Surf guitarist Dick Dale speaks about music, life

    Dick Dale, surf guitar legend and 1960s music icon, spoke casually of music and his life to students and admirers at Geisel Library on Oct. 8.

    Rebecca Drexler
    Guardian

    The event, which was scheduled to be only a speaking engagement, lasted for approximately two hours and attracted 40 people.

    “”I feel naked without the beast to play,”” Dale said, strumming with his left hand on an air guitar.

    Dale, who said he was “”born under the tracks in Boston,”” rose to popularity in the 1950s and developed his distinctive sound by playing guitars strung for right-handed players with his left hand. By the 1960s, his unique style became the definitive sound of surf guitar.

    One of his most recognized guitar scores, “”Misirlou,”” was featured as the opening song on the soundtrack of Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 movie, “”Pulp Fiction.””

    Dale told the audience that he agreed to allow Tarantino to use the song because he liked how the filmmaker “”uses music to make the movie”” and because Tarantino was “”not part of the system.””

    “”I’m for the grassroots guy,”” Dale said. “”I’ve fought [the system] since 1955.””

    Dale also spoke on numerous tangents, ranging from his newfound vegetarianism, his battle with cancer, martial arts and the recording industry and Elvis Presley.

    “”Elvis and I were good friends,”” he said. “”We used to train together.””

    On the topic of music, Dale spoke to aspiring guitarists and aficionados alike, lauding the transcendentalism of music and its ability to bring individuals together.

    “”Music soothes the beast,”” he said. “”It makes you forget about your problems.””

    Dale spoke emotionally of his deceased son and of the health of his mother, pausing at times and covering his face with his hands.

    “”The music is nothing but an opening to people’s hearts,”” he said later.

    Dale’s visit was part of an exhibit titled “”The Art of Surfing,”” hosted by the Music Library, which will run until Nov. 30. The event and exhibit were funded through a grant by the American Library Association to promote significant regional music.

    Scott Paulson, who works in the music library and is also the outreach coordinator, helped to organize the exhibit and bring Dale to the library to speak.

    “”We run these things more saloon than salon,”” he said of the unorthodox exhibit, which features surf boards, music, album covers, surf movies and topographic maps of surf locations.

    According to Paulson, surf music was chosen because of its regional significance to San Diego and because of the genre’s large popularity in the 1960s.

    “”It’s not a common thing for research libraries to have,”” said R. Peter Mueller, head of public services at the music library. “”We try to anticipate the needs of students and faculty.””

    Mueller noted that the music department has been offering more courses rooted in popular music, most notably courses on The Beatles, rock guitarists, the 1970s and hip-hop.

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