Q&A: The Dicks’ Gary Floyd Talks Lifelong Creativity Ahead of Austin Art Exhibition

Maybe We'll See Butterflies opens tomorrow at Prizer Arts & Letters

A work from Gary Floyd's upcoming Maybe We'll See Butterflies (Images courtesy of Prizer Arts & Letters)

Gary Floyd will Zoom in to say hello to guests at his exhibition opening, but won't stay on screen too long. The pioneering punk bandleader says that could be cheesy.

Continuing work with Austin's Prizer Arts & Letters gallery, the multiformat artist debuts his latest visual collection, Maybe We'll See Butterflies, tomorrow, June 11, from 7 to 10pm.

Due to health issues, Floyd won't be able to make it down from San Francisco, where he relocated after founding seminal Eighties Austin group the Dicks as one of the first openly gay singers in hardcore music. Dicks bassist Buxf Parrot plays the opening party, alongside Todd Kassens and Walter Daniels.

The gallery also promises a large card to sign and all proceeds from purchase of prints going directly to the artist. After the opening reception, the show will be open Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 5pm and by appointment until July 9.

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

Austin Chronicle: Where does the title Maybe We'll See Butterflies come from?

Gary Floyd: [Prizer Arts Director Carrie Kenny] actually picked it out of the little artistic statement I wrote. It sort of hippies me up a little bit, right? What good punk rocker would ever call anything after the loving butterfly? I'm glad to break all those molds and not be too sealed into any one idea. So, hippie butterfly, let it be. It's that stubborn, hardheaded Texan 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, “Wait just a minute now!” It's always fighting the titles hung around your neck.

“It’s that stubborn, hardheaded Texan 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, ‘Wait just a minute now!’ It’s always fighting the titles hung around your neck.”

AC: You aren't able to make it down from San Francisco for the exhibit. How are you doing?

GF: The last time I had an art show [in Austin] was February 2020, so ever since that's happened, the COVID thing has been going on. I have illnesses that come with age, like it's just hard for me to spry around like I once did. The last thing I wanted to do is get on an airplane with COVID going on. And [during the pandemic] I had an accident – I fell and busted my ribs, and had a heart situation. I was in the hospital for a while. You need a calculator to count my illnesses.

I had to be careful, so I was just hanging out at my house all the time. My partner was an essential worker. I found myself not painting, which was unusual – like I usually have to stop painting because I don't have any place to store stuff. So, even though I wasn't really using my paints and canvases and paper, I still wanted to be able to do some creative artwork. So I started taking a lot of pictures, and I would put them on the iPad and manipulate them with different colors and draw little things.

For a couple of years we were planning on doing a show, but things kept happening and I would get sick and couldn't come. It was a depressing scene, because I've been doing public stuff within music since 1980. It was hard, to all at once realize I really couldn't do that with the best 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 I've started painting again, so I do plan to come back [to Austin]. I mean, I get so much attention when I'm there. How can I not like it?

AC: Is this your first digitally created exhibit?

GF: Oh, honey – it is my first time. It's probably something 10 or 15 years ago I denounced, but then I found it's quite easy to do and changed my mind. It's a creative outlet. I'm not doing music as much now, and that can be hard, because that's how I defined a lot of what I was – as a musician. Some [artworks] are very spiritual and some are filthy, and that's the way my work has usually been.

AC: I'll have to see a filthy one.

GF: One day I said to Carrie, “You know, there's some of the pictures I haven't sent you.” She said, “Oh, why?” and I said, “Well, they're very penis-friendly.” I don't know if she's using them [in the show], but I don't take any of ’em too serious. With the spiritual things in there, to me, there's not a contradiction. Plus, I'm not trying to be too in your face with it. I spent 40 years being in your face. I'm just a sweet old Buddhist now.

AC: What’s your day-to-day routine like?

GF: I did two books – a mini autobiography [Please Bee Nice: My Life up ’til Now, 2014] and [I Said That, 2017] with lyrics of the Dicks’ songs. Now I'm writing a different book with my co-editor, David Ensminger, who lives in Houston. It's lots of essays. They're just my mind, free flow, things that have happened in the past and the way I interpret them – without any names, but just the imprint of what they left. Sounds like I'm getting all heavy and stuff, but that's the way I speak. Some are pretty dark, but I don't shy away from 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 physical therapist that comes to my house once a week, so I try to do a little exercise and try not to be sick or fall.

That's any old person's nightmare. There's always somebody behind you screaming, “You're gonna break your hip.” But somehow my mind and my ambitions, like the blueprint in my head – it's been the same for a long, long time. That probably says I was pretty mature back then, and I'm pretty immature now. I'm very happy. I look at the world and what a horrible situation things are in, but you know what? We've gotta look at where the happiness is and try to concentrate there a little bit without being naive. There is some positive out here. I'm usually 12 to 15 years old, and sometimes I'm 70.

AC: How old are you really?

GF: I'm 69. I'll be 70 in December. It's quite odd, but the whole concept has to be reevaluated when you start getting old, ‘cause we've always been such a youthful culture. If we get lost in that, we're gonna be a little freaked out. I don't get away from the fact that I'm old. I don't even know how important it is to be cool anymore. I certainly don't see any cooler, younger people that knock me over when I see them. I usually go, “Damn, I'm cool,” and hope that people understand it's a joke.

“My family is gone, but I’ve been so lucky to have a family from my friends, my chosen family. And luckily, they’ve chosen me back. It’s like – I could die here; I could die there. I could die on the plane en route [to Texas], and I’ll be happy because I’ve had such wonderful friends and a really good, full life.”

AC: Did you have any thoughts on recent news from Texas, like politician Bryan Slaton's proposal to ban minors from drag shows?

GF: Here, drag queens do readings at the public library of children's books, and they came and raised hell about that. The main thing when I think about Texas is the [Uvalde] shooting, and the back-and-forth about how to deal with it. People suffering and parents seeing their little children killed. That just really broke my heart – and then they're worried about some goddamn drag show. Get your fucking priorities straight. Forget about the drag queen that might make your children laugh and sing, and think about what's really happening. That's not just Texas. That's all over the place.

You just have to rely on something higher, better, within us, and it's hard to dismiss ourselves from what's happening in the political way. Texas is where I grew up. I've lived in San Francisco longer than I've lived any place – I moved out here in ’82 with the Dicks. The original guys moved back, but I've been in bands almost ever since. My home is where I am with my friends. My family is gone, but I've been so lucky to have a family from my friends, my chosen family. And luckily, they've chosen me back. It's like – I could die here; I could die there. I could die on the plane en route [to Texas], and I'll be happy because I've had such wonderful friends and a really good, full life. It's still happening.

AC: How is your health now?

GF: I have diabetes really bad, so I have to take three different insulins a day. I have congenital heart failure. I had a lot of liquid building up around my heart. That's why I fell, and I ended up losing 40 pounds of liquid in the hospital in the two weeks that I was there. I was a lot better after that, but it's still an ongoing project. I have all these problems, and there's bills, but I try to remain sunny. As my astrologist says, “I'm not a diabetic, but I do have diabetes.” The thing is, I can't walk, because the blood flow in my body slows down when it gets away from the heart, which is 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 toured Europe like nine times, and people want to outdo the previous town with how good their beer is. But one day, I was doing a show at a club here in town, and I realized I'm taking all these meds for diabetes. Diabetes is just really fed by alcohol, because alcohol immediately turns to sugar in your system. So I said, “No, I think I've had enough,” and I've never drank 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.

AC: You just flipped the switch.

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

A work from Gary Floyd's upcoming Maybe We'll See Butterflies

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