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.


Cameron Ted said...

so did you hear of anyone that attended? or their opinion of what went down?

Michael said...

After writing this Thursday afternoon, I became really excited to go. Unfortunately, Friday afternoon I started coughing and was dead on my feet around no show for me. Sadness.