The Dead Milkmen's Joe Jack Talcum talks pizza, politics, 'Punk Rock Girl'
The Dead Milkmen were a special band to many in the '80s. While there were those that gravitated toward underground punk music with an aggressive edge and political bent, there were some of us who weren't all too upset with our parents and didn't identify with the standard punk uniform of the day.
Bands like Redd Kross, the Dickies, and the Dead Milkmen established themselves through what could be called satire but maintained a punk sound, with their DIY ethic and joy of making fun of virtually everybody and everything, really not taking too much seriously all the while inspiring the same spirit of defiance.
For nearly 30 years now, founding member of the band Anthony Joseph Genaro, better known to fans as Joe Jack Talcum, has long carried the tradition of Philadelphia's the Dead Milkmen and his own music from their brilliant heyday through rough times.
While they officially broke up in 1995, an attempt at a reunion was tragically pre-empted when original bass player Dave Schulthise (aka "Dave Blood") committed suicide in 2004.
Soldiering on and continuing to perform on his own and with a series of other bands, Talcum and the remaining Dead Milkmen would reunite for some memorial shows for Schulthise and more steadily since 2008 for festivals and a brand new LP, The King in Yellow, released this spring.
Calling me from O'hare International Airport in Chicago, I caught up with Joe Jack Talcum to see what he's been up to and talk about his upcoming gig at the Turf Club this Saturday in Saint Paul. After introducing myself and telling him about the time I interviewed the Dead Milkmen when I was in Junior High after the Beelzebubba show in the First Avenue Mainroom I immediately recognize his unmistakable voice.
Joe Jack Talcum: "Oh really. No Shit."
Yeah, my friend had a fanzine and I think you guys were giving us a real hard time and probably making fun of us.
Joe Jack Talcum: "Oh yeah? Sorry about that."
Anyway, what you doing at the airport?
Joe Jack Talcum: I'm about to head to Iowa City to rehearse with my back-up band, the Powders. I've got a new split album with them called Just Add Tears. We're on one side and Samuel Locke-Ward and the Boo Hoos, who we're also touring with me and will be playing Saturday night are on the other.
You've been releasing a lot of material and touring solo this summer. Plus the Dead Milkmen have been playing quite a bit lately. Would you consider yourselves an "active" band then?
Joe Jack Talcum: Yeah, the Dead Milkmen just played the Athens Popfest a couple weeks ago and we recorded a new record called The King in Yellow in 2009 that came out October 25. Oh wait, it's not October 25 yet. Well it's been out digitally since March. So I don't know does that mean it's out? We're an active band but don't tour much. We'll play here and there when it works right.
You were here a couple years back, right?
Joe Jack Talcum: It was the second show of that tour, the day before Easter and I was sick as a dog but it was fun and I was surprised how packed it was. I often tour solo acoustic and that was my first tour with a backing band in long time.
For your solo shows you mostly focus on your own stuff?
Joe Jack Talcum: I try to appease everyone who are coming to hear Dead Milkmen songs but there's some folks who've been following my own stuff so I play a lot of those of course.
What's the most requested song you get?
Joe Jack Talcum: Most common request that I do not play is "Stuart," Davey and I wrote the music for it but it was Rodney's and there's so many words in his rant I don't know them all. Occasionally if someone says they know the whole thing I let them get up and do it for the crowd. That's pretty fun. "Bitchin' Camaro" is really popular but I become schizophrenic when I try to do both parts at the beginning and it's like I'm just talking to myself.
Perhaps your most well known song is "Punk Rock Girl." How many times do you think you've played that one?
Joe Jack Talcum: I don't how many times, probably 100's then plus 1000.
It's really great and somewhat iconic. Do remember the story of when you came up with it?
Joe Jack Talcum: I remember coming up with the idea for it and not writing it right away. And then when most of it was written I showed it to Davey [Schulthise]. I didn't have all the rhymes and he helped me finish it. He gave me some exrtra lines to finish it. It took a couple days.
It was everywhere for a while. And I imagine you still get checks in the mail for it?
Joe Jack Talcum: It was used on a comedy on Fox recently called Raising Hope. I didn't see it but I got a bunch of emails from people saying they heard it.
What is that show? I don't know it.
Joe Jack Talcum: Yeah, it might have changed nights. I don't really know. One thing about that song that I hear most often is that people come up to me and ask if I am aware that "California Dreamin'" is not a Beach Boys song it's the Mamas and Papas song. I am well aware of that. But they had a version of it that was popular at the time.
Right, that must of been during the period John Stamos was in the Beach Boys, the "Kokomo" era?!
Joe Jack Talcum: Yeah, my original concept was that it was that cover version of it on the charts so my idea was that the kid didn't know the original version.
Cool, who was the character you were writing for in the song?
Joe Jack Talcum: I didn't think he was a punk rock kid. He became one in the end but that's another story entirely.
Was he like some sort of slacker?
Joe Jack Talcum: Maybe. We didn't have that word back then yet. He was just actually a protective kid who wanted to walk on the wild side. So he was probably a middle of the road kid, probably really liked Led Zeppelin or Mötley Crüe. Or I don't know maybe not. He probably really liked R.E.M.
So you've been playing music for a long time. When you were really young, when you started did you think you'd still be doing this?
Joe Jack Talcum: I was hoping when I first started I would be. I wasn't putting any money on it but I was hoping I'd still be doing it because this was what I loved. There was a dark period when the band broke up. It got to the point where we all had different goals. By then some of us were married and this job requires to travel a lot. We wanted to remain friends and didn't want to force the band and continue it wouldn't have worked out. So it was inevitable.
That was probably a big bummer then when you all wrapped it up.
Joe Jack Talcum: Yeah, then Davey died. It was quite unexpected when he took his own life. I was surprised we ever got back together. Very happily surprised.
So what do you think of Herman Cain?
Joe Jack Talcum: Oh, I don't know he seems like another person for the rich again. He's posturing himself to appeal to the common man. I'm not pleased with politics. I'm not even into our president. Cause I voted for him. I think he fooled us all. I think he did the opposite of what he claimed to be. Unless, who knows, maybe I'm a foolish person. At this point I am just frusterated I feel.
Well do you at least like Godfather's Pizza?
Joe Jack Talcum: I was never a fan of Godfather's Pizza. But we never had them in Philly. I really don't like the chain pizza places, like Pizza Hut and Papas Johns. I really like Lorenzo's in Philly. I like New York style, tossed pizza. You know, mafia-style pizzas.
So what are you looking forward to at your gig here?
Joe Jack Talcum: Besides playing for everybody. I love Chooglin'. I played with them last time I came there. I am looking forward to seeing what they've been up to.
You should ask those guys to turn you on to Checkerboard Pizza in Saint Paul. It's really close to the club.
Joe Jack Talcum: Oh really? I guess i am looking forward to that now too.
Joe Jack Talcum, Samuel Locke-Ward Lo-Fi Spectacular and Chooglin' play Saturday October 22 at the Turf Club in Saint Paul. 9pm $10
Joe Jack Talcum interview 2007
The Dead Milkman set from Athens Popfest 10.15.11