled by bureaucracy/controlled by civil
servants/and people dressed in gray." I'm a twentieth century
man but I don't wanna die here." Davies made it out of the
20th century, but with the modern world aligned against
him it was a close-run thing. And his lyrics reveal, of all things,
a traditionalist who distrusts big government.

November
marks the 30th anniversary of "Muswell Hillbillies,"
neglected in its own time but given a second chance thanks to Velvel
Records rerelease (along with the rest of The Kinks' 70s-era concept
albums). The New York Press's provocative J.R. Taylor goes so far
as to call it the best alternative country album ever, beating anything
by The Byrds.

The
romantic pose, the sophistication and artsy credibility that seem
the birthright of all hip liberals – Ray Davies has it all in spades.
This the man who wrote "Waterloo Sunset," regretful and
sad and generous, told from the perspective of a lonely man who
watches two young lovers meet in a train station and cross the river.

"Muswell
Hillbillies" was The Kinks' first album for the major American
label RCA. On the heels of the 1971 hit single and eternal classic
"Lola," the album confounded all but The Kinks' cultists-no
hit singles, no radio anthems. Just 12 songs (with two unreleased
extras on the reissue) revolving around Muswell Hill, Davies' childhood
home in North London, which was bombed in World War II and razed
in the name of urban renewal after the war.

In
the liner notes Davies says: "There were bomb sites everywhere.
In other places they kept the old houses the way they were, and
built new ones where the ruins had been. But u2018round where my family
lived, the local council obviously thought it was easier to clear
the entire area and start again. There was just one problem. They
forgot the people."

"Muswell
Hillbillies" is suffused with London themes set to ironically
upbeat American country and blues, plus a couple of impossibly catchy
music hall songs, "Alcohol," a temperance track, and "Holiday,"
about a working-class holiday in rainy, polluted England.

Unlike
Bruce Springsteen's "Nebraska," (a different kind of classic),
which is grievous in both its music and lyrics, the "Muswell"
sound is defiantly jumpy and works against the grain of the lyrics
to great ironic effect.

The
record is a treasure trove of quirky riches. "Have A Cuppa
Tea," about Davies' grandmother and her remedy for all ills,
seems patronizing until you realize he's not being ironic. That's
followed by the harrowing "Holloway Jail," about brutality
in a women's prison, told from the standpoint of a tormented boyfriend.

Over
the Stones-y clomp of the title track Davies declares: "They
can clear the slums as part of their solution, but they're never
gonna kill my cockney pride." The poor of Appalachia were bruited
about in similar fashion, tossed off their land and into government
housing by federal fiat, first by Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal,
then by LBJ's Appalachian Regional Development Act.

Even
more than most Kinks albums, the lyrics on "Muswell" pile
on the conspiracies to absurdity and beyond-"the milkman's
a spy, and the grocer keeps on following me," but you know
what they say about paranoids. And Davies' makes up for it with
the line "The income tax collector's got his beady eye on me."
"Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues" joins the too-short
list of rock songs that rebel against democracy's most intrusive
figure, alongside "Taxman" by The Beatles and "Taxman,
Mr. Thief" by Cheap Trick.

Like
G.K. Chesterton, the sublime religious essayist of the early 20th
century, The Kinks songs assert the magic of fable and the wonder
of innocence. Davies writes in his autobiography: "While everybody
else thought that the hip thing to do was drop acid, do as many
drugs as possible and listen to music in a coma, the Kinks were
singing songs about lost friends, draught beer, motorbike riders,
wicked witches and flying cats."

In
a similar vein, Chesterton notes "the things I believed most
then, the things I believe most now, are the things called fairy
tales." I knew the magic beanstalk before I had tasted beans;
I was sure of the Man in the Moon before I was certain of the moon."

Though
the band's been shelved and Davies' output is limited to occasional
solo shows, Davies' stubborn traditionalism continues to rankle
leftwing music critics like Robert Christgau. During the apartheid
era in South Africa, the Village Voice's eminent record critic banned
The Kinks from his reviews after the band refused to stop playing
South Africa. He termed them "cultural reactionaries lost past
their prime." Never mind that "Lola" did more to
open minds about alternative sexuality than 1,000 self-righteous
news releases from GLAAD.

For
Christgau, Davies is the wrong kind of rebel, one who mocks the
"Dedicated Follower of Fashion" as well as the businessman
smugness of the "Well Respected Man"-coming down on group-think
socialism and soulless corporatism alike.

Though
the title of "20th Century Man" unfortunately
dates it, "Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues" and "Here
Come The People In Grey" (to take me away), resonate in an
age of security cameras and the deportation of Cuban kids. There
are a half-dozen tracks on this country-rock masterpiece that conservatives
will identify with. My advice is to buy it and pick your own favorites.

October
23, 2001

Clay
Waters [send him mail]
lives in Jersey City, NJ. He spent 5 years at the Media Research
Center near DC.

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