MDC's Dave Dictor and muscle on the take
The smiling face of hardcore: MDC with Dave Dictor in yellow
Do I like hardcore? Er, not usually, no. Or punk? Well, no, not really. Very little of it grabs my attention or interest. I am particularly suspect of any band which declares themselves to be 'punk'; usually such outfits may be filed under 'rebel lite', possibly in an Elmer Fudd voice.
We'll skip the definition of 'punk' or 'hardcore' for now, since I personally think it's a raft for people who like to think they're stranded in the middle of a hostile ocean instead of waddling about in the shallow end of the local swimming pool. You must think me a terrible snob.
Okay, Punk Rock 101 starts here. Back in the late 1970s, after the first waves of punk rock had washed out from the UK, the US reclaimed punk, and remade it very, very differently from its initial sparks in Detroit, NYC and Akron. Partly thanks to the Dead Kennedys, by 1982 a few of us had begun investigating some of the new bands (Black Flag, Fear, Germs, the Circle Jerks, Angry Samoans) and turning our friends on to them in turn. By 1984 UK-punk fans were being forcibly played the American punk and their reaction was ... well, more fool them. Not enough trademarks, I suppose. They really needed their leather jackets decorated with The Exploited, the Anti-Nowhere League and Crass. 'Webel wite'.
Yet I remember my rather contemptuous reaction to seeing MDC's first LP, "Millions of Dead Cops", for the first time, and I recall exactly where I was and who I was with when I first heard it - and being utterly thrown back by its extraordinary ferocity. Recall that only a few months earlier we'd seen the Birthday Party in their fully brutal, hilarious flight and you'll have an idea that at the time you'd pretty much have to thwack me over the head with a forty-kilo barra to impress me.
When I'd recovered from the LP's initial impact I was able to work out that the songs were savage, savagely funny, and burned with a painful honesty. What was more, the songs were actually songs which you could, in a different world, imagine nestling in the top 40. Not, perhaps, Violent Redneck, but certainly My Family is a Little Weird or Corporate Deathburger or No Place to Piss; even John Wayne is a Nazi. Certainly there's a singalong element to MDC, just like there is to the DKs or the first Clash lp.
In fact MDC's first album stands right up there with Damaged; and if your collection of punkiana has only Black Flag but no MDC (nor the bands listed above and below), you only have a piddly fraction of what was going on back then. As I recall, everyone was in their own punk rock or alternative hero movie, as I'm sure you recall from Hardcore California and Dogs in Space.
I mean, can you imagine anything more inflammatory to write across your tour bus in the USA in the 1980s than Millions of Dead Cops? We're lucky they managed to survive into the twenty-first century.
Anyway, by 1984 the American wave was huge; we were amazed by ground-breaking bands like the Big Boys and the Minutemen, the Meat Puppets and Really Red and Husker Du, the Misfits. Big Black and Black Flag were fine as well. Amazingly, the main UK music mag sent a hack to the US to cover the scene in (I vaguely recall) 1983. Their conclusion was that it was all unimportant, sub-UK-influenced thrash. Which was pretty dumb, considering.
Here in Australia there was a mini-boom in what was being called hardcore (Permanent Damage I particularly recall), as well as a growing surf of more uniquely bent bands. MDC's drumming style was particularly influential. But by mid-1984 we knew the wave couldn't last over there in America, it was obviously far too intense, far too extraordinary. Think Killdozer, Flipper, the last LPs by Minutemen, Husker Du, Black Flag.
Crash and burn it did. MDC staggered on into various incarnations and albums - some of which are damn fine - but I confess I missed the lot and I'm only catching up now, some thirty years later. Which is more than some of my contemporaries are able to do.
Although no, it's not the original line-up, that's not really important. What we will see is the two main men who formed the band, Dave Dictor and original guitarist Ron Poser, current bassist Mike Smith who joined in 2008 and a new addition on drums, Jesse Cobb.
If you don't recognise MDC's name, just get two CDs, the first and 2004's "Magnus Dominus Corpus". That should set you up for the gig in your town.
Then you can get all the CDs.
So I pick the phone up with trepidation. I hate phoners where the echo and delay talks more than you do. On the other hand, if you'd told me I'd be speaking to one of the men who really made me think clearly about the world around me in my early manhood, I would've been, well, let's not go there, I was a dick back then. Anyway. A friendly voice answers.
RB: Thanks for making me laugh this morning - I was reading some of your lyrics.
DD: (laughs) Well, I like my lyrics to have meaning and zing, humour... hey, global warming's really doing its job...
RB: How do you think the deniers are dealing with it?
DD: Well, in New York I think they think it's god hugging us really warmly, that it's part of the Raptures...
(I crack up at this, I'm afraid, imagining the chic elite expecting to be taken up any day now. On an expensive long distance call. Oh, dear. Also, there are areas where Dave and I would disagree, but it's early on with someone I don't know from a proverbial soap in a socket and I don't wish to offend, so I keep schtum)
RB: Can I ask you something personal? Do you have a religious background?
DD: Yes, I do. I grew up in a kind of Catholic cult, went away to their summer camps but I got away from that. I still like that old church smell though, the candle wax and frankincense... I was lucky though, I kept asking to be an altar boy but they never chose me though...
RB and DD: ...wasn't pretty enough!
RB: You've just done two months of heavy, night after night travel and gigging. How are the audiences responding?
DD: The audiences are as loving and grateful as ever. When you make it to a San Antonio, Texas or a Oklahoma City, Oklahoma ...people are so just so glad, that you just even made it. You give them your performance in the context of their presence and what's going on and it clicks. If it was stale I'd move on. The young ones are glad to have you but so are the old ones. I love all the people that perpetuate our band to continue to perform and support our recordings.
RB: I was rereading a few old lyrics - violent redneck - really comes across in the films of the period that the punk scene was being discovered by rich drunk fratboys - Fear mention it and I think there's references to it in their songs; you weren't preaching to the converted, but to a broader section...
DD: The song was written after an attack by these rednecks that didn't understand or want to understand punk rock . They were old school redneck roughnecks. In 1980 this happened to us and this was our full on reply to it emotionally and musically. Full event and reply ...nothing contrived here.
RB; 'Stealing mail, cashing checks' from Going Nowhere Faster than You, that's surely an affectionate nod to the DKs...
DD: That does have the sense of humor that the Dead Kennedy's use... They took us on world tour back in 1982 and have been our friends ... so a lot has rubbed off. Going Nowhere is written after the fact... commenting about that lifestyle. I was asked about regrets in an interview lately. My regret is I wasted a lot of time in the cult of doing drugs. Thinking I was a latter day William Bouroughs or something, It really wasted a lot of time and glad to be 14 years sober off drugs and alcohol. That Going Nowhere was half written on drugs and then as I was going through rehab making sense of it all ... I wrote the second part.
RB: I enjoyed No More Cops - I thought it really nailed the problem, that cops are the lesser of two evils..
DD: Well, they've created a situation where we have to have cops, there's security everywhere these days. It was actually written as a positive song, in 1983. I take a bit of an artistic liberty, but we still see cops on a rampage and getting away with murder...
Cops have bought into protecting people so no matter how unjust they are. With the war on drugs it doesn't matter that the cops kill the people they're arresting... we've got to attack the problem.
I mean, cops are human beings, we all are, they join to become part of a helpful force and make a positive difference and they get corrupted. I have a younger brother who became a policeman; he left after ten years, there was just so much bullshit, racism. Just bad cop juju. Look at Snowden. He's a traitor for telling the truth; it's like Vietnam when telling the public the real body count was betraying a state secret.
RB : I've been reading a bit about the counter-culture and the clash between the multiple Americas in the late 1960s/early 1970s. James Ahern - Cops In Trouble is fascinating, it really shows how hard it was to stay straight and be a decent person - never mind a decent cop - in the 1960s. No wonder so many became corrupt.
DD: I haven't read that... Tough to do anything in the world. The powers that be... want everyone in on the take. Thats what cops are for. To be the muscle in on the take.
RB: How has your approach to songwriting changed?
DD: Well I just don't want to repeat topics so ....2 years ago, I wrote 6 songs that used the word Doomed ... so I move slow these days .... One good song in 3 months means a lot ... In the old days ....we would write a song and record it days later, these days I like to move slower. On the other hand if the word smithing is flowing, then keep it going.... Just not so much these days.
RB: Now, here I am playing devil's advocate... Surely the violence of the music parallels the violence you hate? Must violence be met with violence? Well I was a young man...I am angry and I want to get up and fight and again...
DD: Believe it or not I have never been a violent person. I have fought when I had no choice. When skinheads or rednecks attacked me or my people. I fight for animal rights but I'm not attacking whalers ... though people that hunt and poach large mammals for are the worse. Violence is a sad way. Look what is going on with the way on terror. Violence begets violence.
RB: What difference can you make in the USA - you're just a band?
DD: You are right ... we all have our little parts... hopefully it amounts to something. It's where I stand anyway. I think that's where my drug use came into my life. Feeling change will never happen.
RB: Now, I loved the way you described yourself as a musician and a poet - your lyrics have a pungent immediacy which rushes out. Have you had any books published - are there plans?
DD: I have written for Maximum Rock and Roll as a columnist and am working on 2 books ...One is an overview of punk history from where we were... Texas, California, world Citizen. That tells my own story, what happened to make me who I was.... I call it as I see it.... but happily with no axe to grind.
RB: What does performing with MDC do for you or to you?
DD: It's a way of expressing myself when confronted with these world events.....Sharing these events with others that have lived through it ....like John Wayne dying and all these fraternity boys struck with grief. And then putting into words my take on his life with John Wayne Was A Nazi"or with the song "Radioactive Chocolate" after the Three Mile Island Nuclear Explosion. It's a desire to comment on events that we have all been part of. When I re-perform it people get to reflect on my view of it with their view in there ... There is no song without an audience
RB : You must get this a lot - but surely punk has been and gone?
DD: Punk music alienation and protest music will be around for the rest of civilization. It's a Pussy Riot world out there.
RB: Is capitalism wrong in itself or is it how it's applied? Certainly we can't continue to exploit nature and each other the way we have .....
DD: Some serious intervention to save the planet and take care of everyone is very much needed. The captains of capitalist industries are selfish people. Freedom = Exploitation. Or so I think.
RB: Have you read Barbara Tuchman at all?
DD: Guns Of August, a long time ago. A crucial time in history that went terribly wrong.
Dave was patient and friendly with me, even though he'd only come off a heavy two month tour. Professional, but he didn't seem to be, if you know what I mean. The bloke you meet in the pub who you wonder what on earth he was or is. Articulate, thoughtful, well-educated ... kinda balanced. The kind of guy who, if you found out he was in a band, you'd go along just to see what they were like.
Me, you couldn't keep me away. Hell, no. I might be wheezy and creaky but if Dave's 57 and going strong, I think I can make it to his gig.
Pinched from the press release:
Australian Tour August 2013
Tues 13th (Wednesday is a public holiday) – Brisbane – The Zoo
Wed 14th – Adelaide – Fowlers Live
Thu 15th – Melbourne – Corner Hotel
Fri 16th – Sydney – Hermann's Bar
Tickets $44 + bf on sale from metropolistouring.com or the venues
Saturday, August 17 - Kings Arms Tavern, Auckland, NZ
Tickets from UTR, Real Groovy, Slow Boat and Cosmic
An interesting factoid: when Kurt Cobain was thrown in jail had 49 cents and his favorite Millions of Dead Cops tape.
Another one: MDC has 100 songs in the kit bag so every set list is different.
First pubkished July 7, 2013