Memoir From a Damaged Civilization

Memoir From a Damaged Civilization
By Dave Dictor
[Manic D Press]

Dave Dictor was (and still is) the vocalist for MDC, the band whose evolving acronym stood for Millions of Dead Children, Multi Death Corporations and (most memorably/provocatively) Millions of Dead Cops. The group began in the late 1970s in Austin, Texas with a more conventional moniker (The Stains) and trad-punk sound. But by 1980, the band morphed into MDC, moved to (where else?) San Francisco and upped the ante in terms of velocity and ideology. Yes, The Stains/MDC were there during hardcore’s primordial era – but their first LP was not released until 1982. And by then, hardcore was more or less a crystallized genre. So, like it or not, MDC was kind of regarded as part of hardcore’s second wave. In other words, MDC was a (much) better-than-usual, generic thrash band. They were more politically confrontational and much faster than their peers, delivering a sound that is an obvious antecedent to both thrash metal and grindcore. While MDC has certainly been acknowledged in prior hardcore histories, its importance has been a wee bit glossed – up till now, that is.

What made MDC really interesting in the early ’80s was Dictor’s lyrics aggressively espousing a queerpolitik agenda in diametrical opposition to the hypermasculinity, misogyny and overt homophobia of hardcore. In the song “Dead Cops/America’s So Straight,” Dictor proffered an unabashed and in-your-face variant of queer maleness. In this way, Dictor was harder-than-hardcore. And, interestingly, very few of the meatheads of ’80s hardcore had much to say about it. MDC was so raw, righteous, angry and fucking fast that no one dared question their ideology. (OK. Enough with the history lesson already. Cripes.)

One of the funny-surprising nuggets revealed in Memoirs is that Dictor is for-the-most-part heterosexual. He’s more-or-less a straight but queer-identified dude who (usually) just gets off on the feel of wearing women’s lingerie. A scuzzbag or sensualist – or both. (And here I want to go on the record as saying I heartily advocate everyone’s enjoying life to its fullest potential, yo.)

In a brief 188 pages that are (very) fluffed-up with photos, lyrics and reproductions of gig fliers, Memoirs of a Damaged Civilization chronicles the MDC story from Dictor’s first person perspective. The book is, well, pretty much what you’d expect if you know anything about MDC: This is the written reminiscence of a drugged-out, unwashed, windbag know-it-all, political provocateur with a high school senior’s knowledge of political theory and philosophy. (Saying you like Albert Camus and Karl Marx can really piss some grownups off and is, like, rad!) In other words, Dictor is a second tier, wannabe Jello Biafra. He’s pretty smart, but he’s no Chomsky.

I am not saying the book is bad, really. Sure, Dictor’s True Believer thing gets old fast. I mean, well, come on. As much fun as the Sex Pistols and Crass made it sound, anarchy just couldn’t be a viable way of dealing with the ills of the world. Still, well into his 50s, Dictor radiates a kind of glassy-eyed naiveté that is in its way endearing. I mean, wouldn’t it be nice if things were so simple? Wouldn’t it be great if, like, we’d abolish all government and everything would be free and everyone would, like, be cool? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could really change the world for the better with punk rock music or whatever? And maybe in his way, Dictor has done just that. He offers a different take on the hardcore experience writ large in anarcho/crust style.