August 26, 2013

The Dead Milkmen - The Fictitious Years (Coatesville/Philly 1979-83)

Pope Garth O'Neil
I first heard the Dead Milkmen from some tapes lent to me by Rustle Noonetwisting: Millersville Delivery from the early "Bitchin' Camaro" era, and the Summertime Sampler of earlier home taped curiosities recorded over "Agriculture in the South," stolen from Coatesville High School where they all had attended school.

These were a few of the custom tapes they gave out to friends and college DJs. Some of the songs were from recordings made during what became known as the "Fictitious Years," before the Dead Milkmen became a real band, kind of like the formative Hardcore Devo tapes. Full of pre-PC unhinged adolescent girl songs, grating topical silliness, and fantastic pop ditties... Core members included Jack Talcum, Pope Garth O'Neil, and Jake Jiles (later known as Rodney Anonymous).

Rodney: ...Supposedly this whole thing sort of started from this board game that Joe created, that him and his friend Garth, and his family would play, where you would make songs, and then you would roll dice and spin things, and you would try to get your song up the chart. So at one point in the game, all of Joe’s songs are about “Joe is so wonderful.” And Garth’s songs are like “I hate Joe – Joe is the scum of the Earth.” And they would race up and down the charts.
Jack Talcum
Joe: At one point I came up with the concept of Jack Talcum and the Dead Milkmen, and I made a fake fan club newsletter about this band called The Dead Milkmen.  Jack Talcum was kind of like this folk guy, obnoxious folk singer, character, sort of based on Bob Dylan, but not really, and he met the Dead Milkmen band which is this punk band, and he integrated himself into that band and sort of took the band over and formed what I was calling folk punk, or punk folk, or whatever… which I thought was a hilarious combination. I would never have guessed it would be un-hilarious…. 
Rodney: The fictitious concept started off as this sort of family band. I think they were called the Deeks Brothers or something. And over the years, they start in the late 50’s, almost like a folk--like the Kingston Trio. And then, as the 60’s go on, they go through all these changes. So they basically become this huge group called the Sunflower Children of God, which is almost like the Manson Family with instruments…. And somehow they become the Milkmen, and then one of them dies…. This guy by the name of Richard Nixon, in the story…. 

What happened to Rickard Nixon was, this guy had taken a lot of drugs. He was in the Sunflower Children of God, and he woke up, and he couldn’t remember his name, so he picked up the newspaper, and Nixon was president at the time, so “Richard Nixon, that’s who I am.” So he’s playing organ on something, and he dies, and his head hits the organ. And Joe would actually make these songs, so you would hear this “euuuuuh” in the background, and that would be Richard Nixon’s dead head on this organ. So this is the beginning of the breaking of punk now in the story, and so it’s like ’75 or so in the story, and he dies and they become the Dead Milkmen, and that’s where I came into it, but there’s this incredible backstory….
Joe: To go with it I decided to make a tape, so I invited Garth, my neighbor, and a friend of his, and my brothers and sisters, and whoever was around, and we recorded a tape, I think it was around the end of 1979…. And called it So Long Seventies…. I made a few copies of it, and Garth gave it to Rodney in high school. And he heard the tape and approached me waiting for the bus after school one day and said, "Hey I like that tape you made, the Dead Milkmen. When's your next recording session? I would love to be in it. I play banjo." …And he came over with his banjo and we recorded some songs and that became "Folk Songs for the 80's." That's how Rodney became part of "the act." so to speak. 
Rodney: I became aware of punk, I was about 13 my parents called me downstairs because the Sex Pistols were on TV and they were fascinated, they loved them, they were like, “Look at this! You gotta see this! This is great!” because they were spitting and they were telling the interviewer they wouldn’t talk to him unless they gave them 10 bucks. And my parents, being working class people, saw what they were doing. They were monkey wrenching this horrible system that was so fake anyway… So I was really interested in that, and I was kind of branching out finding music. 

...One day [Joe] hands me this tape, this would have been right after New Years of 1980, and it’s So Long Seventies, ...this weird homemade punk tape…. Supposedly one of the guys that collaborated, his great grandfather had written that song, “Jesus loves the little children” so Joe had this song about "Reach Out and kick that child,” it was so great! ...Just weird! Something done in their basement, so I asked if I could kind of get in on it, and I started working with him.

And just to kind of step into all of this, it was a great world to live in because you didn’t have to strive for fame. In one way you already had succeeded. We would take pictures of ourselves, and crop them out, and we would pretend we play the big Reggae Sunsplash festival. And we’d write these newsletters. It was great practice for being in a band.
Joe: ...I'd compile songs I'd recorded. I must've made 5 or 6 cassette albums of the band before it was an actual band using like overdubs.... -Rodney and Joe from audio interviews by Joseph A. Gervasi on LOUD! FAST! PHILLY!
Joe has posted some of the original tapes with the commentary excerpted below on Joe Jack Talcum's Bootleg of the Month Archives. Most of the rest can be found on the Short Bus Degenerates Milkhouse. I've collected my own bootleg's worth of my favorites from each tape, and included tapes that I haven't found yet, or that are lost somewhere in the analog abyss. Even the band members no longer have them, but Rustle's Summertime Sampler has a few songs that were originally from these missing tapes! So maybe we can bring these back to life like reviving the woolly mammoth with DNA and live elephants.

One ... Two ... Three ... Seven....!

So Long Seventies (December 1979)
Rodney: Here's a thought that'll keep you up at night: I listened to this tape and said "Yes, I would, indeed, like to commit several decades of my life to this project."

Folk Songs for the 80s (1980)
Mr. Radioman
Kill Him Quick!

Sour Milk (April 1980)

Music for the Mindless (1980)
(Lost in the analog abyss, but this version from the Summertime Sampler might be originally from this tape. In fact, side B of the Sampler was originally labeled Music for the Mindless.)

For Die Hard Fans Only (1980)
(Also lost in the abyss)

Doctor Talcum's Studio of Fear (December 1980-January 1981)
She's a Bomb
Spit on Me
Girl Hunt
Johnny Keys (Mystery Eyes)
On Bandstand

Cows and Gals (1981)
(Lost, but these 2 tracks from Summertime Sampler might have been from this tape)
Stuffed Animal
Plum Dumb

Raging Cow (June 1981)

Paradise Lagoon (August 1981)
Curl With the Curly Hair

The Salamander Sessions (Summer 1981)
(The original album The Last Known Address of Jonathan Salamander is lost, but Joe found some of the recordings.)
Toilet Stall Song
She's So Gay
Mellow Fellow
A Minute Closer to Death The band's sendoff to Garth after he joined the Air Force.
Joe: During the summer between my freshman and sophomore years at college I lived with my folks in Wagontown and got a job as busboy in a Ramada Inn restaurant in nearby Downingtown. I recently stumbled across some cassette source tapes from this period, labeled "Studio Tape 2" and "Studio Tape 3". 
My method of "multi-track" recording back then involved playing back the original base recording from one cassette deck into another deck which had a line-in and a microphone-in which could be mixed. That mixed signal would be recorded as the overdubbed track. If I wanted more overdubs, I repeated the process. I had to be careful to get the right levels during the overdub recording because that would be the final mix. Usually I would keep the original take of a song, and the final overdubbed version. Most of the in-between takes would be dubbed over to save tape. This is how I recorded all of the early fictional Dead Milkmen albums.
Anyway, after reviewing these "Studio Tapes" I realized that many of these songs were ones that were released on the long lost "The Last Known Address of Jonathan Salamander" album.

Living Death in the Cellar of Sin (November 1981)
Milkmen Moo
This psuedo-live recording came to me by way of a posting on the Dead Milkmen's Free-for-All message board. It was recorded in one afternoon in the basement of my parent's house while I was home from college on thanksgiving break, and 'released' the next month with a quickly drawn cover. 
In their fictitious world, this 'show' was the first of the Dead Milkmen's tour of the Congo (where they were curiously famous) and was recorded for release as their next album. This recording is not exactly a live recording, however, because an overdub was made to enhance instrumentation on a couple of the songs (believe it or not). But, both the original take and the overdub were done in one take (discounting stopping the tape recorder to change instruments).

Nine New Sins (Winter 1981-82)

This extremely limited edition, hand-packaged e.p. was recorded sometime during my winter break from college (1981-82). Rodney was my songwriting collaborator for about half of these songs. He also performed on the recordings he helped write. (Some of these songs were later recorded and performed by the real Dead Milkmen.) These recordings precede my first meeting of Dave Blood by about a month. I would meet him after returning to college from my break. Also, Rodney and I were soon to see Dean perform in the band Narthex at the famous Landmark Tavern in Philadelphia, though we would not know at the time that he would eventually become the real Dead Milkmen's drummer.

Purgatory Beat (1982)
Taking Retards to the Zoo
Stupid Maryanne
Dance With Me

Wisconsin (1982)

A Date with The Dead Milkmen (March 1983)
(This might be crossing into the non-fictitious era, but still before the band was fully assembled.)
Filet of Sole
Right Wing Pigeons from Outer Space

Dean: This was recorded in Manayunk on Baker Street where Joe and Dave (plus others) shared an apartment, and released to friends in 1983 – before I joined the band. I believe that Rodney is playing drums on these recordings. Maybe Joe or Rodney can provide some details about this tape in the comments.
Joe: Rodney did play drums on some of these tracks (Filet of Sole is one) and, through the magic overdubbing, Dave Blood played both bass and drums on others (Ask Me to Dance is one). There were no other drummers. It’s still hard for me to believe that Dean was willing to join the band even after hearing this tape. 
I’m also amazed now that we had the audacity to sell copies of this tape to a local indy record shop. AND we sent to it to a local ‘zine which reviewed it (our first press!). Each copy of the tape (we made 10) was packaged with hand-colored xeroxed art covered in clear contact paper plus Scotch tape over a hand-cut cardbaord case. The very bad art is mine. -From The Dead Milkmen Archives 
Millersville Delivery (1983)
Bitchin' Camaro
Rodney: Alone in rock and roll history, Joe Jack Talcum took a fake band and actually made it a real band. And I can’t think of anybody else that said, “Alright I’m gonna write stories about this band. Now I’m gonna have people populate it.” Maybe, we talk about stuff like the Monkees, the Banana Splits, the Archies, which were made to be synthetic. Joe just figured this needed to be. If we didn’t exist, somebody had to fill that niche. It was an actual band, which was kind of odd…. Every now and then, when I’m on stage, I think “wow this all kind of started with Joe writing short stories. I’m kind of maybe playing a part, or caught up. Maybe we’re all part of the short story.” -From LOUD! FAST! PHILLY!

The Official Dead Milkmen Website
Dead Milkmen Free for All
Joe Jack Talcum
Rodney Anonymous Tells You How to Live
Short Bus Degenerates
The Dead Milkmen Archives
Dead Milkmen discography


  1. TOMSUN! Thanks for posting these DM gems :)


  2. Hey.. Don't know if you're still active, but have you got the full album for Folk Songs For The 80s? Been looking for it all over, but can't seem to get it..