i wish i could be like david watts.


i wish i could be like david watts.

I am a dull and simple lad/Cannot tell water from champagne/And I have never met the queen/But I wish I had all that he has got/I wish I could be like David Watts

I was trying to fall asleep one night last week and I couldn’t get this out of my head, so I woke up and typed the lyrics from memory into my phone’s notepad, hoping that once I let it out, I could fall asleep. It worked, sort of? The lyrics to “David Watts” have been in my head since I saw the instagram of a new local clothing store named Virginia Plain (which, yes, the same) where the proprietor had quoted the above-mentioned song in her bio. I saw that when I was poking around social media looking for footage from the Sparks show in Royal Oak (“Detroit-adjacent!” as Russell Mael put it, after he greeted Detroit and then clearly wondered if he’d fucked that up.) I was at Sparks because apparently I said “yes” when friends asked me if I wanted one when they were buying tickets, and this was how I found myself in the front row of the balcony watching the Mael brothers.

I am not a fan, but I am not a non-fan, I appreciate them, I bought KIMONO MY HOUSE when it came out because I found it in a cutout bin and I thought the joke in the title was hilarious and the cover artwork told me that I was not buying something that sounded like Boston. I know there must have been articles in the music magazines I read but they didn’t register or didn’t click in sync with my brain. All of this is okay! I don’t think they suck but every time I would think “Did I miss something?” I would go back and listen and come to the same conclusion, that they were just not my jam. But I knew many many people who did adore them and I fully supported that adoration.

I’m glad I saw them. I’m glad they are doing this tour where everyone pretty much has the chance to see them - there was a strong Cleveland contingent at the show, and I met someone from Pittsburgh who had driven in. It seemed like every day for the past month I’d see Russell’s yellow trousers popping up in the social media of someone I followed. (I could also just follow a bunch of weirdos, and that is also probably true.)

The sound was fine, the theater is a shitty layout for pleasant concert-going but it was tolerable, parking was cheap, it was a very good show and the audience was both attentive and enthusiastic. Mask-wearing was at a pretty decent compliance level.

So back to the Kinks. I went through a major Kinks phase in my teens, I snuck into the city with my friend Geraldine to see the Kinks at MSG when I was 16 or 17? I was babysitting my brother and sisters and thought it was perfectly okay to say “I’m going to a concert, don’t burn the house down?” [Maybe do not leave a teenager in charge of your other three children, but we had a run of incredibly bad babysitters where they were basically an adult in the house and the four of us took care of ourselves, so once I could drive my parents decided, “You’re it.” This does not strike me as great parenting, but, the 70s!]

I saw them at the Palladium on New Year’s Eve in 1980, when I was definitely in high school, and I went with a guy who was a penpal from Who’s News, a Who fanzine I subscribed to in the late 70s. The dude lived in Greenwich and was home from school and my dad said fine as long as he could meet him. He was harmless, truly. I saw the Kinks at Roseland when I was in college, back when the stage was still against the side wall; I waited for the band after the show because I was the music editor of the college paper and I wanted to ask them to fill out my year-end survey of the best music of the year; I had envelopes I literally handed to Dave and Ray as they walked from the venue into the tour bus. I saw them at Pier 84 on the Hudson, when they changed the lyrics to Waterloo Sunset to “Brooklyn Sunset” in honor of some girls who were following the tour.

I have no idea what the Kinks did from, say, 1988 until Ray did Storyteller, a week at the Moore Theater, the same fucking week that Bruce brought Joad to the Pacific Northwest. I managed. Ray even did an in-store at Tower Records on a Friday afternoon for which I called in sick to work. (Also, see the line about Bruce bringing Joad to the PNW the same week. I was probably wiped out anyway.) The last time I saw Ray Davies was at the Paramount in Asbury Park, back when I used to try to go to AP around the holidays if Mr. S. was not Doing Something, to do some holiday shopping and help the local economy. The Paramount was not redone at that point and it was nowhere near sold out. And I began the evening during the first few songs feeling sentimental and regretting I hadn’t been paying closer attention to the Kinks over the last -- period of time.



‎And then Ray morphed into the Ray Davies from One For The Road, the 1980 live album that was all over FM radio. You couldn’t get away from it. This is why they end up at the Garden, because every stoned dude in the Tri-State Area wanted to yell WAYoooooo at the start of “Lola” and Ray uses the endless WayYYoooooos as a method of —audience engagement, and I hate it! I hated it back in the day! I hate it because it was cheap and flimsy and an easy way out, and the kind of thing the Kinks, whose songwriter was Raymond Douglas Davies, didn’t need!

Wow, this is even more problematic and non-Kinks-ian and very very 80s than I remembered. ‎

So it turned out that I had very good reasons for not keeping up with the Kinks. (I would probably be there with bells on if the two of them got back together one last time, although at this point it feels both doubtful and unwise. But there is a whole swath of the discography I still know by heart, as I learned when I was listening in order to put this together.)

I miss the days where you could have this ongoing relationship with an artist and their music and you could come and go and saying, “nah, this record doesn’t do it for me” wasn’t a sign of disloyalty punishable by death (or 30 million fans of the artist brigading your social media and requiring you to lock it down just to breathe).

I remember going to see Dylan in the mid-90s at the Paramount in Seattle; I explicitly remember thinking that I had no idea what Bob was up to these days and that I should go down to the show and find out. I remember sitting there and being less than thrilled, but also, that this conclusion wasn’t fatal. It’s Bob Dylan! So I don’t like this material! I’ll wait for the next one and see what I think of that.

This was at a time where there was still an investment involved in hearing an artist’s work, because you had to buy records, but there was less of an investment from a pure money perspective to go to a concert. You still needed to keep tabs on things and know how to buy a concert ticket, but you could more easily allocate money to a show at a theater or a club and roll the dice.

Two summers ago, it was this train of logic that got me thinking about going to see King Crimson. Crimson is decidedly very much not my thing, but I kind of wanted to see Fripp & co the same way I wanted to see Frank Zappa in the 80s and decided that I should go see him because that is what smart music fans did. I went to Pier 84, I sat in the top row of the bleachers about ¾ of the way back, I avoided the insane Zappa fans. It was fine! I’m glad I did it. This is the energy I took into going to see Sparks, and it is honestly, so very okay. It is an openness and curiosity that seems out of date and old fashioned in music discovery, but I do predict that, like vinyl, it will resurge some day.