by Eric Davidson

The Dictators

w/the 45's, Head

Sat June 14, Crocodile, 9 pm, $12.

Much has changed since the Dictators first stumbled out of Manhattan in 1974, reeking of pun-punched rock 'n' roll. Talking to singer Handsome Dick Manitoba recently, with his six-month-old baby boy crying in the background, it seemed his main concerns have naturally shifted from the old shenanigans. Or have they?

"Yup, I've got a little boy named Jake Kofax--like Sandy, of course--Manitoba," says the proud papa. "But Freddie Blassie [famous old pro wrestler] died this week, so I should've named him Freddie. I put a big sign in front of my bar: 'Rest in Peace, King of Men.' Y'know, that's how I always sign my name, 'H.D.M., King of Men.' Well today I take a back seat--I'm the 'Prince of Men.'"

So he's as reverential to pro wrestling as ever. Lowbrow love is hard to shake. Walk into Manitoba's bar in the East Village, and the yellowing wrestling posters and photos of his campy cohorts of the CBGB glory days appear like a shrine to borscht belts since loosened. But it ain't no shrine to him. It's his main source of income these days, and it's one of the hottest bars in town, with the likes of James Gandolfini and Mike Myers stopping by and Good Charlotte filming spots for MTV there. "On Mondays we have this 'Garage Land' where Jayne County DJs, and we have local punk bands," he says. "We've got a very nice bunch of tough guys who love me and the bar, and I've got some Hells Angels that hang out. You still need that in the neighborhood."

How is New York City these days?

The whole gentrification has been a trade-off. The parks are cleaner, and it's a nicer place to live in terms of niceness. But it's a worse place to live in terms of fun. They're polishing the rough edges, like with a lot of characteristics of the other America, when New York has always been its own country. Now it's national coffee chains and clothing stores. Mom 'n' pop places are around less and less. More noise complaints, no smoking. The noose is tightening as far as fun goes.

What do you think of the whole Brooklyn scene that's supposed to be so hot?

Personally, I know Andy [Shernoff, Dictators guitarist] lives there and thinks the rock scene in New York is really happening there. Maybe it is, but y'know what? I don't give a shit. To me the rock scene will never be happening in Brooklyn. I don't care if it's happening and I'm turning my head making believe it's not. The point is, Manhattan is NYC. Everything else counts, but not as much. People from all over the world don't come to New York to go to a club in Brooklyn. You can move to Brooklyn and have as artsy-fartsy a pretentious neighborhood as you want, but I ain't leaving this island. Brooklyn now seems like an art college town. No matter how much of that shit you have in Manhattan--punks, artists, people with piercings, whatever--it gets lost because there're so many Polish people, Spanish people, Jews. So many cultures on top of each other, it just all blends in with each other.

The last Dictators record came out a year and a half ago. Any plans for a new one?

Well Andy [the main songwriter] is, as they say, more profound than prolific. So I'm not holding my breath. We're trying to find a European label that will put out the last record and a live record we recently recorded as a double CD.

What do you feel about always being called "punk godfathers"?

I don't think we are the quintessential punk rock band by a long shot. Maybe in our lyrics and attitude. Y'know, that New York swagger and wise-ass Jew guy thing--if that's punk rock, it's punk rock. But it's just who we are. We're a rock 'n' roll soup with a punk rock flavor.

How do you think the Dictators have changed over the years?

Not very much, to be honest. Maybe the early drunken times have been changed for more attention to craft. The shows are still very hell-bent for leather, and the audience gets drunk and has a good time. We're still putting out the same energy and charisma, but I think it's a better-quality show.

Are you still the handsomest man in rock 'n' roll?

Obviously.

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