Sunday, February 10, 2013

(New addition to Greatest Rock and Roll Since Moses page)

I Am An Ape Man

I just discovered this collection of 162 recordings -- yep, 162 of 'em -- by the legendary rock band The Kinks at, where all manner of recorded material from music to books to movies, that is in the public domain, i.e., the copyright has expired, is posted and can be downloaded for free. (This includes a lot of stuff, and believe me, I keep finding out the hard way, that commercial interests, iTunes for example where I provide a substantial share of their profits, are still selling for money.)

The Kinks were part of the British Invasion, the name given to that period in the 1960s when British Isles based groups like the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Dave Clark Five, Herman's Hermits and etc. began having Top 40 hits here and so began coming over to tour and appear on US television programs and have roles in movies seen here. The Kinks hits of that era such as All Day And All Of The Night and Girl, You've Really Got Me Going were not the biggest hits but The Kinks had a greater influence on music than on the charts, as they kept coming up with licks and rythmic innovations that were copied and expanded upon by others.

This collection includes Kinks songs that have become fairly often heard classics, like Lola and Come Dancing, a wistful look back at a big sister written around one of the most beautiful melodies to come along in a long time, and it includes my eternal Kinks favorite, Ape Man.

Ape Man, now, sounds like it might have been intended as a good natured send up of the Back To The Land Movement, an offshoot of the Counterculture whose mouthpiece was a magazine called The Mother Earth News (which I subscribed to for a number of years) and it may have been, but I didn't know anything about the Back To The Land Movement the first time I heard the Ape Man, and I do remember the time. I was pulling off main street into a parking space in front of Josenhans Drug store. In my home town of New Buffalo, MI, population 2,500, Josenhans was where you got everything. It was the center of town life. There was a soda fountain and it was where the cool kids got jobs.

I sat in my 1963 Dodge four door, a former family sedan that definitely wasn't a cool car, listening to the lyrics to Ape Man.

I don't feel safe in this world no more
I don't want to die in a nuclear war
I want to sail away to a distant shore

And make like an ape man

I was 18, a senior in high school, and not cool. I'd made the basketball team, barely, but got kicked off for drinking. It was a relief, in a way, because the coach had always been sniffing around me and George Bates, who got kicked off along with me, saying he could smell cigarettes. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but this rising Counterculture, and its questioning of everything, was coming at a time when my youthful rebelliousness was peaking. I, like millions of Americans, mostly young but not all, had begun to identify with the Counterculture, and to question the narrative of America we'd grown up with, that said America was exceptional and that America always acted benevolently, that we always told the truth, and that America was always right.

In man's evolution he has created the city and
The motor traffic rumble

But give me half a chance and I'd be taking off my clothes
And living in the jungle.
'Cos the only time that I feel at ease,
Is swinging up and down in a coconut tree,
Oh, what a life of luxury, to be like an ape man.

The British Invasion came at a particular time in American history, at the beginning of the rise of the Counterculture, and it had a lot to do with its formation. Songs like The Kinks Lola, it can be argued, helped pave the way for the opening up of ideas, in this case our ideas about what gender means and how it is socially constructed.

The biggest issue of the time, of course, was the war in Vietnam. On that, I had supported our government for a long time. There were things the anti war movement was saying about our country that I just couldn't accept, even after my parents began to question the war. My older brother was a conscientious objector, but that hadn't' changed my mind either. I've always thought that when The Beatles came out against the Vietnam War, that made it OK for millions of young Americans to come out against the war. The Beatles legitimized being against the war, for me at least.

This loosening of the mooring lines, even to the point of the questioning of my blind patriotism, this huge expansion of the limits of reality and of the realities that were possible, that had held my identity in check, so that it wouldn't stray beyond the limits set by American mainstream society, took a few big steps forward as I sat in front of Josenhans listening with amazement and delight to The Kinks Ape Man.

I'll be your Tarzan, you'll be my Jane,
I'll keep you warm and you'll keep me sane,
And we'll sit in the trees and eat bananas all day,
Just like an ape man.

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