Wednesday, September 06, 2006
I'm OK/You're OK
Just about every British rocker of note has, at one time or another, fatally romanticized life in rural America, whether that means idealizing gritty blues joints or getting all cornpone bucolic about life in the country. That’s how you get Mick Jagger’s lame southern accent --"I’m down in Virginia with your cousin Lou" (though some suspect he was just trying to compete with Gram Parsons for Keef’s affection). Or Elton John’s "Country Comfort" (I cherish the thought of Elton and Bernie Taupin chipping in to help some Granny mending her barn.). As with most things, the Kinks had a little more sense. When they went country, they did it via London's bombed-out blue-collar outer fringes.
Muswell Hillbillies is generally pegged as either the beginning of a long slow decline for the Kinks, or maybe as the last gasp of semi-good stuff from the gang. From there it was more music hall nostalgia, brass-heavy silly concept albums and live filler. It wasn't long before Ray Davies was putting beer cans on his head on stage and announcing that he was fucking sick of it all. He'd had it up to there. People often cite "20th Century Man" and "Alcohol" as the songs of interest from Muswell, but I've always loved "Oklahoma USA." It's got a beautiful chorus, but what's great about it is the weird self-aware displaced longing for a Hollywood version of country life in America. It's all Rogers and Hammerstein-induced. It's got the dreamy tinsel town obsession that would show up in "Celluloid Heroes," but instead of getting maudlin about vanished fame, the pathos is soaked up by the sad sacks who trudge through life fantasizing about living in a movie. I've never really known what Ray Davies might mean by the line "If life's for living, what's living for?", but it strikes me as horribly sad all the same.
Ideally I'd be able to offer a version of the Sons of the Pioneers' majestic "The Everlasting Hills of Oklahoma" to go along with this and make it an official OK post.
"Oklahoma USA" -- The Kinks