It is without question the advice given to all who might have any dealings with Ray Davies, the legendary songwriter, author, film director/producer, and former leader of the seminal British rock band The Kinks: Set your table for two guests, rather than to speak. Much of Davies' career has examined flip-sides, coin-tosses, the misfit vs. the common man, the dualities that exist within society and within ourselves. This duality is particularly pronounced in Davies' own character, which may have given him the gift to be able to write so articulately and compassionately about others. The same duality surfaces in less benevolent ways as well, which has cost Davies' dearly in both his personal and professional relationships, and seems to leave him sadly unsettled within himself as well. Throughout Davies' autobiographical "Americana: The Kinks, The Riff, The Road, The Story" (Sterling, $24.95) one is struck how often his choices and perceptions battle each other for control and how this leads to such puzzling contradictory behavior and statements. Davies is a man who seems both tremendously self-aware and stunningly clueless, effortlessly charming and upsettingly cruel, naturally creative and desperate for inspiration, devoted and loyal yet closed-off and indifferent.

Davies uses the over-arching theme of "Brit in America" to frame his stories about his life and career, focusing primarily where his first autobiography, the strange and very clever "X-Ray: The Unauthorized Autobiography," left off in the early-1970s. Rather than a straight chronology, he chooses to punctuate the timeline with the events leading up to his near-fatal shooting in New Orleans in January 2004 and its aftermath. For those readers less familiar with Davies, this may make the book somewhat hard to follow, even though time frames are given at the start of each chapter. Which bodyguard/manager/handler died when? Which wife/girlfriend was left (or left him) to care for their infant daughter(s) alone? Which promotor threatened to end Davies' career for what bad behavior? Yet despite the jagged time shifts of sometimes alarmingly-similar events separated by decades, we see the profound and permanent impact the shooting had on him, how much he needs to tell the story in detail, as is common to victims of random violence and PTSD. The shooting and concurrent breakup of yet another romance takes Davies into a level of vulnerability and self-examination that seems at nearly 10 years later to still haunt him.

Yet "Americana" is not a morose or bitter essay on the seamy sides of America or England, not at all. One of Davies' very finest qualities, and one that he has used to great benefit in his writing, is his sense of humor. When a passage begins to feel weighty, there is a self-effacing moment to lighten the mood. When he begins to bemoan the loss of innocence, cohesive character, and national pride in his British homeland, he tries to think of creative ways to celebrate England while championing its quirks and changes. He is honest about how his initial impressions of America were fueled by Westerns and gangster films, and how much real work went into, with The Kinks, winning over not cowboys or Mafiosos, but college kids, not to mention music business moguls who knew well the reputation the band carried for being irrational -- if also exciting and irresistible -- jerks. There are real triumphs, well-deserved, and costs that most people would find too painful to choose to incur.

Wives, girlfriends, and children don't fare too well in Daviesland, and in "Americana," some of them don't even rate a first name, while some of them are turned into asterisked "composite characters;" odd, in an otherwise-straightforward memoir. Davies' brother and Kinks bandmate Dave Davies is something of a ghost in this book, mentioned most often for his increasing emotional and physical distance and escalating friction with original Kinks drummer Mick Avory. I imagine it sits very poorly with Dave that his older brother has taken to referring to The Kinks constantly throughout this book and in interviews as "my band," and their records as "my records," since Dave was the originator and leader of the band at the beginning of the 1960s. His guitar style was absolutely crucial to the Kinks ever having the chance to stand out from the British Invasion hoards at all. Although it is undeniable that Ray quickly became the lead singer and took over almost all songwriting and production duties for the band as soon as he could, to relegate the rest of the band members to "session man" status with the callous use of a two-letter adjective seems petty.

The disappointments a reader may feel while reading "Americana" perhaps are only reflections of how much one wants to like Ray Davies, for he is likable, smart, funny, and, we should never forget, has written some of the best songs of the 20th Century. The dualities within him rear up so frequently, however, that one begins to wonder if there is a real Ray Davies to know. It appears Davies comes to something of the same conclusion: unable to adjust to settled "normality" after a lifetime spent in planes, theaters, and hotel rooms, he wanders, no longer relating to an England he feels has lost its values nor an America that will always feel too brash, unpredictable, and foreign, unsure of what his life has meant, or will mean after he is gone. The 300-pages of the book go by in a whoosh, and we can feel that time must feel the same for Davies, as the details of tour schedule, a TV appearance, a record being carefully mastered, a car ride with a daughter, a death of a loyal associate, stack and add so quickly.

In the end, "Americana," is a fascinating glimpse into a man defined by his steadfast and stubborn resistance to be named or controlled by anything or be "not like everybody else" to his last breath, even with the weight of regret at times settling uneasily on his chest. Ray Davies' dualities, for better or worse, took him from a dead-end working-class London suburb to travel the entire world, a great accomplishment in itself. He composes music that will live in the hearts of millions, and assuredly long after he is gone, and that made a difference to people. He gives courage and hope to those fans who see him as a voice for those who were outcast, awkward, or loners, and sings to them as a friend would, even if through a pair of headphones thousands of miles away on a record well-loved with pops and crackles. He entertains people, and gives them shows they will never forget. He survived career flops, failed relationships, and even a bullet.

That's pretty cool.

Ray Davies, "Americana" book trailer