Here’s a clip of pisstaking Pennsylvanian punks The Dead Milkmen performing their wonderfully hamfisted DIY love song “Punk Rock Girl” from their 1988 album Beelzebubba. The song was an unlikely MTV hit, helped in part by the equally half-baked, yet hilarious video.
If ever there was a time for simple, slightly misbegotten punk rock, it was 1988 and the Milkmen were the johnnies on the spot. They escaped critical praise for the most part, by seeming to care little for craft or for glory. And their cult following was based around their derisive, yet humourous, attitude toward pop culture, and due to the fact that they had the smarts to write songs that speak directly to their audience’s experience. The band’s world is the land of insecure teens, shopping malls, and casual juvenile delinquency, with a bit of young love thrown in. Has rock’n’ roll ever been about anything else?
In this tune we get the young love tale, complete with disapproving parents, and somewhat random and disjointed us-against-the-world sentiments. It barely hangs together musically, and is largely dependent on the cheap laughs to fuel it. This should be awful. I should hate this. But, as it is I always found it kind of endearing. So many bands have tried to strike the balance between tunefulness and ‘wackiness’. Mostly, I find this approach to be pretty repellent – I’m looking at you, Moxy Fruvous. But with these guys, they’ve got such little guile, so little ego invested, and so little technical skill of any kind, you kind of root for them anyway.
My favourite line in this tune? Well, I think it might be:
“We got into her car away we started rollin’
I said how much you pay for this
Said nothin’ man it’s stolen…”
Yes – totally silly. A cheap laugh. I love it. God help me.
1988 was my graduating year of high school, and I can tell you there wasn’t much on the radio that year that had much character. Everybody was pretty busy Wang Chung-ing. Yet this tune on heavy rotation on video channels was like a wonderful, half-cocked balm, a little blip on the sonic landscape that made me remember that pop music could still be about silliness and fun – that it didn’t have to be slick and made for mass consumption. It could still be inconsequential, kind of catchy, yet still divide the room into those who got it, and those who didn’t.
For more music, check out the Dead Milkmen MySpace page.