Silkworm Italian Platinum
Photo: Touch and Go Records

“A Juggernaut of Jokes”: An Oral History of Silkworm’s ‘Italian Platinum’

The members of Chicago-via-Seattle band Silkworm reflect on the 20-year anniversary of their tenth record Italian Platinum and their posthumously rising star.

Italian Platinum
Touch and Go

Truth be told, it was the yield of a running gag, said Steve Albini, the christening of American indie rock band Silkworm’s 2002 record Italian Platinum.

“The actual joke was a monologue in fake Italian that this beautiful record’s sales – she would be huge,” Albini said, explaining how the effect was a nod to Agostino Tilotta of the sludgy Italian post-punk bands Uzeda and Bellini, “but relative to these [Recording Industry Association of America] platinum records, would be like the Lira is to a dollar.”

Such ironic self-deprecation, delivered in an exaggerated Italian accent, was always on tap when the owner and lead engineer of Chicago’s Electrical Audio Recording and impetus behind the massively influential bands Big Black and Shellac shared space with Silkworm’s Tim Midyett, Andrew Cohen, Michael Dahlquist.

In this subtle dig at an industry that for decades had rewarded style over substance, Albini recalled less about the details of his Platinum recording sessions than the feelings working with one of his favorite bands in the world still evoked 17 years after its disincorporation. “I worked continuously on Silkworm sessions,” Albini reflected. “I’ll admit that over the course of 11 albums, the specifics of a given album kind of smear into the general experience of working with the band.” Which was always a tremendous pleasure, he suggested.

Although Italian Platinum would not be the last record Albini would record with Silkworm, it was arguably the team’s most ambitious and best, the high-water mark in a several-record partnership that saw the engineer serving as an extended member of the group. And, no, despite the tongue-through-cheek rumor that Italian Platinum’s emotional zenith “Young” had been nominated for a Grammy, the album did not reach RIAA-certified platinum status.

Even so, Silkworm’s landmark tenth long-player has matured into something especially grand 20 years after its birth: Having reissued the album on vinyl in 2019, Touch & Go Records promptly sold out its second pressing. Such an unprecedented result for a band that, when active, saw only modest record sales was helped along by an all-covers tribute album in 2006 (An Idiot to Not Appreciate Your Time), a shattering and star-studded documentary film – Seth Pomeroy’s Couldn’t You Wait? wherein Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, Bush’s Nigel Pulsford, and Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus lauded the band – in 2013, and increasingly frequent covers of Silkworm songs by contemporary artists such as Mountain Goats.

Such requiems helped breathe new life into a band whose time was cut horribly short when Dahlquist and two of his Shure Inc. colleagues were killed on 15 July 2005 by a suicidal Jeanette Sliwinski, who careened her red Ford Mustang into Dahlquist’s Honda Civic in Skokie, Illinois, at nearly 90 mph.

In an effort to reflect on two decades of Italian Platinum, and nearly two decades since the world lost Dahlquist and thus Silkworm – “He can’t be replaced,” Midyett told the Chicago Tribune of his drummer the day of the accident – I reached out to Albini, Midyett, Cohen, and others close to Italian Platinum to piece together an oral history of Silkworm’s most accomplished record, its legacy, and what seems to be its still-rising star despite having played zero gigs since 2005.

Italian Platinum came at a pivotal time for the too-smart-for-its-own-good group originally from Missoula, Montana.

Having been conceived in and around Hellgate High School – yes, the school’s official name – in 1987, Silkworm began as a quartet. When singer and co-founder Joel R.L. Phelps quit the group in 1994, Silkworm were well into a Seattle residency, right at the tail end of the “grunge” explosion that had gripped the Seattle scene since the late-1980s.

And after Cohen, Dahlquist, and Midyett recalibrated and toured in support of two Matador Records releases – 1996’s Firewater and the following year’s Developer – the trio found themselves unceremoniously dropped by their label.

“After Firewater and Developer, [Matador head] Gerard Cosloy used to joke to me, although it really wasn’t a joke, that we didn’t need to change anything about the music to ‘do better’ with the commercial world,” quipped Cohen. “[W]e should just change our band name to get an attentional refresh. He probably also knew that we couldn’t – or wouldn’t – change the music anyway.”

“No, Gerard was serious. Though he was too band-centric to be at all pushy about it,” responded Midyett without missing a beat. “My recollection was that he thought we should have changed the band name as early as back when Joel left. Maybe he was right! I guess once we made the Matador records, it was too late.”

Pressing forward despite the setback, Silkworm, which by then had seven records already under their belt, kept chipping away, even as Cohen began law school in Chicago. Making a go of it as a long-distance enterprise, the group recorded Blueblood itself in Seattle (with Albini helping mix the songs) for Touch & Go in 1998. Although the new record and new label felt like a refreshing restart, something was still amiss, grimaced Midyett, guessing that Blueblood was probably one of – if not the – worst-selling Silkworm records at that point.

“We were long in the tooth as far as being exciting to the various tastemakers and websites and stuff,” he said. “At the time, I didn’t give a fuck, and I still don’t! But in retrospect, I think the perception had set in that we were a known quantity that was going to do a particular thing and not surprise anyone too much.”

The long-distance relationship among bandmates didn’t help, he confessed. So after recording their second Touch & Go album, 2000’s Lifestyle, Midyett and Dahlquist picked up and joined their guitar player in Chicago in 2001, not only to be closer to Cohen and Albini but their record label.

The “hype”, in so far as it existed, had by then faded on Lifestyle, which Touch and Go head Corey Rusk hoped would break new commercial ground for Silkworm. Instead, sales of Lifestyle barely topped 5,000.

“It’s always frustrating when you have a record that you think should be exceeding your expectations and everyone loving it, and it’s not getting the response you want,” groaned Rusk to Pitchfork’s Jason Crock one year after Dahlquist’s death. “Silkworm’s Lifestyle. I just love that record, and the world is crazy that it didn’t do better than it did.”

Albini is less convinced that it’s “the world” alone that’s the problem. “There’s no accounting for taste,” he opined. “The dumbest, most trivial shit becomes huge based on a kind of momentum that has nothing to do with quality. These are stochastic events that can be expanded on if underway, but until it happens on its own there’s nothing you can do to make a record popular. Whole entire industries existed to hype and payola records into popularity, and while they occasionally had a marginal effect, it was almost all money wasted.”

Seconding that emotion, Silkworm remained unperturbed with their categorization as an indie rock also-ran, understanding that they had by then acquired a reputation for making “weird” music, as Midyett put it.

“While the execution on the record is as good as we ever did – especially the singing and stuff, which we really improved post-Joel and had totally worked out to our satisfaction on the TnG records,” he explained, “it’s still off-kilter in some way that comes from our growing up in the mountains and having to learn things by doing them rather than aping other people.”

So did Midyett shrug at having internalized something akin to Samuel Beckett’s fatalism: “Ever tried, Ever failed? No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Nearly 15 years in, as the century turned, the group was long over the need for validation, he said, particularly now that, after Lifestyle, they had much more time to rehearse together and an unofficial fourth member in Bedhead/the New Year singer/guitarist Matthew Kadane on keys.

“We’ve never felt like we have anything to prove, but now we really don’t have anything to prove,” said Midyett in the pages of defunct zine agricouture 2002, reflecting on his relatively low expectations for the album that would become Italian Platinum. “It’s pretty much always been a 100% selfish venture in that there is no reason to do it other than our own compulsion.”

In a way, the group had never been freer.

Silkworm Italian Platinum
Photo: Touch and Go Records

Such was the sentiment when Silkworm’s core, all housed in Chicago now, assembled to make another record. Fully realized as songwriters and finding ways to balance better record-making with their other responsibilities, the team called up Albini in 2001 and got to work. By all accounts, the process was, again, edifying – jokes about platinum-level sales notwithstanding.

“We’ve started making a record, most of which sounds just, oh, just like great,” beamed Dahlquist on the band’s journal entry from 12 November 2001, adding, “It’s coming out on Touch & Go sometime [next] year, not sure exactly when. It’ll be called Italian Platinum. It seems like it sounds pretty good, but who am I to say?”

Or, as Cohen put it more cryptically of the sessions, “This music flowed from them like water. This is what that sounds like.”

Kadane agreed, recalling the facility with which the group wrote and recorded new material, smiling at the pure joy of working on the new songs with some of his best band friends.

“It was just foundational for me,” Kadane glowed, listing the parade of keyboards – Wurlitzer, Rhodes, clavinet, Hammond B3 – of which he was encouraged to take advantage at Electrical Audio. “I knew that recording was going to be fun because I was going to hang out with them and Steve, who’s one of our closest friends. But I had no idea. It was maybe the most gratifying studio experience I’ve ever had.”

Suggesting that he and the rest of the band perhaps consumed too much bourbon over the course of the Platinum sessions, Kadane mused too on the sound Albini captured on largely vintage instruments in Electrical Audio’s respective rooms: Centerfield, Kentucky, and a “dry” room known as Alcatraz.

“All the materials just felt really organic and warm,” he laughed. “[At one point] Andy, in a sort of a fit of madness, sitting in the back room, goes ‘What are we doing?! What are we doing?’ He just started screaming: ‘We’re a bunch of Very Old Men Playing Unfashionable Music on Vintage Instruments!’ He wanted to call the record VOMPUMOVI.”

Kelly Hogan‘s experience was similar, if more haphazard and isolated – but in a good way, she said. Brought in after the music and most of the vocals were recorded, the Georgia-born singer said the band contacted her, remembering how the request that she provide backing vocals on a song or two somehow evolved into singing duties on multiple tracks. “They kept throwing stuff at me,” she wrote. “I was winging it with all my meager powers. Albini is anti-reverb, so doing everything ‘dry’ and hearing it dry on the recording was harsh to me – but totally what the project needed.”

Calling “Young” an especially challenging take, Hogan nonetheless acknowledged that “the pain of climbing those octaves” was, in the end, well worth the difficulty at the time: “They worked me like a mule on the Erie Canal!”

Noting that he too “enjoyed seeing the band’s studio perspective evolve over time,” and that Italian Platinum was no exception, Albini found himself excited by the new sound that the group – with Kadane and Hogan filling in holes – was capturing.

“Certain memories spring to mind, like Biznono [Kadane] cranking the electric piano on ‘(I Hope U) Don’t Survive’ and the tack piano on ‘The Ram’,” Albini grinned. “Kelly’s incredible vocal take on ‘Young’. Michael’s rare vocals on ‘Bourbon Beard’. I remember Tim borrowed a massive, weighed-a-ton Prophet synthesizer to use on ‘The Brain’, and he conducted Kelly on the backing vocal with a kind of interpretive dance, a technique I’ve since encouraged other people to adopt.”

“I don’t remember any dancing,” winked Hogan. “But that track was particularly difficult because it was like a marathon tonal memory exercise. You’re learning a tiny snippet of notes out of context and in weird rhythm placement. And then, when you finally nail it, you have to rip off that band-aid and forget the notes/rhythm and start over with another set of notes that were not, to me at least, very intuitive in relation to what else was going on in the song.”

By the start of February 2002, an exhausted and eclectic team of creatives called it a day. Raw tapes in hand, Midyett flew out to London to have the record mastered at Abbey Road. More than 20 years after the trip, he is still blown away by what his hardscrabble DIY crew pulled off – again.

“I put that thing on after Corey reissued it to see how it sounded, and it knocked my socks off,” he explained, recalling Dahlquist’s barfly sleaze in “Bourbon Beard” and Cohen’s swimming manatee lick on “The Old You”. “We just kind of made it and put it out and moved on, somehow – I never really immersed myself into it post-recording. But, wow, it’s what I want to hear in a record I had something to do with.”

New record in the can, the band set out on some extended-weekend tours in February and March 2002, playing, among other cities, Chicago and Indianapolis, Madison, and Minneapolis. This last gig was at the city’s historic 7th Street Entry, a frequent Silkworm oasis whereupon the band found waiting for them a small contingent of thick-jacketed North Dakotans.

Long fans of Silkworm originally from our neighboring state, my bandmates – Jason Lay and Isaac Turner – and I had assembled at the Entry for what amounted to as much of a bachelor party as I was going to get before an early spring wedding up in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

Driving more than five hours through a brutal Minnesota cold front, we arrived early enough to catch up with the band and help them load gear. We’d seen Silkworm before, but from the moment its set began, it was clear that something was different about the band that night, almost as if the trio had swept into the Twin Cities on a chariot.

Assuming his best killdozer posture, Cohen drove his songs through every obstacle – including the drunkard who screamed the entire night for a 1991 B-side – pushing his rowdy audience into and then through the schadenfreude of “Don’t Survive” and the chain-gang romp “A Cockfight of Feelings”. Behind him, Dahlquist, gloves on and grinning like the Cheshire cat, pounded away, and Midyett squinted at the crowd as if he were peeling a scab, his aluminum-neck wedge bass cutting the room in half.

Catching Lay’s sideways glance, I shared a nod, recognizing alongside him that this is really happening: not the music-as-spectacle so much as the scales-falling-from-eyes that seemed to be disarming everyone within earshot. Playing a guitar solo briefly behind his back in mock savant pose, Cohen, on a dare from Turner, dedicated to me the gutting, divorce-themed closing track from Silkworm’s Firewater, “Don’t Make Plans This Friday”. In the bleeding tourniquet of a song, something of an indie rock version of Bob Dylan‘s “Idiot Wind”, a spiraling divorcee jumps the fence of his former property in an effort simply to see his kids, who have been kept from their old man in the wake of a relationship’s collapse. All the while, at a dining room table that too was once his, the speaker’s “whining” and “annoying” ex and her smug lawyer, “with his grinning skull”, map out the narrator’s liquidation.

“The settlement’s all divided now / Got myself an apartment downtown,” Cohen crooned, staring straight through me as I first blushed, then looked away. “Don’t think about that recidivist wife or that lawyer acting so contrite / I try to relax every Friday, put it out of my mind.”

I got married anyway.

Italian Platinum dropped that June, the same week Turner’s, Lay’s, and my band left for a short tour of the Midwest. The last thing our trio of 24-year-olds did before leaving town was “borrow” a copy of the album from the record store where Turner worked.

We thought we were stealing a demo copy of the record, given its stark white cover art front and back: no images of the band, no album art of any sort. As it turned out, this was the record itself, the design for which was part of the cock-up.

“I remember gravitating toward that cover art as an accompaniment to the in-joke that is Italian Platinum,” said Cohen, explaining how if in the US and UK, platinum sales are one million and 300,000 records, respectively, then Italian platinum equals about 1,000 records sold. “That’s what Italian platinum looks like: threadbare.”

Smiling with his bandmate, Midyett recalled sending that design – which he threw together on Microsoft Word one night – to Touch and Go, probably in jest.

But the design stuck. “They thought it was funny,” said Midyett, assuming the cadence of an A&R rep. “‘Here is your Italian bootleg of… well, of nothing.’ People thought it was just something we did for the promos, but nope.”

Its spartan casing notwithstanding, my bandmates and I flipped between astonishment and self-doubt across multiple spins and states of the new record: it sounded so good to our baby ears that it made anything we were trying to do seem feckless by comparison.

“We listened to that record, I don’t know, 50 times in the van,” added Lay. “Just over and over and over again.”

You can imagine our response, then, when Midyett and Dahlquist came to see us play Quenchers Saloon in Chicago, giving us all a chance to discuss Italian Platinum, and Dahlquist and Vicki Hunter a chance to interview Turner and I for the documentary film that Dahlquist, Hunter, and Heather Whinna were in the middle of producing.

Much like the Minneapolis show a few months earlier, the new batch of “better than anything else out there” songs, according to Turner, had sent us somewhere else entirely on the way to Chicagoland and back.

Where we were rendered nearly speechless by the record, though most reviewers were typically violent in their locutions – if they reviewed the record at all. Magnet designated the record a competent seven-of-ten, squeaking “it isn’t as catchy or streamlined as Lifestyle” (86).

“Welcome to the new weird America,” Spin’s Greg Milner likewise blinked at the close of his July 2002 review (110). Nestled between reviews of Wyclef Jean and Papa Roach, in an issue ornamented by a scowling Rivers Cuomo on its cover, Milner too gave Platinum a seven, or a “Moby”: not quite an “Isaac Hayes” (nine) but better than “Dude from Midnight Oil” (two).

Even today, Jon Solomon bristles at such nonsense. “I had reviewed Italian Platinum when it came out because I didn’t have any Silkworm conflict of interests at that time,” explained the owner of record label Comedy Minus One who served as the band’s official booking agent in the 1990s. “And I remember writing something about it being a great American classic rock record. I stand by that, and I one-hundred percent did not mean that as an insult.”

What Solomon understood then that many listeners in 2002 did not was that Silkworm was always intentional in crafting music less immediately gratifying, perhaps, but simultaneously much more complex and demanding – almost as if the audience wasn’t there – even if the songs were in many ways about the lives of those in the audience.

“They truly didn’t care,” said Kadane, thinking of “The Ram” – Cohen’s cryptic take on the ancient Greeks’ kriophoros or maybe Constantine’s nationalization of Christianity or something – and “(I Hope U) Don’t Survive,” whose televangelizing self-helper feigns affection for her audience as it totters unsteadily on a “juggernaut of jokes” in anticipation of the West’s “inevitable decline”. “Maybe that’s what it all comes down to: their utter indifference to doing things any other way. They were just doing whatever they wanted to do.”

This indifference is also why Solomon, who conceded that Italian Platinum was probably the band’s best album (if not necessarily his favorite), has dedicated considerable resources to resurrecting both Silkworm’s older corpus and its final EP Chokes!: the group’s genuinely original approach to writing and recording pop music is still exceptional, unprecedented, and worth sharing, he argued.

“The music’s timeless,” he said. “Additionally, there are certainly people younger than me, in their 20s and early 30s, who discovered Silkworm after the fact or only got to see them at the very tail end, if at all, and have a vast, wonderful catalog to work through now. And since vinyl is the preferred format for a lot of people these days: here we are [resuscitating vinyl].”

Having reissued Silkworm’s early 1990s records Libertine and In the West on Comedy Minus One in 2014 and 2016, respectively, Solomon has now secured the rights to Silkworm’s Matador releases, which he hopes to reissue in 2023. Seeing Solomon’s gamble pay dividends, Touch & Go likewise reissued, on vinyl, not only Platinum but Silkworm’s final LP It’ll Be Cool in 2015 and Lifestyle in 2016.

Sales of each, to put it softly, have been robust.

Such an outcome suggests that maybe the world is finally catching up to the fact that a handful of autodidacts from Montana had tapped into something essential, maybe even The Thing itself, a quarter century ago.

“Tim said something about this [to me] at some point,” said Solomon. “Not in a super cocksure or overconfident way, but just kind of having a belief in the quality of the thing: about knowing at the time that their records would stand up well to history.”

Indeed, despite his own sniping – “This isn’t the trendiest stuff” – Spin’s Milner grudgingly admitted as much in his review, recognizing that Silkworm was from the start channeling not only Dylan, the Band, and Creedence – all of whom Silkworm covered in concert and whose songs make up most of the all-covers Marquee Mark record the band recorded live with Stephen Malkmus in 1998 as the Crust Brothers – but many of those other prophets of American decline, from Ma Rainey to Kurt Cobain.

To wit, Milner’s earlier line about Silkworm as the “new weird America”, which followed comparisons of Silkworm to Wilco, Linda Ronstadt, and Warren Zevon, was not so much about what Harold Bloom called the “anxiety of influence”, or even Silkworm’s aesthetic as such than it was a flat cap tipped in the direction of Greil Marcus’s exegesis of Dylan’s Basement Tapes, The Old Weird America.

With this tradition in mind, Marcus had tipped his own hat in Silkworm’s direction more than once, chiming in Interview magazine that the Crust Brothers’ version of “Heard it through the grapevine” was perhaps the best ever recorded. He went even further in Old Weird, noting that the Marquee Mark version of the Band’s bawdy tramp’s tale “Goin’ to Acapulco” was less a campy fantasy than it was “a screaming ad on cable TV” (245).

He meant the line as a compliment. “That’s what happens when you start to play with cover versions,” Marcus wrote with neither sarcasm nor conceit of Cohen’s fusing CCR’s “Born on the Bayou” with “Acapulco”. “Every song becomes less a thing in itself than an opportunity to join the Grand Continuum of Rock’ n’ Roll History, to indulge in its deepest satisfactions, to trash it…while offering it your heart” (Marcus 245).

All of this is why the grizzled critique implied by Silkworm’s stories of desire floating just out of reach of the American everyman is indistinguishable from the songs’ performers, who didn’t speak for but almost literally were the drunken pipeline worker, strung-out cab driver, or ex-con forced to take the worst job; were the suicidal middle manager, wage slave, or rural teen kicking around town late at night; were the fence-jumping divorcee scoffing at his restraining order, the wandering Jew.

So it is that something like Midyett’s devastating “Young” could as easily have been a bonus track on the basement tapes – a sequel to “I’m Not There” – as a clip on MTV’s 120 Minutes. In the smoldering fireplace poker, a burned-out former lover, tired of bailing water on a sinking ship, tells her narcissist-partner that she’s out. “If you want to become a bum, find someone who adores you in every way,” Hogan not so much sneers at as dresses down her lazy interlocutor, who can’t even muster the courage of his convictions. “And if you want to jump off a big tall bridge, find someone who might talk you out of it.”

It’s the opposite of a murder ballad, really, a subtler, more beautiful version of Johnny Rotten shouting “Be a man! Kill yourself!” to the Americans gathered at the final Sex Pistols show in San Francisco in 1978.

“If the cosmos has a plan, I hope it tells you what you want to hear,” Hogan laughs-cries, as behind her Kadane’s piano approaches and then transcends its own limit. “Maybe later on, when everyone’s just standing around you can be in the clear.”

“In America, this music was, in a way, prophetic,” Marcus wrote of Dylan and the Band in Old Weird, originally published as Invisible Republic, but anticipating Silkworm. “At the very least the sound and its reception prefigured an America that, soon enough, for everyone, would be all too familiar” (33). Where Marcus was thinking of a nation rent by battles over civil rights and America’s doomed wars of imperialism, though, Silkworm prefigured something altogether different and more terrifying: the fact that for these multifarious American voices, grasping at the crumbs of Empire in an arid, post-industrial failed state, every day, as Walter Benjamin (254) once put it, is Judgment Day.

Of this, there is no better artifact than Italian Platinum.

Setting themselves up as the recorders of a senescence well underway, as a desiring machine whose slutishness of spirit highlighted capitalism’s disintegration of community, of love, Silkworm both internalized and functioned as that old, weird America, preaching not prosperity and power but poverty and the real consequences – precarity, fatigue, burnout, isolation – of the disintegration of a national character. All of this the band accomplished without devolving into shrill accusations or gauche polemics, without gimmick or gadgetry. In this way, Silkworm not only managed to give shape to the future even as it hearkened back to Dylan and the Band, Neil Young and Creedence but may have been the last great free American rock band, an invisible republic unto itself that is today as dead as its birthright.

“Hey, Brian. Bad news. Mikey Dahlquist was killed in a car crash yesterday…. I don’t have a lot of details. Call me back. Okay. Love you.”

Turner’s message on my landline answering machine on 16 July 2005 caught me flatfooted. Frowning, I winced at my wife standing beside me in our small seafoam green kitchen, unsure what to say or do. It took me a long time to find the nerve to call Turner back.

As Noah Isackson later described the accident, “At full speed, Sliwinski’s car blasted through the back of the Honda so forcefully that its trunk crumpled and folded into the back seat. The Honda shot into the car ahead—a green Ford Crown Victoria, which slid 100 feet into the intersection. The force drove both Sliwinski’s Mustang and Dahlquist’s Honda ten feet into the air.”

The three musicians died on impact.

Dying that day too was the band that for 15 years embodied for its community – for the United States of America – what astrophysicists call the “degeneracy pressure” that gives collapsing stars their density and volume, a sort of reverse pressure that prevents stars from collapsing in on themselves entirely. With that pressure no longer propping up an American cultural scene already well into its “inevitable decline” as Cohen put it, there is nothing left for the structure to do but implode.

“You can’t ever fully explain what something means to you,” Turner sighed from Kalamazoo, Michigan, remembering that day heavy July day. The aforementioned tribute record was his brainchild. “I literally cannot disambiguate that band – they’re still my favorite band – from hanging out with you guys, from that bond. Listening to them and accepting their influence in our lives. And every other person I know who’s into Silkworm has that sort of bond.”

In the end, such is the core of Silkworm’s alchemy: the band was, in almost literal terms, a swarm of charged particles that not only converted into true believers anyone who heard, saw, or got to know Cohen, Dahlquist, and Midyett, but one that in so doing challenged Western Civ’s suicidal tendencies by building commonwealth out of the rubble – pushing back against the culture’s detumescence by fashioning a new material out of the debris produced by the culture itself.

Sort of like a silkworm.

Nowhere is this regeneration more cogent and coherent than Italian Platinum.

From his home in Boston, Kadane, today a professor of history at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, added that when Dahlquist died, the atom the drummer had helped animate was left without a nucleus.

“You know how people sometimes say, about comedians, that it’s not the jokes that are funny – it’s the personality that you kind of fall in love with?” he asked, calling Dahlquist, in particular, a “life force”. “And you want to hear what whomever it is you like has to say about all these different things?”

Silkworm was like that, he said, taking the trash produced by the republic and giving it a dignified second life in song. In this way the band functioned as a sober counterpoint to the American Dream, converting the decay wrought by the postindustrial American mien into a horn of plenty not to be resold on the free market as any pedestrian commodity so much as given away with a grin, simply because it was nourishing, simply because it was pure.

“What’s reflected by this willingness to put all those songs onto the record is this assumption that it’s all worth hearing. There’s a freedom in that,” said Kadane.

In painting such a picture of the world’s last best hope, Silkworm pulled off the unlikeliest of upsets – multiple reissues of its albums by multiple record labels nearly 20 years after playing its final show.

Acknowledging that “our sales dipped for sure” after the turn of the century, Midyett agreed that Italian Platinum was possibly Silkworm’s best overall album, a remarkable statement about a band whose body of work had always served as a frenetic and esoteric elegy for the absurd and often grotesque grandeur of the United States as a fever dream, as a producer of murder ballads and atom bombs, born agains and dirty jokes, massive wealth and massive poverty.

“It’s not slack, [it] doesn’t have that sloppy indie-rock bagginess common to the 1990s. It’s not aggro,” he reflected. “It doesn’t have the twee pop thing. It’s not trying to be heavy or dark. All of that really worked against us in terms of being sellable – there was no easy hook, and even within a given record, things went all over the place. But it does age pretty well, in that whatever made it worth doing then is still in there, uneroded by the perspective afforded by time.”

Hogan too counts her work with Silkworm as one of the highlights of her career.

“I think I had seen them play at Lounge Axe once, but I wasn’t really familiar at all [before Italian Platinum],” she said. “I was so honored to be asked to sing on that album. Still so proud of it.” 

Albini, likewise, considers his work with the band among the highlights of not just his recording career but his life.

“Their catalog is in the middle of a welcome, refreshing, re-release enterprise, and I’d be surprised if there wasn’t at least as much attention paid to them in the coming years as there was in the day,” he concluded. “Time was always bound to be kind to Silkworm.”

And so it is that Silkworm is bound to time.


Brian James Schill is an independent scholar and freelance writer who has published for both academic and non-academic audiences in venues such as, Prairie Schooner, The Cormac McCarthy Journal, and Punk Planet. His literary history of punk and postpunk music, Lusty Scripts, which also explores Silkworm, was published by Indiana University Press in 2017. Read his publications here.


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Italian Platinum. Magnet 55 (June/July 2002): 86.

Kadane, Matthew. Personal Communication. 14 Sept. 2022.

Lay, Jason. Personal Communication. 24 Feb. 2022.

Marcus, Greil. The Old Weird America. 1997. New York: Picador, 2011.

Midyett, Tim. Personal Communication. Feb. and Oct. 2022.

Milner, Greg. Italian Platinum. Spin, June/July 2002: 110.

Silkworm. Blueblood. Touch and Go, 1998. TG191CD. CD.

—. Chokes! 12XU, 2006. 12XU028-2. CD.

—. Developer. Matador, 1997. OLE220-2. CD.

—. Firewater. Matador, 1996. OLE158-2. CD.

—. In the West. 1994. Comedy Minus One, 2020. Cmo038. CD.

—. Italian Platinum. Touch and Go, 2002. TG229CD. CD.

—. Libertine. 1994. Comedy Minus One, 2014. cmo19. CD.

—. Lifestyle. Touch and Go, 2000. TG209CD. CD.

—. It’ll Be Cool. Touch and Go, 2004. TG257CD. CD.

Turner, Isaac. “SKWM”. agricouture 2 (summer 2002): 8-9.

—. Personal Communication. 24 February 2022.

Various Artists. An Idiot to Not Appreciate Your Time: The Songs of Silkworm. Genuflect, 2006. CD.