Tomorrow, June 21st, the inimitable Ray Davies turns 70 years old. I'm very comfortable with calling him "inimitable," having suffered through many possibly well-meaning attempts by other musicians over the last 50 years or so to jack his style. Writing a pseudo-nostalgic tune about blueberry scones whilst singing with a fake British accent does not cut it, my friends, no, no, and no. Ray Davies became an influential and honored songwriter by running with, through instinct or design, his major strength. He is able to take his razor-sharp observational skills, dust them with equal measures of contempt and compassion, and offer us tiny, perfect song-worlds filled with all-too-human characters that we can relate to, that we can sing along with, and remember always.

In the best of Davies' work, we feel a depth that is not often present in the work of most of his British Invasion songwriter peers, and that does include Lennon/McCartney, Townshend, and Jagger/Richards. The focus is smaller yet sharper, the expected subjects turned around, swagger twisted to anger, love as more of a distant concept than messy, heady reality. When faced with the overwhelming content demands placed on him as the leader and primary songwriter for the Kinks, he turned inward rather than outward for inspiration, so in looking back we now find very little of trendiness or hollowness in his work. Write what you know, sage advice goes, and Davies excels at this because he is able to not only translate from his own personal experience, but can hone in on what is essential to understand about others as well. 

This vision depends upon higher levels of clarity and empathy; these are gifts, to be sure, but ones that also come with a great cost. Seeing humanity in all its beauty and brutality is an overwhelming thing, and it does not come with an "OFF" switch. Without question, Davies has struggled with doubt and deep withdrawal, at times can be cagey and cruel, yet remains far more accessible than the above-mentioned peers, and often is quite kind, even when there is no one to see it or laud it. The contradictions he presents are not so different from our own, but he takes them and makes them into art, often with tremendous wit and balance. He remains, at 70, a man still invested in becoming a better writer, still understanding that staying outside the mainstream and embracing imperfections keeps him fueled. He is fairly amazed by how his career has gone and how much he is cared for, which is actually rather lovely.

Happy birthday, Ray.