Friday, January 16, 2009

Taking a look at the Kinks' Picture Book

What? They didn't include Phenomenal Cat?

Kinks fans finally have a box set honoring the music of the best band to ever come out of the UK. Picture Book is a 6 CD collection of music spanning the decades between the 1960s and the 1990s. This set may or may not be any fan's dream compilation. Certainly it has lead to intense discussions on the Kinks Preservation Society mailing list. Some fans want more of the hits, while others want more rarities and obscure tracks.

Organized chronologically, the six discs contain 138 tracks. Checking out the Unofficial Kinks Web Site, we find 601 songs listed. Many of those are from either Ray or Dave solo albums, but even so a lot of great Kinks songs did not make the cut for this compilation. I would definitely prefer to have Everybody's a Star on here, and (Wish I could Fly Like) Superman instead of Catch Me Now I'm Falling and Heart of Gold (two of my three least favorite Kinks tracks. At least they didn't include Brother, which would be my third and final least favorite track.)

But don't count me among the big complainers. I'm thrilled to find songs I've never heard before, particularly one that just happens to have as a title my last name. In fact, Disc 5 has a cluster of never-released tracks from 1979-1980. There are also live tracks, alternate versions and demos of some favorite songs scattered throughout the discs.

The best thing about Picture Book for this fan is that listening to it is like looking through picture books of my own life. The Kinks are the soundtrack to my adventures. When I hear certain songs, I am rocketed back to the times when I heard them for the first time. Well Respected Man brings images of my pal Holly in high school, teaching me the notes to this song as I struggled to learn how to play acoustic guitar. Celluloid Heroes will always take me back to college days, hanging with my theatre pals late nights after rehearsals and listening to Everybody's in Show-Biz.

And then of course, came the day I heard Preservation Act I and II for the very first time and was hooked forever. Those were my post-college FM radio days, at WCUE-FM in Akron. We were all agog with idealistic notions of the power of progressive radio to transform the lives of our community. Until we all got fired for being too radical. In retrospect, we should have paid more attention to the message of Preservation. Because after all Money and Corruption are ruining the land, and indeed, Money Talks!

My passion for theatre was matched by the theatrical endeavors of Ray Davies and the Kinks for the first half of the 1970s. I watched a rehearsal of Soap Opera at the Akron Civic Theatre and Schoolboys in Disgrace (complete with schoolboy costumes and Ray in Headmaster mask) performed live in Cleveland. Inspired, I left Akron for a Life on the Road of experimental theatre that began on the east coast. The releases of Sleepwalker and Misfits found me taking the train from DC to NYC to catch as many Kinks concerts as I could. By Low Budget, I had moved to San Francisco with ten dollars in my pocket to study mask making and performance at the Leonard Pitt School of Mask and Mime.

The Kinks were banging out great albums in the early 80s. The double disc One for the Road captured the intensity of their live concerts. Give the People What They Want contained a very personal message for me in a song called A Little Bit of Abuse. It took me way too long to figure out how to find my way out of that Yo-Yo relationship. By the release of State of Confusion, I gathered my few bits of Property and escaped to Ohio.

Back in Akron, I bought the cassette version of Think Visual, listening to Working at the Factory and Repetition over and over again as I slogged away working as a check encoder at a bank, trying to pull myself together after the years of living in a dark and deep emotional hole. When The Road was released, I was beginning to find my theatrical feet again, and began teaching at a local studio. I started a couple of theatre companies and took my act on The Road to cafes and art bars from Chicago to Baltimore and Cooperstown, NY.

UK Jive
was full of socio-political perspectives and so was I in the late 80s, publishing my own underground 'zine of anarchy and art. In late 80s and early 90s -- the time of George Bush the Elder -- we found ourselves involved in another stupid useless war. It was enough to send us all Over the Edge. Phobia marked the end of my era of hard-scrabble avant- garde theatricals. By the time I got hold of the US release of To The Bone, I found myself working in a respectable job, as a public school drama teacher. But I still use the Kinks as soundtracks for acting games and exercises. You Really Got Me (live version) will always be one of the best warm-up tracks of all time while Jack the Idiot Dunce remains a favorite with my students.

It has been a great pleasure immersing myself in Picture Book. I received my copy yesterday, having ordered it via Ray Davies' web site. I could have ordered it for less money via amazon or other online outlets, but I liked the idea of ordering from one of the original sources, and hoped that perhaps more of the profits might go into the hands of the band members rather than a third party. This meant waiting longer, and I did so patiently until a month had gone by since ordering. Two days ago, I wrote an email of inquiry and the very next day the box set showed up in my mailbox -- on the coldest day of January. I brought the frozen discs inside and let them reach room temperature before opening them up and importing them into my computer.

Today I received the following email from customer service:

Your order is somewhere between us and yourself.
Ray Davies management did delay in getting replacement stock in December, but all orders have been fulfilled.

All international orders are sent via Airmail

Hopefully it will be with you very soon, if not already.

Best wishes,

Wow! Could that possibly John "Nobby" Dalton? Or is it some other Nobby? Perhaps Nobby is a widely used nickname in the UK. I hope to solve the Nobby mystery along with the mystery of the missing 60 page booklet that should have been included in the box set. Hopefully, they'll airmail me the missing booklet which is supposed to include rare photos and commentary on the various tracks. While waiting, I have a lot of CDs to keep my enthralled and entertained.

Needless to say, The Village Green highly recommends Picture Book.

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