MUSIC MLK's and Bobby Kennedy's assassinations, shaken confidence in Vietnam after a bloody and vengeful Tet Offensive, Haight-Ashbury's rapid dissolving into a breeding ground for lost and burned-out hippies pathetically clinging to the idyllic notion of a "Summer of Love," and a free Charles Manson settling in Laurel Canyon to plot the perverse and gruesome murders his "family" would soon commit. Yes, 1968 was the year the darkness had arrived. Certainly flower power had gone wrong, wilting its way toward a strong sense of paranoia that not only seeped its way into society's psyche and politics, but into popular music as well.
Stripped in tone and oftentimes more raw-sounding than the overly-produced psychedelia that dominated the previous two years, the Kinks' masterfully produced November 1968 classic The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society is a prime example of Ray Davies' maturing writing skill. It especially shines as an artist's profound expression of his own insecurities. Village Green is loaded with accounts of Davies' vain obsessions and his fears. It's a document of the human condition in particular, people's longings to leave a lasting legacy and be remembered.
Thematically, Davies works himself into a frenzy, unable to live for the moment, facing the pressures of fading British tradition (on the title track) and changes in technology ("Last of the Steam-Powered Trains"), both of which symbolize a changing of the guard and uncertainty about how the album's protagonist fits into the world. Don't underestimate Davies' fears of growing old. The bitterness on "Do You Remember Walter?" is almost too much to bear. It fits well, though, making Village Green a cohesive unit. Here he criticizes an old friend who he assumes has grown old, boring, and out of shape. But his disdain stems from Ray's fear of being Walter (i.e., washed up), and is connected to the fact that Walter has moved on in life and perhaps wouldn't even recognize or remember his dear old friend.
With its simple and bucolic flair, "Sitting by the Riverside" seems familiar enough. The ditty should be relaxing, with its nice, easy-going melody, but Ray even corrupts something seemingly innocent with a manic "la-da-da" that chimes in on occasion before bursting to a near crescendo during the song's outro, sounding like a bad drug experience.
Listening to Village Green's "All of My Friends Were There," I've always imagined it playing at someone's birthday party, with of course all their friends present. But it seems to be more of a performance with all eyes on Davies, because he's built it in his head to be the biggest day in his life. Once again we see his sick longing to feel love, attention, and validation, this time through the power of numbers. Unfortunately, his gathering backfires to disastrous results. It's just as well. Somehow I have a feeling that no matter how many people were present, he still feels alone and empty.
Two Village Green songs, "Picture Book" and the album-closing "People Take Pictures of Each Other," focus on how photographs are supposed to fill some sort of void, making us seem more important than we really are as if a photograph is necessary to validate our feelings of love for one another and emotions from our past. Davies argues that we take pictures of one another to prove our existence. At the same time, he's caught up in paranoid visions of what his own photograph will look like when he's an old man: "Picture yourself, when you're getting old." Finally a bit of optimism peeks through, but in an unsure way, when he sings, "People often change, but memories of people can remain." That is to say, I can remember you however I choose.