the museum of americana

a literary review

Dick Dale Conquers the World — Poetry by John A. McDermott

 
It’s late Friday night and the baby’s asleep,
finally, and you stand in the kitchen
bending to the radio tuned low: an interview
with Dick Dale, you know, King of the Surf
Guitar. You had to hear it though late-night
music is a no-go since the birth of your first child.
Sleep’s an essential you’ve missed, but so is rock
and roll, and you listen now, the rest of the house
silent, as Dick tells you about the uncle
who first taught him the scales he would later
use to burn up California. It’s born from folk music,
of course, you hear it now, something first played
on a buzuq transformed into this roiling
electric wave. You learn Dick Dale is left-handed,
like Hendrix, and mastered the strings upside-down
and even after getting a left-handed guitar
still played with the strings in that position,
a man on a board with his feet to the air.
You know the joke about Ginger Rogers doing
everything Fred Astaire did but backward and in heels?
Dick Dale’s fingers are like that—doing the impossible.
You learn about the stomps, those dances
in the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa, thousands
of surfers chanting to his tunes, his marriage of ocean
and amplifier. That was 1961 and you weren’t even
born. Now it’s 2012 and Dick Dale is still strong,
despite the cancer that almost killed him fifty years ago.
Back then, when Jimi thought Dick was dying, he said,
“Then you’ll never hear surf music again.”  But it’s not
Dick who dies, it seems it’s everybody else, and of course
the man who made Misirlou wasn’t going to get
pulled down easily. Those staccato notes like bullets
make you feel like you can beat anything, even
standing barefooot on linoleum, unshaven, exhausted,
terrified of fatherhood: there are so many ways
to screw it up, to screw your daughter up. But not
right now: no, Dick’s music tells you anything is possible,
we’re always going to ride that pipeline safely to shore.
Dick Dale conquers the world, and with him, you.
 
~  ~  ~

JohnAMcDermottJohn A. McDermott‘s poetry has recently appeared in Pif Magazine, Prime Number, Seneca Review, Tar River Poetry, and Valparaiso Poetry Review.  A native of Madison, Wisconsin, he now lives in Nacogdoches, Texas, where he coordinates the BFA program in creative writing at Stephen F. Austin State University.