Dave Davies: ‘at pains to detail how awfully he behaved’. Photograph: Steve Hockstein/Harvard Studio.com
This powerful tell-all from the Kinks guitarist puts the spotlight on his own bad behaviour, dalliances with the occult and his recovery from a stroke
Dave Davies, co-founder of the Kinks, has had a life of era-appropriate excess and lived to be contrite about it. This new and updated memoir – a previous account, Kink, was published in 1997 – has its origins in a period of intense rehabilitation and re-evaluation prompted by a stroke the guitarist suffered in 2013. This firebrand once slashed the speaker cone of an amp with a razor blade to get the distorted sound on one of the most electrifying riffs in rock – You Really Got Me. After his stroke, he had to completely relearn how to play guitar. His enthusiasm for neuroplasticity – the way in which the brain lays down new pathways – is one of the book’s more endearing aspects.
If the past is absolutely another country, the rock past seems more foreign still with every passing hour. Where once rock’n’roll was a viable and heroic alternative to square life, the egregious behaviours enabled by fame’s warped power and cartloads of drugs make for increasingly uncomfortable reading now: it was an era of rampaging ids with little accountability. The arc here is redemptive, though; the focus very much on Davies’s own stormy internal weather.
Thumbnail sketches of the brothers at the heart of the Kinks habitually paint Ray, the elder, as the more complex and deep-feeling character, and Dave as flamboyant, more forthcoming and into UFOs. A lifelong square peg, the younger Davies is every bit as hard to pigeonhole as his sibling, swinging between the weary defence of his input to the band – always the subject of contention between Team Ray and Team Dave – and low self-esteem. Kinks fans will be familiar with the retelling of the band’s serpentine ups and downs, both musical and financial, how a ban on touring the US in the late 60s resulted in the Kinks turning more parochial and producing social commentary and albums such as The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, an Englishness that fed into punk and Britpop. Less familiar are the latterday updates, like Davies’s reunion with his teenage flame and their daughter, 30 years down the line. The two young lovers were forcibly separated by their parents; the loss of Sue and baby Tracey haunts Davies throughout his life.
It’s hard to know how to feel about some of the episodes detailed in this book. John Lennon once noted how obnoxious Davies was, and he was an authority. Davies is at pains to detail how awfully he – and to be fair, many stars of the era – behaved. The evidence is here, in the baiting of Ray (Ray baits back), the volatile relationship with drummer Mick Avory (Avory famously attacked Davies onstage once), the turds in hotel sinks and drunkenly disrupted flights. He’s in no way contrite enough, however, about his habit of ditching wives and small children willy-nilly when a better offer came along. He’s always “torn”, though, and “guilty”, which is nice.
He now feels chagrin at how he treated the same-sex relationships as second-tier
Davies is a little more progressive in his embrace of yoga and in his candid analysis of the relationships he has had with men. He now feels chagrin at how he treated the same-sex relationships as second-tier, even when there were men very much in love with him, as a spectacular break-up with Ready Steady Go presenter Michael Aldred demonstrates. I hadn’t read previously that Davies and Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones shared a Parisian girlfriend, both confiding in her how much they fancied each other – a tryst that came to nought.
Davies writes at length about his deep interest in the esoteric, an enthusiasm for the unexplained that dovetails into a penchant for the occult. His nervous breakdown in the early 70s makes for painful but cautionary reading. In 1982, there was an encounter with what he calls “the Intelligences” – mysterious beings with whom he enters into “telepathic exchange”.
It reads like a benevolent transcendental revelation. And at this point, you think, unlike with the rock-excess narrative, who are we to judge? Or as Davies himself puts it, when both Ray and his own wife Lisbet express dismay at his dalliance with a trance medium, “who cares what other people thought? I’d nearly jumped out of a New York hotel window and what’s crazier? Taking acid and ending up dead on the sidewalk? Or reaching further inside my inner self?” Quite.
Living on a Thin Line by Dave Davies is published by Headline (£20). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply