never broke up and said 'This is over', or did what a lot of bands
like Fear or the Circle Jerks did - 'Hey, there's money out there!
Let's reform and get some of it!'"
...So reflects lead singer, keyboardist,
and songwriter Leonard Graves Phillips. "We never went that route.
We just went through long periods of inactivity." Unfortunately,
this inactivity, combined with the fact that creativity rarely goes
hand-in-hand with sales, means that the Dickies are not, at this
point, shopping for houses in Brentwood....Nevertheless,
they still maintain the spirit that inspired them initially - albeit
tempered with a more pragmatic edge.
..."Our goal for this record (All This
And Puppet Stew) is to try to expose the band to people other than
Dickie fans," Phillips reasons. "We can play to Dickie fans for
the rest of our lives, and it's just not going to equate into major
record sales. So our game plan is to get on a flavor of the week
kind of tour. I don't mean to be derogatory, but whoever is out
there selling a lot of records -- Weezer, or Blink-182, or whatever
-- and expose the band to young blood."
...However, this desire to push the
band to a new level is tempered, at least on Phillips' part, with
the realities that accompany a 24-year stint in a band.
..."Stan (Lee, guitarist and songwriter)
is ready to line up Australia, which we've never been to, and we've
got the hookup to do South America. And that's all fine and dandy
for seeing the sights. But if we're going to do this we'd better
do it quick, because I'm going to be 45 on September 2nd,"
Phillips muses. "And I'll tell you straight up, I would love
to be able to go into the Steely Dan of punk mode. Just have Stan
and I make records, and not have to be the monkey on the string,
and do the puppet show that I do. I enjoy it, but it gets dull after
...In retrospect, the Dickies' success by this point in time
would have seemed inevitable - they were, after all, the first of
the LA punk bands to sign with A&M records, a union which resulted
in 1979's The Incredible Shrinking Dickies and 1980's Dawn of the
..."They were really taking a chance. I mean, my God,
we had complete artistic control, which is a great thing to have
in a contract, especially
for a punk rock band circa 1977. And the testimony to that is the
'Nights in White Satin' single that they put out, with us in KKK
outfits. That would NEVER happen today. The most hip punk-rock label
in the world would not countenance something like that. But the
people at A&M went "Well, I don't know, the kids must like
this stuff. We'll take a chance with it.'"
...However, a combination of public
resistance to punk rock (especially in the record-buying heartland)
and the Dickies' own unwillingness to conform to the "rules"
which had suddenly sprung up around the nascent movement meant that
they had become essentially stateless. The absurd question of who
was and was not "punk" had become as much of a qualifier
as the music itself, something which they were quick to ridicule.
is a real punk?" Phillips laughs. "There's this myth
out there, and it's been going on for years, that anyone who's
a punk rocker grew up listening to Iggy Pop and the MC5 -- just
punk from the get-go. And that's just not true. Most of these
guys that had spiky hair back in 1977 were listening to Yes before
they cut it off." That punk rock was first and foremost an
attitude, rather than a social clique, was something that Phillips
had learned years earlier.
..."A song like
'Paranoid,' when I was fourteen years old, was a punk rock song
to me. It embodied everything, almost, that a Ramones song embodied
ten years later. It had this implied velocity, and it was incredibly
simple. It really did have kind of an edge to it that I wanted
to try to reintroduce. I think that kind of backfired on us -
that, and the fact that we were never about teenage angst. We
were more infantile than that."
...The fact that the Dickies had
a definite sense of style in addition to their infantile humor
removed them from the artlessly disheveled, fashionably dour stance
of bands like the Germs. "I would get abrasive with other
bands, because I would tend to remind people that anyone that
tells you that they're trying to change the world through punk
rock - especially from LA - is full of shit. I mean, how bad can
your problems be for a young white male in a rock band in LA -
my dad won't buy me a Ferrari, my swimming pool isn't heated -
you know, how pissed off are you going to get at that kind of
...But Phillips feels
that there is another, more fundamental reason for the Dickies'
odd-man-out status in regard to the punk status quo. "We
tipped our hat to pop. Early. Real early. When we were doing covers
of 'Paranoid,' or even 'Nights in White Satin,' we actually believed
in those tunes," he says earnestly. "We knew they were
politically incorrect, we knew they were a little bit taboo at
the time. It wasn't like, let's piss all over this band by doing
a loud punk rock version of their song. We reworked the song,
because it had something to offer sonically. And back then I think
a lot of people didn't know how to wrap their ear around that."
reluctance to ignore a significant part of their musical heritage
had its roots, in part, in Phillips' belief that the punk movement
was a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. "My
attitude even then, on a lot of levels, was that this was a very
temporary thing," says Phillips. "Even in those days
I was a pop musician disguising himself as a punk rocker, who
assumed, with my overblown ego, that the Dickies were going to
be a springboard into some sort of Brian Eno reality that I was
trying to attain. But that didn't happen."
...Much of this has to do with the
fact that the Dickies are not the most ambitious band on the planet,
an assessment with which Phillips is quick to agree. "You
know, I could blame it on the drugs, but I've always taken the
path of least resistance. I'm kind of a lazy person," he
freely admits. Add to this an unwillingness to tour - "it's
pretty silly, but that's the way it is" - and the Dickies-as-cult-phenomenon
pattern begins to take shape.
..."We went through a period
in the 80's that was very dark," Phillips recalls soberly.
"Chuck Wagon (original multi-instrumentalist) had committed
suicide, I was strung out on drugs - all of us were - and we just
sat in front of a TV for about seven years and really considered
all of it kind of over. Every now and then, just for money, we
would go and do a show over in Hollywood. But that would be it."
...Their releases bear this out:
the poptastic Stukas Over Disneyland didn't see the light of day
until 1983, followed by 1989's relatively lackluster Second Coming.
Phillips reflects that "it wasn't until the emergence of
the Seattle sound and all these bands like Nirvana who grew up
listening to the Germs and the Angry Samoans that I started recognizing
that punk rock was actually influencing bands that were successful,
and that kind of opened a new chapter for us." This is evident
in the renewed sense of purpose demonstrated on 1994's terrific
Idjit Savant (which Phillips calls "our best record no one's
ever heard") as well as on their new LP.
...Fortunately or unfortunately,
though, the punk rock rules which so annoyed the band are still
present, and arguably more restrictive than ever. "Punk rock
went from being the last gasp of rock'n'roll, back in '77, to
being a kind of little cottage industry now," Phillips reflects
with some amazement. "And to be perfectly frank with you,
when I listen to the stuff - and I don't listen to a lot of punk
rock, I listen to Harry Nilsson records, so what do I know - but
a lot of it just really sounds the same. It's become everything
it was not supposed to be. It's very politically correct, it's
extremely parochial, and it all sounds the same. When I first
heard the Ramones, or the Damned, or even the Sex Pistols, there
was an implied velocity and an implied edge to what they were
doing. Very quickly, a lot of what I consider second-generation
punk bands went into virtual velocity. Play it fast! Play it faster!
It became very formula."
...It's this sort of formula that, thankfully, the Dickies
cannot replicate even if they try, as Phillips laughingly admits.
"Even when we try to contemporize ourselves it doesn't really
translate. The song 'Roadkill,' on Idjit Savant, was a calculated
attempt at the Dickies trying to do something hardcore. And I
listen to that song now, and there's really nothing hardcore about
...Given their reluctance, or inability, to mimic currently
marketable trends, one wonders what would define success for the
Dickies at this point in their career. Phillips, as always, is
refreshingly candid about his desires. "If we could move,
I don't know, 50,000 units, I'd know that the record has gotten
a lot of exposure. Something that modest would make me consider
the record a success at this point."
...Phillips, however, refuses to
dwell on memories, concentrating instead on the business at hand.
"I'm at the point where I'm accepting of the ups and downs
the Dickies have had over the years," he muses. "I don't
look back at the A&M days like 'Gee, I was somebody back then,
I'm a has-been now,' or anything like that." The only regret
Phillips expresses is monetary - the fact that, as he relates,
"in the old A&M days we did stupid stuff with that money.
People sat around and collected checks. Stan and Billy Club are
thinking they're going to be the freakin' Beatles, and I'm trying
to tell them, look, it's not like that. I wanted to take just
a fraction of that A&M dough and invest it in, like, a laundromat.
Anything other than what we did with it."
...This is, no doubt, behind Phillips'
vocal support of the time-honored tradition by which a mega-selling
band shares the wealth, so to speak, by covering a favorite band's
song and consequently provides them with a pile of royalty checks.
"So many bands that have our kind of history get the lottery
scenario," Phillips states somewhat ruefully. "We just
don't cover easily, I guess. I'm hoping that -- I don't know,
the Foo Fighters, I don't give a shit, ANYBODY - would cover one
of our original tunes, but there's something kind of implicit
about the finished product of a Dickies song that says Don't Tread
On Me. I don't know why that is; I've got an ugly feeling that
it's the vocal melodies."
...While Phillips might seem preoccupied
with the financial state of the band, he is ultimately less concerned
with that than with the continuing image of the Dickies as a force
to be reckoned with. "I know people think we're funny when
they see us live, because I can be a wiseass on stage, and I've
got a talking penis and all that nonsense," he shrugs. "But
I would like to think that anybody that enjoys the Dickies - who
listens to our records and all that - takes all of that into account,
and says wow, not only is this stuff socially neutral by dint
of its humor, but these guys have a great sense of arrangement
and musicianship, and they're good pop musicians." In terms
of a mission statement, as well as a legacy, there aren't many
better than that - which is something you can take to the bank.