Beyond the beach
Director Quentin Tarantino explains that he opened his paean-to-afros-and-junkies-and-sodomizers, Pulp Fiction, with Dick Dale's 1962 surf-rock classic "Miserlou" (derived from a 1940s-era Greek pop hit, actually) because "it sounds like the beginning of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly with those trumpets, that almost Spanish sound. Having 'Miserlou' as your opening credits, it just says, 'You're watching an epic, you're watching this big old movie, just sit back.' It's so loud and blaring that it throws down a gauntlet that the movie has to live up to." Indeed: to listen as this monster song comes from huge theater speakers, as Dale double-picks his way through giant waves of reverb and rock, is to be swept along with the undertow that is Dick Dale's signature sound--as powerful and as undated as it was 30 years ago.
At the age of 56, this is a man who plays so fast he melts down his guitar picks and strings till, at the end of the night, he stands atop a small pile of plastic and wire. His most recent album, Unknown Territory, stands alongside his best work of three decades ago: Dale has lost none of the fury and fervor with which he played during his heyday as a surfer's hero; he still savages his guitar, tearing through a song till all that's left is a stream of notes that fly past like a 1940 Ford Woodie going downhill without brakes.
Surf-rock gets a bad rap, though. Aside from rockabilly, perhaps, it's the least-loved and most maligned rock subgenre, and to re-create it in the studio in 1994--30 years after Endless Summer and Frankie and Annette and Jan and Dean and the Ventures and Dale's first wave of success--is to create a period piece with guitars. But, as current bands like the Daytonas, Huevos Rancheros, and the Mermen bear out, surf-rock's still a viable form, easily manipulated and open to a thousand interpretations. Dale, surf-rock's founding father and kingpin practitioner, just happens to be the best: to him, there's no difference between "California Sun" and "Miserlou" and "Hava Nagila" and "Ghostriders in the Sky"--he turns each into unstoppable and timeless anthems that endure any fad or fetish.
Dick Dale and His Del-Tones perform at 9:30 p.m. November 10 at the Hard Rock Cafe, 2601 McKinney Avenue. Tickets are $12 at the door.
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