My questions are in bold print and his answers are thin and muscular.
What do you feel are the greatest accomplishments possible through political music? Has your faith in the power of the musical medium increased, decreased or stayed the same over the years?
I think music can be very inspiring and part of that inspiration can certainly spark awareness and change... I think of Bob Marley singing ďGet up stand up for your rightsď. That was and still inspires worldwide. In our scene many people are inspired by the words of Jello Biafra discussing the American political landscape or were inspired by reading Maximum Rock N Roll or following the example of Ian MacKaye and Fugazi with its DIY actions and values. So I think itís possible. The increased/decreased part of the question answer is relative to having been part of the 1980-1984 American Hardcore scene. Those were heady, fresh, very inspired days and no one was dreaming of MTV videos and the compromises one would make to succeed in that medium. We were all starring in our own movie.
Does *shallow* political content make a song even worse than if it had no political content at all?
Iím not sure what you exactly mean but say if (like I recently saw) Good Charlotte singing a song about sticking together against the man with a sort of Limp Biskit edge... Well, I donít know if itís worse but it does feel contrived. On the other hand maybe some kid in the sticks relates to it and it awakens him about authority issues, well okay. Now let me say here Prussian Blue should not sing political songs.
When you write politically-charged songs, do you work to phrase them in ways that are easily understood to your fans? Or do you say what you want to say - the way you want to say it - and trust that your message will get across?
Well there is no set way for me...sometimes I come up with a line like "John Wayne Was A Nazi" and then write a song around that. Other times I have an idea like Iraqis fighting in Iraq against the Americans, I put together a song about that topic and name it "Terrorist Or Freedom Fighters" and compare it to the US Revolutionaries. The British might think the colonists, hiding in the woods, were terrorists.
I constantly see references to your infamous mistreatment by the Bad Brains, but I don't think I've ever heard whether or not it was ever resolved. Did you or the other band members ever speak to the band again?
First let me say I hated that whole incident. MDC adored the Bad Brains 1980-1982. After a gig where we really hit it off together in Oakland, we dropped everything in our lives to go across country on a mini tour with them on 2 days notice. Ended up playing 2 shows with them. One in Houston and the infamous one in Austin where we dropped off the tour. There in Austin they freaked out in the middle of the show about Gary Floyd's and Randy Biscuitís out gayness and refused to sing using the same microphone as them. The Bad Brains seemed to always have these much younger people in the scene around them. And it seemed no would call them on their bullshit. We were about the same age as them and a bit more politically sophisticated then the typical people in the DC and NY scene.
I only felt mistreated in that they came into a show that MDC and others had set up and hurled a lot of insults and anger towards our friends. Insults like ďAll gay people are blood clot faggots and they should be put to death." It wasnít like they expressed that they didnít like gay people and disapprove of their lifestyle. It was wishing death for the singers of two of our favorite bands in our original punk rock home town. It was sad to see it all go down and didnít feel good at all. It was confusing that we could adore and agree with people about many political topics including human rights, yet disagree about homosexuality. With HR-Joseph we have never resolved anything, but with Darryl and Dr Know (the bassist and guitarist), we all expressed regrets on the topic years later.
What drove you to change the band's name to "MDC II" for "Hey Cop, If I Had A Face Like Yours"? You had replaced band members before!
Well first we were the Stains, we put out the first pressing of John Wayne as the Stains. On our first tour to the west coast in 1981 we got a gig with Black Flag at the Cookooís Nest. It was unofficially billed the Battle of the Stains with the LA Stains and us. Right then and there we decided to ditch the name the Stains. We went with Millions Of Dead Cops initially. We soon thereafter decided on using the acronym MDC whenever convenient. After about a year we decided to build different album/record names with various MDC monikers. So originally Millions Of Dead Cops, then the rest, Multi Death Corporation, Millions Of Dead Children, Millions Of Damn Christians, and eventually we used the drummer's sonís line ďMetal Devil Cokesď. At that point, 1990, we felt it was played out and hence the MDC 2 concept of coming back to Dead Cops, full circle so to speak. Next after that was Shades Of Brown, then the Pig Champion 7 inch. Though when three of the four of the original lineup came back 2 years ago we did re-employ the idea and called the last album Magnus Dominus Corpus. Our next release probably wonít be a new MDC.
Were there any other reasons for going from "Millions Of Dead Cops" to just "MDC"?
Ok, in the beginning it was just Millions Of Dead Cops, and MDC just for posters and parents. From the beginning it was a very contentious name. We found ourselves always having to explain it. We formulated an idea to extend the meaning to other political thoughts - at first to the people that run the Multi National Corporations (hence Multi Death Corporations). At the same time we met the band Crass and they expressed that they thought it was too much/too violent a name. This bummed us, being young and looking up to our elder hero/political band. We were stunned. We also had some touring incidents with the police where different policemen threatened our lives on different occasions. Being punk rock with mohawks, to cross borders in vans with Millions Of Dead Cops written all over everything is still challenging. In 1981, 1982, 1983 it was downright dangerous. These days you can still get your ass kicked for looking punk; back in the day you could get yourself murdered. We got strange violent threats from the KKK to the promoter in Baton Rouge on the way to a rally/gig. We had many many gigs shut down directly due to our name, and the UK Immigration would not let us in the country to tour there in 1983. We had nothing about Dead Cops on us but we were still in their computers. They were mumbling how we were the Thousands Of Dead Policeman Band. All that combined helped push us away from the Millions Of Dead Cops handle to simple MDC. Our last time on our way into the UK an official asked what the MDC stood for on the working papers and I said the Multi Death Corporation and he replied, ďWell, very good then and good luck." I have explained this to people before and folks have seemed downright disappointed. People in the safety of their home might find it comforting for us to always be so out there. It was truly fucking intense for these here young people in their early twenties to be living so on the edge 24/7 while we were on tour. It was harrowing to be driving the van away from all these shows where the police knew what we were called and actually had walked on stage, night stick in hand, gun in holster and stared us down and pulled the plug. Then quite often, an hour later, after we had loaded up, we'd get pulled over, searched, threatened and sometimes busted. Once it was for a "weapons dangerous to public safetyď charges for having a crow bar in our wheel well after a 30 minute search. We had tours ruined and lost thousands of dollars, like the time we were busted in Canada in 1983. The cops and the judge up there expressed their intense disapproval not for what we had done but for the name of our band. Our guitarist and bassist, Ron Posner and Frank Mares, spent a week in the Toronto Dawn Jail while I called everyone I knew for bail and lawyer money. We were alone out there and punk was truly considered a threat.
MDC has played such a wide range of musical styles over the years, all while retaining its hardcore roots. Looking back, are there any albums or songs that you feel haven't quite accomplished what you were going for artistically? Alternately, which ones do you feel have been the most successful at capturing your vision?
The various styles of music were intentional and I realize now with more retrospect how we didnít work at fulfilling what our demographic was really demanding of us... and we suffered in album sales but I can and have to live with that. What I do regret is having only so much money to record and, having run out of money, still putting out stuff that needed more work. We were always in debt and, sadly, selling a release was a way to get money. We were living in a studio together at some points with tours planned and an album owed to people who were buying our airplane tickets to Europe. In retrospect I wish I had just said cancel the tour, this album is not ready to come out! As well, trying to complete an album when you didnít love every song. Now I am clear about the fact that bands canít always be a democracy and everyone doesnít get to have 2 or 3 songs on an album. I realize now, I have to love every note on the album or I will refuse to let it come out. I didnít get that back then - equal rights and artistic vision can and do collide.
Was there a time in your career when you would say you were at the height of your popularity? Or have your record sales and audience sizes stayed pretty consistent over the years? If the former, what was going on during that time to drive your success? If the latter, have you ever made any conscious efforts to increase your audience?
The years between 1982 and 1988 we sold A LOT more albums then we are selling now (three- and four-fold), and concert sizes in general are a lot smaller as well. In 1982 our album was on everybodyís top 5 list. Itís unfortunate to see your numbers go down. Very Spinal Tap-ish... but I am glad to say we still move enough albums worldwide and enough people come out to see us to still feel good about doing it.
I remember when "Metal Devil Cokes" came out, I was surprised by the playfulness of some of the songs on side two ("I'm A Knucklehead," "Love Potion Number Nine," "Hole In My Soul"). What compelled you to take such an unexpected turn into the 'nonpolitical' realm of song writing at the end of the record there?
I have written various types of songs through the years. Those are my songs by the way (except for Love Potion #9) and not what I was referring to two answers ago about songs that werenít mine that I didnít really love. I was in a playful mood to some extent. It also had a lot to do with being in the Bay Area where there was a brand new breed of politically correct punk police out there. People that had not been in the punk scene for very long felt very comfortable condemning bands that they felt were not politically perfect. Tim Yohannon, a good friend and old scenester and editor of Maximum RocknRoll, had a hand in this. I loved Tim and miss him dearly. He was a great friend to me and the scene. But he stirred all these kids up with this self-righteous zealousness. These old school hard working bands like DOA and Seven Seconds, along with us and others, were accused of selling out the scene because we were moving up the ladder. In an interview someone asked and I admitted we earned ten thousand dollars in 12 gigs, and people thought we were millionaires and selling out the scene. People that werenít in bands who had no idea what was it like to pay for vans and various travel costs, or to buy a drum kit with cymbals or a mesa boogie bass amp, got very loudmouthed and rude in the Maximum Rock N Roll/Gilman Street scene. Eventually it gave birth to bands like Green Day and NOFX that didnít want to be considered political bands that had to live up to these unreasonable confinements. Op Ivy eventually became Rancid and walked away from the nitpicking ďholier than thouď political punk rock scene. I didnít walk away but I took a vacation from it and wrote lyrics like "Iím a knuckle, you're a knuckle, we are all knuckleheads." This was 1988/1989, a big turning point in the scene for us anyway.
Do you think you will ever release any MDC Unplugged material? Or will it remain an online-only phenomenon?
I am working on the CD, got the songs... Itís been about a year just trying to decide how to present them, the tempo, harmonies ...itís coming... folk punk with an edge is how I have been describing it. For awhile it was going Grateful Dead Cops ďAmerican BeautyĒ era.... then ala Indigo Boys. Then a music partner left and now I am going for more of a Billy Bragg sans the accent, edge ... with harmonies but much more up tempo. We, MDC electric, are headed out on a long Euro tour come March so itíll get kicked back again. I finally got to this place in life that it is ok not to be in a rush.
I read your statement in a recent interview that you were 'whacked out on meth' in the 90's. How were you able to overcome your addictions? Was it painful? Did you have to change other things in your life as well?
Somewhere along the way in the 1990ís I just decided ďFuck ITď. After dabbling on the edges I decided to get into drugs in a big way. And what goes up definitely comes down. I am clean 8 years and thankful to be clean. It was painful acknowledging that I was selfish in my private life with girlfriends, to my son, worried my parents. It wasnít painful per se but it was work and took focus to clean up. The big change was to get focused and not just bungle through life. I feel really glad to have done that and glad I hit a low enough bottom to get where I am today which is clean and sober. I donít tell people to abstain but I will coach people to slow down.
I began going to punk rock shows in 1988 (when I was 15), and as I continued attending them over the years, I found it interesting that (a) the audiences seemed to remain young even as I aged, and (b) each new group of youngsters adopted the same punk rock fashion and hairstyles as those that came before (as had I!). As you've played your music to young audiences for over two decades, have you ever grown cynical about the punk rock fashion (the way that, for example, Ian McKaye has?) Or does it excite you that what began as such a small movement has continued to thrive and capture the imagination of young people for going on three decades now?
Punk does have a new crop of kids every 2 or 3 years, and all in all I am grateful for the young fresh energy. Everything is relative to what you're checking out. To see all the kids acting ďclichť,ď well that can be a turnoff. But we play this Anarchist Bookstore out here in Portland and itís downright inspiring to see all these together, aware, mostly sober young people. Itís fun to make music for most anybody but I enjoy it the most when young people with their bright eyes are getting the words and the music. I get a little depressed when I feel I am background noise for cool drunk people. But truly I feel lucky to be relevant to people after 28 years.
For far too long now, nogoodnicks have whined that "Punk is dead." Do you agree with this statement in any way? Where do you feel that this attitude is coming from?
People have been saying punk is dead since 1979. The New Wavers in Austin used to say that to us. Whenever someone goes through a transition of sorts or their favorite band breaks up, then punk is dead. I believe punk will be with us for hundreds of years, if the planet survives. Alienation, nonconformity and the need to express angst is gonna be with us for a while.
Do you feel that the U.S. has had any decent presidents during your lifetime? If so, who? And is there anybody in the current political scene that might be able to get us out of this mess we're in!?
Well, decent is a relative term. Were John F Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton decent? It depends how forgiving one cares to be. So much better than Reagan and Bush Jr., but Noam Chomsky would argue against them all. I voted for Bill Clinton twice, Al Gore once and John Kerry just a while ago. Whatís going on politically in America doesnít seem to create many statesmen. Nobody wants to say that the way America has and still does over-consume, over-greenhouse and over-pollute is unjust. And there cannot be peace without justice. The Green Party gets only 3 to 5 percent of the vote in this country - sad isnít it? But I guess I could get myself to vote Gore again - him or Sturgeon of Leftover Crack.
Any idea whatever happened to Franco, Eric Calhoun, Bill Collins, Matt Freeman, Chris Wilder, Erica Liss, Mike Pride and/or Gordon Fraser? And has Al Schvitz now left the band!?
They are all around and have been chatted with recently, having ASCAP'd all our work and needing birth dates and to get everyone registered. Everyone except Gordon Frazer ... where are you Gordo?
Have you sung lead on every MDC song? There are a few that don't sound like you (e.g. "Snuffed Out," "South Africa Is Free"). Are these in fact you? Do tell! Any others you don't sing lead on?
No you got that right... These are some of the songs I just didnít like so much and passively just said "you sing them."
I know you guys were close to the Dead Kennedys during their heyday. Do you have any opinion on what has happened to their relationship over the past few years?
Well I donít mind gossiping about things I am involved with but not about other people and their deals with each other. If you listen to both camps and draw a line through the middle, that is where it lays. It sure is a pity and I donít think they will ever forgive each other to do shows again.
What has kept you going? Surely there have been some hard times over the years, when punk wasn't as big or it was hard to find a record label or something -- how have you stayed so committed to MDC for so many years? Was there ever a point when you grew frustrated and thought about retiring the band?
Yeah a couple of times. But it wasnít being tired of the band per se... it was more that people I worked with would join the band, do an album and do a tour or two and then would bow out. From 1986 through 1992 we had five lineups. I think a certain band member's drug use fed into this reality and that was tiring.
What are your key interests aside from music?
Well, I am a licensed Developmentally Disabled Teacher and training mildly retarded kids to handle the challenges involved in going out and dealing with being in the work place was very rewarding. I have not done that in two years now but I might go back into education or drug counseling next year. I am currently in a Masterís Certificate Program at Portland State University. I like snorkeling in Hawaii and watching turtles and I might move there some day. I have friends building walls on the beaches to prevent Four Wheelers from riding over turtles and the eggs on the sand. Hawk Billed Turtles are a highly endangered species.
Say! Are you gay?
I have stood with gay people, lived with gay people, answered yes or ambiguously when asked for years... but I truly find that I am attracted to the body smell and touch of females. I have worn womenís clothes at various points of my life. Maybe a transvestite of sorts but actually not gay.
How on Earth did you get wrapped up in a sleazy project like The Submissives? Can you tell us about the times you spent with the late, wonderful Tom "Pig Champion" Roberts?
It was a glorious and fabulous project out on Honest Donís Records, worked on in 1996/1997 about sexual submission in the realm of female domination. I write on my myspace blog (myspace.com/mdc) about my relationship with Tom Roberts. He was a hell of a creative soul and also a hurting person. We did drugs with each other and lived with each other on the second floor of a punk club rehearsal space known as Suburbia. It was some of my most creative moments with a totally committed person I have ever worked with. Ron Posner and Al Shultz of MDC are other very creative people but Tomís and my creative time was very compressed. He was a large soul-filled being. I miss Tom greatly.
I remember hearing something about you being courted by Epitaph. What happened there?
Yes true, it was very early on when Epitaph had only about 6 or 8 bands signed and I guess we didnít make the cut. They signed Total Chaos as opposed to us at the time. We offered them Shades Of Brown.
You were friends with Rancid back in the day too, right? Did you stay in touch with them after they hit it big?
Well Matt F and Tim A of Rancid toured with MDC in 1990. Later in 1992 they offered me to be their tour manager and looking back I wish I took it... I was busy rebuilding MDC in 1992 (and actually that lineup with Chris Wilder and Erica Liss was a real fun lineup). Al and I fucked that lineup with our drugs and itís probably the reason behind not getting signed to Epitaph. Anyway, Rancid moved away from the underground scene, season by season, through the nineties as they got bigger and I have lost all touch with them. It seems that way with a lot of people that move up and away from their roots. Everything becomes a business move. Who opens for them on their tour is a multi-tens of thousand dollar decision. Friendship gets lost in the sauce. I can understand some of this but all in all I think itís a real pity.
Henry Rollins - thoughts?
I met Henry back in the day (1981) before he worked himself into the damaged marine front man for Black Flag. He was pleasant and actually smiled a lot and was a pleasure to be around. Somewhere in there he decided he hated pussy assed, political/vegetarian punk rockers and even singled out MDC. He would say stuff in print that when we were mugged, weíd be the first ones to call the police. Then as time went on he seasoned a bit and had his own negative police interactions, but a French promoter told us he backed out of playing with us and his reps called us a ďfagĒ band. This was in the early nineties. He went out of his way to slag us in print through the years and oh well. Now I hear his rants are sometimes very political and one might say filled with the same conclusions we came up with 20 plus years ago. I am positive he would never like to concede that.
Did you know El Duce as well? Was he actually as wasted and incoherent as he always seemed to be? What was he like as a person?
I knew El Duce somewhat. We met somewhere in the mid-eighties. The Maximum Rock n Roll crowd hated his stage show with the girls on dog leashes eating out of dog bowls while he and the band wore the brown klan robes. But I was going through some of my own bullshit with the politically correct police. So I didnít just knee jerk hate the Mentors.
Anyway my roommate brought him home with some people after their Mab show in SF. He was really drunk and well everyone was. She peed into a bowl and put bourbon in it and he slurped it down. Everyone was howling and it was a piece of that debauchery that often occurred in SF (bands like Bomb and Pennsylvania Mahoney had incredible sex core energy). I looked at my roommate Margaret and said, "Iitís all good just not in my bedroomĒ and went out. I returned an hour later, and the apartment was empty except El Duce was out cold in my bed. I tried and tried to wake him to no avail. He was snoring so loud, Iíll never forget it. I took out some blankets and slept on the floor next to him. We both woke up the next morning with one eye open, eyeing each other. He asked who I was and what I was doing there. I explained and he was downright humble. He was totally absurd in his patented way. He explained that he loved Mussolini and he asked me to Seig Heil with me and I obliged... it was absurd... He knew our songs and assured me you could hate the klan and love Mussolini. I later helped him get to the airport and lent him money to fly home. From that day on we were like fast friends; he paid us back. And MDC and The Mentors did some very odd shows together consistently through the years. There are more angles to this story but I will save it for another time.
Have you read "American Hardcore" or seen the film?
I have never read the book cover to cover... people have shown me parts and he gets a lot of it right, which is pretty good for a guy who wasnít there for much of it, and to be fair it is a vast topic. I am honored to be in the movie; they gave us money for songs to be used in the new Rhino album release and itís really nice to get props like that. The movie starts out great but left me with an incomplete feeling.... Besides the overly DC/Boston heavy influence in the movie, the movie concludes with the idea that with the ending of Black Flag and Minor Threat, American hardcore pretty much died out. It was right to point out the tough guy/crew insider deal involved with both bands made it uncomfortable as the band members grew up and didnít want those restrictions - like a sexist Black Flag and Greg Ginn realizing he didnít want it to go on. But that was not the case for the Dead Kennedys, MDC, DRI and a lot of other bands. It was more that it grew so big that it just expanded past its original intent. All these bands realized not only donít we not all get along but our musical styles are going in different directions - some went metal like DRI, Die Kreuzen and the Necros, some went back to earlier punk roots like MDC, Reagan Youth and Toxic Reasons, some were straight up anti-political like a lot of the Boston scene like Slapshot and Gang Green, some stayed ultra political in a more right-wing way like Agnostic Front, Cro-Mags and Warzone. Mostly, hardcore outgrew itself... some people realized that slower punk a la Stiff Little Fingers and The Clash and meloda-core were gonna be the next big thing (hence Green Day, NOFX, Rancid).
Speaking of the Cro-Mags, I've always read that Harley Flanagan is a violent monstrous goon. Is this just a one-sided portrayal of him? What is he really like?
Well itís hard to paint someone with one brush. Harley definitely has kicked some ass in his day. A lot of the New York Scene saw some ugly stuff in 1983 and 1984. Agnostic Front and a lot of those folks were homophobic to the max, and I have even heard some gay men were bashed to death. Stefan of the False Prophets could tell you some hair raising stories...anyway, more than an outsider like me. And I was not part of the NY Hatecore scene. I missed all that. I will say however, Harley and John John (Cro-Mags) saved my ass from getting kicked when I was surrounded by these Jersey skins. We knew each other from back in the day and I was their favorite commie/fag punker to razz but never to beat up. A lot of the guys I knew back in the day -- Mark Dagger, Beaux, Bags and the SF Skins -- were generally always good to me, yet I realize they hurt some people back in the day.
What's next for Dave Dictor?
I really love my unplugged project and itís going and growing and weíll see... MDC electric lives all over the place and that doesnít bode well. I am trying to talk the members out here to Portland. We'll see if that is possible or a no-go. We have a 65-date tour to Europe coming up, a west coast US tour in August, and probably Brazil for winter/08. So we are pretty busy for now. I also have written for Maximum RocknRoll and could see myself writing my own version of American Hardcore, as well a short story book about my events in and out of the music scene. Thanx for the oppurtunity to express myself.
Even though it wasn't a drunken mess like the Billy Zoom one, this is up there in my favorite interviews.
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