Bob Dylan’s 2004 Chronicles is seen by many as a landmark in rock and pop autobiography – and when we read it in April we were confounded and delighted in turn by this rule-breaking memoir. But turning to Ray Davies’s X-Ray: An Unauthorised Autobiography – published a good decade earlier – we all felt that the Kinks front man had done his bit to tear up the rock bio rule book. We were intrigued by Davies idiosyncratic solution to the challenge of turning a life into a book – transforming himself into a character in his own narrative, quizzed by a fictional journalist. But we quickly found we were entering a hall of mirrors . . . Was the irascible “R.D” an unsparing self-portrait or a parody of his own music press image? Was the young journalist himself just another version of Davies? And what was the ‘Corporation’ which R.D repeatedly denounces in true if slightly paranoid anti-establishment style – society? the state? the music industry? Much like Dylan’s Chronicles, it became clear that any desire to hear the ‘true story’ behind the famous songs – who was Lola? – was destined to be disappointed. But, as with Dylan, what emerged was perhaps a more interesting story – one about the mysteries of the creative process and the impossibility of reducing it to an easy explanation. Having read a number of 1960s rock and pop legend autobiographies over the last months, we began to detect certain recurring motifs – the shadow of the Second World War, the formative art school education, the ill-advised record deals, the trials and tribulations of fame, the carnival of the rock entourage on tour . . . To this list Davies adds a still topical motif in many rock family trees – the sibling love and rivalry that can cement or destroy a band’s identity. Indeed, Dave Davies provided a compelling foil to his older brother Ray, often threatening to upstage him with his colourful escapades. It is an unusual autobiography which depicts its own author’s death and with Davies prematurely dispatched and all but forgotten at the end of this wry fantasy, the book passes no comment on the enormous impact that the Kinks sound, words and look has had on contemporary British pop culture. But filling in these gaps was perhaps one of the pleasures of reading and discussing this highly original memoir.
LitPop is a book club for lovers of books, music and books about music. It meets at 6pm-7pm every third Wednesday of the month at Newcastle City Library and is convened by Rachel Carroll (Teesside University) and Adam Hansen (Northumbria University). Meetings are free to attend, and the library tries to get copies in. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information, or follow us on Twitter @Litpop1.
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