December. Already. How did that happen?
It seems that the New Year arrives more and more quickly with each one that passes. I swear, it feels like it was August just two weeks ago. And I am brutally behind in just about everything I turn my hand to these days.
I did manage to complete my personal NaNoWriMo challenge. Finished with 52 768 words as of November 30, 2013. I didn’t actually participate in any of the local events or conversations or communal support- really I just used their word counter as a way of marking progress. I discovered that I can, in fact, get that much written in a month (I actually wrote more than those 50-some-thousand words, given the fact that I did manage some posts here at colemining as well), even if the final 30-day count has not necessarily brought me that much closer to completion of the project. There is still a lot of story to be told, and the organization, editing and substantial re-writes is the next hurdle to overcome, but the characters are beginning to develop nicely, and the story progression is reasonably mapped, so progress was made.
It’s nice to know that I can still set a goal which can be met, even while keeping up with the rest of my responsibilities. So yay for me. A side effect of all that productivity is that I can step back for a bit, and I do have to say I’m glad that I can take a bit of a break from that particular outlet to give me some time to view it with fresh eyes.
As we rush headlong into the holiday season I am realizing, as is usually the case, that for the next few weeks there will not be enough hours in the day. Feeling pulled in all these different directions was making me more than a little irritable over the weekend (despite having attended an incredible American Thanksgiving dinner in friends’ new and wonderful home on Saturday- great food, fantastic company- good times indeed).
This irritability was not helped AT ALL by the fact that city was locked in gridlock- were you foolish enough to attempt to drive anywhere- while the TTC seemed to be operating on some arcane schedule that required initiation into some sort of transportation cabal if you actually wanted to know when a streetcar might actually arrive- and not randomly change route numbers or short turn to nowhere on the whim of some Grand Poobah of the Red Rocket. And don’t get me started on the road closures to accommodate the Buffalo Bills being in town…
‘Grouchy Cole’ is not my favourite character manifestation.
Starting the work week- with deadlines looming and conflict in the workplace- hasn’t helped to dissipate the negative vibes, so I’ve had to look for some external sources of inspiration to get me back on track and looking forward with anticipation rather than anxiety.
I picked up the book over a week ago (after first learning of its existence months ago) and, under normal circumstances, would have had it long devoured by this point. It’s representative of my two very favourite things, after all- music and story (and storytellers).
Shamefully it has taken me this long to write about Ray’s wonderful memoir- using his tours of the US as the core and starting point for his story. In his lyrical style (everything the guy writes sounds like his music- conversational yet clever, and as if there is a subtle background riff that has been familiar forever supporting his thoughts and emotions as they ring off of the page), he tells the story of life on the road- through the early lean years with the Kinks, and, more recently, as he attempted to rediscover/remake himself in his own image as a solo artist.
First off, I have to say that apparently I was sleeping in 2004, since I had no idea at all that he had been shot. Believe me, if I had heard a news report that someone raised a gun at Ray Davies in New Orleans, I would have recalled it in the way that those who remember JFK’s assassination can tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing.
He looms that largely in my life.
And this book has just reinforced that presence. Seriously. It was hard to keep reading because there was just so much inspiration being thrown at me on each and every single page. I was itching to take that inspiration on board and get back to work.
Although they were part of the British Invasion of the 1960’s, the Kinks have never held the same place in the North American popular imagination of those days as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. There are reasons for this- some of which Ray discusses over the course of Americana– but I think he nails it quite concisely remarking that, as a lyricist, in those early years he was unwilling to play at being anything other than himself- a working class lad from suburban London, who never lost his accent or stopped singing about things that resonated with him, personally. Regardless of how inexplicable such things might be to an American audience. The Kinks remained true to their roots, and, especially in their early years, their songs were very reflective of their native environment.
Still, as a child, Ray romanticized the US, based in impressions gleaned from Hollywood and music that spoke of roots and depth of connection to places that were foreign in every manner of speaking from his own life experience. As their following grew, and again after the break-up of the Kinks, he sought out those roots in an effort to figure out the next directions his creativity might take.
Shifting between recollections of the early tours- painfully recalling the loneliness and boredom of time on the road- and moving forward, in his personal and professional lives, Ray offers insights into his creative process that are at once illuminating and daunting. Here is a guy with no formal musical training- beyond the fact that he has been playing and writing songs since he was a teenager- who has created a catalogue of some of the most memorable characters and stories in popular music.
He tells the stories of the nascence of songs like this one:
It talks about the tension- ever-present since the band began- between Ray and his little bro’, Dave, and the decision to keep the band together despite the sometimes seeming irrelevance of rock ‘n’ roll. He created the character of ‘Dan the fan’ to illustrate the impact that music has, even against the backdrop of the time- and the death of Elvis Presley (which came the day after the insomnia that saw the seeds of the song first-formed). It is a personal and cultural marker of time and place. We’ve had the song for decades, but to someone like me- for whom story and its creation is an endless source of fascination and wonder- reading about how the song came to be is a new gift to be savoured.
The Shuffle Daemon hasn’t been shuffling anything other than Kinks and/or Ray Davies tunes as I wend my way through his written words. As Ray revisited his process and the events that spoke to the process, I listened to the songs that resulted, rediscovering old favourites, or hearing those that didn’t top my personal pops in a new light which added a level of appreciation.
This one retains relevance to a prescient degree:
I switched on the radio and nearly dropped dead
The news was so bad that I fell out of bed
There was a gas strike, oil strike, lorry strike, bread strike
Got to be a superman to survive
Gas bills, rent bills, tax bills, phone bills
I’m such a wreck but I’m staying alive…
I’d really like to change the world
And save it from the mess it’s in…
Ray writes so well and so prolifically, it is hard to imagine that he has experienced writers’ block of any kind. But he has. And since this is the bane of the existence of any and all those who dare to self-describe as creative-types, knowing that the feeling affects a master of his caliber helps us mere mortals feel a little reassured…
‘In a creatively non-productive phase, my body almost mirrors my emotional state and I can become uncoordinated and risk to myself and others as I bump into tables and walk into closing doors. When it gets like this I forget which side of the Atlantic I am on. I invariably trip up on the pavement, drive on the wrong side of the road, and generally become a danger to anyone who happens to be walking near me. I become a cause for concern among all those who care for me… Sometimes the inspiration gene kicks in early in the morning like a randy rooster crowing a new beat. That’s the time when it’s important to start writing. When the dum-dum explodes it is usually accompanied in my head by the ‘William Tell’ overture, that tells me I have to write- which I do at maniacal speed, stopping only in response to exhaustion or physical pain. A period of nonproductivity, on the other hand, can sometimes necessitate a jug of coffee before I can even put on my dressing gown and get out of bed. That’s the creative curse.’ (pg. 150-151)
Destroyer is, in many ways- in my opinion anyway- the ultimate Kinks song. Combining the instantly recognizable riff from All Day and All of the Night and the reappearance of that inimitable character, Lola, it’s about self-destruction as a result of self-involvement.
Silly boy you got so much to live for
So much to aim for, so much to try for
You blowing it all with paranoia
You’re so insecure you self-destroyer..
Self-destroyer, wreck your health
Destroy friends, destroy yourself
The time device of self-destruction
Light the fuse and start eruption
Over the past week and a bit, as I’ve worked to complete a self-imposed exercise in productivity- one that leaves me filled with vacillating analyses ranging between ‘that’s pretty good’ and ‘oh man, does THAT ever suck rocks’- Ray has provided some illumination and even a kick in the pants or two and helped to draw me back into focus. And helped me regain some of the optimism that is generally second nature, but which has been missing in action over the last while.
He remains a work in progress- one who is still (at almost 70 years of age) producing works filled with inspiration and enduring characters. He went searching for himself in an America that was partly an amalgam of the pictures in his head, and found out a whole lot about himself in the process. Americana seems to have provided him with some perspective- and it has provided me with endless moments of delight. That I will certainly revisit over and over- the way I need to keep listening to his music.
As he notes in the epilogue: ‘Songs are like friends who comfort you so you don’t feel alone. Believe in them hard enough and they come true.’ (pg. 296).
With that bit of wisdom, I can’t help but agree- wholeheartedly- and look forward, with hope, for a day when I can believe in my own creations enough that they, in turn, become realized enough that they might just one day befriend someone the way his music and lyrics have been constant companions to me for years and years (and years…).
I could go on (how did this creep up to almost 2000 words?!? Although many of them are Ray’s…), but will instead recommend that you check out the book for yourself. Spending time with old friends is always good- especially at this time of year.