A Love Letter to a Kinks Song

I posted the following on Facebook yesterday.  I’m putting it here too because I know not everyone who reads the blog reads every word I write on Facebook, and I want to share this for some reason.

In all of the world, there are only a handful of songs that have ever brought a tear to my eye.  Among them are the hymn “It Is Well With My Soul,” the Queen song “Who Wants to Live Forever?,” a couple songs by Rich Mullins, and Elton John’s “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.”  I am mildly embarrassed by the last one.

But it seems chief among them these days is a song by the Kinks called “Celluloid Heroes.” Following are the lyrics…until SOPA passes and I have to take them down…

Everybody’s a dreamer and everybody’s a star,
And everybody’s in movies, it doesn’t matter who you are.
There are stars in every city,
In every house and on every street,
And if you walk down Hollywood Boulevard
Their names are written in concrete!

Don’t step on Greta Garbo as you walk down the Boulevard,
She looks so weak and fragile that’s why she tried to be so hard
But they turned her into a princess
And they sat her on a throne,
But she turned her back on stardom,
Because she wanted to be alone.

You can see all the stars as you walk down Hollywood Boulevard,
Some that you recognize, some that you’ve hardly even heard of,
People who worked and suffered and struggled for fame,
Some who succeeded and some who suffered in vain.

Rudolph Valentino, looks very much alive,
And he looks up ladies’ dresses as they sadly pass him by.
Avoid stepping on Bela Lugosi
‘Cos he’s liable to turn and bite,
But stand close by Bette Davis
Because hers was such a lonely life.
If you covered him with garbage,
George Sanders would still have style,
And if you stamped on Mickey Rooney
He would still turn round and smile,
But please don’t tread on dearest Marilyn
‘Cos she’s not very tough,
She should have been made of iron or steel,
But she was only made of flesh and blood.

You can see all the stars as you walk down Hollywood Boulevard,
Some that you recognize, some that you’ve hardly even heard of.
People who worked and suffered and struggled for fame,
Some who succeeded and some who suffered in vain.

Everybody’s a dreamer and everybody’s a star
And everybody’s in show biz, it doesn’t matter who you are.

And those who are successful,
Be always on your guard,
Success walks hand in hand with failure
Along Hollywood Boulevard.

I wish my life was a non-stop Hollywood movie show,
A fantasy world of celluloid villains and heroes,
Because celluloid heroes never feel any pain
And celluloid heroes never really die.

You can see all the stars as you walk along Hollywood Boulevard,
Some that you recognize, some that you’ve hardly even heard of,
People who worked and suffered and struggled for fame,
Some who succeeded and some who suffered in vain.

Oh celluloid heroes never feel any pain
Oh celluloid heroes never really die.

I wish my life was a non-stop Hollywood movie show,
A fantasy world of celluloid villains and heroes,
Because celluloid heroes never feel any pain
And celluloid heroes never really die.

It’s one of my favorite songs.  I listened to it on the way to work on Wednesday and was singing along…got all shaky-voiced and my eyes clouded up.  Kind of an intense way to drive down Highway 40 going into St. Louis.  I mentioned it on Facebook and described it as “one of the world’s few truly perfect songs.”  A friend asked what made it “perfect” to me, out of curiosity.  This was my response, with some minor edits for sense-making…

It’s kind of ineffable. I think anything or anyone you claim to love can’t ever have a specific thing to point to as the “why.” I’ve always said that if you can explain why you love someone or something, then you probably have to work too hard at loving it.

…but, I can point to some of the attributes I appreciate. First of all, the lyric is heartbreaking, but still inspiring. It speaks to the mortality of the body, and the eternal nature of the legacy. It allows us all to be dreamers and stars, but we all get to be tourists, accidentally dropping our food-wrappers on George Sanders, even while we’re weeping for Marilyn. But mostly, it expresses something that I needed someone else to express for me… “I wish my life were a non-stop Hollywood movie-show. A fantasy world of celluloid villains and heroes…because celluloid heroes never feel any pain, and celluloid heroes never really die.” And I guess sometimes I just wish a few more of the people I miss were still available on DVD.

And musically…Ray Davies is one of the best living songwriters out there. He can turn a pop song into poetry in the expanse of a sentence. In this song, you can hear the slight hint of sadness in his voice, and he’s got an almost ethereal quality as he lilts into the first verse. It’s almost a different voice from every other Kinks song. And the way the music starts with such a small, peaceful tone, then builds and builds until every instrument is giving its all… There’s a moment where the song is both mourning and celebrating at the same time and it just…rips into me.

But mostly it’s the ineffable thing. I have no idea why sometimes I barely notice it’s on and then other times I have to pull off the road and just listen to it. No idea at all.

And that’s it.  That’s my “I Love Ray Davies Because…” letter.  Just thought I’d share.

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2 thoughts on “A Love Letter to a Kinks Song”

  1. It was a pleasure to see and read how people – ordinary and starlike at the same time – can be united by this feeling of wonderful longing that characterizes this song, its words and music.

    1. Thanks for the comment. One of my favorite songs, and it’s amazing how many people from very different backgrounds seem to identify with it.

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