Sunday, July 14, 2013

Ween

 

Ween

Quite simply, Ween is one of the greatest bands ever. Their genius cannot be overstated.  They were written off as a joke drug band by many, as if music is some sacred cow and Ween's music was blasphemous. Ween was the middle finger in the face of everyone's bad trip, and most people just can't handle their acid. But the truth is they were confusing as fuck, making brilliant music while satirizing rock stardom and singing about taboo topics such as sexual perversion and AIDS or joking about cheese stuffed pizza. Then they would hit you with a gorgeous ballad that was tender as fuck, or a guitar solo as sensual as a Calgon bath.


 Their brilliance was evident if inaccessible on their first three albums. You really do need to have a pretty good buzz going to digest those albums as a whole. By the time Chocolate and Cheese came out, they were still stylistically all over the board, but harnessing their pop sensibilities. 12 Golden Country Greats was a gimmick, but certainly a coalescing of their genius into a coherent medium. They could write great songs that your average Joe could comprehend from beginning to end. This was followed by their magnum opus, The Mollusk; a modern day Dark Side of the Moon if there ever was one. Their songwriting was further honed on the Beatles-esque White Pepper. Next up was my personal favorite, Quebec. Quebec was likely the artistic peak of Ween, a brilliant combination of grandiosity and insanity, evident in tracks like The Argus and If You Could Save Yourself, shortly after which the wheels came off the track and they descended into the cliche they had become so adept at satirizing. Luckily they were such proficient songwriters and producers, there is a seemingly endless treasure trove of studio outtakes and demos to be discovered on the internets. For a more comprehensive review of their discography, check here.


Live they were a whole other animal. I probably didn't see them until about 1998, so I can't speak to their shows as a duo with the DAT, which seem to reflect the deranged brilliance of the early albums. With the full band, they were a powerhouse. Claude is one of the greatest drummers I've seen live - pure rock n' roll, fluid and laying it down heavy. Dave is like the third Ween brother. Glen's brilliance became even more obvious when he left the band for a while and they got some short-lived replacement who pretty much sucked. Tasteful, psychedelic, and endlessly creative with his various keyboard sounds. Deaner is a guitar god. Gene was a man possessed on stage, transforming himself into some kind of mushroom elf speaking in tongues. In the tradition of lead singers like Robert Plant, he fully embraced and threw himself into the role, all the while sending it up.


All together it was a band embracing chaos and insanity night after night, pushing the limits, and breaking through to what can best be described as the transcendent experience fans crave. The shows might start out straightforward enough with some high energy rock, take a turn in psychedelia with Voodoo Lady, I Can't Put My Finger On It, or Happy Colored Marbles. Fully entranced, going deeper with Captain or Mutilated Lips, the room engulfed in fog. Coming out of the haze to Ween's weird world with Touch My Tooter, Booze Me Up and Get Me High, Don't Laugh I Love You, Ocean Man. Every show was an epic 3 hour plus affair, the band seeking the same transcendence, and knowing that it had to be earned, you couldn't just package and deliver it from go. Take for example a 2008 show in Hawaii that a few friends of mine were lucky enough to attend. 44 songs, 16 song encore. The last song was almost 15 minutes long. Dark Star. What the fuck? It wasn't necessary, just typical insanity. They've released a few live albums over the years, but what best captures my Ween experience is the Live in Chicago DVD.


As a side note, let me circle back to the idea that drug use somehow devalues music, or the belief that if you need to be high to appreciate a band, then they must suck. First of all, you don't need to be in an altered state to enjoy Ween, but it sure doesn't hurt. Second, without getting into the reasons why, because either you get it or you won't no matter how simply I break it down for you, for your average human the depth and brilliance of some music only becomes clear when accompanied by a shift in consciousness. People that don't understand this fail at music, drugs, life, and so many other things. If you are one of those people, stop reading this, and go stick your head in the oven. Right now.


The brothers brown never achieved the success of the Rolling Stones, and after that initial wave of rock stardom, it's hard to imagine anyone attaining that level of popular and artistic success. But if there is an archetypal path they followed in, it is that of the Glimmer Twins. A lead singer and lyricist in pursuit of his own eccentricities, and a rock guitarist in the purest sense of the term, seemingly impervious to any danger, with nothing but contempt for vanity. Their development and identities were intertwined, defining each other as much as they defined themselves. Brothers from the beginning, and brothers to the end, they held the fragile dynamic together as long as they could.


My personal experience with Ween, how can I describe it? The night at the Fillmore in San Francisco with  30 girls on stage for Let Me Lick Your Pussy, some flashing their breasts in every young boys rock n' roll fantasy. Or after the show the following night, with the Frenchman flying through the streets of San Francisco in a Chrysler Lebaron on a cold night with the top down, every stop sign invisible, a downhill path to the bowels of hell. A few years later at the Wiltern in Los Angeles, shirtless, wearing a gold sport jacket and one red Chuck Taylor, engulfed by the fog, a fellow concert-goer bleeding profusely, did that guy just get stabbed? Captain, Zoloft, Happy Colored Marbles. Insanity. The next morning Guy passed out on the plane before takeoff at LAX. The flight attendant had to wake him up after the flight landed in Paris and everyone else had left the plane. I'll let Dr. Thompson describe the rest:

“Strange memories on this nervous night in Las Vegas. Five years later? Six? It seems like a lifetime, or at least a Main Era—the kind of peak that never comes again. San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run . . . but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant. . . .

History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of “history” it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time—and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened.

My central memory of that time seems to hang on one or five or maybe forty nights—or very early mornings—when I left the Fillmore half-crazy and, instead of going home, aimed the big 650 Lightning across the Bay Bridge at a hundred miles an hour wearing L. L. Bean shorts and a Butte sheepherder's jacket . . . booming through the Treasure Island tunnel at the lights of Oakland and Berkeley and Richmond, not quite sure which turn-off to take when I got to the other end (always stalling at the toll-gate, too twisted to find neutral while I fumbled for change) . . . but being absolutely certain that no matter which way I went I would come to a place where people were just as high and wild as I was: No doubt at all about that. . . .

There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda. . . . You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. . . .

And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. . . .

So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.”
 

And so the story goes for now. It's hard to imagine that we'll never hear from Ween again, but who knows? Their cosmic brethren Mick and Keef had a falling out and toured and recorded sporadically in the 80's due to similar interpersonal strain. Hopefully there will be a Poopship on the horizon, until then, we'll still have those hazy memories, quite sure we had the greatest nights of our lives, but unable to cite any specific reason why.


A quote from the previously referenced Stereogum piece to finish things off:

“What Aaron and I created together was something so special that everyone that was even close to it for even one evening was affected forever,”   Melchiondo wrote in the Ween forum this past September. “Nothing can ever change that.”



  

If you've read this far, clearly you're a fan of the Ween. Since Ween ended, Claude Coleman has been relatively underemployed, and could use some helping producing a new album. If you're so inclined to help out, go here.