The Once and Future KinksA fan-turned-filmmaker’s quixotic mission
“Waterloo Sunset,” recorded by the Kinks in 1967, opens with a bass line as muddy as the Thames. Then Ray Davies, ostensibly standing on Waterloo Bridge above those waters, sings, “Dirty old river, must you keep rolling, flowing into the night?” On a cold November day in 2008, I stood on that same bridge gazing out at a cloudy sky. I was there in pursuit of a dream—a dream of making a movie about the legendary band.
As a child of the eighties, I’d been sucked in by Kinks 2.0, the arena rockers of “Come Dancing” and “Destroyer.” Ray and his younger brother Dave were, as the title of one of their albums suggests, “misfits,” and my teenaged self loved them for that. Later I learned that they were also a great story, continually at war with each other. And so the driving force behind Do It Again was set in motion. For some reason, I believed that I could reunite the Kinks, who had not played together since 1996.
There were a couple of problems. First, I had no idea how to make a movie. Second, I had no money. I was, however, in crisis. At thirty-eight, I had a family that I loved and a job as an arts reporter at the Boston Globe, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that if I had just been more daring I might have achieved more glory. My Kinks film would be my belated attempt to do something important.
Fortunately, I found a willing and experienced director, Robert Patton-Spruill. Together, we developed a concept for a new kind of rock documentary. In the standard music flick, Tom Petty sits in a room with a guitar on the wall behind him and tells the audience, in a near whisper, “Brian Wilson is our Beethoven.” We, by contrast, would focus on both my love of the Kinks and my ambition to get them back together. As for the money issue, somehow it would all work out.
My first order of business was to take the kinds of risks I hadn’t entertained since high school, when my friend Pete and I would spend endless hours in his basement practicing Eric Clapton, AC/DC, and, of course, Kinks songs. For Do It Again, I would not only interview famous musicians who were fans of the Kinks. I would bring my guitar, and, near the end, pop the question. Would you mind playing a song with me, Mr. McCartney?
I had some colorful rejections, more than fifty in all. “You are truly off your rocker,” John Mellencamp’s publicist told me. Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart couldn’t squeeze in a session with me before a show because, as their publicist wrote, “women on film take special care.” (Makeup would cost too much.) The former Byrd and Flying Burrito Brother Chris Hillman agreed and then volunteered his fee: six hundred dollars an hour.
Yet I also had some breakthroughs. The actress Zooey Deschanel met with me in Los Angeles on a weekend morning. The English singer-songwriters Robyn Hitchcock and Paul Weller both set time aside before their gigs, as did R.E.M.’s Peter Buck. And then there was Sting. Yes, the ageless icon agreed to an interview before a concert in Boston. Talking Kinks, he grew so enthusiastic that he grabbed a guitar. Suddenly, this wasn’t a rock star sitting across from me. It was a teenager showing a buddy how much he loved this song from his favorite band. Sting played a solo version of “You Really Got Me.” He also let me strum “Set Me Free” as we sang together. Me and Sting. On film.
Meanwhile, the financing began to fall into place. I discovered that once you have a compelling cut, investors more readily pony up the cash. By the time I reached Waterloo Bridge, I was convinced that I could make things happen. That morning, we shot some “b-roll,” as they say in the biz—film over which I would dub narration. Then we headed to an annual Kinks convention at a bar called the Boston Arms. I was about to come face to face with reality.
Ray, who had been avoiding me, showed up, and we captured him on film. The next day Dave, who had not appeared at the convention, agreed to an interview, and as I listened to him talk, I understood at last that I was mildly insane to believe I could engineer a Kinks reunion.
I did complete my movie, though. Almost two years after filming began, Do It Again premiered at the International Film Festival in Rotterdam. Variety gave us a smashing review, with others to follow. Now we’ve got screenings planned from Atlanta to Warsaw, all posted on doitagainthemovie.com.
Will Do It Again become the next Super Size Me (budget: $65,000; gross: $28 million)? There’s no way of knowing. But I’m sure of one thing. “Just do it” can be excellent advice. If you wonder whether you could write a book or run a marathon, don’t waste a minute calculating your chances. Instead, spend an hour a day on your dream. It’s how I suddenly found myself on a bridge in London, cameras rolling, wondering what took me so long.
GEOFF EDGERS, A92, is a staff writer at the Boston Globe. He has also written for Wired, Details, and GQ, and has had children’s books on the Beatles and on Elvis Presley published by Grosset & Dunlap.