Decent American Artists
"Out in the woods
Up to no good
I wanna make friends with the badger"
—The Badger Song
Punk grew in popularity during the 1970s and by the mid-eighties it was a pretty mainstream genre, with prominent political punk bands gaining mainstream critical acclaim and billboard hits. Punk music was Serious Business
, often addressing social ills that were largely ignored by mainstream society.
The Dead Milkmen took another angle.
Poking fun at religion, politics, society, and punk music itself, the Philly-based Dead Milkmen are certainly one of the greatest satiric rock bands. Invoking, subverting, and referencing standard musical cliches, the Dead Milkmen had a pretty steady underground following from their start in 1983 and received more mainstream attention from Punk Rock Girl.
The band broke up in 1995, having released eight studio albums, one live record, and a bunch of other side releases.
In 2008 they reunited with a new bassist, Dan Stevens, as founding member Dave Blood passed away in 2004. Their latest album, The King In Yellow,
was released in 2011.
"Big Trope in My Backyard":
- All Just a Dream: "Silly Dreams"
- Aluminum Christmas Trees: The lyrics to "Punk Rock Girl" identify "California Dreamin'" as "a Beach Boys song" (when in fact it's by The Mamas And The Papas). This has been called a misattribution made by either the band themselves or the characters in the song. However, the Beach Boys actually did release a Cover Version of "California Dreamin'" as a single in 1985, so their version could have been playing on a jukebox a few years later when "Punk Rock Girl" was written.
- Appease the Volcano God: in "The Fez", which features a chant of "you have angered the volcano god!"
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: From "Methodist Coloring Book"
"God hates war
And God hates crime
But he really hates people
Who color outside the lines"
- Also in "Nutrition" where the speaker admits that he's a deadbeat and has no ambition, but hey, at least he cares about his nutrition.
- Ax-Crazy: The speaker in "Violent School," "If You Love Somebody Set Them On Fire," and quite a few more
- Bomb-Throwing Anarchists: Satirized by the Dead Milkmen themselves and sung about
- Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: "The Badger Song"
- Comedic Sociopathy: From "Punk Rock Girl":
"We got into a car and away we started rollin'
I said how much you pay for this
Said nothing man it's stolen"
- Conspiracy Theorist: "Conspiracy Song"
- The speaker in "Stuart," who has theories about what the queers are doing to the soil!
- There's also the narrator to "Peter Bazooka" who follows around his congressman who doesn't look like his congressman.
- The Cuckoolander Was Right: In "I Dream of Jesus," the speaker's mother claims to have found Jesus trapped inside of an old Manischevitz bottle. Considering the mother's past history of getting into fights and her former church which believed dancing was "a one-way ticket to hell" the fact that Jesus is actually in the bottle is pretty surprising.
- Deep South: "Hello my name is Billy Bob and I don't give a damn" in "Tiny Town"
- Don't Try This at Home: "Part 3" contains the warning: "Don't any of you kids try this guitar solo at home - that man is a trained professional"
- Funny Background Event: In the music video for "Punk Rock Girl," just about every time it shows the band "playing," it's usually just Joe Jack singing and playing guitar while his bandmates goof off behind him.
- Fun with Acronyms: "V.F.W. (Veterans of A Fucked up World)" is a play on the acronym of an American veterans organization, Veterans of Foreign Wars.
- Genie in a Bottle: "I Dream of Jesus" except it's not a genie, it's Jesus Christ, and he's in a Manischevitz bottle that the speaker's mother finds behind a 7/11.
- Goth: Mocked in "Instant Club Hit (You'll Dance To Anything)"
"You wear black clothes say you're poetic
The sad truth is you're just pathetic"
- The lyrics still work pretty well for mocking Hipsters and Emo Teens too, even though the latter didn't even exist at the time.
- "I Want" Song: "Everybody's Got Nice Stuff But Me"
- Lyrical Dissonance: Dark humor and lyrical dissonance are pretty standard tools
- Motor Mouth: In "Moron"
- Murder Ballad: "William Bloat", which sets a Raymond Calvert poem to music, comes off as a parody of one: The title character slits his wife's throat with a razor blade in her sleep, then hangs himself with her bedsheet... His suicide is successful, but his wife lives because "the razor blade was German made / but the sheet was Belfast linen".
- Parody Names: Drummer "Dean Clean" and lead guitarist "Joe Jack Talcum" are gentle parodies of punk names like Johnny Rotten, Sid Vicious, etc. For the album Soul Rotation, Rodney Anonymous switched his stage name to HP Hovercraft, punning on H.P. Lovecraft.
- Philadelphia: Expect strong Philly accents and references to Philly landmarks
- Punk Rock
- Pyromaniac: "If You Love Somebody, Set Them On Fire"
"Oily rags are special things
You know to me they're diamond rings
Maybe we can have some fun
Maybe we can burn someone"
- The Quincy Punk: Satirized quite a few times, most notably in "Punk Rock Girl"
- Running Gag: For a while, they had one with Dave Blood dressing in drag in their music videos - He played a waitress in "Punk Rock Girl", a female alien in "The Secret Of Life", and a go-go dancer in "Smokin' Banana Peels".
- Shout-Out: In "Punk Rock Girl":
"We asked for Mojo Nixon
They said 'He don't work here!'
We said 'If you don't got Mojo Nixon'
Then your store could use some fixin'!"
- "The Thing That Only Eats Hippies" has one to Hüsker Dü with the line "So Bob and Greg and Grant you should beware."
- The Doors were parodied in two of their songs. In the opening dialogue of "Bitchin' Camaro," a cover band that turns "Love Me Two Times" into a song about AIDS is mentioned. Then in "If You Love Somebody Set Them on Fire," the "You know that it would be untrue, you know that I would be a liar" segments are a reference to "Light My Fire."
- From "Smokin' Banana Peels"
"Talk to me about Elvis
- In "My Many Smells," there's the line "See me, hear me, touch me, smell me."
- "That Jonny Wurster kid" in "Stuart" was named after Jon Wurster, who later went on to be the drummer of Superchunk.
- "The Fez" includes the lyric "There's a time for taking and a time for giving / but ripping off the Butthole Surfers is how we make our living" - fittingly, the song itself is sort of done In the Style of... Butthole Surfers. The same song also parodies lyrics from Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues" ("I'd like to help you son, but you smell like a goat") and Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze" ("'scuse me while I puke and die").
- "Beach Party Vietnam" mentions a young couple named Frankie and Annette. The 1960s Beach Party film series starred Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello.
- The Something Song: "Beach Song," "Guitar Song", "The Blues Song", "Beach Song", "Conspiracy Song", "The Badger Song"...
- Step Up to the Microphone: At first, Rodney Anonymous took the majority of lead vocals, with Joe Jack Talcum singing a few songs per album (including "Punk Rock Girl", arguably their most famous song). Joe started having an increasing vocal presence on their later albums, and actually sang more songs on the album Soul Rotation than Rodney did.
- The Stoner: "Smokin' Banana Peels"
- Stylistic Suck: The deliberately out of key guitar solo in "Punk Rock Girl."
- Surf Rock: Parodied in "Beach Song," where they complain about wasting the summer at the beach
- Also parodied in "Beach Party Vietnam" where the speaker sings about cooking hot dogs with napalm and surfing with the Viet Cong (possibly a reference to the line "Charlie Don't Surf" from Apocalypse Now and The Clash's song that was written from the line.)
- Take That: "Instant Club Hit (You'll Dance To Anything)" is made of these, but the rant at the end is the perfect cap to them:
You'll dance to anything
by any bunch of stupid Europeans, who come over here, with their big hairdos, intent on taking our money, instead of giving your cash, where it belongs: to a decent, American artist, like myself..."
- "Anderson, Walkman, Buttholes and How!"
- "Tiny Town" included a now obscure dig at Hardcore Punk band The F.U.'s - the band in question received fan backlash for pro-conservative lyrics on their album My America, thus explaining why the bigoted narrators of the song "hate punks" but "love the F.U.'s",
- Threatening Shark: The beach is thoroughly derided in "Beach Song" for its stupid sand, stupid fish, and stupid people but the worst part is that the speaker gave his ice cream to a shark and now has nothing to eat.
- Three Chords and the Truth: Subverted. Quite a lot of songs use just a few chords but the "truth" delivered is pretty subjective.
- Tuckerization: "that Jonny Wurster kid" in "Stuart" is named after Jon Wurster, the drummer for Superchunk and a friend of the band.
- Went to the Great X in the Sky: "The Thing That Only Eats Hippies"
"Gonna send 'em all to that big folk festival in the sky"
- Wisdom from the Gutter: As The Dead Milkmen were often deliberately crude and ridiculous, it's pretty shocking when a song like "The Secret of Life," which is about the speaker's interstellar romp with a space alien, is genuinely sweet and provides the message that there is no secret to life, since secrets only serve to turn people against each other.
- "If I Had A Gun" is from the same album (Soul Rotation) and while one might expect it to be along the same lines as "Violent School" where the speaker rambles about how awesome violence is, it's actually a pretty interesting contemplation about how the speaker would be different if he owned a gun and had the power to destroy.
- "Life Is Shit" is for the most part exactly what you'd expect from the title... And then the last verse features completely sincere lyrics about the pain of missing departed loved ones.
- Word Salad Lyrics: Invoked, subverted, satirized over and over again. "The Fez" does all of these in a single song.
- Yandere: Again, "If You Love Somebody, Set Them On Fire"