I’m a Happy Imbecile: Butterfly Joe

Did I mention that I used to love the Dead Milkmen? They were one of my favorite bands in high school. That was honestly about as “punk rock” as I got until I went to college. Sure, there was the occasional mix tape from Alex Eiserloh with a couple of songs by Black Flag or the Dead Kennedys, but I was not very cool in high school. At least not what I would consider cool now. I was in high school from 1985 to 1989, which was a pretty fucking ripe time period for American indie/punk, but I missed it all because I was so focused on my Beatles and my Smiths. And my Dead Milkmen.

Pat LaPenna, GLONO’s resident graphics guru, and I drove down to Kalamazoo to see the Milkmen at an all-ages show at the State Theatre sometime during my junior or senior year. It was the Beelzebubba tour, and they were great. So were the Herb Tarlicks who opened up for them (“Heavy Metal Motherfucker”).

Dead MilkmenI thought the Milkmen were the coolest, funniest band ever. I was on their fan club mailing list and continued to receive their photocopied newsletter well into college. I had Dead Milkmen penpals that used to send postcards to my college PO Box, mostly high school girls with large, loopy penmanship who also loved the Cure.

Then sometime in college I abandoned them. Like many fans, I was disappointed by 1990’s Metaphysical Graffiti and its lame retread of things they’d already done, and I didn’t even bother picking up 1992’s Soul Rotation, which was allegedly “more serious.” I still haven’t heard that album or any of the ones after that.

But I recently got a hold of the self-titled 1999 album by Butterfly Joe, the guy who sang “Punk Rock Girl.” I’ll always think of him as the guy who sang my favorite song, “Watching Scotty Die” (from 1987’s Bucky Fellini), but I know most people only know “Punk Rock Girl.” And maybe “Bitchin’ Camaro” too, or “Instant Club Hit (You’ll Dance to Anything).” The thing is that Joe Genaro (aka Jack Talcum, Butterfly Fairweather, etc.) only sang two or three songs on each Dead Milkmen album. Rodney Anonymous sang the rest. But I always liked Joe’s songs the best, from “Dean’s Dream” to “The Guitar Song.” There was something wimpy and vulnerable about Joe’s voice that I could really identify with.

And there still is. That’s why it bums me out that I didn’t find out about this album until fairly recently. Some of the songs are weak (including the first three songs and especially “Radio”) and the drummer is the drummer from the Dead Milkmen (and his playing is still as — ahem — loose as it ever was), but once the album gets going, it’s really great.

“Fancy Walls” is where it made me stop and listen. It’s got a repetetive, hypnotic song structure with marimbas and other strange instrumentation. The lyrics are great but would look stupid in print: you’ve got to hear them. “Whale in the Sea” (mp3) sounds like it could be on the upcoming album by Chicago’s weird and sadly overlooked Quasar Wut Wut with its sea-chantey melody and rocking chorus. “San Francisco” (mp3) is not the Dean Martin song, but it is beautifully orchestrated and it introduces us to Joe’s baritone vocal range, which reappears on “Seventeen” in a less successful way. “Little Pill” is as moody and scary and acoustic as “Yesterday I Was Talking To My Sister” is happy and fun and hopped up with horns.

And the lyrics throughout the album are great. You can connect with them and they mean something. There’s plenty of levity but they’re not silly. Well, sometimes they’re silly. But not too silly.

I’ve been picking up the Dead Milkmen albums on cd when I find them used. I used to have them on cassette but I’ve given away all my tapes (except for that box of bootlegs and that crate of mixtapes, but that’s another story). Listening to them after ten years, I was surprised how well they held up. They still sounded great. They were still as funny and fun as they ever were.

My high school English teacher, Mr. Rex, taught us that jokes were only funny the first and the third time. That’s a surprisingly valid theory. And that’s why you see a lot of those Adam Sandler cds in the used rack. They might be funny enough to make you pee your pants the first time you hear them, but how many times are you going to listen them? And will you still enjoy them? After a few listens, I find myself putting my beloved Dead Milkmen albums back on the shelf. But this Butterfly Joe cd has been in heavy rotation on my Walkman for weeks.

Check out an interview with Joe from the Onion.

14 thoughts on “I’m a Happy Imbecile: Butterfly Joe”

  1. “Rodney Anonymous sang the rest. But I always liked Joe’s songs the best”

    Were you dropped as a child? I don’t mean from just a few feet off the ground, but from, oh maybe, a very tall building or a grain silo.

    Look, I’ve got nothing against Joe. He’s been one of my best friends for over 20 years and I think he’s one the most talented people ever to tread on this crappy planet, but I swear that his fan base is made up of people should be set adrift on an ice-flow. While I give him credit for managing to farm the pockets of “sensitive poets” while still making great music, I often wonder why he doesn’t open up on his audience with an uzi (thereby doing humanity a huge favor.). I know that if a bunch of you wimpy shoe-gazers showed up at one of my shows I’d squeeze your heads like pimples.

    I’ll send you a copy of the Burn Witch Burn CD. You’ll hate it. There are no songs about flowers or “feeling special”. Jesus, what is it with you tweetards?

    And another thing, you referred to Dean’s drumming as “ahem – loose as it ever was”. Apologize. Apologize now. Substitute the word “brilliant” for “loose” or I sear to “Bob” that the next time you’re at Belle & Sebastian show, you’ll have to deal with a naked me screamin, “Play ‘Calling Doctor Love’, you shoe-gazing winptards.”

    – Rodney Anonymous

    Mayor of Philadelphia

  2. Rodney, I’ve heard the Burn Witch Burn cd, and not to be a dick, but you should have let Vienna sing all of the songs. You’re no Shane McGowan, tough guy. (By the way, I’m really fucking honored that you commented on my article. I loved your Milkmen songs too, you know.)

  3. “Rodney, I’ve heard the Burn Witch Burn cd, and not to be a dick, but you should have let Vienna sing all of the songs.”

    No duh. The problem was that Vienna is my wife, so I’d say “Hey, Honey, why don’t you sing this one.” And she says, “Why don’t you do some gawddamn work around this studio for a change.” I don’t know if you’re married, or not, but if you are then you know that all that stuff about this being “a man’s world” is bad science-fiction. The last thing I want is my wife “getting a headache” on Saturday night (Although, twice, she’s called out Ralph Nader’s name while we were be intimate). So, I’d say, “Yes, dear, I’ll sing it.” And mope off like the hen-pecked husband on an episode of the Flintstones. So, yeah, “pathetic” can now be added to the list of adjectives on my resume.

    “You’re no Shane McGowan, tough guy. ”

    Ever see my teeth? The experience is not unlike inspecting a coalmine.

    “I loved your Milkmen songs too, you know.”

    Then you should take back what you said about Dean. Without a rhythm section, Joe & I would’ve been force to produce ten CD’s of us plucking our ass hairs. Oh, you should say something nice about Dave, too.

    Well, thanks for saying lots of nice stuff about Joe (in large print) and some nice stuff about me (even though it was added only after you discovered that those rumors about me no longer being responsible for my actions are true) (in small print.).

    Keep up the good work. If you ever need any song ideas, here’s one: The Vatican puts Mother Theresa’s corpse on display – only to discover that she had implants.

    No longer stalking you,

    Rodney P. Anonymous, Superpimp

  4. Metaphysical Graffiti was the crowning achievement of our society in the 1st millennium!


    “…all greased up and ready to pounce…”

    paul B

  5. Jake,

    I think we need a Rodney interview. Classic stuff! Thank you, Mr Anonymous.

    A great fan,


    PS – Soul Rotation wasn’t too bad. Big Scary Place is worth it alone. However, Not Richard, but Dick was a good solid album and Stoney’s was the best since Beelzebubba.

  6. when i first listened to the dead milkmen i didnt know who the fuck they were and i didnt care as long as their music was good at first i only found the songs that were funny but more stories then songs like the badger song and bitching camaro but then i found the coolest songs peter bazooka, smokin banana peels and the thing that only eats hippies if you want to bitch out all the people in the band except joe why do you even listen to the band why dont you just focus on joes voice while you masturbate to his voice you queer

  7. Quote:

    “his playing is still as — ahem — loose as it ever was”

    Sir, as your understanding and perception of music seems to go no farther than hearing a vague blob of sound behind the singers, kindly have the decency to refrain from any public commentary in the future. Limiting your opinions to a small circle of friends would be more than sufficient.

  8. I’d sell my soul to Satan to be able to play and sing as well as Dean Clean. Yeah, I said “sing.” I liked “Crystalline.”

    “Without a rhythm section, Joe & I would’ve been force to produce ten CD’s of us plucking our ass hairs.”


  9. I’d sell my soul to Satan to be able to play and sing as well as Dean Clean. Yeah, I said “sing.” I liked “Crystalline.”

    “Without a rhythm section, Joe & I would’ve been force to produce ten CD’s of us plucking our ass hairs.”


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