Punk rock boy
Joe Jack Talcum, founding member of comedy-punkers The Dead Milkmen, has never stopped rocking
“Everything gets harder,” says punk-rock troubadour Joe Jack Talcum of touring at the far-end of his 40s. “Well, not everything, if you know what I mean.”
It’s not surprising Talcum manages to slip in a quick dick joke. Talcum, whose real name is Joseph Genaro, has built a nearly 30-year musical career on a sense of humor as a founding member of Philadelphia’s legendary Dead Milkmen.
The band briefly broke out of the underground in the ’80s and ’90s with college-radio hits like “Bitchin’ Camaro” and “Punk Rock Girl” and has managed to endure as a cult legend. Talcum served as guitarist and co-lead vocalist of the band from 1983-1995, and while some would call that a career and quit, he never stopped.
“I can’t remember a period of time after the Dead Milkmen split up that I was not active musically,” he says before launching into a list of past projects that partially includes the bands Touch Me Zoo, The Low Budgets and Butterfly Joe. “There was no period when I took a break from music, performing shows, writing songs and recording.”
Current projects include his own solo material, plus guitar duties in a band called No! Go! Tell! When he stops at Monstros Pizza Feb. 5 as part of the four-artist Huge Bicycle Tour, he will be playing his own songs and Milkmen classics on acoustic guitar and harmonica.
While Talcum hasn’t hit Milkmen status as a solo artist, he’s been happy underground.
“I don’t see myself as a good fit for the mainstream,” he says. “I do like success, and I do like to earn money making music. Not everyone needs to be in the mainstream. There are plenty of people who don’t like the typical popular music, myself included.p>“The [Milkmen] royalties do not support me on their own, but touring and playing shows around Philly helps to bridge the gap, and I do have a part-time job right now testing software. I am able to get by when I put all of that together.”
In addition to Talcum’s many projects, The Dead Milkmen actually reunited in 2008 for a handful of shows and are planning to release new material.
“We have been getting together on a regular basis for songwriting sessions, and we have plans to record a radio show for broadcast in Philadelphia in early March.”
Though such a reunion has been long anticipated by aging punks and indie dorks, it is also tinged with tragedy; Milkmen bassist Dave Blood (real name: Dave Schulthise) committed suicide in 2004.
“Dave and I had grown apart after he moved out of the country,” Talcum says of his fallen band mate. “But he moved back and we started to see each other more and it seemed our friendship was getting rekindled and, in fact, The Milkmen had gotten back together to work on the DVD project [Philadelphia in Love], so for me it was the start of a hopeful period.
“Unfortunately, I did not detect the darkness and sadness or depression that Dave was suffering. I had seen him about a month before he took his life.”
Blood and Talcum were responsible for writing one of the band’s biggest hits, “Punk Rock Girl.” Ironically, the co-author of one of the greatest songs about young, dumb, heterosexual love is openly gay: “I tend to not focus on sexual issues in my musical performance,” he says. “The only way I think it was a personal issue for me in my earlier days was that I was not open about being gay at first. I did not appreciate homophobic fans, even if they assumed I was straight.
“It is tough for me to write any song that is very personal, but I do like to write some from a gay point of view. It is difficult for me not to have that point of view, I suppose, though, from what I gather, it is not really that far off from a straight point of view except for sex drive.
“Plus there are lots of straight guys who are effeminate and sensitive as well as lots of gay guys who are macho and crude. And, of course, there are gay girls who are butch and gay girls who are more effeminate, and straight girls who are effeminate and straight girls who are tom-boyish. The world would be pretty dull if there were only two genders.”