Letters from a Milkman

Photo: Patrick Watson
Photo: Patrick Watson

This is a picture of my friend Mikey, snapping a photo from side-stage as the Dead Milkmen played at Sound on Sound Fest this past weekend. If you didn’t know Mikey, you might think, “Who’s that guy, and how’d he get to sit side stage while I’m out here in the crowd?” (Which is what I usually think every time I see someone watching a band from side-stage.) But how Mikey got that sweet spot is an equally sweet story.

I’ve known Mikey for nearly 20 years, from my days in my hometown of San Antonio. Mikey’s also an accomplished turntablist who performs mash-ups under the name DJ Jester the Filipino Fist (he performed in Studio 1A back in September.) Full disclosure: I wrote the liner notes to DJ Jester’s 2006 album, Secret Love. But this story isn’t about DJ Jester, though it certainly intersects with him. This is about Mike Pendon, the guy behind Jester, who was once a music-loving thirteen-year-old.

Mikey grew up in a small town outside of Houston. As a kid in the ‘80s, he was into the fringe kind of music that one had to search hard for, or learn about from older kids or record store clerks. He definitely had company – me, and maybe Win Butler, and lots of other suburban Texas kids listening to underground music back then – but didn’t know it. One day, on a school trip, a girl seated next to him on a plane saw Mikey’s Butthole Surfers cassette in his Walkman (a band, incidentally, formed in San Antonio), and told him he should check out the Dead Milkmen. So Mikey did. He bought all their tapes at Sam Goody, and listened to them on repeat. He saw an address in the liner notes of Beelzebubba, and sent a letter to the band. Like kids do.

But then he got a letter back. And another. And another.tumblr_msz6v3KyZg1spzde2o1_1280

Joe Jack Talcum of the Dead Milkmen and Mikey Pendon became pen pals, and corresponded from the time Mikey was thirteen until he was a sophomore in college (around when email became popular.) Eventually, Joe and Mikey stopped writing letters to each other, though from time to time, they’d exchange e-mails and songs. In 2008, the Dead Milkmen reunited at Fun Fun Fun Fest and Mikey contacted Joe to set up an after-party at Beerland. In 2010, DJ Jester joined Joe on tour.

Three years ago, Mikey began posting his letters from Joe on a Tumblr blog called Letters from a Milkman. The blog features pages and pages of letters, tour photos, even a Christmas card from Joe. “I’ve always had these letters with me,” Mikey told me by email. “These letters are probably one of my most-prized possessions. Like those years when I moved to San Francisco and most of my stuff was in storage – I basically moved there with these letters, my turntables, and clothes.” The letters span a huge chunk of Mikey’s development, and he calls them “the ultimate #tbt.” He doesn’t know exactly what he wrote to Joe, and while Joe admitted to not keeping Mikey’s letters to him, he does keep up with Mikey’s blog. “I suppose it would be even better,” Joe told him once by email, “if I could post scans of the letters you sent to me in the comments. But I am not entirely sure I still have them.”

I ran into Mikey in the media area at Sound on Sound, just a couple hours after the Dead Milkmen set. He pointed to where the band was hanging out, just a few feet away. “There’s the Dead Milkmen,” he laughed. “Just hanging out!” Here was a guy who had toured the country with his hero, and who had opening slots for bands like Of Montreal and Arcade Fire on his DJ resume, but I could hear the boyish excitement in his voice. In the presence of Joe and his band-mates, a part of Mikey would always be that thirteen-year-old kid, opening the mail to find another letter from a Milkman.

– Jacquie Fuller, Assistant Program Director, KUTX

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