Thursday, October 20, 2011

Rime of the Ancient Milkmen

I first encountered The Dead Milkmen when I was in sixth grade.  My older brother, brought home a vinyl copy of Big Lizard in My Backyard.  I wasn't sure what to think at first, most of the rest of his albums were "alternative" style music Violent Femmes, U2, REM (remember back when they were both alternative?) or heavy metal like Megadeth or Metallica...but this cartoony garish green and yellow cover didn't really seem to fit in with the rest.  Honestly, it still sticks out every time I flip through my records 25 years later.  I was intrigued and as soon as he went out, I grabbed the album and played it straight through...several times.

The Dead Milkmen reminded me of a more subversive, more adult version of Weird Al Yankovic.  The Dead Milkmen are difficult to describe, their music can run the gambit of styles but they are most often described as a "satirical punk band."  I could see that in the early days, but I think their music has long developed past the point of just being called punk.  Of course, to me punk has always referred to the 1970s punk like the Sex Pistols and the Ramones or the 80's hardcore Dead Kennedy and Black Flag.  I guess if you apply the punk label to such things as Green Day and The Offspring...then yes I guess they were punk.

Oddly jangly guitars, a quick wit, and an odd turn of phase...probably my favorite being "You wear black clothes, say you're poetic. The sad truth is you're just pathetic" which really struck a chord within me at the dawn of the goth movement - The Dead Milkmen quickly became one of my favorite bands.  They are great to sing along to on long road trips with friends and can just pick you up when life has got you down...Life is Shit is total catharsis.

I have always felt there have been two different kinds of Dead Milkmen songs - Rodney songs and Joe songs (my feeling on this was confirmed when I just recently looked up the band on wikipedia).  This belief came about originally by who sang on the songs, but it became more and more obvious, that these songs were usually written by one or the other.  Rodney songs are usually more spoken word type rants (think Stuart) that are often very blunt and very funny.  On the other hand, Joe songs are much more melodic and have more emotional depth and are more subtle in their humor...they are still hilarious but you have to listen a little closer (this Silly Dreams - this is my favorite Dead Milkmen many songs do you know about cat vomit and robbery that are wistful and longing for love).  When I was young, I was a big fan of Rodney songs, but as I grew older I connected much more on the Joe songs.

The Dead Milkmen pretty much had only one hit, called Punk Rock Girl in 1988...but even that was a minor hit (we are not talking Platinum albums here).  A few others songs received very minor play on Mtv but Punk Rock Girl was their pinnacle.  Sure every frat boy seemed to know Bitchin' Camaro...but did they ever listen to anything else?  During the early 90's the Dead Milkmen released two albums through Hollywood Records (instead of their normal Restless Records) - Soul Rotation and Not Richard But Dick.  These albums were mostly Joe albums...more musical, more subtle. Most DM fans that I knew hated these albums, but after a couple listens they quickly became some of my favorite.  I would highly suggest you get them.

After one more album released on Restless Records, The Dead Milkmen decided to break-up in 1995.  It was a sad day.  It was even sadder when Dave Blood (the bassist) committed suicide in 2004.  But this post exists at this time for two reasons:

Reason #1) The Dead Milkmen released a new album in March called The King In Yellow.  16 years after their last album and when you hear those first few chords your brain will instantly know that it is the Dead Milkmen.  It is a pretty good album, mostly Rodney type songs and just good old Milkmen oddness.  If you are a fan, I would suggest you pick it up.  I hadn't heard anything about this album and just happened to randomly go to the Dead Milkmen website and saw that it had just came out.  I hadn't been to the DM website in years, so obviously it was fate.  Glad to see you guys back.  I am not sure why it is called The King in Yellow.  I assume it has some kind of connection to the early horror novel by Robert W Chambers...but I haven't read it so, I don't see the connection.  Although I like the music (Meaningless Upbeat Happy Song), I don't really care for the cover...seems too forced.

Reason #2) Joe Jack Talcum (AKA Joe Genaro, AKA Butterfly Joe, AKA Joe the guitarist/singer from Dead Milkmen) will be playing at the Maintenance Shop in Ames tomorrow night (Friday 10/21/11) 9pm.  I think tickets are like $12.  Although I don't necessarily agree with this statement on the M-Shops website "Joe Jack Talcum was in 90s powerhouse The Dead Milkmen" - I am not disagreeing that he was in the Dead Milkmen but that DM could be called a 90's powerhouse.  I saw the Dead Milkmen live once in the early 90s and it was a great show.  Joe has been through Iowa several times since with his side project bands or just solo...unfortunately, I always fine out about it a few days after.  I do know that he plays a lot of Dead Milkmen songs as wells as a selection from his various other bands.  It will be an entertaining show.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Zombie Burger

The other night, Angie and I decided to give Zombie Burger a try since we would be in the area.  Being a fan of zombies in general, I have been wanting to try it since it opened a couple months ago, but this was the first time that it was really convenient...and it is October after all.  This isn't just a slapdash mash-up of pop culture icons. Zombie Burger is the creation of Chef George may know him from such local ventures as Centro and Django, among others.  If there is one thing that I have learned over the years, the food he creates is always excellent.  So what exactly is Zombie Burger?  It is a fun artisan/gourmet burger joint.  Think of a Red Robin but hipper and with zombies and humor.  They are not gourmet burgers, they are "goremet".

The restaurant was brighter than I thought it would be.  I was expecting all black walls with tinted windows...I figured they would go all out with the zombie theme and the whole place would be dark and dreary.  It was really quite pleasant with walls that were a bright green or a muted, neutral tan-grey.  The zombie theme was immediately evident with a couple large zombie murals, chain link fence, and industrial aluminum grates partially covering the windows..."to keep the zombies out or to keep them in," I wondered.  But it wasn't over done...the zombies were definitely just accents.  The zombies were evident but not overwhelming, which I think is better for the long term success.  Tables, chairs, tableware were all simple but nice.  I wasn't expecting cloth napkins but that is always a nice touch...just because you are serving zombie flavored food doesn't mean that you can't be all fancy and stuff.

The menus looked like newspaper, with all articles relating to zombies.  I didn't get a chance to read it all because A) I was hungry and wanted food...braaaaains, B) we were on time schedule.  But the parts I did read were hilarious.  My favorite part was in the Advice Column and the article started off something like "Dear Bill, my boyfriend recently became a zombie (his ex-girlfriend is a zombie, so I am pretty sure that's where he got it)."  It cracked me up.  The whole thing was full of jokes and sometimes subtle humor.  It was done really well.

Zombie Burger offers the following on their menu:

  • Appetizers - the normal stuff like fries, cheese curds, fried pickles, etc... I was a little disappointed that they no longer carry onion rings, but they did have the fried brussel sprouts that piqued my interest (and their fries are supposedly delicious too).
  • Soylent Greens - salads
  • Bashed Brugers - come standard with a Special Grind Patty, but you can also get as a veggie patty, chicken breast, or grilled portobello.  9 times out of 10 I would get the standard patty but I like having options in case I am in a strange mood.  You can also choose your number of patties between one and three (like on a BK Stacker...but good).
  • Rippers - fried hot dogs
  • Brain Freeze - specialty shakes (alcoholic versions available).

I was here for a good burger.  I decided to forgo appetizers and instead get a burger and a ripper (fat guy in the making!).  I had made fried hot dogs myself but wanted to see how they stood up to a restaurant version.  I chose the simple Zombie Dog for my ripper which came only with a house mix of mustard and relish for toppings...I really wanted to focus on the dog itself.  I had heard that the Chef had developed a new recipe for the buns that made them really spongy and soft...and they were.  The buns complemented the smashed burger patty really well, but the bun really stood out on this simple hot dog.  Spongy, moist, and was less like a bun and more like a really thick piece of bread, that just felt good in your mouth. Although the ripper was good, I would have preferred that it had been cooked longer.  I would have liked the skin really crisp and even blackened a little bit.  I know that is not for everyone, but that is how I like my hot dogs.

For my burger, I chose a Undead Elvis single patty.  The Undead Elvis has peanut butter, fried bananas, bacon, American cheese, mayo, and a fried egg.  This was a step into uncertainty for me...I really do not like egg yolk.  Just the thought of egg yolk makes me gag sometimes and to see someone dipping their toast into it on tv makes me feel a little nauseous (why would you do that to perfectly good toast?).  My good friend CT has recommended the Kill Bill Tenderloin at Centro to me many times, but the sunny side up egg always killed it for me.  I thought about getting the Undead Elvis without the egg, but then I steel my internal thoughts and gagging and decide to just go for it.  I can handle one egg.  And I did, the burger was pretty dang good.  The peanut butter and bacon was awesome but the fried bananas kind of got lost in the rest of the flavors...I blame the egg.  Overall, it was a very good burger and I would highly recommend it.

Angie got the Trailer Trash burger and although she only ordered a single, I am pretty sure that the burger they brought out was a double tap.  The Trailer Trash burger contained American cheese, fried pickles, chicken fried bacon, cheese curds, and ranch mayo.  It was also very good, but I preferred mine just a little more.  The deciding factor for me was the cheese was more like one gigantic cheese curd and about half an inch thick.  By the time I tried a bite of her sandwich (which was quite a while after we got our food) the cheese curd had cooled enough that it was no longer gooey inside.  It was just too much rubbery cheese for me.

Can't believe I missed this.
Photo courtesy of
I really enjoyed the food, I look forward to going back and trying more burgers...but the choices are difficult...already there are 4 or 5 I am seriously contemplating for my next visit.  The first visit was could I not get the one with peanut butter and fried bananas, but now comes the difficult choices (and hopefully room for a shake...maybe even an alcoholic one if I am not driving).  Plus I have to see the awesome bathroom signs that I missed the first time around.

Zombie Burger
300 E Grand
Des Moines, IA 50309