Timberfest 2015 Preview: The Dead Milkmen
By Abe Beeson
I grew up a young fan of punk rock, getting into The Clash, Dead Kennedys, Sex Pistols and The Damned in the mid-80s, which is how it should be (adjusting for the passage of time) for all young people. Teen angst has no better companion than punk rock, in my opinion. But as I also worshipped (not alone) a young Eddie Murphy who was emerging at the same time and, for me, The Dead Milkmen were the perfect blend of those two influences and an inevitable addition to my cassette collection.
Best of all, in the hi-wire years of New Wave one-hit-wonders, The Dead Milkmen wrote terrifically catchy songs – a lot of them. As the band, reunited in 2008 after a dozen years apart, hits the stage at the Timber! Festival in Carnation July 18, I thought it would be fun to recall a few of those hits, and prepare today’s music fans for the magic of the Milkmen.
Their debut album Big Lizard In My Backyard (recently reissued on vinyl) brought the world one of their most beloved singles: “Bitchin’ Camaro.”With a goofy intro/narration that would become a frequent trademark, we hear about our hero’s acquisition of his hot shit muscle car, then the band kicks into high gear for a few four wheeled adventures.
My neighbor teve had the DM’s third album, Bucky Fellini, which featured a stone cold dance classic, “Instant Club Hit (You’ll Dance to Anything).” Electronic drums? Funky, fat bass lines? What the…? Oh, wait… I get it, this is hysterical! Did 1987 need a song to put those big-haired, wimpy, pseudo-dance club, new wave dancers in their place? Maybe not, but it sure was fun for the punk kids to dance to at the prom.
The album Beelzebubba was the first Dead Milkmen album I bought and I still listen to it often. It was 1988, my senior year in High School (in Carnation, coincidentally), and the beginning of my love affair with the music made in the Northwest. Meanwhile, DM had unleashed two of their most loved songs. “Punk Rock Girl” is their biggest hit, but let’s start with “Stuart,” a rollicking number dominated by the narration of a creepy trailer park neighbor ranting about Burrow Owls, a carnival decapitation, and “what the queers are doing to the soil.”
As for “Punk Rock Girl,” it’s a perfect distillation of what makes The Dead Milkmen so great – thick Philly accents, vivid storytelling that feels true to life, one of the catchiest melodies of the last 30 years, and genius turns of phrase like the record store line, “If you don’t got Mojo Nixon then your store could use some fixin’.” You know this song, and if you don’t, you’re probably not reading this. It was such a hit that a big bank came asking to use a bastardized version for a commercial; The Dead Milkmen said no.
The Dead Milkmen are still making wonderful, silly, catchy punk-pop today – their tenth album, Pretty Music For Pretty People came out last fall. To be honest, I’ve just recently given it a listen, but I can say without hesitation, it’s a worthy addition to the band’s catalogue. My early favorite is a crunchy, old-school punk rock song with a nod to Iggy & The Stooges, “Now I Wanna Hold Your Dog” – finishing with a silly reference to The Beatles’ “I’ve got blisters….” line from Helter Skelter.
The Dead Milkmen are one of the best and most important bands in America, and we’re incredibly lucky they’re still making music for us. Take advantage, smoke a few banana peels, and put on your slam dancing shoes for their show at the Timber! Music Festival in Carnation, WA on July 17.
Abe Beeson has been heard hosting Evening Jazz weeknights on 88.5fm KPLU since ’98. You may have also heard him hosting The Live Room on 90.3fm KCMU (KEXP) from ’93 to ’02 and he occasionally picks up a fill-in shift when they’re desperate.
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