One of the main subjects in several chapters of the Geek Rock book is the connection between popular music and gender. I briefly discuss the â€œwomen want them, men want to be themâ€ allure of Mick Jagger, Roger Daltrey, and Robert Plant, specifically with regards to the audience, in my chapter. Martina Topicâ€™s essay on Captain Beefheart contrasts his stage persona and appearance with that of Robert Plant, which Martina described as the epitome of hypermasculinity: bare chest, a mane of locks, pants that are snug in all the right places, you get the picture. (Thatâ€™s right, we picked on Robert Plant, not once, but twice, for being too good-looking!) Caroline Gates-Shannon did a wonderful examination of the Twee Pop genre, exploring notions of gender in covers of songs written by men, but performed by women â€“ The Carsâ€™ â€œMy Best Friendâ€™s Girlâ€ and The Beach Boys â€œSurfer Girlâ€ â€“ as well as the nontraditional masculinity present in the music and performances of Beat Happening. Carolineâ€™s chapter floats out the phrase â€œalternative masculinity,â€ that is to say a form of masculinity that deviates from the standard (whether itâ€™s the Ron Swanson â€œmanly manâ€ or Robert Plantâ€™s bulge is your pick. And I promise to leave Mr. Plant alone from here on out. Itâ€™s not his fault heâ€™s criminally handsome.)
The Kinks are one of the most influential bands of their period; The Beatlesâ€™ impact was immediate â€“ Fellas! Letâ€™s start a band and have girls scream at us, just like THOSE GUYS! â€“ while The Kinksâ€™ influence on popular music took a little longer. Part of it is that they truly were ahead of their time. Part of it was that they were banned from performing in the United States from 1965 to 1969; itâ€™s a long story, and one that varies depending on which author, journalist, or even Kink you are asking. Here come some lofty claims that I can comfortably defend with evidence: they invented heavy metal with â€œYou Really Got Meâ€ (courtesy of Dave Davies puncturing and slashing the speaker cone on his â€œlittle green ampâ€), their landmark album The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society is the Rosetta Stone of indie rock, they scored the first hit single that celebrates queer sexuality with â€œLola,â€ and you know how bands these days change genres with each album like theyâ€™re changing their socks? Well, The Kinks did that first â€“ bluesy garage rock, baroque British pop, hard rock, concept albums, a fabulous country/trad-jazz album (1971â€™s Muswell Hillbillies), and one of the greatest musical theater pieces of all time, Preservation Act One and Preservation Act Two.
Another pronounced influence The Kinks had was with how Ray Davies (the bandâ€™s lead singer and chief songwriter, though his younger brother Dave wrote some wonderful songs as well) presented, performed, and subverted the rock ideal of traditional masculinity. This can be traced as far back as the bandâ€™s first single, a cover of Little Richardâ€™s â€œLong Tall Sallyâ€ (where the narratorâ€™s uncle John is â€œhaving some fun tonightâ€ with a woman who may or may not actually be a woman â€“ shades of â€œLola,â€ perhaps?) backed with an original, â€œI Took My Baby Home.â€ The singleâ€™s B-side has Daviesâ€™ narrator taking a date back to his place, where he finds himself sexually overpowered:
â€œShe had some pile-drivinâ€™ kisses, they really knocked me out
They knocked me oh-oh-over,
She had a hug like a vice,
She squeezes once or twice and I moanâ€¦â€
Okay, so Ray still had a little ways to go before becoming a man who Pete Townshend said should be Englandâ€™s poet laureate, but consider this: the song was recorded in January 1964. At that point in time, The Beatles were ready to send all their loving to you, while their bad-boy counterparts The Rolling Stones were introduced to the British record-buying public with a press release (penned by their manager Andrew Oldham) urging the population to lock up their daughters. Across the pond, The Beach Boys were doing songs that treated women like objects. (Go read the lyrics to â€œCalifornia Girls,â€ a sublime melody and a textbook example in how to arrange a pop song that is also irretrievably sexist.) In â€œI Took My Baby Home,â€ however â€“ Ray Daviesâ€™ first song on record â€“ the man is the object, sexually submissive to his female partner.
Of course, this is only the bandâ€™s first single. There are countless instances throughout their catalog of Ray portraying himself as something less than a cock-of-the-walk alpha male, in defiance of typical rock and blues lyrics. Consider the narrator of â€œSunny Afternoon,â€ where the man who has lost everything is hardly an object of pity, instead a newly-single abusive alcoholic who doesnâ€™t pay his taxes. The Kinks also make plenty of references to queer sexuality, as well. There is a blink-and-youâ€™ll-miss-it gay reference in â€œA Well Respected Man,â€ while the male main character in â€œDedicated Follower of Fashionâ€ is described as wearing â€œfrilly nylon panties.â€
On Preservation, Ray sings â€œMirror of Loveâ€ in the voice of a female character, and it is hilarious, and yet this character isÂ later voiced in the story by the great Maryann Price. There is a fey glam campiness in Rayâ€™s onstage banter during the live cuts on Everybodyâ€™s in Showbiz (supposedly, he was hamming it up for members of Andy Warholâ€™s entourage sitting in the front row), while the eponymous track from 1987â€™s The Road (primarily a live album, this was its one studio cut) provided the title to this article. From 1978â€™s Misfits, â€œOut of the Wardrobeâ€ portrays a married couple who not only cross-dress at home, they swap traditional gender roles entirely: â€œHe does the dishes, she smokes a pipe.â€ Much like â€œLolaâ€ eight years earlier, the depiction is one of bliss, however not normal it may seem by conventional standards.
Before wrapping it up, I would like to shift the focus from Ray and talk about Dave; occasionally overlooked, Dave deserves to be a focal point in any discussion of the bandâ€™s sound or appearance. At a time where the Stonesâ€™ shaggy hair caused an uproar and more than a few dirty looks while touring the American south, Dave sported shoulder-length locks. He writes at great length in his autobiography Kink about this, as well as his affinity for wearing campy stage makeup in their early days. Where Ray delivered subtle gay winks in his lyrics, Dave, the ever-smirking maniac whose guitar solos in the bandâ€™s early days injected an orgasmic rush into the proceedings, admitted to his own bi-curiosity in the 1960â€™s. (Homosexuality was illegal in the UK until 1967.)
As if you all needed another reason to listen to The Kinks. Do it. Now.