I pity the poor rock star who wishes he would’ve stayed home, or at least been allowed to come to America during the four years he and his band were banned from the country for bad behavior and not paying union dues. Now Ray Davies came back and all he did was complain about the excess food, the road tripping, the hotel rooms, and the perils of celebrity. Boo hoo. And then he made fun at those who feel sympathy for him. This would seem to be the ingredients of a terrible, self-indulgent album but strangely—magically—the opposite is true. The Kinks’ 1972 Everybody’s in Show-Biz is a convoluted masterpiece in large part because Davies passionately hates his life and lies with every breath—and likewise, fears his death. This allows him to mock everyone and everything, including himself, with a moustache-twirling sneer.
Everybody’s in Show-Biz was originally released as a double album, one comprised of a ten song studio disc, the other a live performance recorded at Carnegie Hall. The first disc showcases self-obsession and powers of observation. He can’t decide what is real and what is an illusion. He can’t distinguish between the important things in life and momentary sensations. Songs, like “Hear Comes Another Day”, “Sitting in My Hotel”, and “You Don’t Know My Name” veer from the decadent to the satiric with wit and verve as he complains about everything from not having time to changes his underwear to “prancing around the room like some outrageous poof.” Davies tries to have it both ways: the gritty rocker, the aesthete artist.
All of this is done to a wonderful vaudeville style accompaniment. The band is in top form, especially brother Dave on guitar and drummer Mick Avory. They even added a horn section to punctuate the punch lines. Davies is a funny guy. He can make fun of gluttony on “Maximum Consumption”, “Motorway” and “Hot Potatoes” with the glee of a bulimic at a buffet.
The live disc highlights The Kinks’ ability as performers. The excitement of the crowd becomes self-evident during the show as they become part of the act. When the band breaks out into Harry Belafonte’s “Banana Boat Song”, probably the most unhip tune one could imagine in 1972, the audience answers back during the sing along as if it were the national anthem. The Kinks do rousing versions of songs from their recent Muswell Hilbillies including “Alcohol”, “Skin and Bones”, and “Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues”. Many critics believe this is the best live recording, official or bootleg, ever made of the band.
All of this is old news. The original release has been available on compact disc for years. However, RCA/Legacy has re-released Everybody’s in Show-Biz in a greatly expanded format. The label put the first two records (originally released separately as a double-disc) on one CD, and included another 17-track disc with previously unissued live material and studio session outtakes from 1972. Of particular noteworthiness is the cut “History”, one that as far as I can tell has never been recorded. Davies sings about the ordinary people, the masses whose stories never make it to British museums. While museums have changes since then and now are much more inclusive, Davies thrust still spills blood. The hidden purposes behind such institutions still remain largely unquestioned, and the thin line between pride and bigotry has become harder to discern.
Is the new disc worth buying the original CD again? Not if you have it already, but if you don’t this provides a wonderful excuse to buy this one. It’s three CDs for the price of one! And oh yes, the title song (sic: “Celluloid Heroes”) which became a classic FM staple still has the power to melt the heart of any movie fan. George Saunders, Bela Lugosi, Mickey Rooney, and Rudolph Valentino are as worthy as Greta Garbo, Betty Davis, and Marilyn Monroe; and their stories just as telling and heart-rending. The important thing, is that unlike the narrator, they will never die. The stars in concrete on Hollywood Boulevard are not gravestones. They are tributes to lives that will remain on film.
I pity the poor rock star, who tramples through the mud laughing. Being in show-biz and recorded for posterity can be the best revenge. I wonder what Ray thinks when he hears these songs now?