In 1962, legendary surf rock guitarist Dick Dale released his biggest hit, “Misirlou.” You probably know it as the song Tarantino used in the opening titles of Pulp Fiction.
At nearly 80 years old, Dale is still touring, still playing “Misirlou” as quickly as ever. He says if he stops touring, he’ll die. And that’s not the hyperbolic refusal of a star to let old age keep him from rocking. You see, Dale is suffering from a variety of ailments, and they’re all battling to be the one that kills him first. He needs the money earned from touring to help pay his medical bills. These are the health problems he’s had to deal with:
Renal failure Rectal cancer Diabetes Rectal cancer, again Blinding pain caused by severe spinal damage Having part of his stomach and intestines removed because of the rectal cancer.
Hearing of his financial plight, you’d think he’s scrambling for some late-in-life cash to make up for the time he bought Bengal tigers for everyone in his entourage. Not so. Dale wears a colostomy bag beneath his clothes. His doctors recommend that he clean and redress his entry hole once a week, to which Dale calls bullshit. Following their directions made him unnecessarily suffer from the kind of infections that tend to occur when you poop from a hole in your stomach. So he’d rather re-patch twice a day and stay infection-free, but his insurance refuses to cover those costs. The only surefire way to get the out-of-pocket $3,000 a month he needs to cover the cost of the additional medical supplies is to tour.
But touring has turned out to be a double-edged sword, kind of like the metaphorical one Dale uses to describe the pain in his spine every time he stands up. It pays the bills, sure, but he’s in agony the whole time he’s on stage. And there’s always the chance that his medical equipment will fail him during a show. For example, just before taking the stage at a show in Las Vegas, his colostomy bag tore and liquid shit ran down his legs. His wife quickly washed all his clothes in a backstage sink. He put the clothes back on and proceeded to give the 90-minute performance fans had paid to see. Though you can’t really put a price on getting to watch a sopping wet old man who smells vaguely like diarrhea play that song The Black Eyed Peas sampled for “Pump It.”
Facing his own mortality every day for decades has given Dick Dale time to think about the perfect way to go: “On stage in an explosion of body parts.” There is no more appropriate death for a guy who’s barely being held together than to explode like a crash-test dummy toy while playing a guitar really fast.
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