The Kinks’ most misunderstood song

From the time Ray Davies wrote his first song, he always followed the darker side of life. Whereas most contemporary acts were writing straight-ahead love songs, The Kinks had the snarl in their guitar tone on ‘You Really Got Me’ and later subverted gender roles on ‘Lola’. Though things seemed to be going down a simple path on ‘Art Lover’, the real meaning behind the track was enough to break your heart.

At first glance, the lyrics read as a stalker quietly looming over the victim as they walk down the street. In the first verse alone, the line “Jogging in the park is my excuse/To look at all the little girls” is enough to make people’s hairs stand on end and fall into a state of fear. However, despite Davies suggesting the narrator is a sexual deviant who is inappropriately loitering around a children’s playground, that’s not the reality.

While the man in question sounds like a monster, Davies wrote this song in tribute to absentee fathers who had been locked out of their children’s lives. The frontman regularly ran through his local parks and was inspired to write ‘Art Lover’ after noticing part-time fathers spending time with their kids while he was exercising.

As the story plays out in the track, Davies has a lot of empathy for this character, asking for people not to call him a monster but to try and understand his situation. The protagonist had made a number of bad decisions in his life, and having these little moments with his daughter may be essential to his existence. Although the song was originally written with the line, “Sunday parents with their kids knowing they’re just alone,” it was omitted by Davies to keep the song open to interpretation.

If the track was kept in its original form, that one line would have explained everything, stopping the widespread confusion in an instant. Although Davies had pushed ‘Art Lover’ out as a single at the time, the BBC shot it down quickly because of the creepy undertones. While Davies understood, he almost would have preferred that the album take a loss rather than sacrifice the integrity of the song, telling Creem: “It’s a good song. It’s a sad song. And I’d love it to be a single. I wouldn’t care if it bombed and died a death because I believe in that song so much”.

Despite never taking off, the track is a favourite of Bruce Springsteen, as Davies later explained to Clash: “Bruce knew everything about my songwriting. One song he wanted to do he really loved was a song called ‘Art Lover’. The Kinks were like touring arenas in America, and we had that music out then – he knew ‘Better Things’ and ‘Art Lover’ – whereas for English artists they may not have been accessible to them”.

‘Art Lover’ might have gotten buried under its controversy before it could take on a life of its own, but the most important thing to Davies was keeping his artistic integrity, even if it cost him financially.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *