Dead Milkmen on Breakup, Reunion, a Lost Friend, and Prank Calls
Photo by Nina Sabatino
When the Dead Milkmen decided to break up in 1994, it was a different era. Gimmicks like farewell tours were not a thing that bands like the Milkmen did.
Those guys were as sardonic a group of punk rockers as you could expect. They adopted ever-changing pseudonyms from album to album, and they played a fun little ditty called "Let's Get the Baby High."
Speaking from his Philadelphia home, guitarist and vocalist Joe Genaro, who back then went under the name "Butterfly Fairweather," now recalls the breakup with honest matter-of-factness. It was late 1993, and the band was taking a Christmas vacation between shows.
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"Dean [Sabatino, drums] announced that this would be his last tour, and he wanted to take a break from the band," says Genaro.
The drummer wanted to start a family. He was also planning to return to school to advance his design skills, which Milkmen fans know from the band's cover art.
"We were beginning to think about replacing him," Joe admits. "But ultimately, we decided we would not replace him."
And thus, the Milkmen were no more. The other members, who also included vocalist/keyboarist Rodney Linderman and bassist Dave Schulthise, either returned to their day jobs or went to school. Genaro says they all stayed friendly and he would sometimes meet up with one or two of his old mates on social occasions.
Tragedy would hit the group of old friends in 2004 when Schulthise (who had gone on to study Serbian culture and language, making a career for himself as an English teacher in Serbia) took his life.
Genero recalls feeling so "overwhelmed" that he had to leave work that day, and again, two days later, when Schulthise's obit was published. "It's sad that he took his own life, and I only recently have come to terms with it and don't blame myself or him. It's just the situation that it was."
Still, it meant new life for the Dead Milkmen. "His death brought us back together," Joe notes. "Dave's brother's Kurt wanted to put together a memorial benefit show, and he asked us to play."
Bassist Dan Stevens from Genero's band the Low Budgets stood in for Schulthise.
"It was kind of bittersweet, but it was also therapeutic."
A 1990 promo photo of the Milkmen.
It would be four years before another reunion show, when a very persistent organizer of the Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin pushed the band to make a surprise appearance. More offers came in for performances by the reunited Milkmen, and the group was officially alive again, even recording new material.
It all sounds pretty heavy for a perky pop-punk band who drew on influences like the Velvet Underground and the Ramones to come up with sly songs such as "The Woman Who Is Also a Mongoose" and "Bitchin' Camaro." But Genaro laughs a lot during the interview, even when remembering his lost songwriting partner. "He had a wry sense of humor," he recalls.
He recalls Schulthise's habit of prank-calling customer service lines of famous fast-food restaurants to complain about their nonexistent "Radar Burger," which contained a microchip that worked with a radar toy.
"Of course, the customer service reps would be a bit baffled. He'd be in character as Fred Lettuce the whole time. He'd spell his name first, 'L-E-T-T-U-C-E,' and they'd say, 'Lettuce?' and then he'd correct them, 'No, it's Letooché.'
"When I shared a place with Dave, I noticed that 'Fred Lettuce' received a lot of mail, including complimentary coupons from fast-food places."
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Dead Milkmen. With Sandratz and Humbert. Friday, April 11. Grand Central, 697 N. Miami Ave., Miami. The show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets cost $18 plus fees via ticketfly.com. All ages. Call 305-377-2277 or visit grandcentralmiami.com.
Follow Hans Morgenstern on Twitter @HansMorgenstern.
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