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April 18th, 2015

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The Dead Milkmen - Prisoner's Cinema

This legendary Philly punk band had an entire career between 1983 and 1996, in the height of cut-throat, record industry largesse. But after the 2004 death of bass player Dave Blood, when the band reformed to play in his memory, they found themselves in a different world where they control everything and decide for themselves what it means to be successful.

      Between 1983 and 1996, The Dead Milkmen (Rodney “Anonymous” Linderman, Joe “Jack Talcum” Genaro, Dave “Blood” Schulthise and Dean “Clean” Sabatino) recorded 8 studio albums, countless singles, and a live album. Beyond that, for the lucky ones in their hometown of Philadelphia, treasured demo cassettes and live recordings were known to turn up in thrift stores (as they reportedly still do to this day). They were a prolific band to say the least.

      In the day they were known for incredible energy and choreographing an endless string of awkward situations - like the time Rodney handcuffed himself to Downtown Julie Brown on her MTV-produced dance show (look it up… it’s out there). Or when, as 120 Minutes guest hosts, they performed a special new tune which expressed in no uncertain terms how much more they’d rather just be at home at that very moment.

      Like many a rock and roll story of the old days, the pressures of the industry and the constant struggle to be “relevant”, finally took its toll and they shut it all down in 1996. The four went their separate ways, got day jobs and descended back with the rest of us into the land of the mundane.

      But in 2004, following bass player Dave Blood’s suicide, the three original members reformed to play a string of shows in his memory, enlisting Andrew “Dandrew” Stevens (Joe’s band mate in The Low Budgets) to do the honors on bass.

      It’s like they woke up into a new era. The superficial promises and aspirations of the industry were gone, but much more to their liking, The Dead Milkmen had no one to answer to. They could do whatever they wanted. They could play on a big stage for 2000 people or they could play a basement show in West Philly. But even better than that - now they could write, record and release music on their own terms. In many ways it was the start of new era for Rodney, Joe, Dean and Dandrew - The Dead Milkmen could last indefinitely.

 

      “In the long run I don’t care how it sounds, lets just go and have fun and enjoy ourselves…if it doesn’t sound right you just don’t release it….if you don’t enjoy yourself when you’re doing it that comes through"

    -Rodney Anonymous

 

      In 2011, they released their first full-length record in 16 years, “The King in Yellow”, followed by “Pretty Music for Pretty People” in 2014. Both were recorded with Weathervane’s Brian McTear and Amy Morrissey at their studio Miner Street Recordings in Philadelphia.

      In January of 2015, we asked the Dead Milkmen to record a song for Shaking Through. For the session, the band were joined by Hot Breakfast! singer and guitar player, Jill Knapp and Matt Casarino to record “Prisoner’s Cinema” - a celebration of the every-day people who had to clean up after rock-stars and their debaucherous episodes of the past.

      It was an eye-opening experience to see how they record and to see that lyrics, energy and a simple, “real” presentation are what matter most to these punk legends. It was also instantly apparent that recording to the grid, and other elements which they see as “modern over-production” still have no place in the Dead Milkmen’s music. As the Weathervane Community grows, and more of us feel lucky to live in a time where we too can record music for the rest of our lives, The Dead Milkmen are pioneers worthy of our attention. We can all learn a lot from their endurance and devotion.

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