Rick Dang Has Left the Bar

Considering his lifestyle, it’s something of a wonder Rick Dang lived as long as he did. Then again, he was one of those folks you somehow never doubted would be there – there being perched at the front bar of the EARL, the resilient Flat Shoals Avenue venue and drinking hole where Dang was as much of the layout as the tables, chairs and beer taps, pretty much since opening day.

He also made frequent appearances on The EARL’s stage, performing his songs solo or with his rock band Dang Dang Dang. Ten years ago he even won The EARL’s Air Guitar Championships! Rick Richards and I were among the judges for that particular ridiculous event, totally laughing our asses off as Dang wildly pantomimed the most insane, over-the-top nonexistent guitar solo in modern history. I’m pretty sure he made it up on the spot – there’s no way such a reckless spectacle could have been rehearsed – but as a piece of spontaneous performance art, it slayed.

Dang could really rip on actual guitars, though. And he was an effective singer and superb songwriter. As it was the closest venue to his favorite bar chair, The EARL saw the majority of Dang’s musical activities, with the Star Bar a close second, but over the past 30-ish years he (or one of multiple incarnations of Dang Dang Dang, or some other short-lived Dang-helmed project) would play 529, Red Light Café, Union EAV, the Gravity Pub, the Highland Inn Ballroom, Variety Playhouse, the Dark Horse Tavern, Oakland Cemetery, the Little Five Points Pub, Raw Gallery, Neighbor’s Pub… the list goes on. Before it closed he was a longtime regular and occasional soundman at Dottie’s and its eventual transformation into Lenny’s.

Hailing from Newark, New Jersey, Rick lived a whole other life before ever landing in Atlanta, slogging amongst the seediness and splendor of New York City’s punk scene during the 1970s and ’80s. He’d always be eager to share stories of his adventures there, or stories about all manner of experiences. He had loads of stories. He was 65, and looked every year of it and then some, having fully lived the rock ‘n’ roll dive bar routine for so long. We all feared the drinking, smoking and other indulgences would eventually catch up to him in a hard way, and yet, we somehow never doubted he’d always be there. It never ceased to have a calming, reassuring effect on me whenever I’d stroll into The EARL and saw him at that bar. I’m not sure when or how it started (I guess somebody at some point saw us talking to each other at The EARL and assumed he was my father, even though he only ten years older than me) but I always jokingly called him “Dad” every time I ran into him (which was often), to which he’d respond in kind, “My son!”

Recently, his roommate was Wade Page, the EARL employee and musician who had once played with Dang in a short-lived group called Feckless. Page’s sudden death earlier this year severely affected Rick, and I’m not sure he ever really recovered from that shocking loss.

On Sept. 27, Dang Dang Dang was one of several bands that played the Star Bar. According to attendees, Rick spoke of excessive tiredness that night but once he hit the stage he rocked the house. Shortly thereafter he went to the hospital, was apparently released but went back in several days later, and deteriorated quickly before being moved to a hospice care facility. It was there, after a throng of friends and fellow EARL regulars had visited to say their final goodbyes, that he died in the early morning hours of Oct. 9.

A lover of Jeopardy and bad jokes, cold beer and killer rock ‘n’ roll, Rick Dang was an immensely friendly, kind, funny, sensitive man. One of those guys that gave off a grizzled, unkempt appearance but was absolute sweetness through and through. He was beloved by everyone that met him, and he will be deeply missed.