THE KINKS: “Waterloo Sunset”

It’s one of the most beautiful depictions of burgeoning romance ever committed to song. And it’s told, not from the perspective of the young lovers themselves, but from the viewpoint of a benevolent onlooker, wishing them well as they cross over the river, where they feel safe and sound.I wonder what that onlooker would have thought of me when I was 18.

Dirty old river

Must you keep rolling

Flowing into the night

I was not exactly a schoolboy in disgrace. Not quite. But the school year could not end quickly enough to suit me.

It was May of 1978. My freshman year in college at Brockport was sputtering to its unremarkable conclusion. My roommate and I had been friends; now, we were barely speaking to each other. My grades weren’t terrible, but nor were they anything special. I was drinking and partying too much, while deriving little pleasure from the process. I was neither a dedicated follower of fashion nor a well-respected man. I was…well, I was nothing much. I wanted to be more than that.

People so busy

Make me feel dizzy

Taxi light shines so bright

Musically, at least, there was something to be said for 1978 up to that point. I had seen The Flashcubes–Syracuse’s own power pop powerhouse!–for the very first time that January, and that was special. I saw Elvis Costello & the Attractions on campus in February. Back home in Syracuse, I saw The Ramones and The Runaways (with The Flashcubes) over spring break. Before the year was done, I would see New Math, Herman’s Hermits, and Bob Dylan, plus a few more local acts, each of them as riveting in my mind as the internationally famous ones. Music provided me with something I may have otherwise lacked.

But I don’t feel afraid

As long as I gaze on Waterloo sunset

I am in paradise

And, in May of 1978, I was going to see The Kinks.

I had become a fan of The Kinks during my senior year in high school. A year later, my Kinks kollection was still inkomplete, perfunktory. I owned the Kinks-Size LP, Sleepwalker, probably Schoolboys In Disgrace, a Kinks compilation called The Pye History Of British Pop Music, the “Well Respected Man” 45, and “You Really Got Me” and “All Day And All Of The Night” on the first two volumes of Sire Records’ British Invasion anthology series The History Of British Rock.

The skimpy nature of my Kinks holdings up to this point would seem to contradict what is nonetheless true: I loved The Kinks. Wholeheartedly. I hadn’t yet acquired an understanding of The Kinks’ body of work, and I was still in the very early stages of building my own Kinks library. In the mean time, I sang along to “No More Looking Back,” “Juke Box Music,” and “Celluloid Heroes” on the radio, thrilled to see The Kinks on NBC’sSaturday Night in ’77, and mentally (if reluctantly) dedicated “Set Me Free” to my girlfriend Theresa at the end of ’77, recognizing that things were moving way, way too fast between us for immature and unprepared little me. When I auditioned to be the singer for a country rock band in the Fall of ’77, the band asked me what kind of music I liked to sing. The Kinks! was my immediate reply. This response was met with Ah, we don’t like The Kinks. They didn’t like me any better than they liked The Kinks. And the world kept going round.

Sha la la

Every day I look at the world from my window

Sha la la

Chilly chilly is the evening timeWaterloo sunset’s fine

I needed to see The Kinks.

Terry meets Julie at Waterloo Station

Every Friday night

But I am so lazy

Don’t want to wander

I stay at home at night

The venue was The Landmark Theater, a classic old movie house (originally Lowe’s State Theater, opened in 1928), then just recently saved from the wrecking ball that would have turned it into a parking lot. You can’t demolish a landmark. On May 28th of 1978, this Landmark played host to The Kinks.

But I don’t feel afraid

As long as I gaze on Waterloo sunset

I am in paradise

My life-long fixation on the music of the British Invasion remains undimmed. I was never going to see The Beatles in concert (though I would eventually see Paul McCartney, and attend a Ringo press conference). I wouldn’t see The Rolling Stones until 1989 (the same week I saw The Kinks for the third and final time). I never got around to seeing The Who. As noted above, I would see Herman’s Hermits (albeit without Peter Noone) in a bar that summer of 1978. In the ’80s, I would be fortunate enough to see The Searchers and The Animals on separate occasions in Buffalo. But my first British Invasion concert would be The Kinks.

The opening act was another British group, Charlie. Years later, my future This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio co-host Dana Bonn would remember Charlie as a band that couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be Yes or Cheap Trick. Yeah, Dana also saw this Kinks show at The Landmark, though this was years before we actually met. My memory of Charlie jibes with Dana’s. Charlie did have a decent (if overly slick) pop tune called “She Loves To Be In Love,” and I liked their performance of that; I remember being turned off by the smug nature of a song called “Watching TV.” Charlie was not the band I was there to see.

Sha la la

In 1978, I did not yet know The Kinks’ repertoire well enough to identify each song in the group’s set. A new album called Misfits had just been released, and I doubt I’d heard much (if any) of that on the radio prior to the show. I didn’t know deep cuts. Hell, I didn’t know most of The Kinks’ classics beyond “You Really Got Me,” “All Day And All Of The Night,” “Tired Of Waiting For You,” “Well Respected Man,” and “Lola.” I may have known “I Need You” via a live cover by The Flashcubes. I knew “Sunny Afternoon,” “Till The End Of The Day,” “Where Have All The Good Times Gone,” and “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion” from my Pye History Of British Pop Music LP, and I knew “Dead End Street” from a Rock Of The ’60s video show I had seen at Syracuse University in 1977. As a result, I don’t have specific contemporaneous memories of much of what The Kinks played at The Landmark.

But there are some things I do remember.

If you’re a music fan with breath and a pulse, you know this: there are moments in our concert-going lives that stand out, moments that simply shimmer in our recollections, moments that seem to live eternally, above and beyond our cherished memories of the concert as a whole. Carl Wilson singing “God Only Knows” at a Beach Boys show. Micky Dolenz singing “As We Go Along” at a Monkees show. David Bowie singing “Life On Mars?” Paul McCartney singing…well, that would be the whole McCartney show, I guess.

One of those moments was at The Landmark in 1978, when The Kinks performed “Waterloo Sunset.”

Millions of people, swarming like flies ’round Waterloo underground

But Terry and Julie cross over the river

Where they feel safe and sound

I’m reasonably certain I’d never heard the song before. From that second forward, I would never forget it. A backdrop behind The Kinks displayed a projection simulating a sunset. The band played. Ray Davies sang. And we were in paradise.

The summer of ’78 beckoned. My friend Tom helped me get a part-time job as a janitor at Sears, so I had pocket money for movies, records, and rock ‘n’ roll shows. I saw The Flashcubes every chance I had. At Record Theatre up on the SU hill, I scored a double-LP set called The Kink Kronikles, which included “Lola” and “Waterloo Sunset,” and which filled me in on The Kinks’ essential mid-to-late ’60s output. Magic. More would follow in due time. God save The Kinks.

My parents were away in Missouri for part of the summer, so I had the house to myself. I was 18, but slightly more responsible than my history thus far would have implied. There were no wild parties. The occasional guests behaved themselves. I harbored an AWOL Marine. I sheltered a teenaged runaway girl. I did not date. A girl at work flirted lightly with me, and another girl tried to set me up on a blind date with a friend of hers. I played my records, my Bobby Fuller Four and my Generation X, my Sex Pistols, Jam, and Dave Clark Five, my Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. My Kinks. I prepared to return to school. In the fall, I met a girl at school. Brenda. 

Something better beginning.

I saw The Kinks a total of three times, an impersonal arena show in Buffalo and an incongruous college gym show in Oswego both woefully unable to match the perfect memory of a perfect show at The Landmark in 1978. The Village Green Preservation Society became my favorite Kinks album, one of my favorite albums by anyone at any time. When my Dad died in 2012, I recited the lyrics to The Kinks’ “Days” as part of his eulogy. The Kinks are recognized as the de facto house band on This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl. When I’m asked to name my favorite Kinks song, I can only narrow it down to two: “You Really Got Me” and “Waterloo Sunset.”

And they don’t need no friends

As long as they gaze on Waterloo sunset

They are in paradise

I have one more odd Kinks recollection to share. In 1983 or ’84, I was working at Mighty Taco in South Buffalo. Mighty Taco was open until 5 am to serve the bar crowd. This particular early morning, the store had been closed for the better part of an hour, and I was alone except for the overnight cleaning person. I had Buffalo’s 97 Rock on the store’s sound system to provide music as I finished my paperwork. I called the station and made a request. My request played.

The majestic sound of “Waterloo Sunset” boomed throughout the empty restaurant. But I don’t feel afraid. Here’s to all of you, my friends. I thank you for the days. And I hope you still gaze on the sunset. I hope you are in paradise.

Sha la la.

Waterloo sunset’s fine

Waterloo sunset’s fine

“Waterloo Sunset” by Ray Davies, Warner Chappell Music, Inc./Abkco Music, Inc.

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Fans of pop music will want to check out Waterloo Sunset–Benefit For This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, a new pop compilation benefiting SPARK! Syracuse, the home of This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & CarlTIR’N’RR Allstars–Steve StoeckelBruce GordonJoel TinnelStacy CarsonEytan MirskyTeresa CowlesDan PavelichIrene Peña, Keith Klingensmith, and Rich Firestone–offer a fantastic new version of The Kinks’ classic “Waterloo Sunset.” That’s supplemented by eleven more tracks (plus a hidden bonus track), including previously-unreleased gems from The Click BeetlesEytan MirskyPop Co-OpIrene PeñaMichael Slawter (covering The Posies), and The Anderson Council (covering XTC), a new remix of “Infinite Soul” by The Grip Weeds, and familiar TIRnRR Fave Raves by Vegas With RandolphGretchen’s WheelThe Armoires, and Pacific Soul Ltd. Oh, and that mystery bonus track? It’s exquisite. You need this. You’re buying it from Futureman.

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