An individual exhibiting such uniqueness or individuality that he or she will cause a roomful of bar cronies to exclaim, "That's one interesting motherfucker!" Actual sexual relations with one's mother are not required.
Sean C Tarry
Feel the Dwarf Inside
Somewhere out in the blackened expanse of musical composition, beyond the normalcy and waste pipe production of smash hits and platinum albums, there is a demon-god of power-bong induced sound that defies ordinary conceptions and understanding, and stretches the realm of artistic creativity to reaches yet charted. It's a demon-god that draws a fast line separating the weird from the rest. One that revels in its own fascination of the absurd, while trying to compromise a balance between insanity and logic. A twisted creature of strangeness and bizarre savagery. And its name is Ween.
They are a beautifully confusing revelation of a band. Marauders of the lyrically surreal. Flag-wavers for generations of the deranged. And a whimsical glance at the decrepit scene. They're a flight through your mind. An incarnation of musical genius systematically leaving their stain on every form, style and class of music that there is. And trying to generally approximate where Mickey Melchiondo and Aaron Freeman, aka Dean and Gene Ween, are to be marked on the musical map is certainly debatable, and would likely prove to be a lesson in futility for even the most astute of song-writing aficionados.
"Many colours in the homo rainbow,
Their union began innocuously enough some twenty years ago inside a New Hope, Pennsylvania eighth grade typing class. They immediately recognized, and were drawn to the peculiarities and characteristic abnormalities that they shared. And, not unlike the formations of many other song-writing teams, they exchanged recordings that they had been independently working on. It is supposed that soon after, under the influence of heavy drugs and the intervention of Boognish (a twisted messenger from the netherworld), the duo formed Ween and assumed their alter egos.
No person seems quite certain as to what transpired, or what words were used during the boys encounter with Boognish. And, for that matter, nobody can be absolutely sure who, or what Boognish is. But it can be heard in some quarters that on that fateful Quaker State day Mickey and Aaron pledged their souls to a mysteriously playful, but mischievously evil-spirited messenger from the fire depths of hell. And, it is also said, that in exchange for their unabated obedience to the beast for the remainder of eternity; they have been promised fame and riches of the likes not seen by many. So the story goes anyway.
They are no doubt wizards of their art. And if you've ever had the opportunity to listen to their music, you've probably noticed that they are also masterfully antagonizing. So much so at times that it might seem as though they approach their craft with a heavy dose of mockery, or a healthy lacing of sarcasm. And that may quite possibly be true to some extent. They may also sound to some to be self-righteous, and could appear to be wistfully guiding the Ween ship down a channel of degeneration and the decomposition of musical genres. That may also ring a note of accuracy. But I believe that all Deaner and Papa Gener are here to do, their purpose you might say, is to help keep things honest. Although it does seem apparent that they've taken on some sort of self-imposed obligation to disrupt any and all conventional wisdoms pertaining to song-writing. Perhaps it's a clause within their pact with Boognish.
They've written, recorded and released eight albums. They've recorded over one thousand legitimate songs. And smattered throughout is an impressively eclectic assortment of tunes that could lay a peg in nearly every category and chasm of sound. It's fairly plain to the ear that this is a vital component of Ween's crooked spiritual journey. And it seems that lending their skills to a variety of musical styles enables them to more easily convey their indeterminate statement of demented love and distorted freedom.
From the frenetic carnival-like chaos of the HIV Song.to the lewd ruckus of the quasi-Irish drinking ballad Blarney Stone.to the olde Mexico gunfight fashioned Buenos Tardes Amigo.to the obviously Black Sabbath driven Buckingham Green.to the Mediterranean styling of I Cant Put My Finger On It.to the suave whitey lounge act in Take Me Away.and on to South Streets rhythm and blues manifestation Freedom of '76. The list goes on, and begins to get blurred around the edges after a while. But what Ween have done through their determined vision, intentionally or not, is create a virtual musical melting pot of multi-ethnicity and diversity that has not necessarily changed music, but will in time be noticed for its distinct unawareness of boundaries, and skilful manoeuvring against the grain.
"I've got a twin cab diesel combo,
But all of that was just hash in their pipe when the brothers Ween performed their first club gig (Trenton City Gardens, New Jersey) in 1986 opening up for the whiskey slamming, shotgun toting Butthole Surfers. Dean and Gene, aged sixteen years, each played guitar and sang vocals, but needed to rely on the primitiveness of a cassette deck that pumped out the drums and bass from a tape. And although scripture is a little hazy as to whether or not they were booed off of the stage on this particular occasion, it is clear that at some point early on a definite pattern of ungrateful audiences was developed.
This didn't make too much sense to the boys as they had already released two cassettes and an EP on Bird O' Pray Records that equipped them with a plethora of material to perform on stage. And an already adept ability to conjure up the most abstract lyrics lent them a rather compelling aura. But there was still something that was preventing them from connecting with their audiences. Maybe it was the lack of live sound. Or perhaps people just weren't digging their stuff, as they should have. Maybe it was all too early to understand the significance of their twisted vision and unbridled destiny. But whatever the reason, the Ween hammer wasn't dropping just yet.
However, despite the heaps of negative feedback, they continued to play shows over the next few years taunting listeners, spewing their lower than lo-fi sound from town to town, and from stage to stage. They never once relented, and continued to sharpen their wit and hone their talents. And in 1989, amid continued campaigns of disapproval from most of their peers, Ween were signed by the Minneapolis independent outfit Twin-Tone to start recording on their first album.
No time was wasted after sealing their first deal, and they began laying tracks down like fiends in the living room of friend, and then bass player for the Rollins Band, Andrew Weiss' house. A lot of illicits were consumed and hallucinations described. And in 1990 they released their drug-addled debut, a 26 song double album recorded entirely on 4-track, aptly titled God Ween Satan: The Oneness. It's an album that gained zero praise from anyone that mattered. And it didn't do too much for their record label either; Twin-Tone went out of business shortly after releasing the first of Ween's masterworks. But it's also an album that many consider to be the dragon of raw sound that the band would forever chase, and one that cast Ween into the sea of obscurity and originality that they have since become all too well known to travel.
"Look out you son of a bitch,
Some touring in Europe, and a few thousand records sold provided Dean and Gene with a little bit of extra funds, and put them firmly on the road to rock n' roll. And, most importantly, allowed them the opportunities to scale back their hours at the Mexican restaurant and the gas station where they worked.
Living together by this time, Ween launched their brotherhood deeper into the weirdness, and furthered the foundations for what was to come. They found a new record label in Elektra, and in 1992 returned with another release. Their sophomore album, The Pod, was also recorded entirely on 4-track tapes. This time in Solebury Township, Pennsylvania where they were renting a small living space on a horse farm that was infested with flies. The boys made up for this inconvenience by filling up more than 3,600 hours of tape, and inhaling five cans of Scotchguard through a heavy-duty homemade bong. If you have the album, you can see Mean Ween (an ever present extension of the Ween family) blasting a hit on the cover.
Although the boys continued to tour and play shows as a two-piece band, their low-fi, low budget, high intensity showmanship had slowly begun to distance Ween from the angry, inconsiderate fans, and solidify the duo's purpose in the business. And their continued allegiance with Boognish would also finally start to pay off with the release of their third album in 1993 titled Pure Guava. The album is the continuation of their 4-track journey, and a culmination of raw sound and energy. And despite the work being graced with many great tracks, and an ever increasing array of mind bending distortion of styles; it was the single Push Th' Little Daisies, which cracked the top ten in Europe, Canada, America, and Australia, that propelled Ween toward the outer fringe of the pop spotlight. If only for about ten minutes or so.
"Smack dab in the middle of a situation
A lot more touring than the boys were used to followed the release of Pure Guava, and a fan base of greater numbers was growing steadily. But still no rest for the wicked, literally, as Dean and Gene got started writing their fourth album in as many years. Quite a prolific rate was starting to build in momentum, and the pair began to delve into even more experimental sounds and compositions. And for this reason they decided to leave the 4-track at home, and embark on a new quest in fully recording and producing the album with friend Andre Weiss.
By this time Weiss had left the Rollins Band and become full-time bass player for Ween, which sparked yet another transition in the many stages of metamorphosis for Dean and Gene. They prepared for a yearlong tour of Europe and North America in support of the forthcoming album, and for the first time they put together a full band of players to accompany them on the road. After much anticipation, and many delirious recording sessions at a rented industrial space in Pennington, New Jersey, Chocolate and Cheese was released.
The album is dedicated to the memory of John Candy in the liner notes, and the same wicked Ween humour that can be found on the three previous instalments is multiplied considerably for this one. Three singles, all accompanied by videos, were released for MTV's use. And, one video in particular (Freedom of '76, directed by Spike Jonze) was aired, according to Gene, "Like once."
"Why they wanna' see my spine mommy?
Chocolate and Cheese is considered by many Weenies to be the bands masterpiece, and can arguably be deemed a classic. But certainly not in the world that we live in. And definitely not using the same criteria that is used to deem other works classics. I believe the three world stoppers that were produced the same year were Mariah Carey's Music Box, Bryan Adams' So Far So Good, and Cross Roads-The best of Bon Jovi. I list these formidable contributions to music, made by good musicians, purely for reference.
And it's down to that contrast in musical philosophies concerning Ween and their distance from popular music that led them to Nashville for the recording of their next work. After nearly a years rest from touring, writing and consultations with Boognish; Deaner and Gene assembled a band of the best session musicians from the golden age of country, and wrote ten of the best country songs you'll ever hear; whether you like cowboy boots or not.
The album was released in 1996, and titled 12 Golden Country Greats. And because there are only ten songs on the thing, some may interpret the title as mindless idiocy, or the bands blatant disregard for labels and classification. But, in fact, the title was intended to be a heavy sign of gratitude from the boys directed toward the 12 Nashville musicians who comprised the band; four of whom were named Buddy.
As Dean and Gene had by now committed themselves to the full scale band bit on stage, and all but one of the 12 golden country musicians had long since forsaken the road, they decided not to tour for the album. But, later in the year, with the help of Bobby Ogdin, an alumnus of Elvis Presley's 1970's band, they were able to put together a reinvented, scaled down version of the band that helped record the album. They played two sold out shows in New York, and soon after fully realized the need to bring the new country and western message to the mass populace. And based on this profound epiphany they all committed to a one-month tour of North America.
I can boast having seen the show in Toronto in support of this mini-tour. And I can also freely admit to reserving an adamant distaste for anything country and western. But what I witnessed that night was beyond surreal. Perhaps, then, that would make it real. And I think it must have been.
I stumbled into the humble city grotto that would house the Ween experience that night to see an assortment of people. And this, if you're familiar with Ween, comes as no surprise. There is always a mix of philosophies, colours, sexual preferences and so on at their shows. And seeing the unordinary almost becomes an ordinary occurrence when you get that close to the Ween camp. But as I approached the bar to wet my pallet, I was confronted by a sight that I truly wasn't expecting. It was like something straight out of 8 Seconds. An uncompromising sea of denim, cowboy hats, and cheap cologne had collected in pockets of the theatre. And I couldn't believe that Ween had actually drawn them out from the sticks for this one. But the magnitude of knowledge and skill that the band possessed was part of the reason why. As well, the songs are honest to shit country licks, and they are good. Perhaps only the lyrics at times stray from the morose sentiment of cowboy living. But they do sing one about Fluffy, a deceased dog. That fits the mould alright.
Anyway, Dean and Gene, and their assortment of Nashville ruffians hit the stage that night, and didn't stop playing for over three hours; something that would become a habit of theirs over the next couple of years. They spoke a little bit of childhood trauma, commented on the smell of crack that was in the air, discussed the unfortunate perception of stalking as an illegal love, and made a lot of drunk country bumpkins cry with their ability, and song slinging prowess. It's the only time that I've seen the wickedness of Ween. But I believe that I'm more of a person because of it.
After returning from their stint as bona fide country and western performers, the demented duo decided to rent an apartment on the deserted sands of Long Beach Island, New Jersey in the winter of '96. They arrived at their location of solitude empty handed as far as ideas for songs go. And because of this, it is apparent that their stay on the water had inherently played a role in the comprising of their sixth major release, the aqua-oriented album The Mollusk.
"I lick my brain in silence,
The Mollusk was written and recorded primarily at Long Beach Island, but due to unforeseeable circumstances (the house pipes freezing and bursting while Dean and Gene are wasted in a drunken stupor caused by many weeks of binging) they were forced to leave the sands and complete the project, once again, at Andrew Weiss' house. The album was released in the spring of '97, and is hailed as one of the greatest aquatic themed recordings ever. Come on! It must be.
At this juncture in Ween's career the touring was heavier than it had ever been. And audiences actually seemed disappointed if the shows lasted less than three hours. This prompted the Ween camp to start up their very own website, ween.com, in an effort to give the fans more Ween than they themselves were feeling humanly capable of providing. It's a website that flips you the bird upon entry, and also contains some pretty cool effects.
The site was originally set up to provide fans of the band with free live recordings and rare Ween material, but it has since grown into something a little more than that. Beginning with the birth of Ween Radio shortly after the launch of the site. Perhaps the unintended defining moment in the bans career. A 24-hour/seven day a week stream-cast of transmissions from Ween headquarters. All Ween, all the time. A beautiful thing. And it continues to play on the net to this day.
But not all was custard and berries when the idea originated. The decision to offer fans free live shows and music wrangled the Elektra execs quite a bit, and nearly paved the way to confrontation and legal action. The boys were faced with their first real dilemma whilst in the biz, but with a healthy mix of compromise and some heavy handed assertion from Dean and Gene, the company and the band shook on a deal to release Paintin' The Town Brown; Ween Live '90-'98. It's an album of live material that can be heard on Ween Radio on almost a daily basis. But the bottom line of the compromise: the record company made a bit of cash, and fans were guaranteed the continuation of free music. A pretty sweet deal all the way around.
Once this blip of momentary controversy had been quelled, Ween immediately began writing material for their seventh album. They, once again, rented a living space to do most of their work. This time a cottage in Maine. Chris Shaw, the producer of a couple Public Enemy albums, was brought in to provide the recording with a little bit of 'black rage'. The result of this was the 1999 release of White Pepper. And although the album contains numerous references to cocaine use, the band decided to curb their heavy drug intake with the consumption of alcohol and pharmaceuticals. It was also an attempt, many believe, to reunite and realign Ween with working class America.
"Sometimes the ones you hold so close can make you cry,
The album did just as well as the previous six. And in proper context that doesn't mean much at all. But what was important were the strides that the band continued to make toward progression, and the evolution of their still twisted discernment of everything around them. And part of this process involved the introduction of strings, horns, and female backup vocals; implemented elements that the band concedes as, "Three very bad signs for the future of Ween."
It's hard to fathom, even for a moment, what it must take mentally, physically and emotionally to continuously churn out the quality of songs that Ween does. But, then again, there aren't too many other bands that possess the magnitude of support and confidence of the netherworld that Ween does either. And that can't be taken too lightly. It must also be said at some point, that not since the days of Frank Zappa has another act silenced its listeners with the ant-bravado and bone numbing queerness that they emit. There are others of course. They Might Be Giants come to mind. Thinking Fellers Union Local 382 is also a decent representation of the bizarre and elusive. But Ween have seemed to transcend these qualities in their music to greater, more meaningful heights. They are often referred to by a handful of thoughtless pukes in the music critic wing as goof rock. I totally disagree, and think that that kind of label far underestimates the value of Ween.
Their latest release titled Quebec, named after Canada's favourite shit disturbers, has done nothing but further Dean and Gene's reputations as two strange fuckers. And in many circles the album has been lauded as an inconceivably ingenious amalgamation of everything Ween has ever done. And this, of course, means delivering the undeliverable. To make the foul tasting palatable. To make one yearn for the undesirable. And, what's more, to keep things as honest as possible. And what else could a lover of the truth ask for?
"Couldn't taste the taste that I was tastin',
As a band, they have put out the goods. And they've done it with a certain panache that can't be bought. They've toured relentlessly, and for no grand prize. They are selfless musicians with a strange melody in their hearts, and we are lucky to have them with us. And they have, perhaps above all else, submitted their brand of skill and charisma to an art that has long been deprived of such qualities.
They've sung songs of tenderhearted love, and belted out the fury and anger caused by treason. They've examined the fearful and innocent mind of a little one preparing for another spinal tap, and told the reggae junkie Jew what to do. They've offered their listeners one admonition after another including 'don't shit where you eat', 'don't believe the florist when he tells you that the roses are free', and 'resist all the urges that make you want to go out and kill'. And its all been done in a grand effort to prove that true originality and independent thought can exist in this world of virtual mind control and starchy mass media types. It's also all been done to appease Boognish, the purveyor of everything they've achieved.
But when it comes right down to the bottom there is simply no way of gauging the impact any one person has on their art, nor a way to measure the significance that any one person affects their work with. However, one absolute that can be said of Ween is that they have certainly left their mark. And in doing so have fulfilled a legacy that will live on no matter how you define it.
They are the mechanics of ill intellect. The counter to the norm. The last of the great debauchers, and a climb up the slippery slope. They're the worm-like tips of tentacles expanding, and a cube of ice melting in the sink. A carved pumpkin holding your destiny, and a child without an eye. They're a minutes worth of realistic perfection inside a million years of impossible failures. And they are a symbolic reminder of the unknown in a world full of the knowing.
What do you think America?
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