Every movement needs its heroes, and one of the sainted figures in queercore is Gary Floyd who, in the 1980s, cofounded one of the first punk bands to openly sing about queer themes, The Dicks.
The band happily declared itself a “commie fag band” in an early interview with punk fanzine Maximumrocknroll and was famed for transgressive, gender-bending stage shows, with Floyd often appearing in drag.
Floyd’s audacity as a performer won him the respect of punks and misfits everywhere, gay and straight. He is perhaps most famously the subject of a Butthole Surfers song, entitled, simply, “Gary Floyd.” And he still gets name-checked by younger bands — see Limp Wrist’s “The Ode,” for one example.
Occasionally, hero worship catches the bearish singer off guard.
“There’s a picture of me that was on the internet a lot, and I have a big old curly blonde wig on and a slip, and I’ve got my tongue sticking out and I’m making some big face,” he says. “Skip to about a year ago, and I’m walking down the street in San Francisco and this young punk-rock boy who looks about 20 comes up, and he goes, ‘Gary Floyd?’ ‘Yeah!’ ‘Oh my god, I want to show you something.’ And he pulls his sleeve and he’s got that picture tattooed on his arm. And I think I said something like, ‘You little motherfucker! What are you thinking!’ — I was so shocked. And he was like, ‘Thank you for being a trailblazer for all of us.’”
Floyd chuckles as he tells the story but quickly adds, “I’m laughing, but it was actually very touching.”
So, too, is a poster that circulates of himself and Randy “Biscuit” Turner, out gay singer for Austin funk-punk band The Big Boys. “We were at a Carnival in Austin, and we were both in drag, and we both looked real pretty. I had, like, a blonde crewcut and sort of Divine-type makeup on, and they put it on the cover of a magazine in Austin, way back in ’81. Every once in a while, somebody Xeroxes it and makes big posters out of that picture, and they have written on it ‘Who are your heroes?’ I don’t have one of those, but a lot of my friends tell me they see them all the time. So those kinds of things are wonderful.”
Floyd is affable and chatty and speaks with a slight Texas drawl. He was born in Arkansas in December 1952 and spent most of his early life in Texas, forming The Dicks in the liberal, musically progressive climate of Austin in 1980. He started a new version of The Dicks in San Francisco, which eventually evolved into the grungy blues-rock band Floyd fronted through the 1990s, Sister Double Happiness, featuring former Dicks 2.0 member Lynn Perko on drums.
To get a real sense of Floyd’s courage, one need only listen to “Saturday Night at the Bookstore,” an extemporaneous live rant recorded at the first-ever Dicks gig, May 16, 1980, at the Austin hippie club Armadillo World Headquarters. Floyd sings from the point of view of someone dispensing anonymous blowjobs from behind a glory hole at a porn bookstore, taunting his straight male clientele with their cowardice, boldly declaiming his own pride at being at the bookstore, and making brash statements to punks in the audience, to the effect of, “I want to suck your cock after the show, motherfucker!”
Time has obliterated most of the details of that night. Asked who exactly he was directing that offer to — someone who looked like they might be into it or someone who looked like they probably wouldn’t be — Floyd laughs. “It was 1980, buddy. I don’t really remember, and I’d probably had about 60 beers!”
Chances are it was a straight punk or hippie who wasn’t exactly grooving on the singer’s performance. “When I was doing that kind of stuff onstage back then, if people looked like they hated me, I didn’t mind throwing a rubber at them or singing a little lullaby to them, really. But I don’t remember that particular person!”
Floyd is infamous for chucking rubbers filled with his own special mixture, though he did it only once, as he recalls. “It’s funny that 35 years later we’re still talking about it, but it did go over pretty good! Back in those days, most people didn’t use rubbers. They were something you saw in a gas station, sometimes. So when you were actually wielding a rubber, people were quite fascinated. And so I thought one night I’d wear this pretty little stretch knit dress onstage, and I thought, ‘Well, it’s pretty plain; how can I decorate it?’ Why, rubbers with mayonnaise in them, of course!
“So I put a little watered-down mayonnaise in each one of them, and it looked, lo and behold, like sperm. And I just pinned about 30 of them on the front of the dress. And I saw the audience and I thought, ‘Gee, I’m being so selfish not to share it with them…’ So I was tearing them off and throwing them at people. And of course, they didn’t know that it wasn’t real — and they probably wouldn’t have wanted mayonnaise on them, I don’t know; but I know they certainly didn’t want anything else on them. And the people that would look the most shocked, I would throw several at them!”
Other outlandish Floyd performances included stepping onstage with chocolate frosting hidden in his pants so he could reach in and smear it on Dicks’ bass player Buxf Parrot’s face — “he actually knew what was going on,” Floyd reveals.
Another night — this was long before he became a vegan — Floyd stuffed a liver in his panties before getting onstage. “I just thought that would be pretty weird. I think I actually had a pair of underwear on, and then I put a pair of panties on with a liver inside of those. And I didn’t really realize what was going on: I had a really short skirt, and I thought, at the right moment, I will dig into these panties and pull the liver out. But the liver, so to speak, had a mind of its own, and it started sort of hanging out. And I kinda bent over to pick a beer up and everybody was going, ‘Beaghhhh!’ because the liver was sorta hanging out from under the short skirt and it was creating quite a little scene of its own. And then when I realized this, I thought, ‘I better give it to’em.’”
Colourful as they were, the theatrics shouldn’t overshadow The Dicks’ musical legacy. “I was fine on doing those theatrical things, but I have to tell you, when I thought people were starting to depend on those as a reason to come and see us, I would stop doing them. I always wanted to be able to go up there and just be dressed normal and play the music and have that be, like, enough. And when I felt like that was the case, then I would add the extra stuff.”
One of the songs on The Dicks’ first LP, Kill from the Heart, is transgressive enough even without any visual reinforcements: “Little Boys’ Feet,” sung from the point of view of a horny foot fetishist targeting children at a shoe store. Floyd takes pains to mention it is a work of fiction. “I’ve never worked in a shoe store, and I’ve never wanted to lick any kids’ feet!” he says. “That was mainly done just as a shocking number,” inspired by an article the singer saw in the news about “somebody that worked in a shoe store, and — I don’t know, they weren’t after kids, but they got arrested for doing some kind of foot licking or something like that.”
In hindsight, the singer has mixed feelings about the song. “Later on I ended up working with runaway kids and stuff, and I probably wouldn’t have used that kind of shocking image if I had realized all the shit that happens with kids. I would have said, ‘Give me grandma’s feet,’ or something. Which would have been probably more offensive in the long run. I don’t really apologize, except to say that I probably would have done it different now.”
At Floyd’s insistence, the song was left off the Alternative Tentacles CD compilation of Dicks material, Dicks 1980-1986, despite the admiration it earned from former Dead Kennedys vocalist and label head Jello Biafra, himself no stranger to lyrical transgression.
Not all Dicks songs are about sexuality, though a concern for social justice runs throughout their catalogue, from their very first single, “Dicks Hate the Police,” partially sung from the point of view of a racist Texas cop who is happy to have gotten a “good job/ killing niggers and Mexicans.” The song inspired a popular cover by Seattle band Mudhoney. Originally released on R Radical Records, founded by queer ally/ crossdresser/ Millions of Dead Cops vocalist Dave Dictor, the single has recently been reissued, alongside reissues of the two Dicks studio LPs, Kill from the Heart and These People, all of which can be bought online via the Alternative Tentacles store.
Looking back on the bravery and the anger that informs his early catalogue, Floyd is reflective. “It’s a good thing it happened then, because I sure as hell wouldn’t do it now! I’d be too scared,” he says.
Floyd doesn’t really know where he got his bravado from then. He attributes it partly to the progressive atmosphere of Austin at the time, which “didn’t make me feel like I couldn’t do that. And one of my friends says I have just enough redneck in me to make me not be afraid to be a big showoff queen.”
“And then another thing is, I had three guys in the band that were meaner than hell and ready to beat the shit out of anybody that did anything to me! And they were all straight — for the most part,” he adds. “And those three elements made me very brave. Biscuit from The Big Boys and I were walking around the city with crazy clothes and mohawks, and I always wore a big Chairman Mao pin. I’m surprised I didn’t get the shit beat out of me!”
Though he was never the target of homophobic violence himself, Floyd had plenty of reason to be angry. Having worked at a hospital for the criminally insane — doing his community service as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War — he witnessed firsthand the institutionalization of queer people. “Because I was queer, I could spot queers, and I got to know some of the people who were in there, and they were, like, young people whose parents caught them doing some queer stuff or dressing up like a girl, and they had put them in a mental hospital, and there was nothing wrong with them!
“And they were being tortured,” he continues. “They would put electrodes on these kids, and then they would put girls’ clothes on them, and they would turn the electricity up, and as they took the girls’ clothing off, they would turn the electricity down. And when they didn’t have any more girls’ clothes on, they weren’t being shocked anymore. This is the truth! This really, really was happening. I didn’t have to go through that to feel the fucking anger!”
Despite his anger, Floyd, now involved in Buddhist and Hindu spiritual practice and musically more inclined toward country and blues, has “always been nice,” he assures readers.
“I mean, I’ve always had a peaceful heart. But I’ve also been able to look into a mirror and see more than just me. [I could see] the police throwing Mexicans into the bayou and drowning them — I mean, this was something that was happening,” he says. “So the anger comes from an awareness of injustice to minorities of all kinds and for poor people. That still makes me mad, but I handle it in a different way.”