IT'S APPROACHING MIDNIGHT at the Hardee's near the University of Minnesota's West Bank and Hardcore Dave is trying to make the difficult final selections for his personal rock & roll hall of fame. "Obsession," he says, "and the Suburbs, definitely the Suburbs. The Replacements, and Yngwie Malmsteen, the 'Shredmeister' himself, I saw him kick ass over at Prince's old place. He's got a lot of soul in his playing, but he needs to branch out. All those arpeggios, that gets old."
Someone once said that every scene has its saint, and anybody looking for the resident saint of the sprawl of clubs and genres that passes for the local music scene need look no further than Hardcore Dave, the sweet-natured, ubiquitous, and ecumenical connoisseur of all things rock. Chances are that if you've gone out to see live music just about anywhere in the Twin Cities--from the Iron Horse to the Fine Line and all points in between--you've seen Hardcore Dave at some point or another thrashing along on his air guitar to whatever band happened to be rocking his world at the moment.
"I'm pretty much synonymous with rock & roll," Dave says. "People recognize me at shows and they'll go, 'There's Hardcore Dave, Rock God of the Twin Cities.' I mean, sure, I go to a lot of shows, but people are making a mountain out of a molehill. I love to rock out, but I'm open to lots of other things besides music. You can't get by with being one-dimensional. I try to be like a diamond. Multi-faceted."
Hardcore Dave was born David Denison, in Crystal, and cut his teeth out at the Medina Ballroom, jamming to bands in the basement "Back 40" club. Then, in 1977, he saw Kiss at the old Met Center and had his first true mind-blowing rock experience. "That Kiss concert was the turning point," he says. "After that there was just no turning back. I remember being totally scared shitless when the first explosions went off, and my jaw dropped and I just thought 'My God!' That's how rockin' it was. People were going completely nuts. That's always sort of been the standard, you know, the theatrics, production, light show--I really dig that kind of stuff."
In his early days as a fixture on the local club scene he was known as Heavy Metal Dave. "Some of the guys in Obsession crowned me Heavy Metal Dave," he says. "Then I started hearing bands like Pantera and Sepultura and I realized that heavy metal wasn't really going anywhere, so I got into hardcore."
Back then you'd find Dave out in the clubs seven days a week. "Monday through Sunday," he says, "all over town. Plus I'd hit most of the big arena shows as well. Those were always fun, but nobody's really pulled my cork lately to the point that, you know, I'm going to go down and camp out all night in line at Dayton's. I've really slowed down recently. I still get out maybe three nights a week, because it's like, a lot of bands expect me to be there. Besides, it's become me, you know? It's invaded my soul."
Talk to Hardcore Dave at any length and you come away with a profile of a man who measures quality of life in brightness and decibels. "I'm a total pyro freak," he says, "I belong to this fireworks club called the Northern Lighters. And I love to storm-chase, you know, chasing tornadoes and other violent storms. I'll sit and track storms on the Weather Channel and when something big hits I'll get on the bus and ride around town, checking out the action." When it is observed to him that these passions seem somehow consistent with his image as the Twin Cities' preeminent headbanger, Dave says that the common perception doesn't come close to doing him justice. "There's definitely a gentle side to me that a lot of people don't see," he says. "Most people only see me when I'm rocking out. But I love to listen to classical music--Stravinsky's 'Rites of Spring' totally blows me away. And I like to just sit around talking with my friends. People that really get to know me find out that I'm not just this psycho with a deep, growling, let's-get-it-on mentality. That's part of it, sure, but I was raised to be a kind, caring, down-to-earth person."
The mellow side of Hardcore Dave tends to emerge in his quieter moments, alone in his apartment listening to music or writing songs. He says he has written something close to 200 songs, most of them from personal experience. "Like, I saw this thing on the news where they were killing puppies, and I was just sick to death about it, because I really love animals, you know, and dogs rock, so I wrote a song about it--like, from the dog's perspective, trapped in a cage. Stuff like that. I'm totally an optimist. I can't stand negativity, all that gloom and doom stuff. I don't write it and I don't like to listen to it. I mean, I'm generally open to anything, but it's completely against my beliefs to listen to something that says to shoot an Uzi into someone. That's not my cup of tea at all. You've gotta treat people with respect. I don't like lyrics that are degrading to women, dogs, cats, sunshine, or whatever. I don't tolerate that."