Monday, February 4, 2008


Listen to Susannah's Still Alive by The Kinks.

Dave Davies seems like an interesting character. Admittedly, I don't know a whole lot about him. Most of what I've gleaned has been from his songs, and maybe that's a good thing. Some things I know about him are that he was really the first pop star to wear long hair, the first to play power chords and the first to distort his guitar sound (apparently by slashing the speaker cones of his 8W Elpico amp with a razor and then attaching it to a Vox AC30) . As a guitar player, he is second to none. The solos he played on the Kinks' early singles are blistering, angry exercises; in short, just the sort of playing you'd hope for in a band filled with open, aggressive feuds (with Mick Avory, Ray, etc). And his lead vocals aren't too far from his solos--Lusty, unpolished, shambolic and compelling.

Today's song, "Susannah's Still Alive", was written by Dave and released as a single in 1967 (b/w "Funny Face"). I don't quite know what to make of it. It's closest relative (in my own associations) is Nick Lowe's "Marie Provost", a similarly misanthropic musing on aging and dying alone. However, Dave's song is much more mysterious and mature than Lowe's. In fact, it's amazing how close Dave's compositions can stand to his brother's songs (I mean, is there something about having an ingenious songwriting brother that lends you magical talents [Carl, Dennis]?) Dave's observations are nuanced in much the same way Ray's are:

Oh, Susannah's bedraggled but she
Still wears the locket 'round her neck.
She's got a picture on the table
Of a man who is young and able.

Despite the similarities, Dave's songs seem more openly aggressive to me. Don't get me wrong, I realize how angry Ray is, but Dave just seems less artful in (interested in?) concealing it. Case in point are the lyrics to the chorus:

Oh, Susannah's gonna cry,
Oh, Susannah's still alive.
Whiskey or gin, that's alright,
When there's nothing in her bed at night
She sleeps with the covers down,
Hopin' that somebody gets in.

Beyond the nice picture that Dave paints in this song is a kind of pitiless sneer at the poor old woman who waits alone, drinking and pining for the soldier who's never coming home to her. I've also wondered if Dave was consciously (or unconsciously) aping Stephen Foster with the lyrics to this chorus. These guys knew a lot about music and it wouldn't surprise me if he had this somewhere in mind. Regardless, Rasa's backing vocals (along with Dave and/or Ray?) lend a kind of childlike sweetness to the mix that makes this dark, raucous song even more enjoyable.

Photo: Savannah Modern.


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