Music News

Launching the Legend

"So this guy comes up to me after a gig, grabs my shoulder, and says, 'Thanks Buddy!'" the humanitarian recalls from his barstool throne at Gumwrappers, a neon-lit Fort Lauderdale strip shack/rock venue. Dressed in a blue silk dinner jacket with black lapels, he flicks a long-acquired cigarette ash while simultaneously tucking a five-dollar bill into the skirt of a nearby dancer. "Apparently," he continues, "this guy was at one of our sets the other month, and this woman was sitting next to him, and she hated us so much she had to leave the bar." He pauses to pull his shoulder length hair out of his sunglasses. "And he took her home with him. So basically, we help people get laid."

The humanitarian gives a humble smile. He's just a man -- unaccompanied by his usual entourage, the sextet called the Fabulous ShuttleLOUNGE-- doing his duty. Looking like a suaver version of the Dude from The Big Lebowski, he's a magnet for Gumwrappers' bikini girls, who swarm him like panhandling natives do a well-heeled traveler. Tonight's goodwill mission is to buy them drinks and make them laugh -- and fill in for a band that didn't show. It's just the kind of mensch he is. Though complaining (read: bragging) about a case of "finger stank" from an earlier encounter with an unnamed ex-girlfriend, he still manages to quench the thirst of several willing, pasties-dotted dancers. In his lap sits the only female in the bar with no agenda: a pink acoustic guitar -- lovingly christened "Mary" -- with a heart-shaped sound hole.

As he shifts the instrument, what looks to be a napkin points south from beneath. On closer inspection, the "napkin" is actually the bottom of his dress shirt protruding through his pants' open zipper. The humanitarian, it seems, is also a clown: Ladies and gentlemen, the Amazing Dik Shuttle.

(Not an hour later, witnesses report that Shuttle was forcibly removed from the establishment after only two songs. He and Mary were later spotted regaling tens of fans with a private performance of "The Browidian," a Gleason-esque original ode to Floridicana, in the alley behind Gumwrappers.)

Though today ShuttleLOUNGE is a six-man bossa nova brigade, the legend begins with just Dik, alone at the swanky Ramada Inn in Melbourne, Florida. It was at the hotel lounge that he first encountered Ca$$iu$ Casio KRS Lejuan Love Johann Sebastian Bacharat De La Fender Rhodes, a keyboard connoisseur and collector of fine rhinestone medallions. Filling in for one of Shuttle's absent bandmates, Rhodes showed his prowess on the Casiotone, and a lifelong bond was forged. The lads were promptly exiled by Melbourne city officials (also the Melbourne PTA, Melbourne Association for Primate Equality, Melbourne Collective for Artistic Renovations, Melbourne Widows for Peace, and D.A.R.E.) and headed south to seek their fortunes.

One fateful evening a few years back, Rhodes and Shuttle failed to arrive for a scheduled set. (The two were caught up in artistic differences regarding their film project Doc Koch: Evil Proctologist. It's a light-hearted tale about an Army proctologist stationed near a nuclear power plant. After a preventable accident occurs, his prostate develops a personality... And that personality likes to kill.) Little did they know they had an archrival who was poised to take their place that night. Ravelstein, a short, sunglasses-sporting, Japanese lawyer turned musician, countered with his own self-described "rounge" act, Ravelstein and the Rockets. Soon, the scene-stealing Rockets -- Major Whitey Herzog on drums and Malcolm Ten (a.k.a. Malcontent) on bass -- began showing up unannounced at all of Shuttle's gigs, hijacking both stage and instruments from the stunned Shuttlers. Shuttle and Rhodes found themselves outnumbered by the rounge trio, so they brought in reinforcements in the form of a third member, Deuces.

Now a permanent bongo player and occasional vocalist with Shuttle, Deuces contributes literally every part of himself on stage. Aside from his apish lyrical lampooning in the drum-driven anthem "My Big Bamboo (Grows Thick and Strong)," he displays his talents in a more interactive fashion. Deuces often drops his drawers during sets to reveal a cheerful, rearful tattoo -- a smiley face beaming, "Have a Nice Day!" Curious crowds dangle dollars in front of the stage, two bucks a pop to get a glimpse.

We can all agree that in an ideal world, lounge music is the soundtrack to human existence and lounge musicians thrive like jungle monkeys in heat. But in South Florida, the already limited lounge market could barely support one impromptu oddity, much less two. With Deuces running wild, Shuttle and Rhodes could finally oust Ravelstein and the Rockets, but opted for a different route. "We figured, well shit, if [Ravelstein] is gonna take over our stage and abuse our crowd, he could at least take a few pointers on flow and direction," Rhodes says. Instead of rumbling in a polyester-clad Sharks-and-Jets-style brawl, Shuttle and Ravelstein merged their bands in 2000. "In order to avoid a sort of huge-ass cluster-fuck of people running up and down the stage, trying to take each others' instruments," he continues, "now we sort of grudgingly play each other's songs." With a slight -- but crucial -- shift in capitalization, the result is the heroic six-man collective now known the world over as the Fabulous ShuttleLOUNGE.

Like most political strife, the basic division between the factions within ShuttleLOUNGE might be classified as religious in nature. Herzog believes the struggle will always exist, because "Dik is Jesus and Ravelstein is Buddha." Or there might be a more philosophical ontology to blame. "It's art war!" Ravelstein exclaims, chuckling. "Dik reads more Machiavelli and I read Sun Tzu. Half of the fun is planning the next coup."

A typical performance plays out like a group of limelight-thirsty stage boys shipwrecked on a desert island. Familiar melodies retained from years of cubicled, land-locked life are faded and warped with a calypso twist and new lyrics of tropical cocktails and missing marijuana. Masterful interpretations of original pop classics blend into epic medleys like "Don't Stop Believing/In Life After Love," "Stairway to Heaven/Is a Place on Earth," "How Deep is Your Love/Will Tear Us Apart" and "Take Me Home Tonight/Tonight Tonight." With six musicians rotating on and off stage, a beautiful sort of anarchy is the norm. Vocals are spoken as much as they are sung; solos can go on for minutes or last just a few bars. Fans are drawn as much by Shuttle's unpredictable between-song repartee as his band's loungetastic spectacle.

Turf war, classy kitsch, cheap sex, Cher -- it's all fair game to Dik Shuttle and the Fabulous ShuttleLOUNGE. Which leaves a lot of ground to cover, a lot of genius to flaunt, and a lot of gray area undefined. Given all the stylistic leg-humping and incestuous genre-fucking, Shuttle has a remarkably clear idea of what his music really means to the world.

"If you go into a lounge -- not someplace that's retro-themed, but a hotel bar -- there's going to be this guy." Shuttle -- ever the humanitarian -- emphasizes his point with a cigarette while bikinied Barbies circle like moths to a flame. "And that guy is playing this song, and you think you kinda know it. You think you know it better than he knows it. In fact, you know you know it better than that guy. Well," he muses, blowing smoke from the corner of his mouth, "we're that guy."

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Jamie Laughlin