On my last post, I talked about a little red transistor radio that my mom bought me. It was a Montgomery Wards (My mom would affectionately call it, “Monkey Wards”) product, and I’d carry it with me whenever we went shopping. It only caught the AM stations and used a 9-volt battery. I didn’t care about sound fidelity; I just needed something to keep me occupied while my mom, and oftentimes, grandmother were shopping.
There was one song that left a big impression on me; it was “Lola” by The Kinks. It was released back on June 12, 1970, so I was 9 at the time and had completed the third grade (John Adams Elementary School in Stockton, CA). It was written by Ray Davies. According to The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll (1980), Davies was the Kinks’ lead singer, composer, and guiding light.
The chorus of “Lola” was very simple to sing. Its melody was catchy, which was probably why it became such a big hit for The Kinks. At the time, I never really paid attention to the lyrics of the verses; I really liked the “hook” of the chorus.
Fast forward to the Fall of 1979, my first year at USC. I shared an off-campus, two-bedroom, USC-owned apartment with three other roommates. One of my roommates, Alex the vocal major, brought his stereo from home. The first radio station I locked into was K-RTH 101, where, at the time, it played nothing but oldies but goodies from the 50s and 60s. And guess what song was playing? That’s right; it was “Lola.”
So here I was with the stereo on, with “Lola” filling the apartment. I’m sitting on the couch, enjoying the song. This time, I’m 18 years old, and I’m paying attention to the lyrics of the verses:
“I met her in a club down in old Soho
Where you drink champagne and it tastes just like cherry-cola [Lp version:
She walked up to me and she asked me to dance
I asked her her name and in a dark brown voice she said Lola
L-o-l-a Lola lo-lo-lo-lo Lola
Well I’m not the worlds most physical guy
But when she squeezed me tight she nearly broke my spine
Oh my Lola lo-lo-lo-lo Lola
Well I’m not dumb but I can’t understand
Why she walked like a woman and talked like a man
Oh my Lola lo-lo-lo-lo Lola lo-lo-lo-lo Lola
Well we drank champagne and danced all night
Under electric candlelight
She picked me up and sat me on her knee
And said dear boy won’t you come home with me
Well I’m not the worlds most passionate guy
But when I looked in her eyes well I almost fell for my Lola
Lo-lo-lo-lo Lola lo-lo-lo-lo Lola
Lola lo-lo-lo-lo Lola lo-lo-lo-lo Lola
I pushed her away
I walked to the door
I fell to the floor
I got down on my knees
Then I looked at her and she at me
Well that’s the way that I want it to stay
And I always want it to be that way for my Lola
Girls will be boys and boys will be girls
It’s a mixed up muddled up shook up world except for Lola
Well I left home just a week before
And I’d never ever kissed a woman before
But Lola smiled and took me by the hand
And said dear boy I’m gonna make you a man
Well I’m not the worlds most masculine man
But I know what I am and I’m glad I’m a man
And so is Lola
Lo-lo-lo-lo Lola lo-lo-lo-lo Lola
Lola lo-lo-lo-lo Lola lo-lo-lo-lo Lola.”
When the song ended, I felt like I had been figuratively goosed by an electric cattle prod. My tight, little Asian eyes widened like two UFO flying saucers. My naivety was brought to the forefront. Growing up in Stockton in the late 1960s and early 1970s had not prepared me for this revelation, that there were men dressed as women who went to clubs to attract men dressed as men, and vice versa.
I guess you can conclude that “Lola” initiated me into an ever-changing world that has morphed into “diversity”, with all its different types and flavors. You can say that “Lola” ended the innocence of my “Wonder Years” mentality that was engrained in me during my formative years in Stockton. The world didn’t seem to be cut-and-dried anymore; the world appeared to be, using professional wrestling terminology, a “free-for-all”, that you can do whatever you want, even if you weren’t fully aware of the consequences, like the guy who met Lola.
Music is powerful. It can allow you to worship God, take your mind off of your troubles, make you experience different emotions, tell you a story, and even take you to a place in the past. “Lola” definitely took me to where innocence and reality met, never allowing me to experience the naivety of my past, but always pushing me to confront the incongruencies of life, whether I wanted to or not.