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Members are known as Rodney Anonymous (also known as Rodney Amadeus, Rodney Mellencamp; married October 15, 1994, to Vienna), vocals; Dave Blood (attended Indiana University, mid-1990s), bass; Dean Clean, drums; and Joe Jack Talcum (attended Temple University), guitar. Addresses: P.O. Box 58152, Philadelphia, PA 19102-8152.
The Dead Milkmen were part of same loose but lucid, satirical early-eighties American punk scene that also spawned Camper Van Beethoven, but were usually ignored or vilified by critics. They had an intensely loyal cult following, however, and reaped great success from college radio in that medium's freeform heyday. The band's best- loved songs--"Bitchin' Camaro," "Instant Club Hit (You'll Dance to Anything)," and "Punk Rock Girl"--showcased their ability to viciously lampoon targets ranging from dumb suburban teenagers to overdressed club kids. A Trouser Press Record Guide assessment used terms such as "only spottily amusing," "dementedly parodic cultural concepts," and "disappointingly lame" to describe some of the Dead Milkmen's recorded efforts.
The Dead Milkmen grew out of some exploits to remedy teenage boredom in Wagontown, Pennsylvania. This small town in the heart of Amish country was home to core Dead Milkmen members Rodney Anonymous and Joe Jack Talcum, who had teamed with a third friend in high school to make comedy tapes. They created a fictional band called Dead Milkmen, fronted by the equally fictional Jack Talcum. The mock band's bizarre exploits and rock-star failures provided endless fodder for the proto-musical tapes and then the Dead Milkmen Newzletter, which chronicled the fake band and its "music" in even greater detail. The newsletter idea was a not-very-flattering homage to similar communiques put out by Paul McCartney's seventies band, Wings.
Joe left Wagontown to study communications at Philadelphia's Temple University around 1980. There he met David Reckner, who would later become the Dead Milkmen's manager. Reckner, in turn, introduced Joe to Dean Clean and Mike, who played in a band called Narthex. When Joe brought his friend from Wagontown, Rod, to see the band, their raw punk incompetence inspired them to take their Dead Milkmen idea to another level. As the band would later write in their official history, they thought, "if these guys can get away with it, so can we!"
Around this same time, in early 1982, Joe became acquainted with two brothers, one of whom had a bass guitar. Thus, with Rod singing lead, Joe playing guitar, Dean on drums, bass player Dave Blood, and Dave's brother Joe S. writing songs, the Dead Milkmen was formed.
The band played their first show in the summer of 1983 in Harleyvsille, Pennsylvania. Their primitive punk sound, combined with an abandoned, no-holds-barred comic sensibility, soon attracted a rabid Philly fan base. "The wheels of the milk truck began to roll," the band wrote in its web site. The band started making their own tapes and selling them at shows, and one of them included the song "Bitchin' Camaro," a paean to an out-of-control hot rod. It became an underground hit, and in May of 1984 helped land the Dead Milkmen an on-air gig at an influential radio station. The disc jockey there put them in touch with a local business school professor who also happened to own a record label, Fever.
For less than a thousand dollars, the band recorded their debut album for Fever, Big Lizard in My Backyard. Released in 1985, its 21 tracks included "Bitchin' Camaro," which became a huge hit on college and fledgling alternative radio. The band's popularity was further boosted when a baseball player for the Detroit Tigers named Jim Walewander trumpeted the band. Other tracks on Big Lizard included "Right Wing Pigeons," "Rastabilly," and "Laundromat Song." More speed-punk satire occurred with Eat Your Paisley, issued in 1986 and buoyed by such tracks as "Air Crash Museum," "The Thing That Only Eats Hippies," and "Where the Tarantula Lives."
After "Bitchin' Camaro," perhaps the most recognizable Dead Milkmen track emerged with "Instant Club Hit (You'll Dance to Anything)," a derisive, drum-machine-abusing track that appeared on the 1987 Dead Milkmen LP Bucky Fellini. Spewing venom against eighties dance-club culture, Rodney sang the song's ever-changing, anthemic verse: "You'll dance to anything ... by Depeche Mode/You'll dance to anything ... by Public Image...." Its success helped the band win a deal with Enigma Records, and for their new label they recorded Beelzebubba. That effort's first single, "Punk Rock Girl," found success with a video that received airplay on MTV, but when their next LP, Metaphysical Graffiti, failed to yield a similar moneymaker, Enigma lost interest. The label went under not long afterward, and the Dead Milkmen were dropped.
The band found a new home on Hollywood Records, part of the Disney entertainment empire, and recorded Soul Rotation. This 1992 release offered a less punk, far poppier sound, but failed to gain them anything more than the cult following they had long enjoyed. They ut out the EP If I Had a Gun on Hollywood that same year, and then Not Richard, But Dick the following year. The label, however, would later gain notoriety in the music industry for its inept management, and the Dead Milkmen soon found themselves adrift once more in late 1993.
The year 1993 also marked a return for the Milkmen to their original DIY (do it yourself) formula in 1993 with Now We Are Ten, a limited edition self-release that included four live tracks recorded in a Pennsylvania barn in 1983. They also found a new corporate home on Restless Records, which had been distributing their early Fever releases. On Restless they released Chaos Rules--Live at the Trocadero in 1994, and their last studio effort, Stoney's Extra Stout (Pig), issued the following year. In late 1994 the band officially called it quits after a final tour, "to regroup only for funerals and rare TV appearances," as they wrote in the Dead Milkmen Newzletter, which was still going strong at Issue #58.
Restless released the Dead Milkmen compilation, Death Rides a Pale Cow--The UltimateCollection, in 1997, but no tracks from its two 1992 and 1993 releases on Hollywood Records were included, since the label refused to give permission. Though they still exist in name and on their cyberspace home, at http://www.deadmilkmen.com, the band members indicated they had no plans to ever record again or tour. Most have gone on to other musical projects, except for former bassist Dave, whose interest in Balkan history was piqued during a 1991 Dead Milkmen tour of the onetime Yugoslavia. He went on to attend graduate school at Indiana University. Rod formed a Celtic-influenced band called Burn Witch Burn with his wife, and Joe went on to play in a band called the Town Managers. Dean, involved in a burlesque ensemble called the Big Mess Cabaret Players in Philadelphia, found work with an advertising agency.
by Carol Brennan
Dead Milkmen's Career
Band formed in Philadelphia, PA, c. 1983.
- Selective Works
- Released several cassettes on the Jerrock label, 1982-84.
- Big Lizard in My Backyard, Restless, 1985.
- Eat Your Paisley, Restless, 1986.
- Bucky Fellini, Enigma, 1987.
- Beelzebubba, Enigma, 1988.
- Smokin' Banana Peels (EP), Enigma, 1988.
- Metaphysical Graffiti, Enigma, 1990.
- Soul Rotation, Hollywood, 1992.
- If I Had a Gun (EP), Hollywood, 1992.
- Now We Are Ten, self-released, 1993.
- Not Richard, But Dick, Hollywood, 1993.
- Chaos Rules--Live at the Trocadero, Restless, 1994.
- Stoney's Extra Stout (Pig), Restless, 1995.
- Death Rides a Pale Cow--The Ultimate Collection, Restless, 1997.
March 10, 2004: Dave Blood, the bassist for the group, committed suicide on March 10, 2004. Source: CNN.com, www.cnn.com, March 16, 2004.
March 10, 2004: Dave Blood, the bassist for the group, committed suicide on March 10, 2004, in Westchester County, New York. He was 47. Source: CNN.com, www.cnn.com, March 16, 2004.
- Billboard, February 11, 1989, p. 31.
- Entertainment Weekly, December 9, 1994, p. 76.
- People, September 24, 1990, p. 17.
- Sports Illustrated, May 16, 1988, p. 85.
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