VGPS

There are some things that you acquire during the course of a lifetime that you hold onto, long after you have discarded other things that seemed meaningful at the time. This could be anything, really – books, d├ęcor, people – but this time I am talking about music, and specifically the Kinks’ 1968 album, “The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society.”

I got this record not long after it came out, a British copy of the LP, a gift from my dad after another of his long business trips to England. Forty years later, I can still feel the excitement of going to the airport in the middle of the night to meet his flight, seeing him, familiar and unfamiliar to me after months away, and the incredible anticipation of seeing what he brought back for me from The Coolest Place In The Known World. As soon as we got home and I got the nod, I would zip open his huge grey Samsonite suitcase, plowing through his dirty clothes and man shoes and leather bag full of man stuff like shaving cream and a little black comb and such, to find the goods.

My dad was almost 50 years old then and no pop fan, but he knew there was nothing that would please me more than more records, especially from my beloved Brit bands. I had written him specifically while he was there in my new shaky cursive handwriting to please please please find me some Kinks records. There were none to be found at the Treasure Island store or the little town record shop or anywhere I went. It was like they had disappeared completely, and really they had, at least in the U.S. No live appearances for four years, no TV, no hits, no mentions in my teenybopper mags, nothing. But just like I thought records I liked would always stay on the Top 40 radio playlist, I didn’t comprehend then that bands could possibly break up, so I just didn’t think the Kinks weren’t out there somewhere; I just had to keep asking for them, and they would appear, somehow.

So this is how VGPS, as we lazy Kinks fans acronymize the lengthy album title, came to me, and came to stay. I wish I had the words to be able to explain the feeling of lifting that record out of that suitcase that night, seeing the fuzzy, somewhat psychedelic photo of the band on the front cover, and reading the words, “The Kinks.” I think I must have screamed in joy, or perhaps I didn’t, too happy to do anything but smile and stare at the LP in my hands. The gift of being such a fan of music at that age was that everything was so pure; I had no context to filter the experience through. The music and the lyrics came in straight as they were, as someone still fresh to the world could hear them. I would miss, of course, some of the nuance and reference to other work, which would come later. But that night, my dad was back home for awhile, and I had a brand-new Kinks record, and no other two things could have made my world more perfect.

An awful lot has been written about VGPS over the years. It is a special album, not quite like anything else that I can think of. It has a very particular feel to it, both a delicacy and an underlying darkness that charms and worries the listener at the same time. Fifteen little songs -- "The Village Green Preservation Society," "Do You Remember Walter?" "Picture Book," "Johnny Thunder," "Last of the Steam-powered Trains," "Big Sky," "Sitting by the Riverside," "Animal Farm," "Village Green," "Starstruck," "Phenomenal Cat," "All of My Friends Were There," "Wicked Annabella," "Monica," "People Take Pictures of Each Other" – each one a tiny children's book in itself, filled with rich characters, strong wistful visuals drawn of a green and pleasant land that to Ray Davies seemed to be slipping away, fast. It was so simply literary that it felt like an extension of “Alice In Wonderland” or “The Story Of Ferdinand” or one of Hans Christian Andersen’s tales – that sadness and confusion about the world wrapped in some kind of hopefulness. No drama, no grandness, no apologies, no pretense, every single song compelling and sweet and strange. You don’t forget them.

VGPS now stands as one of the most-admired albums in rock music history, years after it sold nothing and seemingly made little impact on late ‘60s fans. When all of their musical peers were shouting about revolution and fighting in the street, the Kinks understood the value of the small, singular voice, and had the nerve and stubbornness to be themselves in an arena which encouraged copying ideas and styles and trends from others to keep your profile high and bank account full. “The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society” is The Kinks. That is quite an accomplishment, and goes far far past pop music into something so much more valuable, which is why people connect so strongly with it. You can feel the people behind the songs and in the songs, walking around this half-real, half-fantasy world that Ray Davies constructed. You get the feeling those people are quite, quite fragile and lovely and lost, but have the strength that can only come from knowing who they are and the courage to be who they are, despite everything that whirls around them, and despite themselves as well.

That is what I took from it as I listened for the first time as a child, then over the years as a teen, and young adult, and now into middle age: be yourself -- your funny, awkward, sad, mad, wondering self always -- and tell your own story, your own way, all this from fifteen little two minute pop songs. What a gift.

All four members of the Kinks who made VGPS are still on the planet, I am happy to say, and Ray and Dave Davies have separate small tours booked for this year and the next. I am not a believer in nor booster of a Kinks reunion in particular, mainly because I am disappointed in how after all these years the brothers cannot seem to forge even a short-term working nor personal relationship. There’s no forcing things, is there, no logic that can make a whole lot of difference at this point. But as I thought about VGPS, the wonderful songs on it and how so few fans ever got to hear any of them performed live, and the ticking clock, I think I thought of something that everyone could agree to and enjoy. There is a current trend for bands to tour and play one of their classic albums live, each cut in succession. Couldn't Ray, Dave, Mick, and Pete do this with VGPS, even just once? No other songs in the Kinks catalogue, no solo material, no cover songs – just this record, played just as it was made. My god, people would go apeshit. It would be a wonderful and very cool and classy way to end up the Kinks story, to be able to give this to the fans before the option no longer exists.

I tell you what: I would do whatever I had to do to be there, and I would cry and clap and smile along with everyone else. You have a chance to put that kind of happiness into the air…man! Some thought, huh?