Gary Floyd headlines Pride event at Walters Downtown.
By Cameron Wallace
Gary Floyd is a musician and artist from Austin who’s best known as the former lead singer of punk band the Dicks.
Floyd gained notoriety as an openly gay punk rocker in the 1980s, dressing in drag and throwing glitter, with song lyrics that were radical and shocking.
Since then, he’s played in Sister Double Happiness, The Gary Floyd Band, Black Kali Ma, and the Buddha Brothers. He’s also written two books, Please Bee Nice and I Said That, and held exhibitions of his original paintings.
After a life of rocking and partying, Floyd began a spiritual journey that took him to India to study Hinduism and Buddhism. He now lives in San Francisco with his husband, a Christian minister.
On June 23, Floyd will be at Cactus Music in Houston from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., reading from Please Bee Nice, signing records, and exhibiting art.
On June 25, he’ll be at Walters Downtown for Punk Metal Pride Weekend, a benefit for Hatch Youth. The program, which begins at 7 p.m., will include performances by Floyd, Fur Coats, Screech of Death, Clare, No Love Less, Supergrave, Doomstress, and Mel Hell and the Texas Mod Crushers. From 4 p..m. to 6 p.m., there will be a market featuring vinyl, T-shirts, and more.
OutSmart recently spoke to Floyd ahead of his Houston visit.
Cameron Wallace: I understand that you grew up in Arkansas. What brought you to Austin?
Gary Floyd: I was in Arkansas until I was in the fourth grade, and then I moved to Palestine, Texas, where I did most of my growing up. Then I got drafted in 1972, but I was a conscientious objector, and I was lucky that the draft board accepted me as that, so I didn’t have to go to jail, or whatever the hell they were doing to us back then. But I was put to work in a hospital in Houston called Jefferson Davis Hospital, which has since been torn down, for two years. As soon as that was finished, I moved to Austin because I had a couple of really good friends there and I think the music scene was a little better at that time in Austin. Although I lived in Houston for almost two years, I didn’t know the music scene. I knew a few hippie bands, and I had seen a bunch of concerts at Hofheinz Pavilion, but I just didn’t know the scene.
What initially attracted you to punk music?
I had always been into music. Punk was new, and things were getting so overproduced, with layers and layers of sound that were hard to reproduce naturally live. I saw the Ramones in Austin on one of their first tours, and I saw the Sex Pistols here in San Francisco, on their last show, and the whole energy on stage and the demand of the band to at least mentally participate made it much more accessible to what I was feeling and doing at that point. And it was loud. It was loud and it was fast, and I was loud.
Do you feel like you had a lot of political energy you wanted to express in the punk scene, or did it just work out that way?
If I said no and you heard what the Dicks were doing, you probably wouldn’t believe me. Yes, I mean, I did. I had always been very political, and I got more radicalized as time went by, at least with the songs, and I found that it was a really good outlet. A lot of things were going on, you know, [Ronald] Reagan was president, and we thought that was—we had no idea how weird it could get, speaking of today, but … Yeah, I mean I was angry and stuff, a lot of injustices were going on. So I was never one to hold back on what I was thinking. What else was I supposed to do, you know? It was punk rock; it was easy to get carried away, and that’s what made it all fun.
Are you involved at all in politics nowadays?
I do what I can do, but you know, I’m a Buddhist. That doesn’t mean not engaging, it just means looking at things from the perspective of what you can and can’t do as one person. If I was younger, I would probably be out on the streets, doing more marching and stuff, but I can’t really do too much of that right now. I certainly don’t like what’s going on. What made me so, as you’d say, angry, in the earlier days is that I was trying to break through that barrier of change really quickly. I wanted things done now. I realize now that you have to be sort of thoughtful and mindful about how you’re doing that kind of stuff. It’s a weird time to be living in, though. No matter if you support what’s happening in this country or you don’t support it, it’s still odd because the country is so split in half. It’s a very frustrating time. I do what I can do.
Did you find it easy to adopt such an outlandish persona onstage as a young gay artist in the punk scene or was it sort of natural for you?
Probably a mixture of both. At that point, it was a little bit on the shocking side, so I pushed that to the limit as much as I could, and people seemed to like it. And it came pretty natural. A person calling himself a Stalinist, dressed up in drag, throwing glitter at people, wasn’t happening every day. I’m so glad I did it then, because I certainly wouldn’t do it now. But yeah, it all came pretty natural, and the punk scene made it very easy to do that then. Everybody was expressing themselves, and if they didn’t, it was their own fault. I didn’t do it every time, I never wanted that to be what the Dicks were. Although we did get known for it some, I never wanted that to be the only thing. I really wanted the music to be the main thing. It’s like, the cake is good, but adding a little frosting doesn’t hurt, so I think I was just putting the frosting on it. But once we moved out to San Francisco, I didn’t really do that much anymore. Because I thought the last thing San Francisco needed was another drag queen on stage. And then after a while Sister Double Happiness started, so I didn’t think about it anymore.
You mentioned earlier that you grew up with blues music, and the music you do now is more blues than punk.
Yeah, so my new band is called the Buddha Brothers, but it’s a lot like the Gary Floyd Band. The Buddha Brothers are more in that direction, and we do a couple of Sister Double Happiness songs. It’s a lot more bluesy.
How did that change come about?
Well, 40 years down the line. If I had a mohawk now, there’d be a bald spot in the back, and half of it would be falling out. I never felt boxed in with any kind of music. Even back in the day when I was doing the Dicks, I was listening to all kinds of music. I always liked the blues. I would just get a job in a factory if I wanted to do the same thing over and over again. I always felt at ease doing different kinds of songs. Music is my outlet. That and painting—without that I’d be a lot more nuts than I am now.
Have you always been painting?
I was always drawing and creating some little things, so then I decided that maybe I’d go get some canvases. Actually, it all started when we were throwing the pizza boxes away, and all at once I realized, God the boxes are white, why don’t I just paint on that? So I was known for a while as the pizza box guy. My first show I had all of the paintings on pizza boxes. Then I started getting the canvases, and that was cool too. I’ve always done it. It’s sort of like the music. It’s something I want to do, it’s an outlet. I’m not that great of an artists, but I have a pretty good imagination. You get a lot of weird stuff.
Do you feel like paint as a medium helps you express things that maybe you couldn’t in music?
Probably, I never really thought about it. The two actually seem to go pretty close with me. One is an extension of the other one. But yeah, it’s different—and very, very helpful.
And you’ve also been writing, what led to the impulse to create your memoir Please Bee Nice?
I would be talking to people, and they would be saying, “You should write that down, you should write that down.” But I would say, “Eh, I can’t even spell that well, and I never thought of myself as a writer.” I’m not a writer. But I started thinking, well, I’m really not a singer, and I’m really not a painter, but I do both of those, so I figured I really shouldn’t feel restricted. And so I just started writing. The first book was the autobiography that I did. Then I started the lyrics collection, a book called I Said That, Volume I with the Dicks. The one I’m working on now will be lyrics of Sister Double Happiness. And then I’ll do one for the Gary Floyd Band, and one for Black Kali Ma, and then God knows. All of those things came about, the singing, and the painting, and the writing, because I wasn’t afraid to do it. I think the lack of fear has been my greatest friend. The same with being openly gay and stuff. On the one hand, it seems like I’ve made a great big deal out of it, especially with the Dicks and the in your face drag and stuff, but that’s never been my main mode of expression as a gay person. My main expression as a gay person has been to live openly and honestly, and be comfortable with yourself and others. Once again its non-fear. That’s one of the best things I can think of in life. Throw off the fear. Go head on.
As an artist, do you have an artistic message that you try to convey, or is it more a cathartic endeavor for you?
I have to say that all of these things, first, I do for myself, and then it’s thinking about if I can bring other people along with whatever I’m doing. It’s always wonderful to have the support and recognition of others, but if you do it for yourself, then you won’t be disappointed if no one else likes it. It’s like if you’re on a plane and the oxygen mask comes down, you have to put it on yourself first before you can help everybody else. I feel that way about most of the things I do. You try not to do it in a selfish way, but you do it for yourself, and then lovingly offer it.
Can you talk a little bit about your spiritual journey and the transition to Buddhism?
I was a pretty spiritual kid. I was raised in the Baptist church, but later I became a Catholic. But then after a few years, the Vietnam war was going, and I said, I think this church and the way I’m looking at the world don’t really go together. By this time I was about 14 or 15, and also, I have to admit, music had quite a bit to do with it. The political ideology of the music that was going on at that time was more leftist. I just gave up all the spiritual stuff and started my political thinking and studying. But then, about 10 years or so later, when the Dicks are on tour, I got really hungry for the spiritual. I didn’t want to shun the Christian church really, but I didn’t think that was for me, so I started studying Buddhism and I started studying Hinduism, [and] then I became part of a modern Hindu sect, the Vedanta Society. So I went to India for a little bit and stayed at one of the big monasteries there for a little bit. Even if there’s a lot of turmoil outside, if you have inner peace you can survive. Going from throwing different kinds of substances from the stage to a nice quiet monastery in India to me all makes sense. The spiritual quest has probably been the biggest part of my life, and everything else sort of pales in comparison.
So you’re married now, what has that transition been like?
Well, I’ve been with my partner for 17 years, and I’m happy. It’s peace. There were years, through the Dicks and all through Sister Double Happiness, I was completely uninterested in having lovers. I didn’t like the idea of any kind of dependence, but then you meet somebody and all that changes. He’s actually a minister. We have sort of different philosophies, but not that different. He’s probably a lot nicer than I am. If I look at my life before we met, I was a lot more out there, I used to drink quite a bit and smoke, but I haven’t done any of that for eight years. I don’t miss it. I just said, you know, I think I’ve had enough. Being married is great, especially if you’re in love.
How did you meet?
Actually, he liked my band, and some guy in Canada made a Gary Floyd website. This was 18 years ago or so. I didn’t even have a computer, and somebody told me that, and I said, whoa, what does that even mean? And people could give reviews of records or something, and my partner wrote a review, and I read it on there, and so I got in touch with him, and he wrote back, and I wrote back, and he wrote back, and then he came here, and sort of mentally never left me. He’s really quiet, and I’m really chatty, so that worked out great for me, because I can just keep talking.
Do you have any projects in the works?
The Buddha Brothers are going to be recording pretty soon, and I’m planning to get to Texas and play, at least in Houston, Dallas, and Austin. And I’ll always be painting. I also have more books that’ll be coming out, so I guess probably more of the same.