Kinks1969 Kangaroo 1500 crop

the kinks on arthur and finding shangri-la

AS WE BEGIN OUR STORY some­time in late 1970, the Kinks were in a bit of a bad way. De­spite being one of the pre­mier groups of the British In­va­sion of 1964, they had not reached the Top 40 in the US since mid-1966. Even in their homeland—their own Vil­lage Green, filled with Arthur and mil­lions like him—it had been more than a year since they’d had a hit!

Not that they were making out as new-fangled “album artists”: their LP sales had plum­meted and that they were banned from per­forming in the US, hence in­come had be­come an issue. Some­thing was needed, some­thing like an­other hit single and a best-selling album.

 

“I was born, lucky me, in a land that I love. Though I am poor, I am free. When I grow, I shall fight. For this land, I shall die. Let her sun never set.”

 

But first, this ar­ticle was orig­i­nally pub­lished as a two-parter ti­tled “now that you’ve found your shangri-la” in 2013. Here I have re­vised the text (con­ser­v­a­tively) while adding im­ages, some­thing that I did not know how to do two years ago. For record col­lec­tors, please refer to a follow-up ar­ticle, “A Discog­raphy And Price Guide to the Kinks’ Arthur Album And Re­lated Sin­gles.”

My first year of col­lege began in the last quarter of 1969—Nixon and Agnew and Haldeman and Er­lichman and G. Gordon und so weiter were just starting their reign of error/terror. I was at­tending Wilkes Col­lege in sunny funny Wilkes-Barre, Penn­syl­vania, to ring up the basic two years’ worth of credits re­quired for a Bach­elor of Arts de­gree. The plan was to then find an ap­pro­priate art school and finish a de­gree in Fine Arts, al­though what I would have done with such a de­gree es­capes me today.

 

Arthur: photo of the Kinks 1969.

A village green for the students

Step for­ward a few months, prob­ably June 1970. The lo­ca­tion was some room in one of the smaller build­ings at Wilkes. The “campus” was a pot­pourri of modern, mostly un­at­trac­tive but util­i­tarian struc­tures in­ter­spersed with sev­eral lovely old houses/mansions—many built in the 19th century—that had been do­nated to the pur­suit of higher ed­u­ca­tion by local fam­i­lies of wealth back when uni­versal higher ed­u­ca­tion mat­tered to some Amer­ican fam­i­lies of wealth.

I went to Wilkes in­stead of straight to art school—which could be among the biggest of the now count­less mis­takes I have made in this life-cycle—because my mother was sec­re­tary to one of the higher-ups in the col­lege. Hence, my tu­ition was free.

 

“Long ago, life was clean. Sex was bad, called ob­scene, and the rich were so mean. Stately homes for the Lords—croquet lawns, vil­lage greens. Vic­toria was my queen.”

 

So, I took Eng­lish, math, and sci­ence along with the other req­ui­site courses. One of my elec­tives was a public speaking course with a teacher who also taught drama. Un­for­tu­nately, I don’t re­call the name of this de­lightful teacher, ex­cept that she was very cheerful and en­cour­aging to all of her students—regardless of the de­gree of their abil­i­ties to wow an au­di­ence.

Wilkes it­self was an odd campus: the col­lege grounds were built on sev­eral city blocks facing one of the world’s finest dike systems—constructed with great pride by the US Army Corps of En­gi­neers in 1948. These dykes hold back the Susque­hanna River (most of the time). It was named by the conquerors—er, the settlers—after the Susque­han­nocks, a local tribe of the Iro­quois people. 1

There was a stretch of grass and trees be­tween River Street—once the place for the elite to build their mansions—and the dike that runs for sev­eral blocks. The top of the dikes is more than 40 feet above the river’s bed and wide enough for a large truck to drive along! The grassy area is quite lovely and a pop­ular place for stu­dents to sit in the nice weather and study or take a break from studying. In a way, it was our own vil­lage green for the stu­dents and fac­ulty.

 

Arthur: photo of Weiss Hall at Wilkes College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

This is Weiss Hall, do­nated to Wilkes by the Weiss family decades ago, is used by Wilkes Col­lege to house fe­male stu­dents. It is one of many such struc­tures that make touring Wilkes a pleasant ex­pe­ri­ence, even if you are not a stu­dent.

A bummer on the grass

This area holds some in­ter­esting mem­o­ries for me: I had my first bummer (that is, a non-groovy acid ex­pe­ri­ence) on the grass while awaiting a con­cert fea­turing John Sebastian—riding his wave of pop­u­larity due to Wood­stock the movie and still wearing that groovy jean vest—and Dave Mason, who was less than a house­hold word in the US.

My room­mates Jack and Judy were moving out (and guys, think twice about sharing living quar­ters with a newly mar­ried couple, es­pe­cially when the young bride is sexually/personally in­se­cure) sur­rounded by all these bad vibes and Roach was moving in.

He and I split a hit of barrel Or­ange Sun­shine back when the shit on the street was so f*cking po­tent (400 mics? 800? more? who knew!) that we thought it was cut with speed and some said even strych­nine but what­ever it was it could be wicked, man.

 

Reading and sup­pos­edly de­claiming Hall­mark greeting card verse that made Rod McK­uen’s po­etry seem down­right dadaesque!

 

And we were, like, y’know, swap­ping bad en­ergy, pulling grass out of the ground for no reason we could ex­plain and when John stopped I started and we were picking up each oth­er’s loose ends con­ver­sa­tion­ally, fin­ishing each other’s sen­tences and not in non-sequiturs and making Elaine cry—his Elaine, mine was a few years in the future—because she was so scared by the bad vibes that we were putting off but not un­der­standing we were putting off.

She had never seen John like this and we had to split up to douse the neg­a­tive en­ergy, man, and Roach and Elaine palmed me off on my brother Charles who likes to be called Charlie but he’s al­ways been Charles to me and he took me off their hands and I said to him, “No matter what hap­pens do not let me go home with some hip­py­chick that night of nights no matter how beau­tiful she might be!” and mein Gott but they were every­where that night and all so and ready willing able but that’s an­other story.

At the time that the events in this essay took place, I was in a small room in one of the smaller houses—still, a man­sion by most peo­ple’s standards—and I was there for that speech class.

 

Arthur: photo of a sheet of blotter acid with Rick Griffin art.

While we East Coast heads were stuck with your normal everyday pills or oc­ca­sion­ally some ‘barrel’ Or­ange Sun­shine, on the West Coast the Broth­er­hood of Eternal Love was dis­trib­uting acid on sheets of paper. Called blotter acid, the il­lus­tra­tion above is a more re­cent ex­ample. As much as we would have loved to have had hits of acid with Rick Griffin art, the tech­nology to do so was not af­ford­able at the time. Most blotter acid of the ’60s and ’70s was plain white or gray pieces of paper.

Too stoned for final exams?

The public speaking class was mostly un­eventful, until the final two classes for the se­mester, which were oral exams (of course). For the penul­ti­mate class, we were to se­lect works from a printed source au­thored by someone other than our­selves and present it to the class dra­mat­i­cally.

It was an evening class and so many of the stu­dents were older and had day jobs. These part-time stu­dents were more ma­ture and more se­rious than the full-time co-eds, but they were rather unin­spired if not ac­tu­ally life­less public speakers.

While Berkeley and UCLA and other schools in large urban areas may have been tin­der­boxes for cre­ativity, at Wilkes, many of my fellow public speaking stu­dents be­lieved that an earnest reading of the most purple of prose—without in­flec­tion, without eye con­tact, without hand or arm movement—was good public speaking. It was often like watching a robot at­tempting drama.

 

An everyman oc­cu­pies the role of the pro­tag­o­nist without being a hero and without nec­es­sarily being a round or a dy­namic char­acter.

 

(And I do not mean this to sound as harsh s it prob­ably does: standing up in front of an au­di­ence and speaking is not easy. That is why most of my fellow stu­dents were taking the class. But that doesn’t mean they were not ro­botic or funny …)

And what sev­eral stu­dents chose for that class was a fa­vorite Hall­mark greeting card-like bit of verse. As po­etry, this made Rod McKuen seem down­right dadaesque! 2

I often felt a sort of em­pa­thetic em­bar­rass­ment for the person in front of the class un­wit­tingly making his or her simple reading a bit of an ordeal—usually for those of us who had to listen and pre­tend to pay at­ten­tion. I would sneak a peek at the teacher and would see her main­taining the stiffest of upper lips with an oc­ca­sional cringe.

Not for me. Nosireebob—not when I took center stage!

By May of ’69, I had turned on (but hadn’t ex­actly tuned in yet) and found that a couple of hits of good old Mex­ican weed re­leased the clos­eted Thes­pian within. So, for this class, I brought the in­sert from the re­cently re­leased Kinks album ARTHUR, which fea­tured the ever-witty lyrics of Ray­mond Dou­glas Davies. 3

 

Front cover art for the Kinks ARTHUR album.

This is the front cover of ARTHUR, sub­ti­tled “The De­cline And Fall Of The British Em­pire.” The nos­talgic art­work is by British artist Bob Lawrie.  The jacket is a gate­fold af­fair that folds open into a 12 x 24-inch format with some rather col­orful art on the inner panels (see below).

A decline and a fall

So, while my fellow stu­dents were reciting Hall­markian verse-makers, I pre­pared for my per­for­mance by puffing on a joint be­fore. The teacher had learned to save me for last, as I was usu­ally dif­fi­cult for the others to follow. This time was no ex­cep­tion. I saun­tered up to the podium and held up a copy of the Kinks’ album for everyone to see the al­bum’s cover painting, a de­cid­edly Six­ties British piece of pop art by Bob Lawrie.

Davies had scripted a tele­play with nov­elist Ju­lian Mitchell for broad­cast on tele­vi­sion in Eng­land. Davies also wrote twelve songs that were re­lated to one an­other lyri­cally, mu­si­cally, and con­cep­tu­ally as the sound­track to the play. The tracks worked as an album and prob­ably should have been con­sid­ered a song-cycle or as a con­cept album but were called a rock-opera as it fol­lowed Pete Townsend and the Who’s bloated TOMMY by sev­eral months.

The plot re­volves around a not par­tic­u­larly bright Eng­lishman everyman named Arthur Morgan and at­tempts to give a Cliff Notes ver­sion of British his­tory in the 20th cen­tury.

“In lit­er­a­ture and drama, the term everyman has come to mean an or­di­nary in­di­vidual, with whom the au­di­ence or reader is sup­posed to be able to iden­tify easily, and who is often placed in ex­tra­or­di­nary cir­cum­stances.

The everyman char­acter is con­structed so that the au­di­ence can imagine it­self in the same sit­u­a­tion without having to pos­sess knowl­edge, skills, or abil­i­ties that tran­scend human po­ten­tial. Such char­ac­ters react re­al­is­ti­cally in sit­u­a­tions that are often taken for granted with tra­di­tional he­roes.

Al­ter­na­tively, an everyman oc­cu­pies the role of the pro­tag­o­nist without being a hero and without nec­es­sarily being a round char­acter or a dy­namic char­acter. In this sce­nario, the everyman is de­vel­oped like a sec­ondary char­acter, but the char­ac­ter’s near om­nipres­ence within the nar­ra­tive shifts the focus from char­acter de­vel­op­ment to events and sto­ry­lines sur­rounding the char­acter.” (Wikipedia)

That Davies uses the idea of Shangri-La iron­i­cally is hope­fully ev­i­dent even to Amer­ican lis­teners. The term it­self has little meaning to many mem­bers of the post-Boomer gen­er­a­tions. Here is a cap­sule ex­pla­na­tion:

“Shangri-La is a fic­tional place de­scribed in the 1933 novel Lost Horizon by James Hilton. He de­scribes Shangri-La as a mys­tical, har­mo­nious valley en­closed in the western end of the Kunlun Moun­tains. Shangri-La has be­come syn­ony­mous with any earthly par­adise, a per­ma­nently happy land, iso­lated from the out­side world.” (Wikipedia)

Davies uses Shangri-La metaphor­i­cally and iron­i­cally in the song (see the YouTube video and the lyrics below). 4

 

Interior art on the gatefold jacket for the Kinks ARTHUR album.

On the in­side is an­other Bob Lawrie painting of the fat­test, goofiest kan­garoo that ever hopped this planet—and he’s wearing boxing gloves! (An­other ex­ample of the Kinks’ rather ob­vious re­jec­tion of so many things swirling psy­che­del­i­cally about them in 1969.)

The cancellation of Arthur

Ac­cording to Davies, “Arthur had a most un­happy his­tory. It was orig­i­nally meant to be a sort of rock opera, and we got as far as casting (ex­cel­lent di­rector and ac­tors) and finding lo­ca­tions and were about to go when the pro­ducer went to a pro­duc­tion meeting without a proper budget, tried to flannel his way through it, was im­me­di­ately sussed and the pro­duc­tion pulled. I have never been able to for­give the man.”

Davies was one of the most dis­tinc­tive vocal styl­ists of the ’60s, playing up his British ac­cent and never at­tempting to sound like an aging black Amer­ican bluesman. On ARTHUR he uses more voices than one can count on the first few lis­ten­ings, many of them with ex­ag­ger­ated ac­cents or com­pletely hammed up. He mixes them with a droll sense of humor and acute wit.

 

The Kinks - Vic­toria

Victoria loved them all

Back to speech class: es­chewing the mi­cro­phone, I stood in front of the podium and began reciting the first song on the first side, Vic­toria. I was a bit of a ham my­self and was rather good at em­u­lating others—especially British ac­cents. And the more ex­treme the ac­cent or af­fec­ta­tion, the better!

In this case, I had Davies down as though I was his Amer­ican dop­pel­gänger. Without glancing at the lyric sheet and in an ab­surd British accent—and re­member that I was quite stoned by this time—I oh so po­litely began: “I was born—lucky me!—in the land that I love …” and then re­al­ized I had the second and first verses mixed up. (No one ever found out.)

Long ago, life was clean,
Sex was bad and ob­scene,
And the rich were so mean.
Stately homes for the lords.
Cro­quet lawns, vil­lage greens.
Vic­toria was my queen!

I was born, lucky me, in a land that I love.
Though I am poor, I am free.
When I grow, I shall fight.
For this land, I shall die.
Let her sun never set!

Canada to India,
Aus­tralia to Corn­wall,
Sin­ga­pore to Hong Kong.
From the West to the East,
From the rich to the poor,
Vic­toria loved them all.

I es­pe­cially loved the second verse: that be­gins “I was born, lucky me.” It sums up the gung-ho, ju­bi­lantly jin­go­istic at­ti­tude of the so-called pa­triot.

 

The Kinks - Yes Sir, No Sir

Where do I go, sir?

I fol­lowed this with Yes Sir, No Sir, a song about a dimwitted re­cruit in the British mil­i­tary. As far as I can tell, the lyrics rep­re­sent three dif­ferent speakers (two of­fi­cers and a sub­or­di­nate), each with a dif­ferent tone and in­to­na­tion to his voice, each with a slightly dif­ferent British ac­cent.

Yes, sir—no, sir.
Where do I go, sir?
What do I do, sir?
What do I say?

Yes, sir—no, sir.
Where do I go, Sir?
What do I do, sir?
How do I be­have?

Yes, sir—no, sir.
Per­mis­sion to speak, sir?
Per­mis­sion to breathe, sir?
What do I say?
How do I be­have?
What do I say?

So you think that you’ve got am­bi­tion.
Stop your dreaming and your idle wishing.
You’re out­side and there ain’t no ad­mis­sion to our play.
Pack up your am­bi­tion in your old kit bag.
Soon you’ll be happy with a packet of fags.
Chest out, stomach in!
Do what I say!
Do what I say!
Yes, right away!

Yes, sir—no, sir.
Where do I go, sir?
What do I do, sir?
What do I say?

Yes, sir—no, sir.
Per­mis­sion to speak, sir?
Per­mis­sion to breathe, sir?
What do I say?
How do I be­have?
What do I say?

Doesn’t matter who you are,
You’re there and there you are.
Every­thing is in its place,
Au­thority must be main­tained.
And then we know ex­actly where we are.

Let them feel that they’re im­por­tant to the cause.
But let them know that they are fighting for their homes.
Just be sure that they’re con­tributing their all.
Give the scum a gun and make the bugger fight!
And be sure to have de­serters shot on sight!
If he dies we’ll send a medal to his wife.

Yes, sir—no, sir.
Please let me die, sir.
I think this life is af­fecting my brain.
Yes, sir. No, sir.
Three bags full, sir.
What do I do, sir?
What do I say?
What do I say?
How do I be­have?
What do I say? 

Ray Davies is bril­liant in all three roles—especially the con­de­scending, ef­fete se­nior officer—and I did a more than passing job at im­i­tating him. (And those readers fa­miliar this track will ap­pre­ciate the ef­forts that Davies put into the recita­tion and that I had to follow.)

 

The Kinks - Some Moth­er’s Son

This is your kingdom to command

The teacher gave me a standing ova­tion and re­quested an en­core! I se­lected Some Moth­er’s Son, one of the most moving anti-war lyrics that I had ever heard—and so ap­pro­priate given that John­son’s “quag­mire” in Vietnam was about to be­come Nixon’s fi­asco in Cam­bodia, Laos, and Thai­land!

Some moth­er’s son lies in a field.
Someone has killed some moth­er’s son today.
Head blown up by some sol­dier’s gun,
While all the mothers stand and wait.
Some moth­er’s son ain’t coming home today.
Some moth­er’s son ain’t got no grave.

Two sol­diers fighting in a trench:
One sol­dier glances up to see the sun,
And dreams of games he played when he was young.
And then his friend calls out his name;
It stops his dream and as he turns his head,
A second later he is dead.

Some moth­er’s son lies in a field.
Back home they put his pic­ture in a frame.
But all dead sol­diers look the same.
While all the par­ents stand and wait
To meet their chil­dren coming home from school.
Some mother’s son is lying dead.

Some­where, someone is crying,
Someone is trying to be so brave.
But still, the world keeps turning,
Though all the chil­dren have gone away.

Some mother’s son lies in a field.
But in his moth­er’s eyes, he looks the same
As on the day he went away.
They put his pic­ture on the wall.
They put flowers in the pic­ture frame.
Some moth­er’s memory re­mains …

While the other stu­dents had all read their lines from printed ma­te­rials, I had the en­tire album mem­o­rized. So where their hands had been en­cum­bered by the pa­pers or books that they had to hold be­fore them, my hands were free to ges­tic­u­late, to un­der­line, to punc­tuate. And ges­tic­u­late I did …

 

DavidHorsey cartoon FirstBabyBoomer 900

Aging hip­pies as seen through the eyes of David Horsey of The Los An­geles Times. For­tu­nately, due to being pickled in acid, I still look like the image in the mirror! Well, sorta.

And the gung-ho jingoistic bullies

I should tell you, I sup­pose, that this was the time in which not only was the inner Thes­pian coming out, but so was my hidden hippie. My fel­lows in that class were dressed in a manner that would not have been out of place in an episode of Leave To Beaver or Ozzie And Har­riet.

Stan­dard gear for me at the time was boot-cut Lee jeans ($3.99 at the Army & Navy Store back when those stores sold mil­i­tary sur­plus and hard-wearing gear for hard-working men and women) over a pair of Frye boots in their nat­ural, neu­tral color that I had rubbed oxblood color into them by hand.

My shirts varied with what­ever was avail­able but were al­ways open-necked with a neck­lace of multi-colored beads—handmade by me (the neck­lace, not the beads). The topper was that I had my Uncle Bill’s US Navy lieu­tenant’s dress jacket from the 1950s. 1969 was also the be­gin­ning of the Nixon ad­min­is­tra­tion and the con­tinued es­ca­la­tion of the Vietnam War into the South­east Asian War.

In protest of the on­going and es­ca­lating war, I tied a black arm­band around the upper left sleeve of the mil­i­tary dress jacket. This gesture—along with my longish hair—brought me no small amount of grief from the gung-ho jin­go­istic bul­lies with their “Love it or leave it” men­tality. Being in­sulted, jeered, chal­lenged, spit upon, and phys­i­cally bul­lied be­came part of my daily life. (I was a wuss back then.)

So, in the outfit de­scribed above, I stood in front of my class. Stoned. Having a ball, being Kinky—Hell’s Belles!—being Ray­mond Dou­glas Davies for an hour!

 

White label promo of Reprise pressing of ARTHUR album.

Reprise pressing of ARTHUR album with promotional title strip on front cover..

In the US, Reprise shipped white label promo copies of the album to radio sta­tions around the country—including the few un­der­ground sta­tions in ex­is­tence and the growing num­bers of col­lege radio sta­tions playing hip music for hip stu­dents. Per­haps it worked: Vic­toria was the first Kinks single to make Bill­board’s Hot 100 since Mr. Pleasant more than two years be­fore.

About the band

Fi­nally, lest I do an in­jus­tice to the other Kinks—Mick Avory (drums), John Dalton (bass), and Dave Davies (guitars)—they also excel on this album. After sev­eral years of rather luke­warm rock & roll (don’t get me wrong: great songs and great per­for­mances but most of them didn’t rock like their pre­vious hits) the group re­ally swings on every track. In a year filled with fine albums—and an ar­gu­ment could be made that 1969 was the best year ever for rock and pop al­bums—ARTHUR was a standout!

Also, while people tend to prefer lead gui­tarists with out­standing soloing styles, I tend to favor the rhythm gui­tarists and ARTHUR is chock­ablock full of strummed gui­tars in both chan­nels. Davies is the lead guitar-player while Ray is cred­ited as rhythm gui­tarist but it seems there are sev­eral layers of Dave over­dubbed on sev­eral tracks. The other two mem­bers were the ever-underrated rhythm sec­tion of John Dalton on bass and Mick Avory on drums. 

 

Kinks1969 Kangaroo 1500 crop

FEATURED IMAGE: The image at the top of this page was cropped from the inner panels of the ARTHUR album. As charm­ingly goofy as this is, I never cared for it. I think the album would have been better had the lyrics to the twelve songs been printed on the in­side covers. 

 


FOOTNOTES:

1   The term Susque­han­nock ap­pears to be Al­go­nquin and means (ap­prox­i­mately) “people of the Muddy River.” This tribe was often re­ferred to as the Con­estoga by Eng­lish set­tlers, al­though I don’t know why.

2   I spend hours won­dering about things like how many of the dada artists and poets think of dada as dada and how many as Dada? And would Tristan Tzara or Hugo Ball have con­nip­tions about me de­scribing some­thing as dadaesque? I know I’ll never know but still, I wonder …

3   The title ARTHUR was bad enough for any rock and roll album then or now, but this one was also bur­dened with the cum­ber­some and pos­sibly off-putting sub-title: THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE.

4   The con­de­scen­sion of the lyrics of Shangri-La was ev­i­dent and agree­able to me at age 18. Now, at 63, I live in a “man­u­fac­tured house” in an “over 55” com­mu­nity and my wife and I think of our forty-year-old mo­bile as our Shangri-La …

 

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Neal, thanks for your mem­o­ries on Arthur. Went dig­ging & found 24 Kinks LP’s with Arthur being one. It is dbl. fold still in shrink wrap but on Cana­dian PYE. The in­sert is of Queen Vic­toria with all lyrics on back when you pull record out. In­tro­duced to Kinks on car radio while in HS on way to Moose meat party. It was a Univ. crowd & I was in­ter­ested in the girls, meat was ex­cel­lent. Knocked out by “Dri­ving on Bald Moun­tain” in the car while in a hilly wooded area going to a log cabin..