The Dead Milkmen never achieved the same level of mainstream success that came to many of their ’80s brethren. But their jangly, sardonic take on punk rock still served as a critical corrective to the genre’s overly serious, often-militant stance. Hits like “Punk Rock Girl” and “Bitchin’ Camaro” skewered every subject within reach, while deeper cuts like “The Thing That Eats Hippies” and “Ronald Reagan Killed the Black Dahlia” espoused a subversive, Philly-centric sense of humor that came to signify The Dead Milkmen in all their irreverent glory.
So what’s the thread that tied all things Milkmen together, from the band’s early ’80s beginnings until its acrimonious split in 1995? Joseph “Joe Jack Talcum” Genaro’s nasally vocals and steady hand on the guitar. He and keyboardist Rodney Linderman were billed as co-frontmen, but Genaro’s high-pitched voice usually drifted him to the top. And when the band signed to major label Hollywood Records in 1991, the label pushed Genaro even further front and center on Soul Rotation,Not Richard, But Dick, and Stoney’s Extra Stout, which ironically sold worse than their two previous albums, instant classics Beelzebubba and Metaphysical Graffiti.
Along with contract problems, health issues, and the usual pains of growing up, that push was one of the reasons the Milkmen split up. “I didn’t really want the band to break up,” Genaro tells Folio Weekly Magazine. “But for me, writing songs was not going to stop when the band stopped.” Linderman, Dean Sabatino, and Dave Schulthise pursued a variety of post-band activities: journalism, stints with Celtic punk groups, academic studies in Serbo-Croatian literature. And though Genaro fell into the lucrative world of website development, he also stayed more musically active than any of the other Milkmen. “Even when the band was together, I wrote songs that were never intended for the Milkmen to play,” Genaro says. “And I had no intention of not playing them.”
A laundry list of other acts followed: Butterfly Joe, Touch Me Zoo, The Town Managers, The Low Budgets, I Think Like Zero, Mohawk Town, The Cheesies. Even though Genaro self-released eight cassette tapes of home-recorded material prior to 2000, he didn’t play an acoustic solo show until 2004 — the same year that founding Milkman Dave Schulthise died and the remaining members of the band reunited for two one-offs that raised money for mental health nonprofits and the Serbian monastery that Schulthise supported.
In 2008, the band reunited full-time — “I didn’t expect it, but I welcomed it,” Genaro says — with Dan Stevens of The Low Budgets on bass. Since then, they’ve headlined festivals, making the childhood dreams of hardcore Milkmen fans come true, along with releasing two solid albums of original music, 2011’s The King in Yellow and 2014’s Pretty Music for Pretty People.
Genaro prefers to concentrate his songwriting efforts on the band these days, though, and he’s released only a couple of solo singles collections and splits since 2000. “I write best if there’s a deadline,” he says. “When I was younger, I felt like I had to write songs. Now I don’t feel like I have to, because of the repertoire.” Time will tell how well Genaro’s repertoire will match up with tourmates Coolzey, an LA-via-Iowa alt-rapper, and D&D Sluggers, a Nintendo chiptune-enhanced dance-pop duo from North Carolina. So how did the unusual (and unusually named) Kidnapped! tour come about? The good old-fashioned way: “I toured with mutual friends of Coolzey’s a few years ago,” Genaro says. “We said back then, ‘Let’s get together and do a tour!’ Many years passed and we tried many times, but finally this year we pulled it off.”
When asked about his set list, Genaro says he shoots for a 50-50 split. “I like to assess the crowd first,” he explains. “I usually put a set list together, but 95 percent of the time, I don’t adhere to it. I mean, I want people to come to my shows to hear my own songs, but I know a lot more people come for Milkmen songs. But it’s acoustic, so they’re getting acoustic versions.” Which will probably please longtime Milkmen fans who fondly recall the band’s many stops here at Einstein A Go-Go in the ’80s just fine.