Alive and well with the Dead Milkmen at Riot Fest

Dead Milkmen frontman Rodney Anonymous works a sold-out Metro into a frenzy Saturday night in Chicago.

Dead Milkmen frontman Rodney Anonymous works a sold-out Metro into a frenzy Saturday night in Chicago.

“Okay, look at you,
“Don’t you look like Siouxsie Sioux,
“How long did it take to get that way,
“What a terrible waste of energy,
“You wear black clothes say you’re poetic,
“The sad truth is you’re just pathetic,
“Get into the groove get out of my way,
“I came here to drink, not to get laid.”

So go a few lines from “Instant Club Hit (You’ll Dance to Anything),” a song mocking the pretensions of ‘80s British Goth and synth-pop from the Dead Milkmen’s 1987 album, Bucky Fellini.

The Philadelphia band skewered that and just about everything else over eight studio albums, taking punk’s sneer and adding heavy doses of caustic, irreverent humor and witty lyricism, often producing hilarious results.

Rodney shares the mike with a fan.

Rodney shares the mike with a fan.

Forming in 1983, a year after David Letterman began his late-night run, the Milkmen soon became college-radio darlings, cultivating a smart-ass style years before the dawn of the so-called “age of irony” we supposedly now live in. They were taking shots at pop culture figures and name-checking celebrities long before latter-day wiseasses like Blink 182, Eminem and Weezer came onto the scene.

With songs like “Bitchin’ Camaro,” “Beach Party Vietnam,” “The Thing That Only Eats Hippies” and the classic “Punk Rock Girl,” the Milkmen resonated with a lot of college kids, like myself, who’d been gagging on a never-ending diet of classic rock radio, Duran Duran videos and Cosby shows.

The Milkmen, which broke up in 1995 and reunited last year, were in Chicago over the weekend to play a couple shows at the fifth annual Riot Fest, a collection of punk offerings at the Congress Theater and a few other small venues around town.

CKOW caught up with two of the band’s founding members – lead singer Rodney Linderman (aka Rodney Anonymous), and Joe Genaro (Joe Jack Talcum) — before their Saturday night show at the Metro, a block north of Wrigley Field.

The Milkmen deliver

The Milkmen deliver

While they’re sporting a touch of gray these days (both are 46), we found them to be in fine and feisty form during an afternoon Q & A session backstage at the Metro, and they put on a great show later that night for a capacity crowd. They said they hope to put out a new album at some point, and shared a few other thoughts about their career and life in rock n’ roll. CKOW hopes you enjoy my “Almost Famous” moment:

CKOW: I’m just a local guy with a blog. I’d like to apologize for not being Rolling Stone.
Rodney: That’s okay. It’s okay to not be Rolling Stone. Never apologize for not being Rolling Stone, because that’s a terrible magazine. On the plane, I was kind of reading it over Joe’s shoulder, and it’s not what it used to be at all.

CKOW: Is there anything you’d like to apologize for?
Rodney: Yeah. There are a couple of records that I don’t think we should have done. (Friday) night’s show we probably should apologize for. I didn’t think it was that great. I’ll apologize for my playing last night, and my singing. It better be better tonight. Otherwise, I don’t have much of a career ahead of me.

Big Lizards in Wrigleyville's backyard - me and two of the original Dead Milkmen, Rodney and Joe, backstage at the Metro.

Big lizards in Wrigleyville's backyard - me and two of the original Dead Milkmen, Rodney and Joe, backstage at the Metro.

CKOW: You guys were kind of ahead of the curve when it came to things like name-checking in songs – taking shots at the likes of Michael Jackson, the Beach Boys and so forth. Could you start an ironic, wise-guy band like this today?
Rodney: I think we were ironic because we weren’t that musical. At least I’m not. If I had more talent we’d have been much more of a ‘musical’ band. But there’s hazard with that kind of stuff, because it dates itself. You were talking about people who were in the news at that time. (Name checking) was a bad idea. Don’t do that, because it dates the song. I would never do that again.

CKOW: You’ve played shows or toured with the Replacements, the Ramones, Iggy Pop, Husker Du and Debbie Gibson. Debbie Gibson? Isn’t she the kind of person you guys made fun of?
Rodney: Yeah, but I feel bad about that, because she’s probably a nice person. I bet if we brought Debbie Gibson in to like, play piano or something, she’d do a really competent job. She’s a really good piano player. She’s a much better keyboardist than I am. I bet you if Debbie Gibson got up one morning and wrote a song about what it means to be Debbie Gibson and being a mom and all that, and went to some little club, I bet you it would frickin’ rock.

CKOW: I’m sensing a little regret?
Rodney: Plenty of regret. I’ve done a lot of dumb things… I’m trying not to do any of that now. I tend to over-think stuff now.


CKOW: How would you characterize your fans nowadays?
Joe: All ages. I run into people who say, ‘you were my dad’s favorite band. He couldn’t come to the show because he was working.’ I’m like, ‘oh great.’ A lot of our original fans, I don’t know if they’ve died off or moved on.
Rodney: Everybody seems younger to me. I don’t know what pipeline of filth they’re tapped into.

CKOW: My wife and I are expecting a baby daughter next month. How about some Punk Rock Girl names?
Rodney: I would suggest Persephone (Greek goddess of of innocence and receptivity). She was Demeter’s daughter. What about Gertrude? I had a great aunt named Gertrude and a great aunt named Clarabelle.
Joe: I don’t know if that’s punk rock.

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4 responses to “Alive and well with the Dead Milkmen at Riot Fest

  1. Great job Bruce. You really did the ghost of Cameron Crowe’s career proud. Loved the questions and the guys remind me of being 22 again. Who’s next for CKOW? When does U2 come to Chicago?

    • Thanks. I’m a little late for U2, but will try to snag Bono on his next swing through Chicago. We can plant more corn to feed the hungry in Africa! Paul Westerberg, Jello Biafra, Frank Black – you guys are next on Corn King’s list.

  2. Great interview and pics! Thanks.

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