Officially, it is Richard T. Rodríguez, a professor in the English department at UC Riverside. But for two hours every Thursday, he is a disc jockey at the campus radio station, KUCR-FM, hosting a show devoted to 80s British rock and pop.
His name: “Dr. Ricky on the radio.
As I watch it Thursday afternoon in the scruffy confines of KUCR’s studio, Rodríguez spots his first song on his laptop. (Screen saver image: The Pet Shop Boys.) He used to bring a bag of CDs until someone kindly told him there was an easier way.
“I’m Dr. Ricky on the radio,” Rodríguez told listeners, kicking off at 3 p.m. sharp.
He explains that today’s show is a sort of soundtrack to his new book, “A Kiss Across the Ocean: Transatlantic Intimacy of British Post-Punk and US Latinidad,” which he calls “part history, part memory”.
“It wouldn’t have been possible without this song,” Dr. Ricky continues. “Before we dive into British post-punk rock, here’s Culture Club’s ‘Karma Chameleon’.”
Ah yes, “Karma, Karma, Karma, Karma, Karma Chameleon, you come and go, you come and go”, the lyrics of which were an inescapable, airy and somewhat inscrutable part of the 1983 airwaves.
Rodríguez was 12 in Santa Ana, watching TV at his aunt’s house, when the music video featuring indecisive singer Boy George was released. “I was just transfixed,” he tells me live as the song plays.
His understanding aunt bought him the band’s “Colour by Numbers” album on tape, and the future Dr. Ricky left for the errands. Culture Club led him to David Bowie, T. Rex and reggae music. Formative influences, he tells me with a laugh, are “not always things we’re proud of.”
I tell him I understand: Neil Diamond led me to Bob Dylan.
Soon, tracks such as Public Image Limited’s “This is Not a Love Song,” Japan’s “Quiet Life,” and The Cure’s “In Between Days,” “all helped me deal with a lot of complications in the teenage girls,” Rodríguez, who is gay, told listeners.
He checks his phone. A friend on campus had just told her that Cure’s song was a “hymn of life” to her. Support and her fourth cup of coffee of the day help her refuel.
He performs a trio of songs from Siouxsie and the Banshees. It was a rare group of women, he tells me, with a vocalist, Susan Janet Ballion, who adopted the spelling Siouxsie because when she watched American Westerns on British TV she always rooted for the Indians, not for cowboys.
This underdog attitude binds much of the music he plays, even the big hits, with a polished sheen. And that helps explain a thesis of his book, which is Latinos’ love of British post-punk music, including Morrissey.
That the subject endlessly fascinates many fans of Anglo-Saxon music makes Rodríguez sigh. Why wouldn’t these bands have non-white fans? Can only pale people appreciate synthesizers?
“A lot of times we try to box people in. We try to assign likes to people based on their ethnic and cultural background,” Rodríguez tells me, sharing that his mother, a fourth-generation Mexican American, is a big fan. of the Beatles.
What’s worse is when people theorize that Morrissey’s emotionally charged music must appeal to Latinos because they’re sentimental.
“One group of people is more sentimental than another?” Rodríguez said shaking his head.
He plays Adam Ant tracks, including “Greta-X”, whose lyrics involve cross-dressing and blurring of gender roles. Next is Bauhaus, which he calls “a bunch a lot of goths have turned to”, and Love and Rockets, which take their name from the comic book of the same name by the Oxnard-born Hernandez brothers.
Presenting Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax” in 1983, Rodríguez remarked, “I heard him screaming out of a UPS truck the other day.”
Most of these groups were made up of working-class people in economically depressed British towns that might as well have been LA or its suburbs, like his hometown of Santa Ana, Rodríguez tells me. Listeners, including Latinos, might relate to the “sense of isolation” expressed by the music, he says. It’s as much about class status as it is about pop hooks.
Some of these musicians loved Latin American culture. Blue Rondo a la Turk, named after a song by Dave Brubeck, wore zoot costumes on stage. Dr. Ricky plays their song “Me and Mr. Sanchez”. The Pet Shop Boys of London filmed a video at Duarte.
Holly Johnson of Frankie Goes to Hollywood read a newspaper article about the growing influence of Mexican Americans and responded in 1989 with the catchy song “Americanos”.
“Unfortunately, it wasn’t recorded in the United States,” Rodríguez tells me regretfully.
Rodríguez, who teaches English as well as media and cultural studies, joined UC Riverside in 2016 after a stint at the University of Illinois, my alma mater nearly two decades earlier. (Go Ilini.)
The first member of his family to attend college, Rodríguez, 51, became Dr. Ricky after earning his doctorate from UC Santa Cruz in what is called the history of consciousness. Do not sleep during class!
He started his radio show in early 2020 but put it on hiatus during the pandemic. This gave her time to complete “A Kiss Across the Ocean”, which received rave reviews. He has been back there since the end of 2021.
The four-hour prep and the two-hour show take enough time that he sometimes thinks he should hang up. And yet, “when I’m here, and on the air, it gives me great joy,” he told me. “I usually leave the station happy.”
It’s moments from 5 p.m., the end of his show. After “Ghost Town” by the Specials, he signs: “I’m Dr. Ricky on the radio and I’ll be joining you very soon. Take care and be well.”
When we say goodbye, he smiles.
Morrissey, the UK’s most famous example of a white singer with a huge following of Latinos, has a gig scheduled for Nov. 11 at Ontario’s Toyota Arena, a day before he is due at the Greek Los Angeles Theater. This will be his first time in this area, I believe, since a 2011 date at Fox Pomona. It should be huge (assuming the moody singer doesn’t cancel).
David Allen writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, and the pleasure, the privilege is his. Email [email protected], call 909-483-9339, like davidallencolumnist on Facebook and follow @davidallen909 on Twitter.