Geoff Edgers, a crazy rock fan and Boston Globe reporter, had one burning wish: to get the Kinks back together.
Yes, those Kinks (1964-1996). Original lineup: Ray and Dave Davies (enemies of the same mother), drummer Mick Avory, and bassist Pete Quaife. Vets of the original British Invasion. "Waterloo Sunset," "Sunny Afternoon," "Lola," "Superman" . . . those Kinks.
"You need to be obsessed and driven," Edgers says, correctly. "We think this is my midlife crisis."
Edgers, 41, went as far as a guy could. He tramped all over America and the U.K. He interviewed music royalty such as Sting, Yoko Ono, Zooey Deschanel, Peter Buck of R.E.M., cult songsmith Robyn Hitchcock, and Dave Davies - and even got a few of them to play Kinks tunes with him.
It became a documentary, titled Do It Again, by director Robert Patton-Spruill (Public Enemy: Welcome to the Terrordome), and it airs on WHYY TV12 Thursday at 9 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. (It was shown in longer form at the 2010 Philadelphia Film Festival.)
We cannot tell a lie. Quaife, a big fan of the idea, departed this sonic realm in 2010, so that was about it for Edgers' quest. Edgers had promised his daughter Lila that he would serve the whole family a lobster dinner if it didn't happen. At movie's end, Lila, at the family dinner table, is puzzling over whether to start with the claw or the tail.
Why the heck would you even try a stunt like this?
"I'm a fan and also an opportunist," says Edgers by phone from Boston, "and I thought, 'Why is there not a great film about this band? Why does the ultimate Kinks documentary not even exist?' Well, I couldn't make that movie, but once I got started on this one, I couldn't stop. It took on a life of its own."
Much of the film is very cool, with Edgers jamming with the surprisingly obliging Sting, or the very knowledgeable Deschanel. But a lot of it is, well, Edgers getting told "no" in 1,456 ways over the phone. Edgers busking in underground stations. Edgers leading random guys in public parks singing "Lola."
"It was the director," Edgers says with a chuckle. "The director was telling me all the time, 'You should be in this,' really pushing it. So it became a movie about my quest, and from there it became an unconventional rock documentary."
Unconventional, and unexpectedly moving, a loony, frustrating ode to fanhood, about a guy "who had no idea how to do this, or how to make a movie, or how to do anything, actually," bumbling his way into some strange and rewarding places. The Kinks inspire great fan affection, and we get to see a lot of that, in Kinks sing-along clubs, and people of all ages on the street, from Boston to London, who know reams of Kinks tunes by heart. We see that same affection in the rockers Edgers jams with, from Hitchcock to Buck to Sting.
What was the obstacle? Well, the Kinks are famous for their internal squabbles. Their misbehaviors may have short-circuited the band's career: Just when they were getting hot, they were banned by the American Federation of Musicians from U.S. tours during the crucial years 1964 to 1966. Tension between Ray Davies, the band's main singer/songwriter, and his brother Dave, lead guitarist, are legend.
Former Kinks did a variety of gigs after the band split in 1996, but never all four. The film's emotional high point is when Dave tells Edgers he would have done a reunion, but brother Ray said, when asked, "I have somewhere to be." Then Dave, who suffered a stroke five years before the interview with Edgers, plays an exquisite tune of his own, "Strangers."
"I know Ray has tons of archival stuff, but he won't let go of it, and he won't license anyone else," Edgers says. "I can just imagine what's in his archives. But he's never put it together. You have incredible documentaries of the Beatles, the Stones, the Beach Boys . . . there's a four-DVD box set of Genesis, for God's sake. Why not the Kinks?"
There, Edgers surely has a point. Although the Beatles, the Stones and The Who get a lot of credit for smart, socially observant pop, many think the Kinks did it first and best. Their catalog contains dozens of fine rock songs, and they were the indisputable masters of true, consistent concept albums. Ray Davies remains one of pop's most accomplished songwriters, at least in terms of influence.
"Listen to the Beatles, listen to Help!", says Edgers. "The Beatles were still singing about girls when the Kinks were doing songs about taxes, social prejudice, modern life, industrialization, things no one was writing about."
So, hey, it was worth a shot.
Director Patton-Spruill "often asks me if I'm trying to reclaim my teenage rock past," Edgers says. "I reached the point a lot of people reach, getting around 40, thinking about my goals when I was younger. I was successful, but I hadn't made anything lasting, and I wanted to. That idea kept me going."
Do It Again has had a nice life in the film festivals, and Edgers says, "Hey, I'm out only about $30,000 on this, so it isn't that bad. Any time I started to get discouraged, my wife would say, 'It's time to write another check off our home-equity loan.' "
As Do It Again shows, sometimes, when you chase a fantasy and never catch it, the residue is love. Edgers admits that "maybe it's better it never happened. Maybe some things are better left as a dream."