Takin’ It Back: Ween

In 2018, two years from the time of this writing, Bands I Useta Like (the comic strip) will be twenty years old. In 1998, I drew the initial batch of strips for Mike The Pod Comix #4, and included them in the proposal that saw them properly published, starting in 2002. Among this early run were “the Oingo Boingo strip” and “the Ween strip”.

BIUL_Ween

Permit me a moment to fall on my sword.

  1. This is one of the shittiest strips I’ve done, in my opinion. It’s all true, but I was really reaching, and still feeling out the concept.
  2. I’ve had The Pod since 1991 and God Ween Satan The Oneness since 1993. I hold those two albums in tremendous esteem. So tremendous, in fact, that I judged 12 Golden Country Greats (which I still don’t like) and Chocolate & Cheese very harshly.
  3. I was so enamored with The Pod that I wrote a bubbly fan letter to Ween, telling them I was from Jersey and that I did a comic book called “Mike the Pod”, and they wrote me back, sending a lyric sheet for Pure Guava.*
  4.  Neither my old college chum or anyone else with a Boognish tattoo is regretful about it. As I said, I was reaching, in this case for an overarching theme, that being “embarrassment”.
  5. Not long after this strip was written, I was forced to eat a metric ton of crow when Ween released the career highlight White Pepper.

*Hand-written, which is how I know “Big Jilm” is a misprint on the back of the CD, caused by Ween’s unique cursive “m” (it looks a bit like “lm”).

No one I depicted or noted in this comic strip is a part of my life anymore; Ween still is. When a band makes bold moves in the present, it’s difficult to tell if they’re going in a good direction or a bad one. By 1996, I’d heard plenty of Ween songs I couldn’t get behind, whether they’d provided the soundtrack to a car accident (or It’s Pat! The Movie) or not. I don’t know why you’d put “Spinal Meningitis (Got Me Down)” on an album intended for public release. “Mister Richard Smoker” might as well have been titled “Cringe City”. I knew from their first two albums that Ween was far better than this. What happened?

It doesn’t matter. Ween made a “comeback”, first with The Mollusk, then White Pepper and Quebec. Before that, there were indications of their continued greatness that I’d ignored on first listen; for instance, the amazing “What Deaner Was Talkin’ About” from 1994’s Chocolate & Cheese.

Yes, I grant that underboob-lady makes for a nice cover, despite the chicken hands. If you know Ween, you know they never even got to meet her. Anyway, what better “end credits” music could you ask for? (“Freedom of ’76” is also a standout, and I’ll give you “Voodoo Lady”.)

My favorite track on The Mollusk is “Pink Eye (On My Leg)”. I love “Mutilated Lips” and “Ocean Man” (not the slower version), but I like this one the most. It sounds like the world’s biggest stoner groggily getting up in the morning to go to work.

2000’s White Pepper is intended to evoke The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper and White albums. In my opinion, it is superior to both. Dean and Gene Ween employ a bevy of talented session musicians, and combined with their expert songwriting, create an incomparable disc. At this stage in their careers, they genre-hop so deftly, the very concept of genre-hopping itself is synonymous with Ween. The vibrant “Bananas & Blow” surely must’ve left Jimmy Buffett lime-green with envy:

It’s one thing to cover songs from a past era; it’s another thing entirely to create new work within the idiom of that era, successfully. This Is Spinal Tap works largely because its soundtrack is totally believable as 70s metal, although it’s original. It’s quite a feat to evoke nostalgia using new material. That’s the kind of song-crafting talent Dean and Gene Ween possess. There are several songs on 1992’s Pure Guava that sound like everything you loved about 70s rock, perfected. I adore this band, and have for decades. I state this emphatically; Ween is the tits.

The best example I can give you is a song I’ve been deeply infatuated with for many years. It sounds like an undiscovered gem from some unjustly-forgotten jazz-fusion combo. Dean sings like a suave Leon Redbone type in a white silk suit. The pedal steel and slide guitar solos are luminous. The bass player sounds like a leaping rubber rabbit, and the lead-in to the opening verse swings like a heavenly chariot. I have proclaimed this the Greatest Song Of All Time, on numerous occasions. It is a gift from a loving god.

It is called “Pandy Fackler”.

Isn’t it terrific how Dean is close-miked enough to hear mouth noise, and has “suckin’ dicks under the Promenade” ever sounded so wholesome and fine? Listen to the gleam of the pedal steel, and that’s Glenn McClelland tearing it up on keys in a keyboard solo fit for Frank Zappa circa Joe’s Garage. No wonder; McClelland joined Blood Sweat & Tears in 1987. He joined them. 

This is one of my favorite songs of all time, so I need to steer away from it for the purposes of this article. Were it legal, I would fucking marry and impregnate this song. That about sums it up. If you can put on White Pepper without experiencing sheer elation at the first track (“Exactly Where I’m At”), see a doctor, because something’s wrong with your ears. I’m being serious. If there’s a legitimate reason to dislike it, it’s either April 1st or Opposite Day.

So Ween came to occupy a special club for me. Along with Radiohead and David Bowie (RIP), Ween is a music group that’s created music I’m extremely attached to emotionally, to the point where I don’t dive into their new efforts half-cocked. I mean this as highest praise. If I like you, I gotta be prepped before I take in your latest thing. I still haven’t read Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice, so of course I haven’t seen Paul Thomas Anderson’s film adaptation yet either. In my interior head space, these are godlike beings. Their work is intensely passionate and powerful.

This is why I never got into Quebec. I think part of me feared it. I don’t know where my copy is (it was a burned CD-R). The song titles listed are unfamiliar. However, my idiot capriciousness was completely thwarted by Ween’s “final” album, 2007’s La Cucaracha.

I’m trying to stop overusing the phrase “mic drop”, but I don’t know how else to put it. Technically it’s superior to White Pepper. I can’t conjure an album to compare with La Cucaracha, because by this time, there is no comparison. Ween is wholly in a class by themselves.

On the original release, the album closed with “Your Party”, an encapsulation of everything wonderful about the early 80s, wrapped with a glittering tinsel bow. It could be interpreted as a loving goodbye note from Ween, and the superb saxophone is David Sanborn. DAVID SANBORN!!!

It’s truly gratifying to observe talented musicians as they grow from humble, relatable beginnings. The sophistication of Ween’s later efforts does nothing but enhance my enjoyment of their first three albums. I still don’t know how my old college buddies made the leap from Mr. Bungle to Ween; a couple years later, a song from God Ween Satan The Oneness appeared on a GWAR EP, and everyone I knew was into GWAR. That would’ve made more sense. Anyway, the EP was The Road Behind, and the Ween song was “Don’t Laugh (I Love You)”. Of course GWAR loved that song. It’s great, but one I love even more is “Oh my dear (falling in love)” from The Pod. LOVE!!!

Girls melt for that shit, are you kidding?!?

Sure, girls can make you crazy. They make me crazy all the time. On rare occasions, they can make you so nutty that you turn to the first track of the first Ween album: “You Fucked Up”.

Somehow, a pair of dudes named Aaron Freeman and Mickey Melchiondo Jr. tapped directly into the male brain, at the exact moment of breakup. They channeled pure guy-rage and venom into one and a half minutes of glory, with a guitar solo sloppier than an unexpected probing tongue.

Just about every track on the first three Ween albums is stellar. “Pollo Asado”, from The Pod, isn’t just a terrific tune; it’s funnier than Adam Sandler at his best. (“Cold & Wet”, from GWSto, even sounds like Sandler on vocals.) If you ever need a good laugh, or know someone who does, put on “Pollo Asado”.

Ween is the best. I could post songs for you all day. I would even recommend albums of theirs I don’t like. That’s how good they are, and I’ve been working out how to say so for like, almost twenty years. They have an infectious edginess, where they always seem to be just about to fall apart before turning things around mid-performance (see “I Saw Gener Cryin’ In His Sleep”, with its exclamation of “you fucked it up!”). They did a song on the first album that I thought for years was a Prince cover (“L.M.L.Y.P”). If you aren’t already a Ween enthusiast, I urge you to discover them. For music alternative and otherwise, they are nearly impossible to top.

Oh, wait a minute- the Mr. Bungle song “Love Is A Fist” has the lyric “round my ween”. Maybe that was the connection?

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