Rodney “Anonymous” Linderman is on the phone. And he’s not sure he’s reached the right Hellbound. “I’ve looked at your website and I just see death metal bands” he says. “I don’t want to be a Justin Bieber in a group of Glenn Danzigs.” Hellbound assures him he’s reached the right publication and that we want to speak to him. And why wouldn’t we? As vocalist and keyboardist of The Dead Milkmen, Linderman played a key role in 1980s American punk rock and was among the first underground artists to be featured on MTV. He dissed Motley Crue when glam ruled metal and made subversive songs that somehow got radio play. The band disbanded in 1995 and suffered the loss of bass player Dave Blood, who committed suicide in 2004. Four years later the remaining members decided they were bored with their lives and got the band back together like The Blues Brothers.
If you still doubt Linderman’s bona fides he was also a roommate with Brutal Truth and Total Fucking Destruction drummer Rich Hoak when Hoak attended the University of Pennsylvania. Listen as one of the originals of American punk discusses his fascination with Watain, how America is getting dumber and the new record The King In Yellow, an album about madness that channeled his adolescent anger.
You lived with Rich Hoak in Pennsylvania decades ago.
I knew Rich from punk rock shows. He had a dorm room at the University of Pennsylvania with Doug Bennett. They were in a band called Homo Picnic. Everyone hung out there and people would get so drunk that they pissed in the corners. Rich also ran a tee-shirt exchange. If you came over and crashed out you’d leave a tee-shirt and take another one. I crashed there all the time. Then we all moved into a house together and that was a lot of fun.
Were you surprised when Rich joined a grindcore band?
I always knew he was going to do something really cool. He’s one of those people that steps into things and makes them work. He sent me a Total Fucking Destruction shirt recently and I need to send him a new Milkmen shirt. I reviewed TFD for the (Philadelphia) City Paper and I pointed out that I’m reviewing my friend’s record and probably wouldn’t tell you if it sucked. But it ended up being fantastic. TFD is really, really good. Rich is a fucking nut but he is a lot of fun to hang around with. A few months ago I met his daughter. That was pretty cool, pretty shocking. She looks just like him.
I just met someone else who played in a death metal band and knew Rich. We were talking about a death metal band – it begins with a W—that collects road kill and brings it on the stage.
You mean Watain?
Yeah, Watain! We were taking about them. They are the greatest story of all time. When they are on their tour bus they stop and pick up road kill. Apparently the stage smells pretty bad and they have a roadie that deals with all the maggots.
Did you ever want to do that with The Dead Milkmen?
I admire guys that do that kind of stuff. I wish punk rock could be scary again and could upset people like that. Now that I’m older people think it’s cute and I can’t be dangerous anymore. I’m like this great uncle. No one in punk rock is scary anymore, especially the original punk bands. So I would like do something like that. How about going to medical school and doing a show while performing abortions? (laughs). That might get people interested.
You are all middle aged…why did you decide to come back in 2008?
Well, we were bored. If Dave Blood was still alive and couldn’t play we wouldn’t have done it. It wouldn’t have been complete. It had been four years since Dave passed. I got really fat, so we were fat and bored. But I was also getting angry because I saw all this crazy stuff going on in the world and no one was doing anything about it. There was all this built up anger. It was cheaper for us to reform than for me to see a psychiatrist.
What had you been doing in the ensuing years? I know you write about music.
We all seem to work in IT, have real jobs. I came close to selling my equipment before we got together again. Dean (Sabatino, drummer) was still playing in bands and Joe (Genaro, guitarist and vocalist) was doing solo stuff. I performed with my wife but she got stage fright. I was about to sell my sampler and keyboards and even had them up on a web site. But for some reason I didn’t. I still really enjoy writing, it’s a real blast.
You could do a take on the latest Watain album.
I have to hear them now. Another person was telling me about this band called Baal from Japan. Holy fucking shit they are amazing! How do you spell Watain, anyway? I need to Google this (typing noises in the background).
Whoa, the website is Temple of Watain. I know the town they are from. They have a song called “Storm Of The Antichrist.” I bet I’d get along really well with these guys. These are the sort of people I’d like to talk to in my regular life. I seem to always end up talking to my friends about things like Watain, talk about them like the McLaughlin Group of black metal. I’m really glad there is someone doing this so that I don’t have to pick up road kill. I’m never going to be able to look at road kill the same way. I should write a song called “Collecting Road kill for Watain.”
When Dave Blood passed away were all of you in touch?
Not in touch as we should have been. Dave’s Mom died and I really should have picked up the phone and called him. It’s something I tell people now when they mention they haven’t heard from someone – pick up the phone and call them. We would see each other as much as possible. Sometimes we’d go out to a yard sale near where Dave lives. But you never think someone is going to do what he did. Now if I don’t hear from someone I always check in.
The band was always close. We couldn’t find anyone else to hang out with. That’s why we formed a band. We hung out for a long time and would constantly see each other. I get weirded out when I don’t see the guys for a while. I get sick of them after 10 minutes of seeing them but when I’m not around them I miss them.
Had Dave struggled with depression or did he keep that stuff private?
I would have never suspected it. I never knew that he was more depressed than anyone else. He was going through a lot of bad stuff with his mother’s death. I think I left him one message. I should have made much more of an effort. You really need to pick up the fucking phone.
Was his passing the impetus for your playing again?
He was such an interesting guy. If he was bored for a minute he would set something on fire. I looked over once when he hadn’t been around for a few minutes and there was this huge trash can on fire. So, you can’t spend time with someone like that and not want to fight a war on boredom.
In 2008, we were extremely bored. We were sitting around and hadn’t done anything. If he hadn’t died we would not have gotten together. He developed carpal tunnel syndrome from his playing. To me it’s absolutely amazing, because he kept playing. I should have appreciated his bass playing more. He was a very innovative player. He had to take lessons to relearn to play around the pain and eventually just had to stop. It sucks to have that gift and have it taken from you. So, I’m lucky I can’t play for shit. If I wake up tomorrow and I couldn’t play keyboards it wouldn’t be a loss for the world.
I remember listening to Big Lizard In My Backyard with a group of friends when we were teenagers. Few people knew about the band. A few years later you were on MTV.
It’s strange when it happens. The first band I really loved was The Clash. You wanted them to do well. They opened for The Who and people were booing them off stage. And then “Rock The Casbah” hit. All of a sudden everyone was rockin’ the Casbah and everyone was into the Clash. It wasn’t a private thing anymore.
On Big Lizard you took potshots at everything and everyone.
Well, we didn’t think we’d get to make another record. I was 19 years old then. What you are hearing is 19 years of anger on one record.
I think about the song “Violent School” where you talk about kids having guns in schools. I wonder how that would be received today.
Everyone’s become so uptight. But now, you don’t need to have a record company so you could probably get away with more – like picking up road kill. In the past you could get away with shit in movies you can’t now. Take a look at something like Porky’s which is a shit film. You couldn’t get away with the sex scenes in that now. There’s just a general uptight-ness about things.
Your early song “Tiny Town” mocked a close-minded small town but it seems that mindset has become a national trend.
We honestly thought those people would go away. The strangest thing was that song got banned by left-leaning college stations because they thought we were advocating those things. We had to explain satire to them and it didn’t work.
Now, we’ve basically had 30 years of anti-intellectualism. People think it’s cool to be stupid, cool to focus on ‘the other.’ Before the big witch craze people were going around throwing out feudal lords. So what the church did was say “this strange old woman in town has bewitched your cattle.” It’s the same now. If you keep focusing on these small groups — saying you could afford a truck if it wasn’t for ‘them there’ gays – people will follow. A certain part of the population will follow you. It’s been tried and true since the 12th century.
Does it depress you that you wrote a song in the early 80s saying this was a small-town phenomenon and now that mindset is all over America?
It doesn’t depress me because that means they win. We have a song on the new album called “Caitlin Childs.” It’s about a girl who was picketing a Honey Baked Ham store and noticed that people were taking pictures from cars and taking their license plate numbers. Caitlin was young at the time, her late teens. She got pulled over and arrested. It turned out that Homeland Security was watching picketers outside the Honey Baked Ham store! I felt like I had lost my ability to be shocked until I heard about Homeland Security monitoring picketers at a Honey Baked Ham store.
On The King In Yellow you have changed your targets and satire subjects. The song “She’s Affected” is about news anchors, for example.
Well, there’s still a lot of teenage anger in there. But local news is just shit. I once rode the elevator with a local newsman. I get in the elevator one morning. I don’t look very threatening. I’m bald and I’m about five feet tall and I’m dressed for work. I just started unloading on him about how he spent five minutes on the newscast promoting some product from his parent company. That’s not news. I ripped into him so badly. These are the types of folks who show government sponsored news clips. Would Edward R. Murrow be proud of this? I just went ballistic. He gets off and the people on the elevator are now yelling at me. I’m saying “you should be angry at him!”
FOX News knows how to distract people and that’s by having women who look like models deliver most of the news.
I don’t know why Democracy Now! doesn’t do that. I’d turn Democracy Now! into Democracy Wow! I really like Amy Goodman, the host. She’s a fine journalist. But I guarantee if you put in a really hot woman there more people would watch Democracy Now! I honestly think if some hot girl applied for that job she wouldn’t get it, like it would be some sort of sexist thing.
Is the reunion about your old fans or about getting a new generation of fans?
It’s more about pushing new bands. It seems like none of our old fans have bought a record since 1986 and are like: “What about that Black Flag.” I still love them but there’s all this new, good stuff out there. I don’t want people to get stuck in the 1980s. So, I come out and tell people that punk rock still goes on even if people don’t want to call it punk rock. I also try to get young, new bands to open up for us. It’s our duty to help break new bands if we can.
I feel like the new album could be stacked up against what you made in the 1980s. Your trademark sound is still there.
That may or may not be a good thing but it felt kind of natural. The first things we recorded felt awkward. The record is based on madness and I think we nailed that part. The first songs I wrote weren’t good and disappeared. “She’s Affected” was one of the first things I did that clicked.
The album is based on a book called The King In Yellow that was published in 1895. I first read it in junior high. The book is about how if you read the book you will go bonkers. I always wanted to make a record that would drive people insane, would make people go bonkers. If I could do that I would do it in a second. So, the whole album is about one mad person after another.
Where did the song “Fauxhemia” come from?
The idea came to me years ago. Remember when the film 24 Hour Party People came out? My wife and I went to see it and went for a drink after. We went to a bar called Glam that is closed now. We read the rules on the outside and realized we couldn’t get in. I mean, I’ve seen David Bowie and my wife was a Goth and we couldn’t get in. But there were all these yuppies in there. “Fauxhemia” is about this influx of hipsters in Philly.
In your post-Milkmen life would you tell people about the band? Was there any recognition because you had a hit?
It gets much stranger than that. People listened to us in college and they run into us later and they’d be like vice presidents of companies. I was in a meeting once and in the middle of it this vice president raises his hand. It’s not even question time. He says “you’re that guy from ‘Bitchin’ Camaro,’ right?” Everyone turns and looks. Some of them had no idea what he was taking about. I just said “yes, I am” and moved on.
Last night, I went to see Zola Jesus. A guy was using a urinal next to me. As I was coming out he’s telling a friend that he just saw the guy from the Dead Milkmen’s dick. And his friend went “what was it like?” and he was like “eh.” That hurt. I was jogging and someone yelled “run fat boy run” and then was like “oh, you’re the guy from the Dead Milkmen. I’m sorry.” Those are the type of things I tend to get.
Was “Punk Rock Girl” a blessing or a curse?
It opened a lot of doors and we immediately shut those doors (laughs). We got on Club MTV. We enjoyed getting invited to places and being like the funny cute punk rock band and then saying the most horrible things. The guys hate it now but I like it. I had nothing to do with the song whatsoever. I still get checks for it so it’s a blessing monetarily.
John Waters wrote in his book about asking Jonny Mathis what it was like to have to play the same song five hundred times. And Mathis said: “well, it’s my 500th time playing it but there is someone in the audience who came to hear that song for the first time.” So that’s our philosophy; if they enjoy it, we enjoy it playing it.