When the first wave of punk hit the States in the mid-1970s, bands across the country, but especially on both coasts, clamored together, eager to be a part of one of the greatest musical movements since the dawn of rock and roll.
Within the realm of rock, nothing has had as big an impact since then. Outside of rock, only rap and electronic music can lay any such claim. Many punk bands were desperate to make a statement about what they perceived to be the precarious state of the country. (As we now know, they had no idea how bad things would get forty years later.)
The Dickies were not one of those bands. These TV-loving kids were raised in the Valley, bathed in privilege and swimming pools, with interests not stretching much further than water slides and movie stars. As America enters a new era, led by a president who is polarizing, to say the least, punks are sharpening their tongues, preparing to unleash musical fury. When confronted with that notion, Dickies guitarist Stan Lee (the other Stan Lee) simply shrugs.
“That’s up to the younger generation,” he says. “That wasn’t us. We were very unpolitical. Let the Clash or whatever do that. Let Bad Religion talk about that stuff. I was living in the Valley with my parents, and I had a pool. I didn’t have too much to complain about.”
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This year, the Dickies celebrate forty years of zany, madcap existence. The band might not have captured the imagination outside of the genre in the same way as the Ramones, or even the Dead Kennedys, but the L.A. band has had its moments. In 1979, for example, the cover of the theme tune from the Saturday morning kids' TV show The Banana Splits earned the Dickies a top-ten hit in the U.K. When that same song appeared on the soundtrack to Matthew Vaughn’s 2010 comic-book movie Kick-Ass, the band found itself receiving attention again.
“It went to number three in the U.K.,” Lee says. “I woke up one Tuesday with the manager going, ‘You’re number-fucking-three.’ We were like, 'Are you crazy?' Then there it was. That was pretty cool — taking England by storm. With Kick-Ass, Vaughn was looking for some bubblegum punk, and he found this band out of L.A. and said, ‘That’s it.’ That worked out really well.”
The band will celebrate its fortieth anniversary by touring throughout 2017 — sporadically, because of Lee’s reluctance to be away from his dogs for more than three weeks at a time. When the Dickies do get out on the road, they’re seeing a wide spread of fans in the audience, from the old-school punk crowd to the newbies who heard of the band by working their way backward from current pop-punk faves. Lee puts this down to the idea that nothing as important has happened in music since the first wave of punk.
“It was the soundtrack of our lives way back in the 1970s and ’80s,” he says. “No good bands have popped up that have crossed me. There just hasn’t been much to talk about it that I can see. I also play in a punk rock karaoke band, and since I’ve been doing that, I’ve discovered stuff like the Misfits and Descendants that got by me in the beginning.”
It’s been 16 years since the last Dickies studio album, 2001’s All This and Puppet Stew. There has been talk of a new album from the band for years, and Lee says that something is imminent, though he can’t put a date on it.
“You know, we’ve had four to six songs sitting on the desk for a few years,” he says. “I don’t know. Since Steve Jobs blew up the record industry, I guess you just have to want to do the art more than care about the rest of it. Because music’s free these days, but somebody’s got to pay for the studio time. So anyway, I guess we’ll get one more record out before we call it a day.”
There are other L.A. punks from the first wave still on the circuit, bands like X and the Weirdos. Lee says they often bump into each other at festivals and on package tours.
“There was never much animosity, even back then,” he says. “It wasn’t competition, It was ‘us against them,’ meaning us against the establishment rock world.’ People said punk was terrible, not music, crap, whatever. Now, it’s kinda big, and we were right. It just didn’t happen at the time. It’s respectable now. I go to my gym and see Misfits, Ramones shirts and whatever. It’s like, really? Do you even know this stuff?”
Lee believes that the punk scene in SoCal and beyond is stronger than ever, thanks to kids listening to a ton of music on tools like Spotify and Bandcamp. With mainstream music, in his opinion, so awful (“it’s all Rihanna, Justin Bieber and Drake”), he’s happy to go on tour and enjoy the fact that kids are at least hearing the Dickies’ music, even if they’re not paying for it.
He’s also happy to play Denver on February 25, when the band hits the Gothic Theatre with Screeching Weasel (the Chicago band is celebrating thirty years itself). It’ll be a rare show in the Rocky Mountains for the Dickies.
“We haven’t done too much there,” Lee says. “We’ve been there once or twice. It’ll be interesting. We’ll play a potpourri of hits from all the albums, I would think. Try to give something for everybody.”
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And after this short run of shows? Lee is typically noncommittal.
“Maybe we’ll get that record out,” he says. “Probably not, though. We’ve been saying that for years. Maybe something will happen to get us going on that again.”
Don’t count on it. But at least we have this show to look forward to.
The Dickies play with Screeching Weasel, Potato Pirates and Three Dollar Knife Fights, at 7:45 p.m. on Saturday, February 25, at the Gothic Theatre; 3263 South Broadway, Englewood. For more information, call 303-789-9206.