MDC is one of those bands I’ve always registered as a low-level hum in the background: I’m aware of them, but haven’t spent much time with their catalogue. I remember that I saw them play the Elvis Room in New Hampshire back in the ’90s, but mostly because friends were psyched they got to open for a national touring band. I have one of their records which I bought for a buck at a punk flea market, but have never listened to. That’s it.
I preface this review with my ignorance of the band and their catalogue because, often, books like this require some sort of awareness of the group/musician in question. Not this one, though. Foreknowledge is not a requirement for reading Double Life in Double Time, which held me rapt from start to finish.
Author Alan Schultz—“Al Schvitz” while playing drums for MDC—spent time in San Quentin on drug charges. His prison narrative is grounded in the present of 1995, where he kills time by writing a band memoir. He discusses his band the Stains morphing into MDC, and relocating from Texas to San Francisco. As he recalls his past, his anecdotes dredge up recollections of prison, or out-of-the-ordinary events behind bars—interrupting the narrative.
The book, whether discussing time in a cell or in the van, is comprised of motion and tedium. Being on tour is great, certainly, but not when the hands on the clock won’t move during a day-long drive, and especially when that drive is rendered moot by a show cancellation—not entirely unlike watching and waiting for a chance to exercise in the yard, which is then cancelled. In addition to the tedium of repetition (and vice versa), Schultz describes being in motion throughout both narrative threads. He’s moved from cell to cell, facility to facility, even as he describes being brought across the Atlantic to tour with Dead Kennedys, or one of the band’s umpteen U.S. tours, playing Rock Against Reagan shows and beyond.
Schultz’s wry tone is an odd pleasure in the context of prison memoirs. I went back and re-read passages from some, particularly In the Belly of the Beast, as comparison. None of the sharp brutality of the other volumes is present here. Whether discussing using prison envelopes as currency or booking punk tours on payphones with a dialer, Schultz is an affable narrator, addressing the reader directly throughout like a correspondent delivering an extensive epistle.
I had a blast reading this one; MDC’s marathon laps through the punk world make for no shortage of anecdotes, connections, and namedrops. But Schultz’s recollections of time in prison are equally engaging, and cleverly connect, reinforce, and shade throughout. Recommended. –Michael T. Fournier (Manic D Press, manicdpress.com)