Review: Living On A Thin Line by Dave Davies

Finally, what you’ve all been waiting for: the book review! It’s named after one of Dave Davies’ best compositions, “Living On A Thin Line” – a song you may have heard if you’ve watched The Sopranos, or you just have good taste in music. In my opinion it’s the best late Kinks song because of its honest lyrics and its political message. Despite being from the opposite side of the Atlantic, there’s so much I relate to in the lyrics. A lot of today’s problems in the US and UK have their roots in the Reagan and Thatcher years – shit hit the fan in that era. Once, life was much better in those countries and we were taught how great our countries were with all the stories of kings and queens of old in the case of the UK and the Founding Fathers in the case of the US, but as you grow older you grow wise to the propaganda and realise that that was all myth making – that’s one interpretation of “living on a thin line”. During the Q&A when asked what “living on a thin line” means to him, Dave said that it describes life in general and not just growing up in a large working class family in Muswell Hill – but also life in The Kinks. He never knew when the ride would be over. Fame and fortune isn’t forever. There are many rock stars who had to go back to day jobs after their peak years because the truth is record deals are exploitative and royalties (if you get them) often don’t pay the bills alone. Musicians may generate a lot of money from their creations, but the real people getting rich are the businesspeople: record label executives, managers, and the like.

Now, this is Dave’s second autobiography and in this review I want to answer three big questions Kinks fans have, and I’ll give you the short answers here:

  1. Is Living On A Thin Line a good book? – Yes
  2. Is it worth buying/reading if I’ve already read Kink? – No
  3. Which one is better: Kink or Living On A Thin Line? – It depends

Each of these questions will be a section in this review. I like to take a unique, tailored approach to everything I’m reviewing. Since this is a new/updated autobiography, there are some considerations, especially for people who have already read the first one and whether or not something is worth it is very subjective and I want to consider all kinds of readers: casual fans, die hard fans, and people who are just starting their classic rock journey. I understand that not everyone is a die hard fan or has a collector’s/completionist mentality, like I do. I always give my honest opinions – yes, even when it comes to musicians I’d call all-time favourites.

Review: Living On A Thin Line

In and of itself it’s a great book and I understand why Dave Davies did a take two and wrote a second book about his life. A lot has changed in the roughly 25 years since Kink was published – that’s a third of his life right there. There isn’t a whole lot on that, but that’s understandable as the fans want to read more about The Kinks peak years and Dave’s debauchery in the 60s and 70s.

The most major change was the stroke back in 2004, a tragic year for the Davies Brothers, as that same year, Ray was shot in New Orleans – about a decade later, he published his second autobiography, Americana, which focused on his relationship with America. That stroke could have taken Dave’s life. There was also a high chance that he’d never be able to play guitar or tour again. But Dave beat the odds – a compelling story I could see on a news programme like CBS News Sunday Morning. Slowly but surely he picked up his guitar and re-learned how to play it, even though a part of him wanted to give up. He started painting. He found hope thanks to meditation and yoga practice. From what I can tell through reading the book and reading interviews he’s done post 2004, he has a positive attitude and doesn’t go around feeling sorry for himself – he just keeps trucking, something that he’s done his whole life, growing up working class in Muswell Hill. Life goes on, and you have to keep moving forward. Eventually, he was back in the studio and playing concerts. He uses a lot of this as a narrative frame and relates a lot of his experiences in his youth to this life changing event. As he says in the blurb on the back of the book, “Trying to connect everything that had happened in my life, I thought about what an ancient Zen teacher had taught me, that the world is like an ocean through which pieces of land pop up at random.But dive deep into the ocean and you see that everything is connected – and the deeper you dive, the more connections you can see”. And I think that’s what I really liked about the book. It’s much better organised than its predecessor. When it comes to writing this blog, I’m all about making connections and drawing parallels between musicians – it’s like building bridges. It’s the Aspergian in me, collecting facts about the topics I love most and sharing them with you. People aren’t all that different after all. As Dave sang in “Strangers”, “Strangers on this road we are on. We are not two, we are one.”

There’s no doubt that Dave’s story is inspiring and touching. I’ve said this way too many times, but why is there no Kinks biopic yet (I know, one of many missed opportunities and unrealised projects in their career)? There would be no need for artistic licence or embellishment with the narrative. The story as it happened is crazy enough on its own. I don’t just say this as a Kinks fan. Don’t take my word for it. Read their story for yourself and you’ll know for yourself how amazing they are and what a story they have.

I’ve read Kink, is Living on a Thin Line worth buying?

If you want to read about Dave’s life after the stroke, there’s a bit of that, but for the most part Living on a Thin Line is the same stories as in Kink written in a more polished way, give or take a few swapped out and some newer stories. I re-read Kink recently and I had a lot of déjà vu moments while reading and I knew what was going to come next. This is not a hate comment, by the way. I liked both books. I wouldn’t say you’re missing out on too much information, if you own/have read Kink. Much of the newer stuff is already known if you’ve read any recent stories about Dave, and I’d imagine most Kinks fans are well aware.

If you’re on a low budget, it’s definitely worth checking out at the library or borrowing from a friend (sharing is caring!). If you’re a completionist/superfan, by all means, get it! You’ll like it if you’re a Kinks fan. But if you’re a general classic rock fan wondering if there’s new tea, not exactly. Just my honest opinion from a consumer’s point of view, as opposed to a superfan’s point of view.

Which one is better: Kink or Living on a Thin Line?

It depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re all about the tea (drag queen slang for gossip) and sex, drugs, and rock and roll, then Kink is the better book for that. As I said in my review of it, it’s appropriately titled because it’s very horny on main (no one should be surprised by this if they’ve seen Dave’s Twitter and TikTok – he’s a riot). I love how chaotic and entertaining Kink is, but it can get harder to read and follow in the later chapters with all the tangents about aliens, UFOs, and the occult. Almost felt like the editor was like “Fuck it! I’m leaving” (half-joking). Some might find the horny on main bits quite TMI, so in that case I’d say go for Living on a Thin Line. This isn’t to say there’s no shenanigans, plenty of them – just a bit more edited. Nevertheless, I love Kink and I’ll still call it one of the best classic rock autobiographies. Now, if you’re looking for something that’s more organised, less rambling, and current, Living On A Thin Line is the book to go for. Dave is more mature and level-headed in this book and is a lot more apologetic about mistakes he made in the past. A common complaint about Kink was that he seemed like he didn’t care about the impact of his actions. Living on a Thin Line is also a lot easier to get ahold of, as Kink is out of print. Still, if you can get your hands on Kink, do so because it’s great too – there are some funny stories that were cut from Living on a Thin Line. Regardless, read at least one of these because I think there’s no better source to learn about the rock band than straight from the musician themselves.

Bonus: Five more crazy, but true Dave Davies stories

Because Dave has a lot of crazy stories and I couldn’t fit them all in my review of Kink, here’s five more crazy, but true stories:

1. In the early pre-Kinks days, a lineup of the band played an American military base and there were strippers on stage.

Up and coming British rock stars would often play American military bases. I mean America has a lot of military bases and the troops need entertaining. One night, they were booked to play an air base and The Ramrods (what The Kinks were known as back then) were billed alongside Rick Wayne and two old strippers. The crowd were not happy with the strippers being one of the acts and the military wives shielded their kids’ eyes and fled. The gig went wrong, to say the least. After that gig they ditched the Ramrods name. On 31 December 1963 (happened to be Pete Quaife’s 20th birthday), in a Chinese restaurant called The Lotus House, booking agent Arthur Howes christened the young band, The Kinks.

2. The Kinks acted camp to freak Mick Avory out and take the piss out of him… but little did they know, that he’d end up being the most camp of them all!

Like The Who and The Beatles, the drummer was the last to join the band – the missing puzzle piece so to speak. When Mick Avory came to audition, he was shocked at what he saw. He made it a point to cut his hair short to make a good impression, but it turned out The Kinks were a bunch of long haired guys. Not only that, they were flamboyant to say the least and they all hammed it up when they first met Mick. Pete Quaife worked at a fashion magazine before the band made it big and he had a lot of gay coworkers. He would copy their mannerisms and then Dave and Ray joined in and did the same thing. Let’s just say that was quite the first impression for Mick. Later, he became the most camp of them all.

3. Mick Avory seriously injured Dave Davies on the eve of their American tour.

What do The Kinks and The Sex Pistols have in common? Their first American tour was delayed and was a disaster. Never thought I’d be comparing the two bands, but it’s true! In the case of The Sex Pistols, they had trouble getting work visas for the US because of band members’ criminal records and they were given quite strict conditions for entry into the USA – a visa only valid for two weeks and their record label had to post a surety of $1 million on their behaviour. While The Kinks didn’t have criminal records, they were trouble makers on and off stage. Not long before they were supposed to depart for their American tour, the band played a show in Cardiff. Dave didn’t like Mick very much and he would often pick fights and take the piss out of him. During the show, he told Mick that he was a “useless cunt” and that his drumming would sound better if he played them with his cock. Then he knocked his bass drum over and then went back to the microphone, acting innocent. Mick’s blood was boiling because he felt embarrassed and he cared a lot about his drums like a guitarist cares about their guitar. While trying to put stuff back together, his anger got the best of him and he hit Dave with a cymbal, knocking him out. Dave luckily had quick reflexes so the hit was not lethal, but it could have been! Ray screamed, worried for his little brother and Mick fled the stage, trying to find somewhere to hide from the cops, convinced he killed Dave. Mick was found hiding in a cafe. Police encouraged Dave to press charges against Mick for grievous bodily harm. Dave did not press charges and Mick wasn’t kicked out of the band, but there was an impact on the group: concerts were cancelled – including some tour dates in the northeast of the USA, while Dave was recovering and the group were uncertain about the future – wouldn’t be the last time they felt that way.

4. The Kinks met John Wayne Gacy on their first US tour… talk about Death of a Clown!

The Kinks’ 1965 US tour was a disaster to say the least. That’s the tour where they ended up banned from America because of the many complaints lodged against them for their unprofessional behaviour at concerts. But things could have gone a lot worse for the rising stars. The Kinks played a few concert dates all across Illinois. The Chicago date was on Ray’s 21st birthday and the band celebrated with a big birthday cake – it was a great show with a lovely crowd, but in the meantime, concert dates were cancelled due to poor ticket sales. They played shows downstate as well. The Springfield concert stood out because the concert was sponsored by The Jaycees, and who was VP of the Jaycees chapter in Springfield in the 60s? John Wayne Gacy, who at the time was working for the Nunn-Bush shoe company. According to Dave Davies, John Wayne Gacy threw a party for The Kinks after a concert. Dave thought he was a nice guy at the time, but admits he wasn’t a good judge of character in those days. Pete Quaife referred to John Wayne Gacy as a ‘greaseball’, but polite nonetheless, and they were suspicious of him. Oddly enough two years later, Dave Davies wrote the song “Death of a Clown”. John Wayne Gacy later on became known as the Killer Clown, and one of the most notorious serial killers in modern American history. He was executed in 1994, 27 years after “Death of a Clown” came out.

5. Ray threw a surprise 50th birthday party for Dave, but he ruined it by stomping on Dave’s birthday cake.

One thing Dave wants to make clear in the book is that The Kinks never broke up. They never planned for Phobia to be their last studio album. They never made an announcement that they were no longer making music together. All of a sudden, they stopped touring and Ray and Dave went their separate ways. Ray called Dave around the time of his 50th birthday and told him to come to the Clissold Arms with him for pints. Dave found it weird because they never go there anymore, but he rolled with it. When he arrived, he saw that Ray threw him a surprise party. When it it was time for cake, Ray gave a speech all about himself and how great he is and then he jumped on the table and stomped on Dave’s birthday cake. Dave was angry, but kept his cool by having another pint. Ouch!

If you liked this review, check out my storytime about Dave Davies’ book signing and Listen To This, Not That: The Kinks!

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