Q&A: The Dicks’ Gary Floyd Talks Lifetime Creativity Ahead of Austin Art Exhibit: Maybe We’ll See Butterflies opens tomorrow at Prizer Arts & Letters – Music

A work from Gary Floyd’s upcoming Maybe We’ll See Butterflies (Courtesy of Prizer Arts & Letters)

Gary Floyd will zoom in to say hello to guests as his exhibit opens, but won’t stay on screen for too long. The pioneering punk bandleader says it might be corny.

Continuing his work with Austin’s Prizer Arts and Letters gallery, the multi-format artist launches his latest visual collection Maybe we’ll see butterflies tomorrow June 11 from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Due to health issues, Floyd won’t be able to leave San Francisco, where he moved after founding seminal ’80s Austin band the Dicks, one of hardcore music’s first openly gay vocalists. Dicks bassist Buxf Parrot plays opening night, alongside Todd Kassens and Walter Daniels.

The gallery is also promising a large card to sign and all proceeds from the purchase of the prints will go directly to the artist. After the opening, the salon will be open on Saturdays and Sundays from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. and by appointment.

The the Chronicle called Floyd to his longtime California home, where he’s fronted bands like Sister Double Happiness, Black Kali Ma and the Buddha Brothers for the past four decades. Struggling with walking difficulties due to diabetes and congenital heart failure, the 69-year-old still hopes for a visit to Austin soon. Perfect for Pride Month, the gay icon offered wisdom on lifelong creativity, sobriety, chosen family and the importance of pausing to look out the window.

Austin Chronicle: Where does the title come from? Maybe we’ll see butterflies comes from?

gary floyd: [Prizer Arts Director Carrie Kenny] in fact I chose it in the little artistic statement I wrote. Kinda hippy to me, right? What good punk rocker would ever call anything after butterfly in love? I’m happy to break all those molds and not be too locked into one idea. So, hippie butterfly, let it be. It’s that stubborn, stubborn Texas part. I’ll say I’m a hippie, but if you say I’m a hippie, I’ll say, “Well wait a minute now, I’m a punk rocker.” And if you say, “Well, okay, you’re a punk rocker,” I’ll say, “Just wait a minute now!” It’s still fighting the titles hanging around your neck.

It’s that stubborn, stubborn Texas part. I’ll say I’m a hippie, but if you say I’m a hippie, I’ll say, “Well wait a minute now, I’m a punk rocker.” And if you say, “Well, okay, you’re a punk rocker,” I’ll say, “Just wait a minute now!” It’s still fighting the titles hanging around your neck.

THAT: You can’t come from San Francisco for the exhibition. How are you?

GF: The last time I had an art exhibition [in Austin] was February 2020, so since this happened the COVID thing continues. I have diseases that come with age, like it’s just hard for me to walk around like I used to. The last thing I wanted to do was get on a plane with COVID going on. And [during the pandemic] I had an accident – I fell and broke my ribs and had a heart attack. I was in the hospital for a while. You need a calculator to count my illnesses.

I had to be careful, so I was hanging around my house all the time. My spouse was an essential worker. I found myself not painting, which was unusual – like I usually had to stop painting because I had no place to put my things. So even though I didn’t really use my paints, canvases and paper, I still wanted to be able to make creative artwork. So I started taking a lot of pictures, and putting them on the iPad and manipulating them with different colors and drawing little things.

For a few years we had planned to do a show, but things kept happening and I got sick and couldn’t come. It was a depressing scene, because I’ve been doing public stuff in music since 1980. It was hard, all of a sudden realizing that I really couldn’t do this with the best of health intentions. I’m touched by the fact that [the show] will go ahead and happen and I don’t have to be there. Now that I’ve started painting again, I plan to come back [to Austin]. I mean, I get so much attention when I’m there. How not to like that?

THAT: Is this your first exhibition created digitally?

GF: Oh, honey – that is my first time. This is probably something I denounced 10 or 15 years ago, but then I found it quite easy to do and changed my mind. It’s a creative outlet. I don’t make as much music now, and that can be difficult, because that’s how I defined a lot of who I was – as a musician. Some [artworks] are very witty and some are dirty, and that’s how my work has generally been.

THAT: I’ll have to see a dirty.

GF: One day, I said to Carrie: “You know, there are photos that I did not send to you.” She said, “Oh, why?” and I said, “Well, they’re very penis-friendly.” I don’t know if she uses them [in the show], but I don’t take any of them too seriously. With the spiritual things in there, for me, there is no contradiction. Also, I’m not trying to get too in your face with this. I spent 40 years standing in front of you. I’m just a good old Buddhist now.

THAT: What does your daily routine look like?

GF: I made two books – a mini autobiography [Please Bee Nice: My Life Up ‘Til Now, 2014] and [I Said That, 2017] with the lyrics of the Dicks songs. Now I’m writing a different book with my co-editor, David Ensminger, who lives in Houston. That’s a lot of trying. It’s just my mind, a free flow, things that happened in the past and how I interpret them – no names, just the imprint of what they left behind. Seems like I’m getting heavy and all, but that’s how I talk. Some are quite dark, but I’m not afraid of that. So I write almost every day. I listen to a lot of music and look out the back window and see the wind blowing, and I meditate a lot and chat on the phone. I FaceTime like crazy. I have a physiotherapist who comes to my house once a week, so I try to get some exercise and not get sick or fall.

It’s every elderly person’s nightmare. There’s always someone behind you yelling, “You’re going to break your hip. But somehow, my spirit and my ambitions, like the plan in my head – it’s been the same for a long, long time. That probably means I was pretty mature then, and I’m pretty immature now. I am very happy. I look at the world and what a horrible situation things are in, but you know what? You have to look at where happiness is and try to focus on it a little without being naive. There are positives here. I am usually between 12 and 15 years old and sometimes I am 70 years old.

THAT: How old are you really?

GF: I am 69 years old. I will be 70 in December. It’s kind of weird, but the whole concept has to be reassessed when you start to get older, because we’ve always been such a young culture. If we get lost in there, we’re going to be a little panicked. I don’t walk away from the fact that I am old. I don’t even know how important it is to be cool anymore. I certainly don’t see cooler, younger people knocking me over when I see them. I used to say “Damn, I’m cool” and I hope people will understand that it’s a joke.

My family is gone, but I was so lucky to have a family among my friends, my chosen family. And luckily they chose me again. It’s like – I could die here; I could die there. I could die on the plane on the way [to Texas]and i will be happy because i had wonderful friends and a full life.

THAT: Have you had any thoughts on recent news from Texas, such as politician Bryan Slaton’s proposal to ban underage drag shows?

GF: Here the drag queens do readings at the public library of children’s books, and they came and raised the hell about it. The main thing when I think of Texas is the [Uvalde] shooting, and back and forth on how to deal with it. People who suffer and parents who see their grandchildren killed. It really broke my heart – and then they worry about a fucking drag show. Get your fucking priorities straight. Forget the drag queen who might make your kids laugh and sing, and think about what’s really going on. It’s not just Texas. It’s everywhere.

We just have to rely on something higher, something better in us, and it is difficult to deviate from what is happening politically. Texas is where I grew up. I’ve lived in San Francisco longer than I’ve lived anywhere – I moved here in 1982 with the Dicks. The original guys came back, but I’ve been pretty much in bands since. My home is where I am with my friends. My family is gone, but I was so lucky to have a family among my friends, my chosen family. And luckily they chose me again. It’s like – I could die here; I could die there. I could die on the plane on the way [to Texas], and I will be happy because I had wonderful friends and a full life. It’s still ongoing.

THAT: How is your health now?

GF: I have very bad diabetes, so I have to take three different insulins a day. I have congenital heart failure. I had a lot of fluid accumulating around my heart. That’s why I fell and ended up losing 40 pounds of fluid in the hospital over the two weeks I was there. I was much better after that, but it’s still an ongoing project. I have all these problems, and there are bills, but I try to stay sunny. As my astrologer says, “I’m not diabetic, but I have diabetes.” The thing is, I can’t walk, because the blood flow in my body slows as it moves away from the heart, ie the legs. So even in my house I have to use a walker.

I don’t drink anymore though. I quit about 12 years ago, and oh boy, I was a wonderful drunk. I’ve been around Europe nine times, and people want to surpass the previous city in the quality of their beer. But one day, I was doing a show at a club here in town, and I realized I was on all these diabetes meds. Diabetes is really fueled by alcohol because alcohol immediately turns into sugar in your system. So I said, “No, I think I’ve had enough,” and I haven’t had a drink since. I’ve never been bothered by drinking and then not drinking, and I realize that’s not always the case, so I feel very lucky.

THAT: You just flipped the switch.

GF: That’s a good way to put it. I did it. Of course, I have a few other vices that have increased, and that’s all I’ll say about them.

A work from Gary Floyd’s upcoming Maybe We’ll See Butterflies (Courtesy of Prizer Arts & Letters)

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