IMPLIED VELOCITY AND PUPPET SHOWS:
THE DICKIES IN THE MILLENIUM
..."We 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 a while."

...
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 Dickies.

...
"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.

..."Who 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 stuff?"

...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."
..The 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 it."

...
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.

INTERVIEW BY KEITH BRAMMER WWW.MILKMAG.COM