Punk ain't what it used to be. Once a threat aimed largely at middle-class suburban American culture, with its self-satisfaction and alienating conformity, punk's diminishing relevance is a testament to capitalism's ability to co-op dissent and turn rebellion into a marketing angle; stores like Hot Topic now rule the malls punks once threatened to burn down.
"Twenty-nine years ago, you see someone with a Mohawk in some town and you'd go running up to them, 'Hey what's going on?' Now you could be running up to Mr. T and he'd be trying to sell you a Snickers bar: 'Eat them nuts, fool,'" said Dave Dictor, frontman for seminal hardcore outfit MDC, which will perform at 8 p.m. Thursday at The Conservatory.
Dictor founded the group in 1980 while attending University of Texas at Austin. The letters originally stood for Millions of Dead Cops, but the name was soon initialized to limit road run-ins with unamused law enforcement officers and their ilk. On subsequent albums, it would stand for such things as Multi-Death Corporation, Millions of Damn Christians, Millions of Dead Contractors/Children/Congressmen, and, as the title of its most recent release, "Magnus Dominus Corpus."
PENNED A SONG
It all began with John Wayne's death. Dictor, who came of age in the shadow of Vietnam during the early 1970s, was outraged at the outpourings of grief he witnessed on campus. So he went home and penned a song ("John Wayne Was a Nazi") connecting the actor's extreme right-wing views to his movie characters who generally spent their time killing people of different nationalities.
"Late-show Indian or Mexican dies / Klan propaganda legitimized / Hypocrite coward never fought a real fight," Dictor sings, concluding, "Well, John, we got no regrets / As long as you died a long and painful death."
His fury is as unsparing as it is amusing. "Selfish Shit" could've been written for Wall Street bankers, thanks to its epithet of "socialism for the rich, capitalism for the rest of you."
Within a couple of years, the act moved to San Francisco, where it connected with like-minded individuals like the Dead Kennedys. MDC played for thousands on the coast during the first half of the 1980s before skinheads and social cliques subsumed the scene.
The band kept going until it finally collapsed in the late 1990s under the weight of Dictor's methamphetamine habit. Then in 2002, clean and with his head on straight, Dictor reunited the band, which now tours more than ever, and is planning to release a split CD with UK punks The Restarts this spring.
While he assails Rancid, Bad Religion, NOFX and Epitaph Records for selling out the scene in his ode to the late Maximumrocknroll zine editor, Tim Yohannon, on "Timmy Yo," off the last album, Dictor's over his bitterness ... mostly.
"It's just the way it was. All of a sudden, angry, ugly spit-in-your-face punk rock turned into love songs about Velveeta the Cheesy Girl that got away," Dictor said, with a laugh. What can a one-time schoolteacher do, but lay out the lesson and hope some pick it up? "I was a special ed teacher, and punk rock is certainly special ed." "Chris Parker