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Looking a bit like a beleaguered bathroom fixture salesman after his latest fall off the wagon at a roadside tavern somewhere in Iowa, Dick Valentine took the stage at the Valley Bar in Phoenix Tuesday evening. A devoted audience of 200 or so cheered their rumpled Socrates. I was among them.

I would say Electric Six — the band to which Dick gave life fifteen years ago — is an acquired taste, but it really isn’t. Their mixture of dance beats and that certain hard-rock edge is instantly relatable. To hear it is to goove to it. Those who haven’t grooved to it haven’t yet heard it. I have a feeling the playlist of every Detroit radio station young Dick ever heard is still etched into his cerebellum somewhere — at least the portions that haven’t been smoothed over by a constant flow of cheap vodka. Electric Six is the creative act of regurgitating a childhood spent listening to Gap Band, Funkadelic, Heatwave, Led Zeppelin, Kiss, Styx, Rick Springfield, Donnie Iris, KC and the Sunshine Band, ELO, ELP, ABBA, and Starland Vocal Band. Add an almost unimaginable level of lyrical irony, and you see what happens? This is what happens. Dick Valentine happens.

God Bless his soul.

After impossibly-strong opening acts Love-Me-Nots and Parlour Tricks left the stage, Dick and the boys ramped up with an old favorite: “Dance Commander.” Yes, there is a martial element to dancing. In fact, another E6 favorite “Improper Dancing” further points up the regimentation inherent in this almost universal cultural practice. Am I being sarcastic? Not really. Not yet.

Between numbers Dick took swigs of his screwdriver and made Garrison-Keillor like midwestern patter, or related brief tales from the road. “We started this morning in Tucson, and on the way here we stopped at every gas station. There are many values in country music in gas stations. We explored them all. Great values.” Then the band launched into a locomotive-like hailstorm of a number called “Dime, Dime, Penny, Dime” which would give a benzedrine-crazed Dickie Pride something to think about — were he still alive. It was this number or perhaps another that Dick closed with an adorable tilted-hips and outstretched- arms pose à la Shirley Temple. That characteristic grin of an over-encouraged child shone forth from his slightly-wrinkled mug. Was he being sarcastic? I suppose.

But the real pivotal moment of the show was yet to arrive. The audience had come to hear their favorites. I was near the stage — up with the real fanboys. I’m as lame about being an E6 fanboy as I am about anything else, so I didn’t really count myself among them. But still, I understood. These young men had long given up on taking anything seriously in life, or perhaps had never started in the first place. Perhaps they are a post-David Letterman generation to whom absolutely every statement — and by that I mean absolutely every THING — is to be related with an empty grin and a slight flex of the brow. Too short, too fat, too gangly, too awkward, or just too something to ever be taken seriously by women or society at large, they’d surrendered even trying to fit into a world that really never deserved more than a yeah, uh huh.

And their song was . . . “Gay Bar.

A surf-rock lick leapt out from the stage. Suddenly, the world around me became a frazzled, sweaty, bouncing, shouting, unwashed-elbow-gyrating mess.

You, I wanna take you to a gay bar
I wanna take you to a gay bar
I wanna take you to a gay bar
Gay bar, gay bar
Let’s start a war
Start a nuclear war
At the gay bar
Gay bar, gay bar
At the gay bar
Now tell me do you
But do you have any money?
I wanna spend all your money
At the gay bar, gay bar, gay bar

They had come to hear “Gay Bar.”

There’s an awful lot of reverence paid to sexual orientation in pop culture today. Thus, it’s ripe fodder for sarcasm if anything is. Perhaps these guys in their ironic nerd shirts were only ironically sucking each other’s dongs — only occasionally at that — and with that same Letterman-like smirk during the act.

Yeah, see — now you have that image in your head. That’s what good writing can do.

The festivities continued as Dick counted down the hits. The set closed with the almost-infinitely-mega-sarcastic “I Buy The Drugs” including its lyrical break featuring a real-sounding mailing address to which Dick invites people to send requests for drugs. In exchange for a SASE, the lyrics promise he’ll fill requests “with some degree of accuracy.” I don’t think requests to that address — should Dick read them — ever result in the later receipt of a few tabs of oxy or a gram of Rx-grade meth. Dick’s a touring musician and just can’t afford it. But in some twisted way, I can imagine a hidden earnestness in the message. He wants to try his best in this wicked world, carrying forward through a deep and essential broken-heartedness, powered only by a driving beat and wailing guitars. He wants to bring happiness to his community and to humanity. And he wants you to know he didn’t mean to drive away from that accident out on I-35. Something just snapped. He needs another screwdriver. Make it a double.

He’s Dick. Dick fucking Valentine.

* * * * * *

Hey, my novel is still out there. And it’s kinda serious. Kinda.

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