Dave Dictor has called John Wayne a Nazi, sung about killing cops, and been beaten up by Klansmen, skinheads, and drunken thugs; but his laid-back demeanor and penchant for self-deprecation these days aren’t likely to incite a riot. Dictor founded legendary hardcore punk band MDC—a.k.a. Millions Of Dead Cops—in 1979, eventually moving operations to San Francisco. (Dictor now lives in Portland.) With songs like “John Wayne Was A Nazi” and “Corporate Death Burger,” MDC brought a fiery specificity to punk while performing alongside the Dead Kennedys and Black Flag. But while MDC’s peers self-imploded, Dictor continually demolished and reconstructed the band, all the while managing his own chaos, which included meth addiction, getting clean, and eventually teaching at a special-ed school. The band is currently touring as a quintet with three of its original members, and will be at Thee Parkside on March 26.
Decider: You have a number of songs about killing police officers, but presumably you don’t actually approve of killing cops.
Dave Dictor: It’s metaphorical. It’s understanding why someone would go so far as to kill a cop. This is poetic license. I write songs about the angst of a police society, such as “Dead Cops.” It’s not like I’m shouting at everyone to kill cops.
D: You’ve built a career around writing incendiary songs, but is it possible to cross the line?
DD: Part of the old-school world is trying to shock with your art. John Wayne was a Nazi. When he died, we lived through everyone’s reaction—people were crying. This guy stood for death! The subliminals behind “defending the Alamo from those Mexicans,” or just “taking the boys up Pork Chop Hill one more time” is sick! These things need to get said.
D: Your most recent album, 2004’s Magnus Dominus Corpus, translates to “corpses of the ultimate dominators.” Who are the ultimate dominators?
DD: That was a term they had in the Middle Ages that the Latin-oriented Christians who were fighting the Crusades would use. Fighting between Christians and Muslims was so fierce that they talked in those kind of ways. Whoever wins will win for their religion. Nine centuries later, we are still in that game.
D: MDC and other first-generation punk bands sang a lot about racism, but it doesn’t seem to be a hot topic anymore.
DD: When punk came out, there were a lot fewer camps. One of the camps was Sex Pistols’ nihilism. Then there were political bands: The Dicks, Dead Kennedys. Then punk broke into like 7,700 subcategories. A lot of the popular ones, like Green Day and Blink-182, they turned it into pop, and all of a sudden we went from singing about social injustice to tongue-in-cheek sense of humor. There are still a lot of bands doing social topics, but they won’t touch the harder topics—they don’t touch racism and war. There’s a lot of racially motivated violence out there in the country that you don’t hear about. If you live on the border, you know it’s terrible. We worked with the Yaqui Indians—they have been having it really hard from Minutemen, neo-Nazi movements on the border. People taking potshots at them. Raising awareness for their situation was a very proud moment for me.
D: Lately you’ve also been promoting your own acoustic folk songs. How did your punk morph into twang?
DD: I played acoustic before punk rock. I started out playing Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Reverend Gary Davis, then I branched into Willie Nelson. And then I got hip to things like Devo, Dead Boys, Ramones—I just went, “Wow!” I liked the idea that you could make simple music and put outrageous statements in it, and then you have an audience. Little by little, punk just kind of opened for me.
D: Despite your problems with the law, you were granted a teaching license. Doesn’t this say something good about the system?
DD: There are parts of the system that work, where I put my hand on my heart. One day out of every four years, I take off my anarchy hat and put on my democracy hat and go vote. But I feel like what I am doing is patriotic work. I care about the people on this planet and this country. Just putting a sticker on your car doesn’t make you a patriot.