The Dickies Are Back, Just as Silly, Irreverent as Ever : Punk: Band will be in Huntington Beach Saturday evening, playing at Night Moves and pushing a new album called “Second Coming.”
The Dickies called their new album “Second Coming,” which certainly fits the San Fernando Valley band’s comeback status after a long stretch of recording inactivity.
But “Giggle and Hum” might have been more apt. Virtually everything the Dickies have done in their 12-year existence has been pure silliness. From the start, the band, which plays Saturday at Night Moves in Huntington Beach, has produced puerile, purely disposable pop--cartoon-inspired music that barely engages the brain, except for however many cells may be required to encode the memory with a catchy melody.
In 1978, that melodic knack helped the Dickies become the first Los Angeles punk rock band signed to a major label--A&M; Records--for which the group recorded albums in 1979 and 1980. With “Second Coming,” original Dickies Stan Lee and Leonard Phillips have branched out a bit stylistically, including songs that smack of Beatles influence and art-rock aspirations. But the point is still to be silly.
“The Dickies isn’t supposed to be a serious kind of thing. It’s supposed to be to get away from that,” guitarist Lee said in a recent phone interview from his home in Sherman Oaks. “We come from the Valley, so it can’t be too serious. Back in the beginning I saw the Damned and the Ramones, and the Weirdos (a Los Angeles humorous punk band) were playing around here. I thought, ‘Gee, I can do that,’ and just threw it together as a joke. Getting in the local fanzine, Slash magazine, was basically all we were shooting for.”
Humor was the band’s aim from the start, according to Phillips, the tall, skinny singer who forms a comical Mutt-and-Jeff team with the short, stocky Lee.
“We saw that there was a real distinction between two types of punk rock,” Phillips said in a separate interview. “The angry, serious sort of cries-for-social-anarchy punk of the Sex Pistols and Clash, and stuff that was an act for entertainment’s sake, like the Damned and the Ramones. We wanted to be on that side of it, but with a distinctly West Coast slant. We tried to add our idea of what L.A. cartoon culture would be.”
The Dickies had their biggest success in England, scoring hits with blitz-punk remakes of a couple of kiddie show themes: “Gigantor” and “Banana Splits.”
“I thought when we went to England the kids would think, ‘These are a bunch of American poseurs trying to cash in on punk,’ ” Phillips recalled. “I was convinced we wouldn’t be angry and working class enough for them. But we wound up appealing to the punks’ little brothers and sisters. We were a teeny-pop band in England. A 15- or 16-year-old Dickies fan was a real geezer.”
For all the silliness connected with the Dickies, there is also some poignancy in the band’s origins. For Phillips, now 32, membership in the Dickies turned out to be a lifeline that helped him shed a serious case of post-adolescent inertia and isolation.
“I almost joined the band for therapeutic reasons more than musical,” said the singer, a ready talker with the smooth speaking manner of a radio or television host. “I was pretty much an introverted character and I put myself through forced celibacy for two years at that point.”
Phillips, who played keyboards, says he and his friend Bob Davis, later to be nicknamed Chuck Wagon, dabbled in Phillips’ bedroom with what they called “autism rock”--a form that Phillips says Devo wound up bringing to the world in a much more developed way. “I thought they did autism-rock better than we ever could.”
Phillips said that an old Van Nuys High School friend of his, Steve Hufstedter, persuaded him to try to break out of his isolation by auditioning for the band that Lee was forming.
“Steve Hufstedter had me convinced it was one of my last chances of getting out in the real world and mixing with people,” Phillips said. But when it came time to audition for the Dickies, Phillips responded by carrying on outrageously and refusing to sing a note.
“I kicked him out,” Lee recalled. “But he called and begged about five times after that. He just thought he was going to commit suicide if he didn’t get in a band. He was just about to go nuts. He came out the second time and he was great, and the rest is history.”
Singing with the Dickies, Phillips said, “was cathartic and therapeutic and good on every level. I got to go out and meet girls--that was a big load off my mind.”
Phillips’ pal, Chuck Wagon, would drive him to rehearsals, and soon was in the band, too. But in the most sobering moment in Dickies history, Wagon committed suicide in 1981.
Through most of the ‘80s, the Dickies did little to build on their early base. “Stanley and myself have been very lazy over the years,” Phillips said. “We’ve had our share of problems, chemical and otherwise. There was a stretch there between ’80 and ’84 or ’85 when we really did nothing. We did a few local gigs, just to keep money in our pockets.”
The Dickies re-emerged last year with an EP for Enigma records that was linked to an obscure, junk-grade teen exploitation film, “Killer Klowns From Outer Space.” Last spring, “Second Coming” appeared, the first new Dickies album since 1983’s “Stukas Over Disneyland.” Another new release is “Great Dictations,” a compilation of the Dickies’ best A&M; tracks from 1978-80.
“Musically we made a pretty big leap from our punk-rock roots, which has alienated our punk-rock fans and not reaped us the radio rewards that we were so desperately seeking,” Phillips said of the band’s recent work. But the Dickies plan to keep plugging with a national tour set for next month. Besides Lee and Phillips, the lineup includes guitarist Enoch Hain, bassist Lorenzo Buhne, and drummer Cliff Martinez, a former member of Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band and the Red Hot Chili Peppers who also scored the acclaimed film, “sex, lies and videotape.”
After the tour, Lee and Phillips said, the Dickies will take what could be their last, best shot at wider success--a punk-rock opera tentatively entitled “Gogmagog,” after two Old Testament giants.
“We’re real excited about it,” Phillips said. “It’s an attempt to put the Dickies in a much more punk-rock mode, yet the music is completely progressive.” The script centers on a Valley kid’s strange journey. Phillips said it includes an encounter with the statue of John Lennon in New York’s Central Park, which has somehow come to life and gone on a rampage. “One of the first things it’s going to do is strangle Bono of U2,” Phillips said.
That should be interesting: a pop band with self-confessed infantile tendencies taking a comic swipe at one of rock’s most sober and self-consciously significant juggernauts.
“Every time we get infantile, we tend to step on some toes,” said Phillips, who says he has taken flak most recently for a song on “Second Coming” that cracks a tasteless, but innocently intended joke by having its protagonist declare that he is tired of women and will henceforth become a homosexual. “You can’t do infantile humor, especially as an adult, without making fun,” Phillips said.
The Mad magazine/kiddie cartoon approach may not earn the Dickies a lot of respect, but Phillips said he can live with that.
“If we don’t deserve a little condescension, who does?”