Imposing new biography of the head Kink

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Ray Davies – A Complicated Life

It apparently took Johnny Rogan more than 30 years to write Ray Davies: A Complicated Life. Potential readers made faint-hearted by its imposing bulk might wonder if it will take as long to read, while Kinks fans of a certain age will be especially concerned that if they start it they might not live long enough to finish the thing. The book is a little shy of 800 pages. Rogan’s notes, acknowledgements and a discography alone run to over 100 of them, rolling on interminably like the credits at the end of a Michael Bay film.

This is brevity itself for Rogan, however. His last book, Byrds: Requiem For The Timeless, weighed in at over 1200 pages, with more to follow in a still unpublished second volume. He’s the kind of biographer for whom no character in the story he is telling is too minor to be overlooked, no incident too small to be described at the fullest possible length, no anecdote, recollection, set list or song too insignificant to be duly logged, documented and discussed. A Complicated Life, therefore, teems with as much detail as a 19th century novel, an unbelievable early reference to Africa as “the Dark Continent” making Rogan more than ever sound like a fusty Victorian chronicler.

The Kinks’ story was well told by Nick Hasted in his 2011 biography, You Really Got Me, and more elliptically by Ray Davies in two memoirs, 1995’s X-Ray and 2013’s Americana: The Kinks, The Road and The Perfect Riff. Whatever’s been previously written about the band is rather overwhelmed, however, by Rogan’s book, with its illuminating interviews with Ray and Dave Davies and an abundance of supplementary testimony from usually deeply disgruntled former band members, managers, producers, agents, school friends, family and roadies, with especially telling contributions from Ray’s first wife, Rasa, a 16-year-old Bradford schoolgirl when Ray met her.

Whatever his regard for Davies as a songwriter of occasional genius, Johnny Rogan is unsparing about the flaws in Ray’s character that made him eventually insufferable to so many of the people who came into his ruinous orbit. At the heart of A Complicated Life is Ray’s lifelong conflict with his younger brother, a dismal history of largely pointless and destructive enmity, almost unreal in its relentless hostility and violence, and catalogued here in grim and exasperating detail. Their behaviour was not confined to incandescent fraternal dispute. It may even be that their greatest talent was bringing misery to themselves and everyone around them. However much you might love the best of their music, by the end of this enormous, gripping and hugely readable book, you are eventually glad to see the back of them and their toxic hatreds.