BC SealBoston College Magazine Spring 2004
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Music man

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Punk rocker David Smalley '85

Down by Law live: David Smalley (center), rhythm guitar and vocals; Sam Williams III (left), lead guitar; Keith Davies, bass. By Greg Dixon

Down by Law live: David Smalley (center), rhythm guitar and vocals; Sam Williams III (left), lead guitar; Keith Davies, bass. By Greg Dixon

In September 1981, as a freshman at BC, David Smalley hung a sign on the bulletin board at the original Newbury Comics in Back Bay Boston: "Experienced singer wants to form band." The result was the band DYS, part of the early punk scene known as the Boston Crew. During the day, Smalley recalls, he was a more or less typical BC student, albeit, he says, the only punk on campus. At night, he'd head down to Kenmore Square, the center of the punk scene. "It was incredible. We'd get in fights with jocks, run from cops, spray-paint walls in alleys with the names of bands. Then I'd come home and do homework." (Smalley was a communication major.) DYS was straightedge, a subset of punk whose members swear off alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs. Smalley's lyrics tended toward the politically aware and the self-affirmative, qualities that suffuse his songwriting to this day.

When DYS broke up in 1985 after two recordings, Smalley went on to sing and play guitar for the bands Dag Nasty (Can I Say, 1986) and ALL (Allroy Sez, 1987, and Allroy for Prez, 1988). By 1990, "punk rock legend" was being attached to his name in the underground press. A little more than 10 years ago, he founded the band Down By Law, which Rolling Stone has called "one of the hardest working, most influential and creative forces in punk rock." Smalley once likened the band to a Triple-A ball club, "on the road half the year, but making a living." DBL T-shirts sell on eBay to buyers who pay in euros, pesos, and yen.

Somehow, amid the bands and the touring, Smalley found time to earn a master's degree in political science from Cal State, Los Angeles. In the mid-1990s, he and his wife, Caroline, moved to the Washington, D.C., area, where for a few years he covered Air Force matters for a defense publication while continuing to tour and play with DBL. The band released its 11th recording, Windwardtidesandwaywardsails, last year, but Smalley has cut back on travel. Most days he is at his desk at the Fredericksburg, Virginia, Free Lance-Star, where he is editor of the youth section, "the perfect job for me," he says.

He and Caroline have four children. Madeline is eight; Abigail, seven; Colter, three; and little Griffin Strummer—named for the late Joe Strummer of the Clash—is one. Smalley laughs, "Just your typical Irish Catholic family."

Tim Heffernan


Tim Heffernan is a writer based in New York City

 

 
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