Kinks – A Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy

When I was 12, I was in a Dime Store in my small town (long since gone…another WalMart casualty) walking by the Mynah Bird all of us kids talked to in 1979…looked down at the record rack and I saw this record by the Kinks. When I first saw it I thought it was the Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy I’d been hearing on the radio…by Bad Company.

I was pleasantly surprised when I heard the record and liked it more. I had a Kinks greatest hits album and knew some about them but this record got me into them heavily.

This song peaked at #30 in the Billboard 100 in 1978. Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy was on the Misfits album and it peaked at #40 on the Billboard Album charts in 1978.

Inspired by the death of Elvis Presley and the departures of bassist Andy Pyle and pianist John Gosling from The Kinks, Ray writes about whether rock and roll is something mature adults should do.

From Songfacts

Kinks leader Ray Davies wrote this song, calling it a “Method acting songwriting job.”

While he was writing the song in 1977, he learned that Elvis Presley had died, which influenced the lyric. He was staying in New York at the time, and when he looked out his window late at night, he saw a single light on in one of the buildings. Davies imagined that light being the apartment of an ardent Elvis fan, which became the character Dan the Fan in the song.

The Kinks were falling apart around this time; guitarist Dave Davies wanted to stop touring, and keyboard player John Gosling and bass player Andy Pyle had decided that Misfits would be their last album with the group. Ray Davies explained in Rolling Stone: “The song was almost a homage to them; if you listen to the lyrics, it’s about someone leaving the band because they’ve given up the cause, and the two brothers will find a way through this.”

The line, “The King is dead, rock is done,” is a reference to Elvis.
The lyrics go on to describe a man named Dan living in Davies’ block who is a huge fan of The Kinks. Whenever he feels unhappy, Dan loses himself in their music, “living in a rock ‘n’ roll fantasy.”

By 1978 The Kinks may have been selling out Madison Square Garden, but they weren’t altogether happy. “A Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy” details Ray Davies and his brother Dave considering breaking up the band. “The song is about two guys,” Ray told Q Magazine. “Shall we call it a day?”

Released as the first single from Misfits, the track was The Kinks’ most successful single in the US since their 1970 top ten hit “Lola.”

A Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy

Hello you, hello me
Hello people we used to be
Isn’t it strange, we never changed
We’ve been through it all, yet we’re still the same

And I know, it’s a miracle we still go
For all we know, we might still have a way to go

Hello me, hello you
You say you want out, want to start anew
Throw in your hand, break up the band
Start a new life, be a new man

But for all we know, we might still have a way to go
Before you go, there’s something you ought to know

There’s a guy in my block, he lives for rock
He plays records day and night

And when he feels down he puts some rock ‘n’ roll on 
And it makes him feel alright

And when he feels the world is closing in
He turns his stereo way up high

He just spends his life living in a rock ‘n’ roll fantasy
He just spends his life living on the edge of reality
He just spends his life in a rock ‘n’ roll fantasy

He just spends his life living in a rock ‘n’ roll fantasy
He just spends his life living on the edge of reality
He just spends his life in a rock ‘n’ roll fantasy

He just spends his life living in a rock ‘n’ roll fantasy
Look at me, look at you
You say we’ve got nothing left to prove
The King is dead, rock is done
You might be through, but I’ve just begun

I don’t know, I feel free and I won’t let go
Before you go, there’s something you ought to know

Dan is a fan and he lives for our music 
It’s the only thing that gets him by
He’s watched us grow and he’s seen all our shows
He’s seen us low and he’s seen us high

Oh, but you and me keep thinking
That the world’s just passing us by

Don’t want to spend my life living in a rock ‘n’ roll fantasy
Don’t want to spend my life living on the edge of reality
Don’t want to waste my life hiding away any more

Don’t want to spend my life living in a rock ‘n’ roll fantasy

My Memories of 1977

In 1977 I turned 10 years old. It was the first year I wanted to know what was going on in the world. I started to watch Walter Cronkite reporting the world news. Keywords I remember were Sadat, Middle East, Son of Sam, Concorde, and Inflation. Local news would be Chris Clark on channel 5 an affiliate of CBS…keywords locally… Snow, Ray Blanton (the name would be more popular the next year…in a bad way), and Larry Schmittou…who would bring Nashville minor league baseball the following year with the “Sounds” a Reds farm team.

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I missed around 3 weeks of school because of it being either closed or the bus would not run down our rural road because of snow…sledding and exploring time! In Middle Tn… 1 inch of snow will shut down a city.

I remember Star Wars hit the theaters with lines around the corners. I didn’t see it the month it was released but soon afterward. It was everywhere and the talk of the school. We had never seen anything like it before.

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I remember Queen releasing News of the World. A friend of mine brought the album to school and we studied every inch of the cover (by Frank Kelly Freas), a giant robot picking up the bodies of the band. We Will Rock You and We Are the Champions played non-stop on the radio. This is when I started to explore other bands that weren’t named The Beatles.

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The TV mini-series Roots was huge and historic.

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I was watching Gilligans Island and it was interrupted by sad news. Elvis Presley was dead at 42 years old. My mom and other grown-ups around were really upset. I knew his songs and it was sad but I didn’t understand everyone’s reactions for someone they didn’t know. Three years later when I was 13 I understood perfectly clear when John Lennon was murdered. Three days after Elvis died Groucho Marx passed away…In October Bing Crosby passed away.

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I paid attention to the inauguration of Jimmy Carter as President in January. I would hear about peanuts, teeth and his brother Billy for the rest of the year…and about one of those keywords again…inflation.

I remember the Son of Sam killings. In August of that year, David Berkowitz was finally apprehended. He killed six people and wounded seven others. I also remember the blackouts in New York in July…

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The Concorde was all over the news that year. To a 10-year-old in 1977, it looked like something out of a sci-fi movie.

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In March of 1977, I started to follow baseball. I’m not from California but my Dad always rooted for the Dodgers and it was passed down to me. I read from a young age about Babe Ruth, Christy Matheson, and the older players… but this was the first year I followed modern baseball from start to finish. Cey, Lopes, Garvey, Russell, Yeager, Dusty Baker, Reggie Smith, Don Sutton, Tommy John…I loved that team. I still can imitate the batting stance of all of the starters. Ron Cey was my hero and I played 3rd base in Little League because of him.

Our insurance salesman would come to our house every now and then and he knew I was a Dodger fan. He said he went to games in LA and would bring back something for me… I believed him totally. My mom told me not to get my hopes up as he was busy and might forget… A few weeks later…there he was with a Dodger 1977 pennant in his hand to give me…I still have it. I couldn’t believe the pennant in my hand came from the mythical Dodger Stadium where my heroes played.

They had four players with 30 or more home runs that year…Cey, Garvey, Smith, and Baker. They made it to the World Series but broke my heart. They played the Yankees and Reggie Jackson (it still hurts to type his name) hit three home runs in the sixth and deciding game to beat my Dodgers. It took a while to get over that…well I’m still writing about it 41 years later…but it’s always next year.

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I’ll close it out on Matchbox and Hot Wheels…I had a huge collection that I carried to friends houses to trade and race.

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If only life was that simple again…

 

Bruce Springsteen – Johnny Bye Bye

This is Bruce’s song about Elvis Presley. Bruce was a big fan of Elvis but this looks at the dark side. After the glory had left and the lifestyle that caught up with Elvis with tragic results.

The song was released as a B side to “I’m On Fire” in 1985.

It is a haunting song to listen to. The key words are the last lines of the song…”You didn’t have to die, You didn’t have to die.” The song is credited to Chuck Berry and Bruce because Bruce rewrote the Berry song Bye Bye Johnny to fit his story.

It has always reminded me of another great Springsteen song… Cadillac Ranch.

Bruce Springsteen quote

 “The type of fame Elvis had . . . the pressure of it, the isolation that it seems to require, has gotta be really painful”

“Johnny Bye-Bye”

Well she drew out all her money from the Southern Trust
And put her little boy on the Greyhound Bus
Leaving Memphis with a guitar in his hand
With a one-way ticket to the promised land
Hey little girl with the red dress on
There’s a party tonight down in Memphis town
I’ll be going down there if you need a ride
The man on the radio says Elvis Presley’s died We drove to Memphis, the sky was hard and black
Up over the ridge came a white Cadillac
They’d drawn out all his money and they laid him in the back
A woman cried from the roadside “Ah he’s gone, he’s gone”
They found him slumped up against the drain
With a whole lot of trouble running through his veins
Bye-bye Johnny
Johnny bye-bye
You didn’t have to die
You didn’t have to die

Andy Kaufman an original

I like original people…Andy was that completely.

He covered the bases…Mighty Mouse, Foreign Man, wrestling women, Elvis Impersonator (I think the best), Tony Clifton, bongo player, Great Gatsby reader and generally pissing people off, boring them or making them laugh. He was a performance artist – a comedian who sometimes was uncomfortable to watch but great as well. He was not a joke comedian…not remotely close.

I remember seeing him on a clip from the Tonight Show… as the very innocent childlike foreign man talking for a while and doing terrible celebrity impersonations and then suddenly shedding that character like a used coat and he started to do his Elvis impersonation…no, he WAS Elvis… I’ve read where Elvis said that Andy was his favorite impersonator but whether that is true or not I don’t know.

His first SNL performance… All he did was to get on stage with a record player playing the “Mighty Mouse” theme and mime along in certain spots. He made it work. He was only doing what he did growing up alone in his room as a child…he translated that to a national audience.

He loved to be the bad guy… At his performances, he would sometimes threaten to read the Great Gatsby…the complete book…just to piss everyone off…He would read a chapter or so and then ask the crowd if they wanted to hear some music from his record player….the audience, thinking of Mighty Mouse would applaud and he then would start playing a record of him reading The Great Gatsby from where he left off right before.

Andy grew up loving wrestling. After he achieved his fame he started to wrestle…wrestle women. I’m sure many people at the time were baffled.

That led to the infamous guest shot on The David Letterman Show with wrestler Jerry Lawler in 1982. Jerry slapped Andy off a chair who had a neck brace on already…at the time people really bought into it. Lawler says he still gets hate mail to this day from people who think he caused Andy’s death. Of course, both planned this and they were friends.

A couple of years before his death he made a film with Fred Blassie a wrestler Andy admired. He filmed it at a restaurant and called it “Breakfast with Blassie.”

Andy once played Carnegie Hall and took the entire audience out afterward for milk and cookies. Being Andy, some probably didn’t believe it but he had 20 buses waiting outside for them and they all went to have milk and cookies.

He will be remembered best for Taxi and his character Latka Gravas. It amazes me that he was on Taxi…that he was on any normal show…though Taxi was great…It worked out well that they found a place for Andy’s foreign man character…but Andy wasn’t always happy being on the show.

He also had an alter ego character he played called Tony Clifton. Tony was a loud, obnoxious. sleazy lounge singer that would rip the audience. Usually, the person getting ripped was Andy’s writing partner and friend Bob Zmuda. Later on, to really mess with people’s minds…Andy had Bob to play Tony Clifton and they would appear together. “Tony Clifton” even got himself thrown off of the Taxi set.

Some people loved Andy, some hated him, some thought he was irritating and some all three. I just appreciated the fact he was different.

Andy died in 1984…or did he? Bob Zmuda has said that Andy did say he was going to fake his death and said that he actually helped Andy plan it. More people have come forward saying the same thing. Every few years we get an Andy sighting in Albuquerque or somewhere else. No, I don’t believe he did fake it…but hey I would love if he popped up well and alive anytime in the future. The world needs original people. You know he would be loving the rumors about him being alive…if he is alive or not.

REM had a song that was based on Andy called Man on the Moon. It was about questioning everything like the Moon landing, Elvis dying, religion, Andy dying and etc… from REM’s bassist Mike Mills “He’s the perfect ghost to lead you through this tour of questioning things. Did the moon landing really happen? Is Elvis really dead? He was kind of an ephemeral figure at that point so he was the perfect guy to tie all this stuff together as you journey through childhood and touchstones of life.”

In 1999 a movie called Man on the Moon starring Jim Carrey was released about Andy’s life. I went to see it when it came out and enjoyed it. I’m not sure how close Carrey got to Andy’s non-public side because of course, I didn’t know him. Marilu Henner said that he was a warmer person than the movie portrayed and Judd Hirsch said that while not performing, Andy was a very normal, quiet guy but Judd admits he really didn’t know him. I do think Carrey did a good job portraying him.

I like one-off people like Andy Kaufman and Keith Moon. Expect the unexpected…it keeps life interesting.

First SNL Appearance

Andy on Letterman

Milk and Cookies

Elvis