Ray Davies – Americana (Sterling Publishing)

“Ray Davies wrote something really good” isn’t exactly a headline-worthy statement – the man has written great songs going all the way back to 1964 when The Kinks burst onto the scene with “You Really Got Me”. However, with Americana he’s, yet again, written something introspective and enjoyable; this time an autobiography-of-sorts relating to his lifetime fascination with America. Growing up in the austerity of post-war England, America was a place of endless opportunity and adventure, but the America he saw as an adult in the high stakes business of rock and roll was far more tumultuous. The rough times stated early, with a four-year ban on touring the states during his creative peak (1965-1969). Being forced to sidelines in a fertile market put the band in a financial bind (I was shocked to read that the band often stayed in low budget hotels in the early-’70s), and the book spends a great deal of time on Davies’ activities in the back half of the ’70s, perhaps not his best period artistically, but one that found him restlessly working to get The Kinks back atop the charts here in the states, where he was now living. Moving here was a bold move for a guy whose songs were typically very British, but the new environment meant new influences and made it possible for him to pen songs he never could have written in England (ex: “A Gallon of Gas” about the oil shortage, or the disco of “Wish I Could Fly Like Superman”) and he was ultimately rewarded with the success he so badly wanted. Americana also spends a lot of time in New Orleans, where Davies moved in the early-2000s to soak up the cultural “openness” which eluded him in the business-driven hubs of New York and Los Angeles. Unfortunately, his stay there was not without problems and he found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time in 2004 when he was shot and critically injured during a robbery attempt (although he hints that it may have been something more nefarious than a random robbery). Whether writing about his professional or personal life, or just offering up an offhanded piece of social commentary, Davies (who turned 70 the day I started writing this) always approaches his subject matter like one his classic songs: funny, sentimental, introspective and feverishly enjoyable.