The 360° Manitoba

A summit of sorts, as rock 'n' roll running buddies and famed hell-raisers Richard Meltzer and Handsome Dick Manitoba

WHETHER LEATHER-BOUND history-book history regards them so or not, the Dictators were the New York band, chronologically and aesthetically, between the N.Y. Dolls and the Ramones. Their '75 LP, The Dictators Go Girl Crazy!, featuring hotsos like "Two Tub Man" and "Teengenerate," was a landmark of proto-punk sass and substance, one that holds up better these days than a shitload of pantheon-enshrined '70s vinyl. In the years since, the 'Tators have banded, disbanded, and re-banded many times and are now on the road again.

I've known singer Handsome Dick Manitoba, whose current "A" gig is the operation of a rock-friendly East Village bar, for over 30 years. In December, he became the father of 8-pound Jake Koufax Manitoba.

Richard Meltzer: You been busy?

Handsome Dick Manitoba: Out-of- my-mind busy. Between the band, the bar, the kid . . .

So what's the adventure of fatherhood been like?

Oh, it's a physical-emotional experience that's, like, wonderful. Also grueling. You're constantly on guard, do this, do that, just so he won't bang his head.

Has he banged his head?

Today we had a mishap. Jake was on the couch, and I had ordered dinner delivered, y'know, downstairswe have no buzzer. Zoe was like, "I'm on the computer," so I ran into the other room to get some money, and I heard thud, and he rolls off the couch. He fell, not a far drop, but like 75 percent is covered with carpet, and he fell on the one part that's wood.

The beginnings of another Two Tub Man!

Jake cried, then she held him, he was OK. Scared the shit out of me, but this afternoon I had to go meet a girl to help me fix up my clothing for the tour, and then I had to go to a bar-owners' meeting, so I grab a bottle of milk, I grab a diaper, I open up his little wheeler, and I walk around the neighborhood with him. He's got such a great disposition. I had him in a bar with 20 East Village bar owners, all just talking about politics and how we're gonna represent ourselves, and he's just sitting there watching everybody talk, and he doesn't say a peep for, like, an hour.

Represent yourselves?

Well, they've been rammin' a lotta shit down our throats.

What, Giuliani kinda things?

Oh, worse. There's already this non-smoking thing, and what's next is to close New York at 2 a.m., instead of 4, so we're all up in arms.

And why would they wanna do that?

Because, oh, noise.

Noise? Doesn't a city have noise?

They want us to fucking go broke. They probably won't repeal the smoking law, but we have a lobbyist now in Albany, and we're collecting money for, like, this, uh, this woman, Lopez, I think that's her name. She's the local East Village representative. She was one of the people who voted against the smoking ban. We're basically getting together and chipping in a couple hundred dollars each. The next Legislature convenes in October. It's not gonna go through this year, but it might next year.

I think New York was a much better place when the drinking age was 18, and nobody got asked for IDif you looked 14, that was good enough.

It was a good thing, yeah.

So anyway, the most important question I have for you is: How do you, a die-hard American Leaguer, end up giving your son a National League middle name?

Well, I had three names picked for Jake's middle name: Mantle, Blassie, and Koufax.

Blassie would've been terrific. But why Koufax at allwhy was that an option?

I was leaning toward Mantle. . . .

Who only hit .298, lifetime.

So you always say! But then my love of Blassie and wrestling came in. Then as it was getting closer to baby time, um, I just had this feeling about Mantle. I X'ed him out, deep as the pinstripes have run in my blood, because the thought of namingit just seemed that Mickey Mantle was a redneck drunk from Oklahoma.

Well, he was those things, but what've you got against Oklahoma?

A great player, my all-time baseball hero, but here I'm naming my son, and Sandy Koufax is a way better role model. I read all these books on him. I think he even was a greater athlete.

Greatest pitcher of the 20th centurylet's cut to the chase. But you never could stand the National League!

He was a New Yorker, Brooklyn, Lafayette High. . . .

When he played in Brooklyn, he had a losing record; he was 9-10.

I've read all about it. He went pitch by pitch racked in arthritic pain. He would miss two or three months, have an operation, and he'd be fine. In unbelievable amounts of pain, and yet he . . .

If he'd played as long as Nolan Ryan, he'd've had 17 no-hittersbut so what? You were not a fan of his while he played.

That's not true. He was the only non-Yankee I've ever lovedwell, except for Richie Allen and Wilbur Woodand the way he handled himself, he was just this quiet, dignified, intensely respected . . .

Hey, all that's fine, but I've never thought of you as having respect for people based on things like that.

You know, not every decision I make in life is based on fun. If I ever have another kid, boy or girl, Freddie Blassie's name . . .

All I'm saying is it sounds like you've turned a corneraway from your legendary anarchic youth.

Hey, we're the sum of our parts.

OK. But I wouldn't have expected this of you, that's all.

The old curveball to Dick Meltzer!

Let's talk about the tour.

Well, we've been picking our spots for the last six or seven years, somewhere between 20 and 40 shows a year. My criteria for going on the road is higher than it used to be. Houston and Dallas didn't come in with high enough offers, we can't fly to Austin for one show, so we won't play Texas. . . .

But I take it you still have something to express in your, uh, Handsome Dick persona, right?

Oh, yeah. It's a tremendous creative outlet for me. It's still absolutely thrilling, and y'know, not to sound too humble, because I'm not humble by nature, but I get humbled by people coming up to meanywhere between 20- and 35-year-olds coming up to me and going, "Your music . . . I listened to it as a kid," or, "My father turned me on to it," or just like something I created, something I did, a smaller part of the bigger picture, affected some person's life, where they were excited and it made a difference, y'know, in the quality of their life. I go out onstage and see faces staring at me, and I'm in heaven. These people work all week, and they want some release, and they're, like, waiting. . . .

You used to be the master of intimidation "They all go under the thunder of Manitoba"and now you're giving them the sweetheart act?

Hey, you're getting 360 degrees of personality when you put down 10 bucks to see Handsome Dick.

OKbut do they still get a little bit of the thunder?

Let's put it this way: It's part stand-up, part ranting, part singing. . . .

Stand-up?

Yeah, my shtick.

What, you mean like Killer Kowalski stand-up? You're not Jackie Vernon.

Well, I have a respect for the Catskills, y'know.

But you have a stronger constitution than a comedian, wouldn't you say?

Still, it's part of it. I was in Boston last week, and I came out, "For 25 years I've been busting your balls about how the Red Sox suck, coming out with Yankee shirts. You can see tonight I'm wearing no Yankee gear, I'm not gonna talk baseball, I'm gonna talk about life and things, and then we're gonna play some music," and these people go, "Yankees suck!" So I started slowly reverting to, um, a Dick the Bruiser-type character, and they kept pushin' me, so I said, "You're a bunch of fucking masochists! You haven't won a World Series in 84 years, and you tell me Yankees suck?!" I'm like torturing them, but they brought out the whole personality that I brought with me. I call on what I need instinctively at the moment to give 'em a great show. Not many people walking the earth can do thatit's one of my gifts.

And you're existentially authentic, too.

Uhhh . . .

I'm giving you the big words.

Ha, ha, ha. Yeah.

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