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August 21, 2015
The Ballad of Dave McFly
By John Bucher (@johnkbucher)
I used to fantasize about being Marty McFly. While he might not have had a car, he did have a gorgeous girlfriend. He was good looking and knew how to play guitar. He had a mad scientist as a friend and could do amazing acrobatics on a skateboard. Marty was the guy I wanted to be. But, in actuality, I was nothing like him. I more closely resembled his older brother -- Dave. When we first meet Dave McFly, he works at Burger King and seems to connect more to his father than his peers. He likes to watch old TV shows and has no interest in sports. Dave didn’t have a lot going for him. Even when Marty betters the future of the McFly family, Dave’s life only marginally improves. He has to wear a suit to work every day, appears to still live at home, and still doesn’t own a car. He seems devastated thinking Marty might have wrecked the family vehicle.
In the second installment of the series, where Biff has made good with the sports almanac his 2015 self gave him in 1955, Dave fares worse than anyone, except, of course, George, who was murdered. Biff threatens to have Dave’s probation revoked if Lorraine leaves him, leading us to believe the eldest McFly has done some time in the pokey. Dave’s best destiny came in Back to the Future: The Game – Episode 3: Citizen Brown, when it’s suggested that he had left Hill Valley for a job at a big city newspaper. This, of course, was a clever reference to the actor, Marc McClure, who portrayed Dave in the BTTF films and also portrayed Jimmy Olsen in the 1978 Superman film series.
Dave was more in need of time travel than Marty ever was. Marty wanted to return to 1985, because he had a good life there. I have a feeling, given the same opportunity, Dave would have stayed in 1955 and tried to start over. The TV shows he enjoyed would have been current hits and working at a fast food restaurant would have been a respectable job. Tab probably wasn’t his beverage of choice, and he likely would have never worn a vest/life preserver. Dave wasn’t hip. He was truly the man out of his own time in 1985. He was the guy most in need of a second chance and a fresh start.
One year, on the first day of school, I decided to wear a vest similar to the one Marty wore in Back to The Future. I didn’t pull it off well. It made me sweat profusely in the Texas heat, and I ended up taking it off by the end of the day. A few weeks later, I sprained my ankle trying to ride a skateboard on the gravel road in front of my house on Rural Route 11. My best friend that year was not a mad scientist. He was just mad. And, I think he failed science. I had a weekend job cleaning off tables at a fast food restaurant my Dad managed. And, perhaps most embarrassingly, I religiously watched Little House on the Prairie with my mom every day when I got home from school. At least Dave watched The Honeymooners. I guess I wasn’t even as cool as Dave.
Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t want to be Dave. I just was him. I wanted to be Marty. I still want to be Marty. I always felt consoled watching Marty nervously glare at the picture of his brother and sister as they faded away from the photo in his pocket. I was glad he cared about them. That made me want to be Marty even more, as I didn’t know many cool guys with a bent towards empathy. Dave doesn’t get any screen time in later iterations of the story. I like to believe that’s because things actually turned out well for Dave later in life. I like to believe that Marty’s tinkering with the space-time continuum actually benefited Dave in the long run. I like to believe we don’t hear much about him, because he’s doing okay. He has a woman (or a man) in his life. He moved into his own place. He doesn’t have to wear a suit to work anymore, because he’s doing something he really enjoys. And, perhaps the factor that made it all possible, he finally got that car.
About John Bucher
John Bucher was born on October 26, the same day Marty took Doc’s DeLorean back to 1955. He writes about film and pop culture weekly at WelcomeToTheSideshow.org. Follow him on Twitter, @johnkbucher.