In 2016, the surf guitar legend who died Saturday night talked at length about his life, his illness, and whatever crossed his mind.
On Saturday night, surf guitar legend Dick Dale died. He's best known for "Miserlou," which Quentin Tarantino used to great effect in 1994's Pulp Fiction. Dale played a number of memorable shows in New Orleans in the old Howlin' Wolf--where Republic is today--where he played surf with a punk edge. He played so hard that he would periodically show his picks to show how worn down they were, and one Sunday night he walked off the stage, through the crowd, out the door and into traffic, staring down cars and playing all the while. The shows were bonkers at one level, but there was no denying how ferocious a player and a persona he was at the time, when he was in his 60s.
He was afflicted with stomach cancer late in life, and health insurance took care of some of his needs. Still, he admitted in 2016 in an interview with My Spilt Milk that he had to keep playing because he needed an additional $3,000 a month for an attachment not covered to help keep the site where a bag came out of his stomach from getting infected.
The 2016 interview was an amazing performance of another kind that started when I asked Dale, "How's your health?" He answered, "Never ask somebody how they are because they’ll unload on you for about two hours," then he did almost exactly that. For 65 minutes, he talked about his health, his life, his music, his wife, and whatever crossed his mind. He was as indefatiguable in that monologue as he was in the shows I'd seen, but age had added some of Abe Simpson's free-associative style to his storytelling.
The result was such a tour de force that I ran all of it as he said it, lightly edited for readability and to avoid moments of incoherence. Orson Welles, the Dalai Lama, World War II, cancer, Jesse James, Liberace, and Las Vegas all turn up in his stories, which are unified by his will to perservere and his love for his wife, Lana. I ran the results in the days leading up to another show at The Howlin' Wolf, and as nutty as they struck me then, they were also the words of a fiercely independent man who had decided he wasn't going to be an easy out.
On this, the occasion of his death, I have collected links to these pieces because, like Dale, they are amazing. I have never forgotten the experience of the conversation or his stories any more than I have forgotten his shows in the '90s when he played like a force of nature.