Though MDC has roots on the East Coast – both drummer Al Schvitz and singer Dave Dictor hail from New York state – their years in Austin in the 1970s and '80s created an outsized impact on Texas. In a time when most Americans were still attuned to Linda Ronstadt, Peter Frampton and Elton John, they both became an entrenched part of the Raul’s scene, learning pugnacious lessons from the Next, the Dicks and Big Boys.
Dictor began honing his fiery lyrics and gathered a force to be reckoned with, like nimble, lightning-fast guitarist Ron Posner. Together they became the Stains, one of the premier hardcore bands in the city alongside the Offenders. Having been exposed to the West Coast milieu like Black Flag and Dead Kennedys firsthand while gigging, they converted their name to the incendiary Millions of Dead Cops (whose acronym M.D.C. has morphed several times to Millions of Dead Children and more), and have plugged away ever since, as America’s antiestablishment heroes, bar none.
In doing so, they have become infamous — an avatar of not giving up. They are the poster children of persistence and resilience, of rebellion remade nightly. Their albums might have changed styles and techniques, borrowing from an array of sources, but their politics have never wavered. And ever since President Trump took office, their work seems even more prescient and powerful, for they warned everyone long ago about the repercussions of being idle in front of such threats.
MDC just toured through the old networks of Europe, where they re-connected with the counterculture community; and just months earlier, they careened throughout Asia too, where they found a burgeoning, bustling series of scenes fighting for basic freedoms. In doing so, MDC has become even more spirited, ready to engage, and rejuvenated, especially after Schvitz was sidelined along the way in Europe due to some unexpected medical ailments.
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David Ensminger of the Houston Press recently spoke with Dictor by phone in anticipation of their tour stop Friday at Rudyard's as well as at Vinal Edge, where MDC will play an acoustic set to raise funds and donate proceeds from the sale of Dictor’s book Memoir From a Damaged Civilization to a local no-kill animal shelter.
Houston Press: Do you consider the latest protest by the football players a flash point, like the Black Power moment at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City?
Dave Dictor: Well, you know, at first you just keep wondering how low can he go and in what areas, like what he is willing to say, like “Build that wall,” “Bomb North Korea,” ready to risk nuclear war. Now he’s taking on people that protest, and whether or not they have the right to freedom of speech and encouraging football team owners to fire their players. It’s really gross. And you can see what he is doing. I just watched something on the news.
Of course, all the American flag-waving, pound-their-chests, white Republican types are saying it’s dishonorable not to stand, blah blah blah. So, he is riling up that base, or whatever, and he keeps riling them up. You know, using the dog whistles — those silent little cue words — and of course this is going against African-American/black athletes. A lot of his types will say, these are pampered people, people that should not be allowed to speak out. You know, they say, “What an abomination.” It’s really just sickening to watch. He’s probably the worst President, ever. Without a doubt, in modern times, certainly, and that includes Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.
But does that remind you of the flag-burning episodes in 1984, which caused that same type of patriotic backlash?
That’s one of the easiest things you can say as a politician: “I’m against flag burning.” It’s like saying, “I’m against drunk driving.” It produces one of these collective “Wow, what a statement.” It’s basically meant for these people that get involved at this low level in terms of what anyone is saying about anything. Never mind they are facing cuts in health care with the new Republican plan, and all the stuff that is really going on. It steals the focus from that.
I don’t know…how can you keep going this way? It’s kind of amazing. We’ll find out more when the Russian stuff hits the press. We’ll just see how much he was involved in and what’s going to come of that. I am just a person like you, David, watching in total amazement, the insults, the go-to-war people, and the divisive things that divide up people in this country more and more.
Your book Memoirs From a Damaged Civilization has reached 7,700 copies in print. Why do you think people have reacted so intensely?
Well, I'd like to thank people for helping me do it, like my publisher/final editor, Jen Joseph of Manic D Press, my friends who helped me, like you and Richard Cellis, but I must have re-read and written it 20 times, inspired by William Burroughs, David Sedaris and Neal Cassady. I realized that a lot of the chapters needed a beginning, a middle, an end and a punch line. Also, I have played nearly 200 gigs, and this really helps, in these past 18 months, where I sell it, promote it, represent it and charm people into buying it since its publishing in the spring of 2016.
But what has been the feedback – like, people enjoy it because they relate to the stories?
They didn't say stuff so cookie-cutter, just that it was good, made them laugh and left them feeling right. A fan, Adam in Corpus Christi, just wrote me and said, “I really dig the ending with the stories of your parents. I can see how you became you. Such an inspiring story.” I get ten like that a week. So sweet. Keith Morris from Circle Jerks even said, “U R A STUD PRINCE RAWKER!”
Your politics pre-date coming to Texas, but do you think being in the state during the late 1970s, seeing what the KKK was doing, and then knowing Gary Floyd of the Dicks, sharpened your political senses?
Totally, Dave. But I was a kid that grew up in the 1960s, and I saw the Civil Rights marches, and I knew that churches were being bombed, even at eight or nine years old. I grew up in a very Catholic atmosphere. I knew exactly what a church was, and I just imagined myself singing in some choir like I did when I was in seventh and eighth grade. I thought about the churches getting blown up by the crazy people that were just mean-spirited, ugly and racist. That sharpened my tack as a young person.
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Then, yes, moving into Texas brought it into close view. In terms of what was going on there, particularly, the farm workers were unionizing, as with Cesar Chavez, in the late 1970s. Once a month, or once every two months, a couple of farmworker unionizers would be found dead in some little river or stream somewhere. Month in, month out, stuff would go on. Papers would show pictures of the Ku Klux Klan at their Galveston headquarters, and sitting in cop cars; it was something else, and brought it into close effect.
Knowing Gary Floyd meant a lot too. But the KKK actually came to shows in Austin. At Inner Sanctum, the record store, the parking lot, and they started handing out beers that said, “This beer was paid for by the Ku Klux Klan.” Members of the Dicks and people I was with in the Stains and other parts of the scene literally took beers out of young people’s hands, gave them back to the Klan and said, “Take your beer and go.” There was a couple of shoving matches. I remember being in the middle of it. I saw Buxf Parrot of the Dicks and some other people just yell, “Just go, go! Fuck you and go!”
Finally, they did go, and then they had the big march, and that is when the punks threw rocks at them and they had to cut short their march. It was so beautiful to see them put down and pushed away. “No War/No KKK/No Fascist USA” [from the MDC tune “Born to Die”] was literally written not long after that Klan march took place and was cut short because the police felt they could not defend them.
Dave Dictor will perform MDC songs and read from Memoir From a Damaged Civilization 7 p.m. Friday, October 6, at Vinal Edge, 239 West 19th. The full band joins him later that evening at Rudyard's, alongside special guests The Elected Officials, Speedealer and Texas Massacre.