October 19, 2012
FRIDAY SOMETHING-OR-OTHER-TO-DO-WITH-BOOKS MUSIC VIDEO: The Dead Milkmen
by Will Vincent
Before plugging “Monster Mash” into your Pandora search box and reclining with a bowlful of bite-size Snickers, have a gander at the mellifluous jams that came out of the 1980s, when there was an apparent musical-obsession with October’s last day, whether in the horror punk of The Misfits, (who actually have a song called “Halloween”) or the many references to Frankenstein in the early music videos of MTV.
If you wander far enough into the Youtube wilderness, past the bouncing rubber bat in Yazoo’s video for “Don’t Go” and over Huey’s corpse in the eight minute long narrative video for Huey Luis and the News’ “Doing It All for My Baby,” you’ll unearth The Dead Milkmen’s front man Rodney Linderman as a hybrid Elvis-Frankenstein monster in “Big Time Operator.”
The satirical punk band is no stranger to literary allusion — the very name of the group comes from Toni Morrison’s character “Milkman Dead” in Song of Solomon and though a version of the monster as an amalgam of human body parts isn’t explicitly mentioned in Shelley’s novel, the version of the beast as a stitched together whole of the dead and rotten helps me understand my own glee at unearthing things like this, and a bit about how we take our culture these days.
Whether enjoying Betamax and VHS tapes edited down to three minute grotesqueries at everythingisterrible.com, zombifying the artisanal practices of the 19th century, or repurposing WWII voice emulators to make R&B singers sound like robots, the method seems to be: pluck something easily identifiable as belonging to another era, sew it to something else, and queue the evil laughs.
The Dead Milkmen are already operating on a tier of irony once removed from decades past; their menagerie of subjects mocked include bongos, bad guitar solos, drugs, and Stevie Rae Vaughn.
This Frankensteinating of media can give way to Luddism and an inability to enjoy things the way they’re meant to be enjoyed. It’s not all bad though; one need not look farther than Melville House’s own collection of novellas for what a good thing revived looks like. For now just enjoy the romp, and try not to — as Lenderman shouts in the first line of the song, “kill the motherfucker” in the process.
Will Vincent is an intern at Melville House.