78-year-old surf-rock legend Dick Dale is in rough shape. He’s had rectal cancer twice, had parts of his stomach and intestines removed, and thus wears a colostomy bag under his clothes at all times. He’s currently in renal failure and refuses to go on dialysis. He has diabetes. And he suffers from vertebrae so damaged “that every time I stand up it’s like a double-edge sword going into my spine,” as he told the Pittsburgh City Paper in a new interview.
But despite all that, he plays through the pain and maintains a crazy busy touring schedule, in part because he needs the money to afford medical treatment. “I can’t stop touring because I will die,” Dale says. “Physically and literally, I will die. I have to raise $3,000 every month to pay for the medical supplies I need to stay alive, and that’s on top of the insurance that I pay for … Sure, I’d love to stay home and build ships in a bottle and spend time with my wife in Hawaii, but I have to perform to save my life. I’ve been living like this for the past 15 years, but I’m still here and opening my eyes each morning.”
Of course, touring can be difficult — hell, it’s difficult even for people who don’t have multiple life-threatening health conditions. “When I’m on stage, the pain can be excruciating,” he says. “Someone has to help me up on stage because I can’t do it alone. There’s a part of my show where I play drums, and my drummer pulls my arm and my roadie pushes my butt to get up there. But I get up there.”
But beyond the financial reasons — which, admittedly, are a big part of it — Dale performs and talks so candidly about his ailments as a show of solidarity and a display of strength for others suffering from health problems:
People come to my shows and they show me their scars. I’ve had paralyzed kids come in on gurneys because they want to see me, and I take time to talk with all of them. I met a man who was sick and dying, and began talking with him on the phone. He said, “Dick, you’re my idol and I plan to outlive these hospice workers if I have to, but I will be at your show.” And he was.” I get that. Because I was told 20 years ago that I wouldn’t live much longer, but here I am. I believe our maker has kept Lana [his wife, who has multiple sclerosis and is also in chronic pain] and I alive to give hope. We’re like Johnny Appleseed, crossing the country and sowing the seeds of survival.
… When I go on stage, I’m in pain every night. But through the martial arts, I’ve learned to guide and deal with pain. I play harder now than I ever have, and honestly when I go on stage I push a button. I swear at the pain. “Get out of my damn body; I’ve got to do a job!”
… You tell the people, “Don’t be scared of dying.” When your mind leaves this body, it is a beautiful thing and it is not to be feared. Don’t let that fear of dying affect the way you live. You take that fear and you use it as a driving force to keep moving forward, no matter how much pain you have. That’s how I do what I do on stage. I’m not afraid to die because it all gets beautiful from here.”
According to Dale, he intends to go out “on stage in an explosion of body parts.” Read the full feature here.