Friday, September 22, 2017

Millions of Dead Cops: a Dave Dictor interview apropos of tonight's Seattle show

Part of me really likes the idea of pulling up at the US border (I would, as a non-driver, be in the passenger seat, but nevermind that) and having the following conversation:

Customs officer: What's your business in the United States?

Us: We're going to a concert.

Customs officer: What band?

Us: MDC.

Customs officer: What's that stand for?

Us: Well, uh, usually, Millions of Dead Cops.

Even a cavity search would be kinda worth it, you know? And it would be fun to violate my "fuck Trump's Amerikkka" ban on cross-border travel - not that I cross the border that often ANYHOW - to see MDC perform.

If you don't know MDC, start here. (That link is to "John Wayne was a Nazi;" there's also their homepage, here).

Alas, there are health issues this weekend - I am newly missing a tooth and my girl has a hurt foot - and I have no $ for it, so... here's hoping SOMEONE ELSE gets to have that conversation tonight - that this interview makes it into the world in time to promote tonight's MDC concert in Seattle.

I talked to Dave Dictor last year, pre-Trump, about many things - from the homophobic outburst of the Bad Brains against the Big Boys and the Dicks to his vegetarianism, with one update from Dictor, which you will note below. It's only a partial interview, since I appear to have deleted a file I shouldn't have, so there are some missing pieces. Some reference is made to this interview with (the great) Mark Prindle, whose record review site, tho' mothballed, provides hours of fun reading...

I imagine you've told the story many times, but I've gotta ask you about "John Wayne was a Nazi," because that has got to be one of the top ten political punk songs of all time.

Well, he died in 1979, and I was right on campus at the University of Texas. And the University of Texas campus at the time was very collegian - we used to call them frat boys and sorority sisters, and they were very Reagan youth - not the band, but the true Reagan Youth. And they were all crying and everything. And I go, "What are you crying about?" (Faux-sobbing:) "John Wayne died!" People in Texas really take their hat off to John Wayne. And I'm like, "what are you talking about, that guy was a Nazi." I just went home and wrote the song. And I tried to give it a couple of other people, "why don't you sing this," because some other bands were more popular, we were just starting out. And for a long time we just played parties for 30 people, we weren't really a band that could draw 200 people. It's kinda funny, because in Austin, until we went to San Francisco and played that gig, we were a very minor-league band. They had some kind of poll, and we were like 30th in the poll, right there with bands that had broken up years before. Austin's kind of a close-knit town, and none of us were really true out-and-out Southerners. Franco [Mares] was from El Paso, but he was Chicano. And it's a bit of a Peyton Place kinda place. There's a pecking order, and I never looked all that skinny with a big mowhawk kinda thing... I did have a mowhawk at one point, but I just mean, we didn't get that much love in our hometown. It took the outside world, it took getting a call from Tim Yohannan and... I'd sent Mickey Creep from Creep Magazine our record, and actually Jello Biafra was his roommate. Jello started playing it on the radio, Tim Yohannan called us, and then I got Biafra's number, and that's how we got the gig out there. It really started picking up after 1981. But 1978, 1980, we were the nobodies. And I don't mean the band the Nobodys. Truly the nobodies. We were lucky that Gary [Floyd, then of the Dicks] liked us so much, because the only times we got gigs anywhere was when Gary said, "I want my friends the Stains to play with us."   

When did you first meet Gary, anyhow?

I picked him up hitchhiking, right around 1977. He was on his way to San Francisco to see the Sex Pistols.

Oh wow, you drove him to that?

No, I didn't drive him to that, he was just kinda chatting me up. I said, hey, what are you up to, and he said, "I'm on my way to San Francisco - if you knew what you were doing, you'd be coming to San Francisco!" And I said, "ahh, I've got lots of stuff going on in my life." Y'know, Austin Texas is 2200 miles from San Francisco. But wow... and I didn't really know who the Sex Pistols were. He was so ahead. He was the first real punk I ever met. We talked for about a half an hour, and then I think I saw him a few months later when he got back from San Francisco. "It was great, blahblahblah, I'm moving to San Francisco but I'm getting my band together first." Ah, a band! And we just started talking to each other. Because I lived right off the drag, at the University of Texas in Austin, and he worked somewhere around there. And then I found out, he had a pushcart on the University of Texas campus; it was one of those carts where, you sell sodas and pretzels and candy bars off of, and there he was. And every day of the week, in class, I could talk to him, and before you know it, I was skipping class and just hanging out with. I say in the book that he was one of the most interesting people I ever met in my life, he was so strong in his convictions that his view of the universe was way better than the worlds'. And he was an out person, this was way back in 1977, and he was talkin' political things, and way advanced. We were just making small talk, but it was so interesting - it was more interesting than my professors by a factor of ten or something.

He was a few years older than you?

Yeah, he was - I think he's about five years older than me. I'm 56 (a couple of years have passed since we talked, note). But I wasn't that young at the time, I was more like 21 or 22, he was maybe 24. Maybe only three years. But he was such an interesting person, and then he starts telling me he's doing a band called the Dicks. "Would you mind if I called my band the Stains?" He said, "nooo!" And then his band came out, and we followed suit about a half year or a year later. We started playing together, and eventually got a gig with the Dead Kennedys up in San Francisco, in the summer - July 2nd of 1981, and both our bands went out there together, and we just had a great, great time. We discovered the ocean. We decided we were both moving to San Francisco - and we did.

He was the guy who sort of turned you on to punk rock, then?

Yeah, you know... not in total, but I didn't really know what it was. This was in 1977, and I was into the New York Dolls and Roxy Music and Lou Reed, but not really about the British invasion kinda stuff, not really the Ramones... slowly but surely, stuff like Elvis Costello and Patti Smith and Talking Heads were part of my vocabulary, but he was the first punk I ever met, and just his attitude was punk: "I don't care what other people think, I don't care what other people say, this is my life and I'm doing it the way I want to do it." It was just so refreshing, it was just really wonderful. I was somewhat of a political person. It was so sad in that era - I don't know if you remember it, but they forced Nixon out of office in 1972 or 1973 and then the country just went totally downhill. The kids started doing cocaine, and disco came about... It became this - to me - anti-egalitarian (society). People were sneaking off to the backroom two or three at a time to snort cocaine, there's expensive drugs, and... I was so happy to meet Gary. I had heard the word punk, but there, he was one. I think I saw him a few months later, and he had a purple mowhawk. He was way ahead.

Were you at the first Dicks gig, May 16th at Armadillo World Headquarters?

Yes I was at that Dicks gig. I was at both nights - they played with the Big Boys, they recorded at Raoul's... We must have played six, eight, ten shows with the Dicks, we played backyard parties. We were their junior band, and we had a little more, y'know - all our amps were working, all our drums, all our cymbals weren't cracked. We shared a lot of stuff. And our politics very much gelled. We were very much against the authoritarian state, against what was happening to the farmworkers, they were getting murdered in Texas by the Klan, who were hanging out with the police. This was 35 years ago, it was a different world.       

(Gary Floyd with the Dicks)

Both MDC and the Dicks make comparisons between the KKK and the cops - were there actually a lot of connections?

Oh, that's documented. There are famous pictures, and not from the 30's or something, of the Klan hanging out with the cops. They had counties in Texas like King County - it's the home of Purina/ Raulston dog food - and all the judges, all the cops, all the everything were kinda from the same powerful family, and they truly ran the whole state. It's the kind of thing that Bo Diddley [editor: or did he mean to say Leadbelly?] was singing about in "The Midnight Special." You come to town, you say the wrong thing, next thing you know, you're prison bound.

I want to ask about why Austin was so queer, compared to the rest of Texas, but I gotta clear something up here. I had always heard and thought you were gay, and then I read the interview you did with Mark Prindle, and you said that you're not. So I'm a little confused...

I've had some gender issues. I'm think more of a transvestite - I was very friendly with female clothes, and donned drag and performed that way, and people just assumed, across the board, whether gay or homophobic, that I was gay. And I kinda refused to deny it. I was living in San Francisco, and I had a lot of gay friends, two gay roommates. Through the years I've had a half-dozen gay roommates, and I never denied it, I just let the rumour go to the point that I made it to the Homosexual Who's Who of America. And I never said anything about it, but, y'know, with Mark Prindle, the last three or four years, I set the record straight: I'm not really gay, haven't made love to a man in a long long long long long long time, fuckin' three decades. But I would dress in drag, and there was a fascination with all things female in me.

That pre-dated your getting on stage?

Oh yeah! I did drag, there'd be Halloween or this or that, but it was always inside me, waiting to bust out and give word to it. And that's where the song "My Family is a Little Weird" comes in, or [the lyric] "Why is America so straight, and me so bent?" I almost wish I hadn't given that interview, where I set the record straight, it was more fun having everyone think I'm gay. And gay, bisexual, straight... maybe say I'm bisexual, even though haven't been participating with males in 35 years; why not?

Update: the above conversation took place a couple of years ago, after which Dave elaborated on his answer by email. Things change!

I have crossed the threshold and ....come across to consider myself to be part of the Queer community because of trans fluid feelings... Not wanting to change my gender but being able to being fluid. In my thoughts and how I view myself sexually .... I think there is a lot of fluid folks who just didn't know where to stand ..... The new terminology finally caught up to me.... I would say that I felt like the queerest straight guy in the world. Because I wasn't having what the rest of the world considered true gay homoerotic sex. I was dreamscaping erotic sex in my mind of all sorts, acting on only a little, usually involving a female where I would totally feel attracted to the scent of that woman. I knew I was off and in my mind I saw myself in a feminine role and actually seeing and feeling myself to be and as a woman. In these subsequent years, the term "fluid" came about and it seemed almost made for me. Gay men and woman were getting together to gender fuck with each other as queers. I felt sort of ...the inside of out of that... But finally I found a true home in the queer community. And since I have found a woman ( probably many of you who identify as a woman but dreamscape as a male). And I feel that... I love my place in my queer community and actually in all loving communities. And I know there are just millions of you out there ready to take similar steps. All I can say is do it when you're ready and let me tell you the water is fine. I hope you make it soon. I am loving my life like never before and see you in the deep end of the pool.

Continue old interview!

It makes the whole Austin scene look unusual, when I thought you were gay: holy shit, there's the Big Boys, the Dicks, and MDC, and they're all fronted by gay men? What?

It really was a unique space and place. Because it wasn't Texas, it was Austin; and 700 miles in every direction, there was nothing but uptight Ameri-KKK. Especially in the 1970's, even moreso. And there was a small gay neighborhood in Houston named Montrose, but the rest of those people came to Austin, Texas. And even then there was only one or two gay bars. I actually used to hang out at a lesbian gay bar called the Hollywood, very disco-oriented - this is 1976, 77 - and I used to like playin' with those girls, hangin' out with all these gals. Most of them were University of Texas students, some of them just lived in the area, but sometimes I'd go into a lesbian disco, and there'd be maybe three males in a room of lesbian women. It was very cool. Having a certain amount of trans feelings, I felt right at home.

I know, Gary, when he used to dress, used to pin condoms filled with mayonnaise to his clothes and then throw them at the audience.

He certainly did!

Did you do anything like that?

No, he was more in that Divine, over-the-top kind of way. I was more shy about it.

I like hearing that you didn't shave, though, when in drag. Gary and I were actually talking about you, about how he would shave and present himself nicely, and you went out there with a face full of stubble...

I hate to say it's more like I was lazy than any deep seated political [thing]. If I'd had someone around me saying, "darling, please shave," I would have, but I didn't, and that's that.  

So if we could talk about the Bad Brains story... you revered the Bad Brains before that episode, right?

Totally, totally did. I bought their 1981 single "Pay to Cum," and we had just moved out to the Bay Area and played a gig with them. They loved our "no war/ no KKK" stance we were taking against the cops and it's effect on people of colour and people with less power, and they said, "why don't you join us on tour?" We go, "okay," and then next thing you know - literally, that night, we were driving to Houston Texas to play a gig. And like I say, I'm writing this for the book, and we got to Houston and they kinda came up to us after the show... "why is there a woman on tour with us," and this woman was our manager named Tammy Lundy (Cleveland?), she's our manager, and they're like, "women should be pregnant and barefoot at home." And I was like, "thanks for your opinion, but whatever..." And on the way, I was like, "y'know, I could probably get on the phone and set up a quick show in Austin," because I think everyone would love to support you, and they said sure. And we get there, and Randy Biscuit is in the show with the Big Boys, and Gary, and I think MDC. I'm not sure if the Offenders were on the bill. But all of a sudden there's this big scene where HR of the Bad Brains didn't want to sing into the same microphone as those gay guys, and then he yelled, those bloodclot faggots should die. It's one thing to say "I don't really like gay people," it's another thing to say, "bloodclot faggots should die." And it was just terrible and nasty and of course the tour was over. And that is the story. To this day - I'm writing this in the book - it was one of those sad things that really happened. But we went to San Francisco, got interviewed by Maximum Rock'n'Roll, and we felt it was our duty [to speak up]. Because everyone was hypnotized by the Bad Brains, they're still an incredible band. Their dogma and what their lead singer is thinking is warped, but their musicianship, and the influences in some of the songs - "Postive Mental Attitude" - were a cool message. But just what was going on under the surface - by Prophet Joseph, as HR also called himself over the years - was a hateful, "hope they die" - sentiment. I didn't want one more person to put on a show who might be gay or might happen to be a little different and then get taken advantage of by the Bad Brains and made to feel less than they were.


And this was back in the day when most of the punk kids were 16, 17 - it was just me and Gary and Randy who were like, four or five years older. It's one thing to tell an 18 year old "gays all deserve to die," but to us it was like, "what the fuck are you talking about, how about you screw your fuckin' selves?" And I realized it was going to take someone a little older, with - and obviously by that time MDC has some street cred and we were out there touring, and people were digging us, and people were listening. And that interview got out, and the word got out, and believe me, I play a tour somewhere, and every fifth night some kid will come up and say, "tell me the story about the Bad Brains." And American Hardcore did a fairly accurate depiction, I don't know if you read the book, Stephen Blush...

Tim Kerr (of the Big Boys) tells the story there, I think.

Tim likes to whitewash it a bit. Tim didn't like the controversy, "it wasn't so bad, y'know." It really was bad. If you ask Gary Floyd or ask other people that knew that era. It was that bad.

What the hell is a "bloodclot faggot," anyhow? {The Bad Brains had used the term in their hate speech directed at the Dicks and Big Boys]. What does that mean?

A bloodclot is something that causes a hemmhorage, so if you have a bloodclot in your veins, it will kill you, you'll have an aneurysm in your brain. So the gay population is like a bloodclot to the human race.


It's very Coptic-Christian-Rastafari kind of imagery. It wasn't familiar to me, obviously not to you, but it was there.

Do you still perform "Pay to Come Along?" (MDC's musical response to the episode, with lyrics in part that read, "Couldn't help us fight the fight/ Get together black and white/ Returned all support with abuse/ and intolerance beyond excuse.")

No, we don't. We really dropped it from the repertoire, it fell off our setlist in about 1990. I don't want to get up on stage and go, "let's talk about the Bad Brains." I'm not for extending this war, but the word is out. People want to go see the Bad Brains for their musicianship, and that, they know already. I've never said "boycott them" - I wanted to let people know that HR is kind of a hateful guy, don't put yourself in the same position as we did in bringing him to your hometown and finding out just how hateful they were... We played the Democratic National Convention in 1988 and so did the Bad Brains, and HR is looking at me hard. I'm just, like, "What EVER, dude. Have a great life - I'm not going to fight you." The sad thing about him - it really affected his brain with the amount of cocaine he smoked. I'm not going to say it's karma, but when you live in glass houses, and all that stuff...

It's always sickening to see someone who is part of an oppressed minority taking it out on someone who is even more oppressed.

Exactly. You kick the dog that's a little smaller than you, right on down the line.

Coming to the topic of touring... what was the biggest show you ever had?

There were big shows for different reasons. We played in front of 50,000 people, but that was opening for Agnostic Front and Motorhead. The 50,000 people weren't there to see us. That was in 2002, in Germany. So that was the biggest numbers I ever stood in front of and played for. But y'know, way back in the day, we were getting thousand-people crowds on our own, or then when we played with Kennedys or at the Lincoln Memorial with DRI and the Crucifucks, there was upwards of 6-8-10,000 people. Free outdoors, we played with the Dead Kennedys and the Contractions in San Francisco at Rock Against Reagan in the fall, and there were around 8-10,000 people. Those were the biggest shows. They were free shows - it's nice when it's free, because everyone can just come down - but we played the Olympic Auditorium sometimes, and it was four to six thousand people. It was a big boxing arena. We played there with the Dicks, once. The Subhumans, Discharge...

The Canadian Subhumans? 

The British Subhumans.

Ah. I'm friendly with the Canadian Subhumans.

No, not those guys, but they toured very early on, and we saw them in Austin Texas, and Joey Shithead and DOA - I don't know if Chuck was with them at that point... but we'd look at the van and go, "Wow, you're going 30 cities in this van?" Before then, you just played your hometown and hoped that there was a big enough crowd, that some record company was gonna send a rep out and sign you and put you on tour with the Ramones or somebody. It was a whole new way, and DOA and Black Flag and the Subhumans really led that charge, of bands saying, "We aren't going to sit around our hometown and wait for them to discover our kind of music, we'll be sitting here til hell freezes over. We're just going to take it on the road." And sure enough, [when we toured], there were a hundred, two hundred people in every major city, or a lot of major cities - Houston, Austin, of course LA, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, New York, of course DC, Boston, and a few places in the midwest like Minneapolis, Chicago, and believe it or not Akron Ohio, had a great little scene... I'm sure I'm missing a few little scenes, but there was really about twenty gigs in North America, and we just took it on the road. We got a van, realized we're going to have to be in close quarters with each other, there's no rich and fabulous contract that's going to get signed, that's going to make it feel like latter day rockstars. It was all very working class, do it yourself.

Final question - it's my impression you're a vegan?

I'm a vegetarian. And when we go on tour, we act as vegans, we ask for a vegan menu. I'm not perfect. I just had a vegan stay with me who read every label on everything and ended up throwing out a large amount of food in my kitchen! Y'know, I support veganism, but for whatever reason, my roommate and I - he's in the band with me, he's the bassist in the band - are both single guys, and we do a little cooking but not much. We eat out a lot. And that's exactly what we are. We're vegans on tour, and at home we're a little bit more relaxed. I've been a vegetarian for over 40 years. I go back and forth. What happened was, I was doing a very vegan, pure, wheat grass juice and green tea sprouts juicing diet. And then I had a staph infection. I almost died in the hospital, I lost 30 pounds. And the doctor, I was telling I was a vegan. He was like, "stop. Don't tell me this. Eat some salmon. Eat eggs - go get your free range eggs or cage-free eggs, but something, eat protein. And I took him to heart. I was down to 145 pounds, two years ago. I went purposefully out of my way to start eating eggs.

That's curious, though, it's kind of the opposite of what you'd expect, that you keep to a vegan diet on the road, and are more relaxed at home.

Well, you know... yeah, that is kinda funny, but in the rider, we ask for vegan food, and everywhere we go, generally, they provide a dinner and a breakfast. So you get a great well-paid for vegan diet when you're on the road. And then when you're at home, someone comes over with eggplant parmesan, and - just because there's some cheese in there, I don't make the exception. It's not a lot of cheese, mind you. I don't have a quart of milk in my refrigerator. I do have some eggs. I don't have any ice cream in my refrigerator, but I'm not going to say I haven't had ice cream in years. I can't think of when the last ice cream was, but, y'know... if there's a Ben and Jerry's quart of ice cream melting in front of me, I might just have some.

The rest of this interview appears to be temporarily lost... But there's lots more out there from Dave Dictor, including his book, Memoir of a Damaged Civilization: Stories of Punk, Fear, and Redemption. It can be ordered through the publishers, Manic D Press, among other venues...! 

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