“MDC: Many Discursive Connotations”
Written by Jason Reed
March 1, 2017
This last year I had the pleasure of interviewing Dave Dictor of legendary punk band MDC (see here). Dave was excited to talk about his new autobiography and I promised him that I would publish a book review on our website at some point in the future. Well, many, many months later, we’ve finally published our review herein.
“MDC: Memoir From A Damaged Civilization” has a number of key similarities with Keith Morris’ “My Damage” (see our just published review here). Both books came out within a few months of each other in 2016. Both authors are punk icons who are approaching (or traversing) the zenith of their careers, concurrently looking back while looking towards the future. Both are humble. Yet, Dave Dictor offers an added level of vulnerability and intimacy in his revelations that makes his tome slightly more compelling and engaging. After reading both books, it is Dave Dictor’s narrative that lingered the most, like the sustained, pleasant aftertaste of a good wine or craft brew beer on one’s quenched palate.
Like most autobiographies, we are provided a colorful overview of Dictor’s childhood, with glimpses of the psychosocial development that molded him into the person he became. We learn quickly that Dictor is, at his core, a romantic. Someone who embraces passion, ideals and grabbing life by the horns. A “YOLO” proponent if there ever was one.
Dictor is very disclosive about the role of gender identity and sexuality throughout the book, indicating that a proclivity towards gender nonconformity was present from a very early age. We hear Dave recount having sexual feelings towards an adult neighbor at the age of five or making out with a tomboy in 7th grade. Or confessional lyrics in his early songs like “My Family Is A Little Weird” (in which, amongst other memorable lines, he says “Not sure if I’m a man or a woman.“) In contrast to Dave’s oppositional punk themes and lyrics that voice criticism of hypocrisy and violence in the world, he is fundamentally a “lover at heart.”
There is also a deeply ingrained, working-class sentiment to Dave Dictor, particularly in recognizing social justice issues and manifestations of privilege and societal oppression. We get a firsthand account of his moral struggles in adolescence, realizing that John Wayne represented the antithesis of his political beliefs (hence MDC’s big hit “John Wayne Was A Nazi”) and his move towards radical politics. Dave’s accounts of the early punk and hardcore scenes similarly echo such moral conundrums. We are provided a firsthand account of the then punk scene’s paradoxical nature, where idealism, egalitarianism, intolerance and bigotry all existed as strange bedfellows in a diverse landscape with ill-defined boundaries and standards. We hear insights into some of the controversies of the era (including Bad Brains’ H.R.’s homophobia). We see glimpses of San Francisco in the 1980’s and the burgeoning “Gilman Street punk scene” in Berkeley (that spawned wildly successful crossover bands like Green Day, Operation Ivy, Rancid and many others).
Another aspect of Dictor’s autobiography that makes it a compelling read is his utilization of humor. Dave Dictor is hilarious. Even when talking about “deadly serious” topics (including an incident in which he discovered that someone had taken a “hit” out for his life or his own struggles with substance abuse), Dictor seems mindfully quixotic, without any traces of resentment or anger.
Dave Dictor is a surprisingly good author, with ample dispensation of witty quips, self-effacement and a surprising amount of “social justice” minded insights , without exhibiting self-righteousness. As we discover in the book, we learn that Dave actually has a graduate degree and was a teacher, so his skilled and descriptive verbosity was probably well honed through countless late night hours of term paper and thesis writing on an academic level. We also learn that his mother was a reporter for the New York Daily News, so perhaps such skilled articulation runs in the family. Whether a result of nature or nurture, Dictor is deeply dialectical in his dictation.
The general layout and typography of this printing made for a dynamic, fun read, with various pages displaying mementos of varying significance, with captions and photos chronicling Dave’s life. This layout gives the reader the sense that they’re reading a very articulate journal, with scrapbook bits interspersed therein.
Clocking in at under 200 pages, “MDC: Memoirs of a Damaged Civilization” is an extremely enjoyable, immersive read that one can easily consume in a couple of reading sessions.
We give “MDC: Memoir From A Damaged Civilization” 4.5 out of 5.
To purchase a copy of Dave Dictor’s book on Amazon.com, click here