Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Grace of a Boy: The Kinks: "Lola"

1970 is a crossroads year, as so many first years of decades are – some things are bubbling up from under, some are signposts, others are the usual flotsam and jetsam after the wreckage of the previous ten years. This is different though; and while I sense that its writer doesn’t want me to take it too seriously, I can’t help but say that I’ve always been made a bit uneasy by this song. Why? I’m not sure myself; it could be that the song is named after a woman but no woman appears in the song, only a man who walks like one. The boy – he’d only left home a week before – somehow ends up in Soho and finds himself in a club with a transvestite. If I was a certain female prof from the US I would say that this is a song about the feminine, about femininity so strong that the ‘female’ is in all ways stronger than the male (a strength he seems to lack, as he says, so he appreciates it in another) – that even though Lola is a man he is female too, because that’s what the boy wants/needs; he is learning a lot on this night, for sure…

…and he’s glad he’s a man now, clearly weaker than the supposedly weaker sex. I guess. Half-drunk (that’s why he falls to the floor – all that champagne that tastes like “cherry cola” as the BBC-censored version goes) and on Lola’s knee, or kneeling, he is learning a lot, but I guess my problem is how will he cope with women after this? I mean actual women, not ones taller or stronger than him. (Unless, like Betjeman's young man, he goes for the sporty jolly-tennis-playing type.) He has survived a night in old Soho, but as a resident Londoner I can say with some authority that Soho is small and London is large. I think my itch here is – is this a pro-feminist song? Does the appearance of the female as a strong female count as a real one? Or is this just another step in the world of a certain kind of British male, who goes to a male-only school and knows nothing about women, and is directed (how does someone like this end up in Soho anyway?) to this place for, um, further education? Couldn’t he just go find a real woman somewhere instead? Is this a song that doesn’t really concern women at all (including listeners)?

I don’t know, but it has always left me a bit uneasy, despite the banjos and Davies’ wolfish smile, that the boys’ club of rock – that seems to be obliquely mocked here, the hero being not a passionate dude as with the previous song but something of a naïf – is still a boys’ club, that Lola is a man and the men and boys hearing this song are somehow ‘safe’ from involving themselves with someone so changeable and variable as an actual female. Things are beginning to get mixed up, notes the hero, but Lola is the exception, the odd one out that proves the rule. The shaking up of gender roles in rock continues, to be sure (remember how The Beatles’ haircuts were seen as being girly) but when will any actual women get to show their masculine side? In the meantime, Lola dances by electric candlelight and the real women are perhaps still too much for the hero, and so he repeats her name…enthralled to the feminine, if not the female.

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