HIGH FREQUENCIES: Remembering David Dickens, 1961 — 2019
For many, he was the icon of Atlanta's original punk rock scene; for others, he was the voice of reason in an increasingly insane world
David Dickens passed away in his sleep Tuesday, January 8, his sudden death attributed to a heart attack.
Dickens was a formidable figure in Atlanta’s early punk scene, due in part to his clean-shaven head with a mohawk that ran down the middle of his skull, whether fully-extended in the best British tradition, or short-cropped, mirroring Travis Bickel at his most deranged. With a studded leather jacket or vest always covering his usually shirtless torso, Dickens appeared to be a menacing figure, certainly someone you didn’t want to mess with. But once you got past the exterior, you discovered an intelligent, witty person, one with whom you could converse on a wide range of topics, from the obvious — punk rock and politics — to the sublime.
While he was a mainstay of 688, Metroplex, and Margaritaville, ’80s clubs he frequented and/or worked at and where most people first encountered him, it was the past 10 years on Facebook where many people — those who weren’t regulars decades ago at his apartment behind the old Krystal’s on Ponce — really got to know him.
Dickens was a liberal — and Facebook was the podium from which he daily took conservatives to task for greed, corruption, power plays, and cronyism, traits Dickens also acknowledged were not just endemic to those across the political spectrum from himself. He kept checks and balances on both sides, whether through his astute posts or the memes he generated with regularity. He catalogued them, together with other telling memes he found on social media, in a variety of photo albums that captured the absurdity and inequity of life in the 21st century: “Hypocrisy so thick you could cut it with a knife!”; “Sign, sign, everywhere a sign”; “Does this taste funny to you?”; “Food for Thought”; and “THINK … for yourselves!” among them. Doing so wasn’t without consequences. Many times his Facebook page would go blank for weeks at a time, the result of Dickens being banished to Facebook jail for some inconvenient truth he debunked or lie he exposed. When he got out, he wouldn’t cower, but come out fighting, stronger and more steadfast than before.
It was shocking to learn of Dickens’ passing, not just because death is an unsettling part of life, but because David Dickens was so much a part of Atlanta and the punk rock scene. He personified a place and time in which so many people first discovered themselves — who they were, who they would become — and forged lifelong friendships with others during such a formative period of their life. For many of the misfits, the uncertain, the undecided, Dickens was a guiding light, a voice of reason in the anarchy of the time. With him died a part of our youth, but also a part of our resiliency and resolve.
It’s that which so many people remarked and remembered on Facebook as his death became known — common threads throughout the posts were common themes in his relationships with so many who knew him. Here are but a few of the thoughts, memories, and condolences from those who knew him best.
Phil Rockstroh: A friend of close to four decades, dating back to the punk rock era, has pogoed to a farther sphere of the multiverse. Dave was one of the first Southern boys to brandish a formidable mohawk — an act of bravery and defiance (because neither rednecks, nor bourgeoisie pink people, nor even hippies — could abide the fact that punk was a cultural force of liberation and not the ridiculous caricature of mindless, puerile aggression portrayed in corporate media).
Kat Peters: I cannot remember the exact moment I met David Dickens. I remember seeing him standing at the bar at the 688 club with Chris Wood from the Restraints. You could not miss him. Perfectly bleached platinum mohawk, swagger, sneer, studs and spikes — the epitome of punk rock. He was truly iconic. The both of them intimidated me, since I was new to the downtown scene. Looks are deceiving, as the old adage goes … and we became friends. I do remember the gaggle of young punks hanging out at his apartment behind the Krystal off Ponce de Leon Avenue. It was legendary. Those people became my family; my misfit tribe. Under that perfectly executed punk rock exterior, he had a heart of pure gold. His friends meant everything to him, and he had many. He never, ever lost the ethos of punk rock. His integrity and authenticity were intact until the very end. He was well read and highly intelligent. A total package of “cool.”
Cynthia Rojas: We were lucky to have known Dave. Punk wasn’t a fashion trend, rather a mindset of not taking B.S. I believe David’s bravery and honesty fostered many along this path. David’s conviction to seeking truth and passion for fairness made him extraordinary. His humor and playfulness will live on in our hearts as we strive for a better world and think, “WWDD?”
Kevin Eaton: My heart goes out to the beautiful people who knew David Dickens far better than I ever did; those who grew up with him, went to school with him, were intimate with him, and spent their lives close to him. I was already an emotional orphan when I showed up, spending those four formative years of my life, 1982-1986, in Atlanta. ! was blessed with some real cool cats and chicks whom I met at the 688 Club, to hang out/party/live life with. I probably met Dave via Chris Wood, who was my neighbor at 1385 West Peachtree, in the winter of ’84. Dave and I wound up on that teen punk poster, LOL! David Barge had a copy on his wall he used for target practice.
L. Eric Snoddy: I am saddened by your passing. Wish I could have had that last conversation. We had many back in our youth. The thought of not hearing your opinion is just not right. You helped me grow into the person I am today.
Elizabeth Bailey: Words fail me, my friend. I am so grateful we connected … we had amazing and funny conversations. Thank you for every word. Thank you for being kind, protective, and unapologetically David.
Erik Sizemore: I have known you since I was 16 years old. I watched you overcome terrible challenges and was with you when you celebrated great success. I have learned from you. Disagreed with you. Laughed with you and yelled at you. It seems so wrong that I will not have the opportunity to speak with you again. You are an icon of my youth. You now have the answers to the great mysteries of life. I shall miss you. I will not forget you.
Corie-Lynn Cloud: I can’t do this. No. Not acceptable. My 53-year-old self is sobbing. My 15-year-old self is screaming into the void.
Kim Niedzwiecki: Rest in Peace does not sound fitting for you. Rock On sounds better. You will be missed by so many. Thanks for being my friend.
Mikel K Poet: He was such a big part of our hearts and of our minds. I can't believe that he is gone, that we will never experience his intelligence, his wit, his passion for life, and ability to look at things for what they really are.
Stan McPhail: I'll miss your posts and your wicked sense of humor. You intimidated me when we first met, with the mohawk and all that leather. You turned out to be a really good guy and insanely smart. You always found a way to make me laugh even when I didn't want to. Hopefully you have all the answers now.
Randy Blazak: I remember when he was the doorman at 688, and he'd let a little punk-wannabe like me in for free. I was in awe of him.
Amy Goodman Abramson: When we reconnected on FB a few years back, I told Dave how I was always so in awe of him because he was the " real deal" and I was a "weekend punk.” He stayed the "real deal" till the end … with the ability to listen to and accept people for who they were. We should all be this lucky in our lives to be accepted for whatever we aspire to be.
Dana Taylor: Oh, man. I'm unfolding those days and nights when you and Todd [Butler] and I hung at his house or grabbed pizza or found ourselves in the parking lot outside the Silver Screen with a herd of other punk types. And now you are both gone. I'm gonna go put on that Clash shirt we both had from the riot show, and know that I'm gonna miss you — just like the other folks here. There wasn't anyone quite like you, that's for sure. Blessings on the passage, David.
Clare Butler: He always sent me a message every year on Todd’s [Butler] birthday with a wacky story about something they did together. He was so kind. David, you were a light in this world.
Oria Kunin: I will miss your revolutionary voice and your sardonic wit. You stood against the hypocrisy and kept true to the young idealism we had back in the Metroplex days when we thought we could make a difference.
Chris Siciliano: You and Michael Hochman welcomed me with open arms when I moved to Atlanta. The first to do so. You changed my trajectory and helped make me who I am today. I have some amazing memories that I will cherish forever. You were truly one of a kind.
Lynn Martineau: You were a great friend and an integral part of my life. You accepted me for who I was and taught me it was okay to be different.
Vanessa Faulkner: I am happy I met you, at the best and most intense times of our lives: the ’80s, 688, Metroplex, Margaritaville, Blue Rat Gallery, Pershing Point … .
Kimberley Alexander: Can’t stop seeing him standing in Margaritaville, with his skull vest on, listening to bands and talking up a storm.
A. Kristin Kirkland: Oh, noooooo ... my youth would not have been the same without you in it.
Doug Hamilton: You were a beacon of integrity on the Atlanta scene that we all looked up to. I really, really admired your bravery and your honesty, and I was captivated by your charisma.
Joel David Godbey: David, you were one of the brightest, most thought-provoking friends I ever had the pleasure to know. Godspeed to Valhöll.
DeAri DeVille: Atlanta has lost a legend. Always looked up to you, Brother.
Mark Rutledge: I just found out that Dave passed away early on Tuesday. I had spoken with him around 8 p.m. Monday night. I met Dave when I was in the fifth grade. I can't believe I'm writing this. My world is feeling empty.
Kim Cresswell: My heart is just crushed. So many things to say about such an iconic person from the Atlanta punk scene, but no words come close. This one is incredibly hard to take. So very upsetting.
Elaine Eaton Ward: He was one of the good guys.
Clark Brown: There is one story David and I shared about a tattoo we both have. Chris Wood had a biker friend who did them and talked me into getting one — old-school shit. It was a skull and a snake, the only one I ever got, and I was so proud of it. A few weeks later I ran into David and damned if he didn't have the very same tattoo. We had a good laugh about it and pinned it on Chris.
Greta Sybers: [Your death] brings back memories of a time in our lives which was so pivotal to so many of us in defining who we are today. Thank you, David Dickens, for being. It just goes to show that the angels among us take many forms.
Rob Groover: He was at every show I went to for years and years [688, Metroplex, etc.]. I was intimidated by his look but after we talked I was struck by what a nice guy he was, especially given his badass mohawk and punk look.
Tracey Fedor: The best thing about Dave is that he had friends of every kind. He was not concerned with appearances. He did his thing, and he liked when you did yours. I was at 688 every night I could make it, and there were so many people trying so hard. The worst thing was being called a poser — fighting words. In the middle of all that posturing, Dave made a point of telling me what he liked about me, specifically, and it was all the things that made me different, not punk, not this or that, but truly me. Movie night at his apartment looked like random people scooped up in a fish net. I met some real pearls through him.
Chris Mills: I was one of the kids who spent a lot of time among the circus of friends who visited, lived, or stayed over at the apartment in Wishing Well. It is noteworthy to me that Dave kept that space a drug free place. … he was a formative influence on me and how I have viewed the world, made decisions, and interacted with people. At a tough time and place for the different, the troubled, and the unusual, he was a role model, sounding board, entertainer, and ... a leader.
Luke Warm Dude: Passing away on the birthday of Elvis AND Bowie was amazingly you … You are an amazing inspiration.
K. Mohamed Gernatt: Fuck you, fucker! Why'd you have to go and leave like that? RIPower my favorite anarchist. … and godspeed.
Michael Oakley: My heart is broken. I am so glad we had the conversations we've had on the phone recently. For those who didn't know about his health issues ... he was truly grateful for each and every step he took after having cheated death so many times. … He’d had heart troubles and a recent gall bladder removal, was on life-sustaining heart medication, living on borrowed time. He was matter of fact about his condition and expressed that he'd have no regrets.
Lazlo Aluisa: We were usually on the same page but [those] times we did have a heated debate, you were always someone who took on that sort of thing in good spirit. Though your ideas were strong, you were tolerant when listening to others, and never held on to things said in the heat of [the moment] or ceased to love those that you went head to head with. In that way you challenged us to be the best that we could be and supported who we were. You were very unique in that way. I will always respect and admire your brave spirit, your always [being] ready to stand up for the people and causes [you] believed in and for the love in your heart that you showed us all. Though that physical heart finally gave out on that very sad morning, your true heart still beats on, like the best of songs and ideas do, and in the hearts of all of us.
“A Celebration of an Extraordinary Life — David Dickens,” hosted by Corie-Lynn Cloud, Chris Mills and Kat Peters, will be held Sunday, Jan. 27, 3:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Manuel’s Tavern.