Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
One gets a sense that Joe Jack Talcum, one of the co-lead singers of the legendary garage-punk band The Dead Milkmen, spends a predominate amount of his time holed up in his residence. He might come out to pick up a newspaper blaring out all of the bad news in ink that sticks to his fingers or to catch a little sun every once in a while, but the bulk of his time seems focused on musing and musing and staying intimate with his inner problems. These problems aren't apocalyptic, but they rattle this tiny man to his marrow, giving him the cold sweats and making him seem like a recluse even if he might not be one. He's nervous looking and reserved, even as he performs live, though, when he's in front of people - forced to be so, it seems - he'll try on a bit of a snarl, close his eyes and let it rip a little more. Talcum sings about conspiracy theories and aliens, getting off this crazy planet in a rocket ship - many of the kinds of things that are in vogue with teenage boys thrilled to nudity on television and in magazines, knowing that it's the closest they're going to get to experiencing it themselves for a long, long time. His subjects are the kinds of things that teenage boys pin all of their spare time on, thinking about them, dreaming about finding some secret escape hatch that will get them away from all their tormentors and into a world where their overriding awkwardness isn't perceived as such a grotesque social handicap - like having the world's biggest white-head forming a golf ball on end of your nose, all red, painful and obvious as fuck. Talcum, here backed by the Iowa talents of Samuel Locke-Ward and The Bassturd, chooses one cover during his three-song set - Daniel Johnston's "True Love Will Find You In The End" - a song that sung by the right people sounds like the most heartbreaking song that's ever been written. As Talcum sings it in his nasally voice, full of nerdy desperation, it sounds heartbreaking alright, but in the same kind of way that all of his songs sound heartbreaking: they are the pieces of his thoughts that are half-dead already. There's not much punch left in his hands to keep swinging and there's little hint that things are going to get better. He's ready to just check out, so, no, true love will not be finding him in the end. Almost all of Talcum's songs are full of comical and much less comical bits of depressing insight into a mind that's taken many beatings in its days and he always it to just rain up there. He sings in "Greenworld," that he just wants to "soak myself with sin and let nobody in," and on "Photograph," a song about needing someone's physical presence instead of one that will only be on Kodak paper, he wonders, "Where will these chemicals take me," and there's a desire to just be lost there in the place where he spends all of his time - away from it all, somewhat happily, but mostly not.