Coming hot on the successes of “Low Budget,” the live “One For The Road” and “Give The People What They Want” (the latter two I don’t have on vinyl – must have been Danny records), this one came out in the summer of 1983, our last summer of living in a sweltering apartment above a bodega on Marshall Street, Syracuse University’s tiny but vital commercial block. At the time, there were three little grocery stores that survived primarily on beer and cigarette sales; I think they were all gone by the time we left. The one below us would sometimes forget to take the Price Chopper stickers off things they had bought already at retail and marked up some more, because they could. (They weren’t alone; the little grocery store I worked for in high school, getting its product from a local wholesaler, marked things up about 40%, and did quite well.)
This one’s a rocker, as was “Give The People What They Want.” It starts with a wail and keeps it up through the all-time classic “Come Dancing,” a sweet bit of nostalgia that really bops, and tied with “Tired of Waiting for You” as their highest-charting single, at #6. They took the bold risk of having two songs about dancing on the same album, with the lovely “Don’t Forget to Dance” filling in the spot of lovely perfection that had been reserved for “Better Things” on the previous record. There’s also a complaint about “Young Conservatives” that, sadly, proved spot-on.
This incredible little streak of great albums in the late ’70s and early ’80s meant The Kinks were still a vital band — they got to have a second act that few of the ’60s bands were really afforded. Who else from the ’60s besides the Kinks, the Stones and the Who were exerting this kind of creative power 10 or 15 years past their heyday? Now, forty years after that, we’ve seen how long rock ‘n’ roll can last, and that there are artists who can continue to surprise and delight decades on, but they are few and far between. At the time, it really wasn’t expected that a rock band was a forever thing, and once you had had your moment in the sun, you disappeared. Instead, these guys were putting out vital, exciting rock. It felt cool to be a part of that.
By the time this album came out, we had graduated from college. I mean, technically. For reasons that were half my fault and half the university’s, I didn’t think I had qualified to graduate; it turned out I was wrong, but I wouldn’t know that for a while yet. But Danny and Lee had, and while Lee and I worked through the summer and got ready to move off campus, Danny went off to a summer job working for the Historic American Buildings Survey, stationed at Valley Forge. We drove down to visit him two or three times, making the long trek from Syracuse to the greater Philly area in a car without air conditioning (I believe we had a little fan you could clip onto a window to at least keep air circulating in the back, and, being a 1972 Pontiac Ventura, it had vent windows and floor vents, so it wasn’t as unbearable as a modern car would be). We had to use paper maps, children! Imagine. Danny and his colleagues were staying in a house that stood in Valley Forge Park, one of several for caretakers and the like, and we were free to stay there with them. We drove down twice (maybe it was three times?) for our first visit to the area, ever. We spent a day in Philly, we went to the shore, we walked on a not-yet-opened Route 422, we struggled with Pennsylvania’s counter-intuitive alcohol laws (you couldn’t buy a six-pack in a grocery store, as you could in civilization; you could get it from a bar, at a massive markup, or you could buy cases from beverage stores. Because everyone knows that buying a case discourages drinking).
There was a record player in the house, and we had a handful of records that we played through the weekends. Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” was one, and The Kinks’ “State of Confusion” was the other. So between the songs on the two, there was a lot of dance. And dance we did. It was a crazy, emotional time – these were the last days I would spend with Danny, who had been my roommate for five years, and who was going through some pretty life-changing events. With my few remaining SU friends taking off for new lives, I was feeling increasingly like I was going to be trapped as one of the lifers working at the print company where I toiled (not to worry, that’s not what happened). I was reading a lot of Lost Generation writers and imagining a different life (including the life of a writer). All that angst piled into a car and partied through a couple of weekends in a house on the edge of Valley Forge park, and it partied to this album. “State of Confusion” spoke to me like “Quadrophenia” had, its punky anger resonating with my unsettled condition in life.
So I can never listen to this album without thinking of those weekends. Despite having an overall positive impression of Philadelphia, we never returned for decades. When I started a new job in 2011, there were some meetings I had to attend at nearby Villanova, which brought back memories of that long-ago time. Then when I went to work for a Philly company in 2013, I started scouting the area for places to live, and oddly ended up essentially one town over from Valley Forge. The building that Danny was there to document still stands, but the house we had stayed in back then is gone, and I can’t even exactly place it. But I often think about those weekends, and this album, when I’m riding through Valley Forge park.