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The Kinks' Dave Davies talks 'Lola,' sexual experimentation, nervous breakdown and Ray relations: 'Men have feelings too'

Dave Davies of The Kinks, portrait, London, 1970s. (Photo: Michael Putland/Getty Images)
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There was perhaps no band of the 1960s' British Invasion more British than the Kinks, with their story-songs that pined intensely for the Merry Olde England of the Davies brothers’ lost North London boyhood. While the band initially made a Stateside splash with the raw and raunchy proto-punk punch of 1964’s “You Really Got Me” and “All Day and All of the Night,” a year later they were mysteriously banned from touring the U.S. by the American Federation of Musicians. It was a brutal blow that isolated the Kinks from the world’s largest rock music market, all but ensuring that they’d never become as globally successful as their peers the Beatles, the Who, and the Rolling Stones. But it ironically helped the band forge their own indelible identity.

“Purely by the sake of the fact we couldn't go back to America, we had to kind of dig deep and return to our roots. And I think that's what helped us has become 'more British,'” guitarist Dave Davies tells Yahoo Entertainment. He still doesn’t quite know the reason for the sanction; the Kinks only learned of the ban when they attempted to book their second run of U.S. gigs in 1965. “I have my own ideas; I can’t really point me finger at any one thing,” he says with a shrug, although in his new autobiography, Living on a Thin Line, he speculates that the band’s unpredictable on-the-road antics simply angered one too many powerful union representatives. (“We all f***ed up big time,” he writes.)

The Kinks, from left, Dave Davies, Pete Quaife, Mick Avory, and Ray Davies, performing at BBC Television Centre in 1965. (Photo: David Redfern/Redferns)
The Kinks, from left, Dave Davies, Pete Quaife, Mick Avory, and Ray Davies, performing at BBC Television Centre in 1965. (Photo: David Redfern/Redferns)

“I just think you can't mess with the union; you can get blacklisted quite easily,” Dave tells Yahoo. “But we were lucky, because we managed to get back and start all over again. We worked very hard to get back to America and tour. And it was hard.”

The tour ban lasted until 1969, by which time a sea change had occurred in rock ‘n’ roll; while the Woodstock hippie generation was taking over America, the Kinks’ music just became more introspective, more wistful, and definitely more English, as evidenced by their Anglophilic concept albums The Village Green Preservation Society and Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire). However, as the ‘70s started, the Kinks found themselves back in the U.S. top 10 singles chart with “Lola.”

The song — which Dave says was inspired by his brother/bandmate Ray Davies’s dinner date with Warhol muse Candy Darling, although Ray has denied this claim — detailed a brief, doomed romantic encounter between a confused (presumably straight, cis) man and the titular character (presumably a trans woman), whom he meets in a Soho nightclub. The single was controversial at the time, with some radio stations fading out the track before Lola's gender identity was revealed, or even refusing the play the song at all. And “Lola” probably would not fly today, with its “gotcha” twist ending played for comic effect and its not-exactly-PC line about someone who “walks like a woman and talks like a man.” However, the single’s muscular sound set the template for the Kinks’ 1970s arena-rock resurgence, and Dave, who has always been open about his own sexuality, is proud of “Lola’s” legacy.

“Obviously there were a lot of people we knew who were transgender at the time, and we knew a lot of gay people, but you have to remember, when the Kinks first started, homosexuality was illegal in England. So, there were a lot of people that were having problems with their demonstration of their sexuality or how they wanted to appear, and we were at the beginning of all that,” Dave points out, adding with a chuckle, “In those days when we started touring again, Ray wrote this interesting song, to say the least — and a lot of people didn't really know what it was about! They just thought it was a ‘quirky Kinks song.’ But there was an awful lot of difficult times we had, so it was really quite handy that most people didn't know what the song was about. When it came to light, people were quite, quite shocked. But actually nowadays, it's really quite a very common subject, gender — talking about ‘girls will be boys and boys will be girls.’ We’re going through a big change in attitude and feeling and ‘what are we?’ and ‘why are we?’ — so, it's very topical now.”

In Living on a Thin Line and his previous memoir, 1996’s Kink, Dave has written about his relationships with musician/actor Long John Baldry and music producer Michael Aldred, along with a few other same-sex trysts and a missed opportunity to have a threesome involving the Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones, whom Dave had “always fancied.” Dave, who has been married twice to women and is currently in a serious relationship with writer/photographer Rebecca G. Wilson, tells Yahoo Entertainment, “After a lot of soul-searching in those early years, it seemed quite apparent that I was not bisexual or homosexual.” (Perhaps “fluid” or “pansexual,” terms that did not exist in the mainstream in the ‘60s or ‘70s, would better describe his sexuality.) But Dave speaks and writes fondly of that “really fantastic period” of sexual and emotional awakening in his youth.

“Obviously I experimented with my sexuality, being an inquisitive young man,” Dave says matter-of-factly. “I wanted to know what was going on when I was young, and I still do; I'm still very curious about world events and new things. And sometimes we have to find out about these things, and sometimes we don't even know at first. That time in the ‘60s was a big opportunity for finding out things, experimenting with sound, with painting, with movies — with sex! It's like all these opportunities suddenly reared their head. You have to remember that there had been some really rigid concepts in place at the time, and that was a bit of a worry. There were a lot of people that didn't like ‘camp,’ a flamboyant way of experimenting with your sexuality or however you want to be. But in my case, I experimented. I had male friends — that I stayed friends with — that I had male-to male adventures with.”

In Living on a Thin Line, Dave confesses that he eventually realized he was being “dishonest” to lead on male lovers who “considered themselves gay” and “wanted commitment beyond sex,” but he also writes, “The most important thing I learned is sensitivity. Men have feelings too and no one should ever make fun of people’s emotions. I was flamboyant and cocky, and f***ing around with a sweet guy was fun. Maybe he kissed nice and I enjoyed the way he touched me. … My dad had grown up at the tail end of that era when a man had to be ‘a man’, but I had learned not necessarily. My dad ended up nurturing flowers, and I nurtured sounds and feelings. Men can be nurturing without having to sleep with each other.”

Dave was the youngest of the eight Davies children, with six older sisters, and he says being “very heavily influenced by women” also helped him get in touch with that sensitive side — a side unfortunately suppressed in so many boys of the era, including his older brother Ray. “I count myself very lucky to grow up in that environment,” says the self-declared “baby” of the Davies clan, fondly recalling singing show tunes with his sisters in the family living room and playing dress-up. “I liked to dress up when I was a boy, like wear my sisters' clothes and stuff, just to have fun. But on the outside, there were very strict constraints about behavior. A lot of my friends at school growing up, they decided a long time before they left school that they were going to be accountants. And we need to get accountants, of course! But it was a more rigid mindset. I was always encouraged to dance and sing and have a good time.”

Ray and Dave Davies of the Kinks shot in Los Angeles during talks of a reunion. (Photo: Aaron Rapoport/Corbis via Getty Images)
Ray and Dave Davies of the Kinks shot in Los Angeles during talks of a reunion. (Photo: Aaron Rapoport/Corbis via Getty Images)

Ray and Dave were always “distinctly different from each other,” says Dave: “Sometimes people who you are closest to are the least like you. It's weird.” This of course resulted in friction between the two throughout the Kinks’ famously fraught history — a situation not unlike the feuding brothers of Oasis, the Black Crowes, or the Jesus and Mary Chain. “I remember, it was funny when I spoke to Oasis, the Gallaghers, and realized how different they were from each other. I had to laugh to myself at how different they were — and it was so like me and Ray, in a way,” Dave muses. “Ray was like a documenter of information, and I was so wild, experimental with music and my sexuality.” The Kinks released their final studio album in 1993 and played their last official show in ’96, but speculation about a reunion has run rampant practically ever since.

The Kinks seemed close to reuniting in 2003, but then in 2004 Dave suffered a stroke, halting any musical plans as he relearned walk, talk, sing, and play guitar. Around 2015, there appeared to be new momentum when the Davies brothers began working with director Julien Temple on a script for a biopic titled You Really Got Me, but that project has yet to materialize. (“Every so often there's a rewrite, then we have a discussion, then there's another rewrite, and at the moment it's being written again,” explains Dave, saying he hasn't spoken with Temple in "a few years.") Also in 2015, Ray and Dave performed together for first time in nearly two decades, playing “You Really Got Me” at Dave’s concert in London. Now, with this year marking the 60th anniversary of the Kinks as a band, the demand for some sort of reunion is greater than ever.

But Dave — understandably concerned that “so many media outlets” will twist his words if he says too much — simply tells Yahoo Entertainment, “Ray and I often talk about [reuniting], humorously, and so, well, maybe it'd be good. Never say never! It's possible we could do something. … You know, he and I get on OK. After all is said and done, we’re family. We have great love for our family, and we appreciate and understand how it's been so instrumental in our upbringing and our way of life.”

Ray Davies (L) and Dave Davies, winners of Q Classic Album at the Q Awards 2018.  (Photo: Dave J. Hogan/Getty Images)
Ray Davies (L) and Dave Davies, winners of Q Classic Album at the Q Awards 2018. (Photo: Dave J. Hogan/Getty Images)

In the meantime, on Sept. 9 the Kinks will release 50th-anniversary deluxe reissues of two classic, watershed albums, Muswell Hillbillies and the double-LP Everybody’s in Show-Biz - Everybody’s a Star, both recorded during that post-“Lola” era of renewed American appreciation for the band. 1971’s Muswell Hillbillies was the Kinks’ own sort of Americana record, uniquely blending American and British roots music, while 1972’s Everybody's on Show-Biz - Everybody’s a Star was a sardonic document of the Kinks’ life back on the American touring circuit. Dave admittedly struggled with the band’s newfound success at that time and actually suffered a nervous breakdown in August 1972 while touring the States (he seriously contemplated jumping out of a New York City hotel room window before he was interrupted by a surprise visit from an ex-girlfriend, which he took as a sign). But now, as these albums get the reissue treatment, he looks back at that time period with his usual wry humor and self-awareness.

“It’s funny, because when you talk about having a breakdown or mental illness or anything, people tend to treat it like it’s a hangover, or like you just bumped your head. But there’s a reason why they call it ‘rehab,’ because it takes time. It’s not an overnight thing. I was going through a lot of mental and spiritual problems during those years, ’71 and ’72. It was a difficult time,” he says. “Hence the beard! I grew a beard; maybe I thought the beard would help me from the demons or the weirdness! You have to do whatever you can to get out of this awful state of mind, right? You know, life’s tough anyway, so when we invite weird shit, it doesn't help. … But, at a very young age, I realized that life is art.”

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