Sarcastic Philly punks the Dead Milkmen are reunited and going strong

By Emily Brightman


Smart-alecky rockers the Dead Milkmen will be bringing their unique brand of satirical punk to Northampton’s Pearl Street nightclub this Friday as part of their limited East Coast tour.

Hailing from Philadelphia, the Dead Milkmen started off in vocalist and keyboardist Joe “Joe Jack Talcum” Genaro’s bedroom in 1979 as a home recording project. The name “Dead Milkmen” is derived from a character named Macon “Milkman” Dead III from Toni Morrison’s novel “Song of Solomon,” and the songs that Genaro originally recorded were based around the mythology of the fictionalized band members he created. When Genaro met drummer Dean “Dean Clean” Sabatino and bassist Dave “Dave Blood” Schulthise through friends in 1981 while attending Temple University, the once-imaginary band began to take a tangible shape. The lineup was finally rounded out by vocalist Rodney “Rodney Anonymous” Linderman in 1983, and the foursome began playing shows on the Philadelphia underground syndicate.

While making serious waves in the burgeoning Philadelphia hardcore circuit with its ironic pop-infused punk sound and snarky lyrical wit, The Dead Milkmen independently released a series of homemade cassettes throughout the mid-’80s. The band’s first EP, “Big Lizard in My Backyard,” was released in 1985 on Restless Records, an offshoot of the alternative label Enigma Records that issued releases from the likes of Devo, GG Allin and Mojo Nixon throughout the ’80s. “Big Lizard” got considerable play on college radio stations, most notably the song “Bitchin’ Camaro,” which is arguably the band’s most popular song. The track “The Thing That Only Eats Hippies” off their 1986 sophomore album “Eat Your Paisley” became the band’s first official single and paved the way for the 1987 release of the “Bucky Fellini” album, which boasted the genre-spoofing single “Instant Club Hit (You’ll Dance to Anything).”

In 1988, the group released “Beelzebubba,” featuring the song “Punk Rock Girl,” which was catapulted into heavy rotation on MTV and jettisoned the album into the 101st position on Billboard’s Top 200 chart. Two years later the band left Restless Records and signed with the Disney-owned Hollywood Records to release the album “Soul Rotation,” which boasted a much more pop-influenced sound than the band’s previous albums. Following the 1993 release of the EP “Not Richard, But Dick,”  the band’s relationship with Hollywood Records became tense and the group disbanded in 1994 as a result of intense frustrations with the commercial music industry and due in part to bassist Schulthise’s struggles with tendinitis. Restless Records released “Stoney’s Extra Stout (Pig),” the group’s final studio album, in 1995. Since then a handful of live albums and collections have been released, including the greatest hits compilation album, “Death Rides a Pale Cow,” in 1997.

During their 13-year hiatus, the members of the Dead Milkmen independently pursued their musical and professional interests. Linderman played with Celtic-punk band Burn Witch Burn and worked as a journalist for the Philadelphia Weekly, and Sabatino performed with Big Mess Orchestra as well as guest appearances with Genaro’s post-punk project Butterfly Joe. Schulthise attended Indiana University to pursue a degree in Serbo-Croatian literature and history and relocated to Novi Sad, Serbia, where he worked as an English teacher, but after NATO bombings in 1999, he returned to the United States. In their hiatus, Genaro remained the most musically active in his collaborations with groups such as Butterfly Joe and Touch Me Zoo.

In 2003, the band released “Now We Are 20,” a re-issue of its 1993 retrospective “Now We Are 10.” The band’s talks of a full reunion were dismissed upon the death of Schulthise, who committed suicide by drug overdose in March of 2004. In November of that same year the band’s surviving members, along with Dan Stevens of the Low Budgets on bass, played two shows at Philadelphia’s Trocadero Theater in a tribute to Schulthise and the shows’ proceeds were donated in Schulthise’s honor to several mental health organizations.

The Dead Milkmen reunited in 2008 for a handful of shows with Stevens again on bass, and after their set at the Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin,Texas, the band decided to continue recording and touring. In March 2011, the band released “The King in Yellow,” their first studio album since the mid-’90s, in digital format on its official website. A self-released CD followed shortly after, and in late 2012 the band released the singles “Big Words Make the Baby Jesus Cry” and “Dark Clouds Gather Over Middlemarch,” the first in an ongoing series of limited-release singles. The band also appeared on a 2012 reissue of “nerdcore” rapper MC Lar’s “Edgar Allen Poe” EP on the song “The Raven.” The band continues to play shows in select cities throughout the United States and is in talks for another studio album to be released later this year.

The Dead Milkmen will descend on Northampton’s Pearl Street Friday night for a show that promises to be a unique experience for new and old fans alike. Underground hip hop artist MC Breath will open the night on a more modern note before the veteran post-punkers take the stage. The madness begins at 8:30 p.m. so be sure to get your “Bitchin’ Camaro” ready for action.

Emily A. Brightman can be reached at [email protected]