Friendships, community, equality – Niall McGuirk on Dave Dictor’s memoir MDC: Memoir From A Damaged Civilization
How many punk books tell you to go hug your loved ones today? I’ve read quite a few books that could be classified as tales of punks and punters, and not one springs to mind as carrying this message. This is what MDC‘s Dave Dictor tells us. It is not just about punk rock, or maybe it is all about punk rock; Dave talks of friendships, community and equality throughout the book – is that what punk should be?
MDC were a political band right from their inception and Dave gives us a glimpse into those early days. This is not a Peter Hook tome of over 700 pages, and no doubt it could be – Dave could have that many stories tell. Instead we dip out toes into the water that is MDC.
When I was a kid my dad used to watch cowboy films all the time. He loved them, especially ones starring John Wayne. I was a pretty obedient teenager, and memories of disagreements starting at home for me was when my dad called my friends and I The Saturday Gang. We would troop into town supporting whatever cause was being promoted that week. We were trying to figure out why more people didn’t want the Birmingham Six freed, or an end to animal experiments, or didn’t see the futility of war. My dad used to say you will never change things. I disagreed, and while things have slightly moved on are we really in a better place? The Cowboys are now called Westerns, and since those days some have tackled issues like how the land was raped and pillaged, or how two men could actually love each other. More importantly though, we got to play John Wayne Was A Nazi at home to my dad after the actor died and MDC released their ‘tribute’. That was of more concern to him than any anti nuclear demonstration.
Unlike many other U.S. hardcore bands MDC was the soundtrack for mass protest. They were a band who walked the walk they talked about. When Bad Brains were being applauded from all quarters, MDC got to hear about their homophobic comments and refused to play with them. Dave feels there still is sexism in the scene and it is good to see age hasn’t compromised his feelings. The position of women in the punk scene may have improved, but as in society sexism is still very much there and still an important issue for bands.
In 1982, with Dave barely 24 and the world a larger place with fewer countries than now, MDC headed off on a European tour with Dead Kennedys. The DKs were attracting huge crowds every night and MDC were learning about the music business as they went along. It is a business that means little to Dave, and touring with a band such as the Dead Kennedys copperfastened that view. It is hard to imagine 34 years later, but tours like these and subsequent MDC ones were groundbreaking. Bands from the states didn’t tour in places like Spain, certainly not from a DIY perspective. MDC started it all off. It’s a way of life to Dave Dictor. It is his life.
This is a collection of interesting anecdotes, coming at you with the pace of an MDC song. Page after page of recalled events, stories about smuggling in to Canada, or skirmishes with nazis, or struggles with law enforcement. It’s been one interesting journey being Dave Dictor. But hidden between the words in almost a postscript is the fact that he has fathered a child. He gives more space to riots and beatings and squats than family. I guess we are here to read about his band, but I would like some insight into whether having children gave him a different perspective. It’s only when death comes knocking that we get his feelings on family coming out.
The history of MDC plays a huge part in the history of American hardcore music. From their early groundbreaking tours to the amount of members the band has had who have played in other bands. Bands like Operation Ivy, Offenders, Poison Odea – the list keeps extending. The one constant has been Dave Dictor and this introduction to a fully lived life gives some indication to the the underground scene in the States. It shows a punk band can travel right throughout the world on a DIY basis if they believe in the tough lifestyle that accompanies it.
Punk, for Dave, is “an angst railing against the conformity of the status quo” and it will never die “as long as kids find passion, cause and voice“, and Dictor is a kid in his 60s who continues to find that passion, that cause and that voice.