A lot of punk rock bands view their music as a terribly serious business, putting terrific thought and effort into addressing such societal evils as racism, sexual violence, creeping fascism and the popularity of pop star George Michael. These, after all, are not trifling matters.
But then there are the Dead Milkmen, a punk band that is more than happy to trifle with just about anything. Like their more hard-core brethren, the Milkmen are fearless critics of the world around them; the only difference is that where the Dead Kennedys might rail against materialism in a scathing attack like “California Uber Alles,” the Dead Milkmen are likely to whine sarcastically that “Everybody Has Nice Stuff but Me.”
It is a far more amiable approach, but even so, the band used to get complaints about it. “A lot of the hard-core people would rag on us for not being serious enough,” said guitarist Jasper Thread over the phone from Philadelphia.
“We’d say, ‘We are serious, this is just our way of putting the ideas across,’ ” he continued. “Or sometimes we’d just say, ‘You’re taking life too seriously,’ depending what mood we were in.”
That smart-alecky streak runs deep in the Dead Milkmen, from the band’s name--"We had a whole list, and that was the silliest,” said Thread--right down to its music. Sometimes, the group’s sense of humor is wickedly pointed, as on the 1987 single “Instant Club Hit (You’ll Dance to Anything),” a gibe at the gullibility of new wave dance club patrons that, ironically, became a big hit in the very clubs it lampooned.
And sometimes, the jokes are about nothing at all.
For instance, there is a song on “Beelzebubba,” the band’s new album, in which singer Rodney Anonymous repeatedly warns a fellow named Howard to watch out. Why? Because, Rodney sings, “we wanna hurt you,” adding ominously that “the government won’t protect you--they’d like to see you turned into Howard stew.” Unsurprisingly, the band calls this tune “Howard Beware.”
But who is Howard? More importantly, what could he have done that would so enrage the Dead Milkmen?
Well, nothing, actually.
In fact, there is no Howard. It was, Thread said, all a misunderstanding. “Howard was originally power--'Power Beware'--but he became Howard,” he said. “Either Rodney or Dave (Blood, the bass player) misheard the title, and that’s how it happened.”
Thread laughed, concluding, “So one person in the United States figured it out.”
The Dead Milkmen will play Feb. 13 at the Roxy on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood.