Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Great Unheard: The Dick Nixons - "Paint the White House Black"

Dick Nixons Paint the White House Black

Welcome to the first installment in a sporadic series of posts about some of my personal favorite albums that somehow never caught on with the public at large. I'm writing about them because hey, somebody oughta. First up: The Dick Nixons' 1992 LP Paint the White House Black.

The Dick Nixons may be my favorite politically conscious punk band ever, inasmuch as fanatical dedication to Richard Nixon counts as political consciousness. How a Louisiana-based garage punk quartet with a singer who sounded like a more manic Bobcat Goldthwait and a lyric book devoted almost exclusively to the 37th president failed to conquer the early 1990s music scene is beyond me, but those were different times.


On paper, The Dick Nixons sure sound like a novelty act, but in practice… well, they were pretty much the definition of a novelty act, but a damn good one. I was a dorky teenager when I discovered a cassette copy of 1992’s Paint the White House Black (their only full-length album, so far as I can tell, and one whose title predates the George Clinton song of the same name) in a cut-out bin at Sam Goody in the Mall of America, of all places. As a kid who counted The Dead Milkmen and They Might Be Giants among the five greatest bands on Earth, 15-year-old me was pretty much obligated to gamble three bucks on a funny-named band with song titles like “Do the Dick Nixon” and “Ping Pong Ball Head.”


What little fame the Dick Nixons attained was largely due to the promotional efforts of Mr. Mojo Nixon (no relation), who took an understandable liking to the band. There’s definitely something of the Mojo touch to the Nixons’ style, but with less country/rockabilly influence. They also owe a lot to the goofy punk sounds of The Ramones, the trash-rock clatter of Sam the Sham and The Pharaohs, the smart-ass pop knock-offs of John Fred and his Playboy Band and the sardonic sociology of Frank Zappa. That’s a pretty lofty pedigree, but I think The Dick Nixons are worthy of it.


Over the course of half and hour or so, the Nixons wax joyfully nostalgic about Richard M. Nixon, painting him as an eternally hip, unfairly maligned victim of a shadowy political conspiracy. In the universe of Paint the White House Black, Nixon stands tall as “an honest man who brought the boys home from Vietnam” and “the one true, pure American.” It’s all tongue-in-cheek, obviously, but it’s delivered with such conviction that you almost believe they believe it. Singer and lyricist Kirk “The Jerk” Springstone (who died in 2009, sadly) squawks every line in that aforementioned Bobcat Goldthwait voice, tinged with a swampbilly accent that sometimes sounds like a foreign language. The homemade trashiness of their sound was no accident – multi-instrumentalist Johnny Radical incorporated a wide range of found objects, and drummer “Professor” McCormick’s kit included a literal trash can. It’s no surprise that most of the mentions of the Dick Nixons that I’ve found online are fans gushing about the band’s ‘80s live sets.


Even a single-issue political cult can’t be all-Nixon, all the time, and so Paint the White House Black is padded out with some apolitical material. The Nixonless originals are a little too jokey for my taste (although “MTV” has its charm as the band’s blatant attempt to “Cover of the Rolling Stone” themselves onto 120 Minutes), but the covers are pretty fun. I’m partial to any band that fills out an album with loony punk renditions of “Red Red Wine,” “Knock Three Times,” Kenny Rogers’ “Lucille” and an old Chef Boyardee jingle, especially in the pre-Me First and the Gimme Gimmes era.


Paint the White House Black is long since out of print, but it can be found online pretty cheap and it’s streamable on Grooveshark. One more special note of personal resonance before I sign off: my first kiss was set to The Dick Nixons’ “Tricky Dick (Was a Rock-N-Rolla)” squalling out of the speakers of my 1986 Chevy Caprice Classic. I didn’t plan it that way, but I’ll be damned if I could have picked a better soundtrack.

  Tricky Dick (Was a Rock-n-Rolla) by The Dick Nixons on Grooveshark