What does it mean to be Ween? Or more accurately, what does it mean to be a Weener, as fans of the insidiously addictive and eclectic duo are known? It means you are privy to a secret and special world, where “you suck” is considered a compliment and where the boundaries of good taste are often blurred and healthily stretched. To be a Weener means you get it, while most others do not. It means you don’t have a stick up your ass, and if you do, well you want it there. It means you are an open minded soul, or a judgmental prick, or a little bit of both.
Dean and Gene Ween, the stage personas and alter egos of New Hope, Pennsylvania’s favorite sons Aaron Freeman and Mickey Melchiondo, are the front men for one of America’s most unique and understandably misunderstood rock acts. Dismissed by many as a gimmick, and just too darn strange for your average simple-minded American, Ween has remained underground for most of their career, thus maintaining their status as a cult band and the steadfast devotion of their fans. But, their impressive catalogue and consistent evolution as songwriters belies the gimmick label.
I was first turned onto Ween in the early nineties, when they were mentioned in the Doniac Schvice, a now-defunct newsletter that the band Phish would send to their fan base. Indeed, Ween certainly owes a great deal to Vermont’s uniquely successful foursome for the increased exposure afforded them by this mention, and by later covering the Prince-inspired Ween number Roses are Free. Though many Weeners (the judgmental prick-type) deny Phish and denigrate them as performers and artists, many appreciate what Phish has done to bolster Ween’s success, including Mr. Dean Ween himself. In a recent post, he shares that, “Phish, by covering [Roses are Free], made it one of our popular and most crowd pleasing tunes. For that we owe Trey forever because it opened up so many people’s ears to the music of Ween and introduced us to a whole new audience within the jam band scene, which never would have happened otherwise.” Last summer, Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio even made a public plea for Ween to reunite. As an admittedly proud and devout fan of Phish, I too am forever grateful to them for turning me on to the weirdness that is Ween.
My first taste of the strange and wonderful was the 1991 release The Pod, a collection of Tascam four-track recordings, that, although lo-fi and murky, are quintessentially Ween; brilliant songwriting masked by effects, inane themes and outright lunacy. “Call your friends at college”, we are told in “Sorry Charlie,” and indeed that’s what many of us did when we turned on to Ween. Most of them looked at me like I was high when I cued up “Pollo Asado” or the chipmunk-voice-tweaked “Pork Roll Egg and Cheese,” but hey, who wasn’t? Rock monoliths like “Captain Fantasy” and “Dr. Rock” would cement the relationship. I was sold. Ween is like a musical prophylactic for mainstream pop garbage; indeed once you have tasted the waste, it’s kind of hard to swallow anything else less daring.
Over the years, the band would grow in popularity and in sophistication as composers. I would have the opportunity to see them shine with rock star grandeur in large venues, yet I would also catch them in backwater clubs in Jersey for secret tour warm-up gigs, where I’d chat with Gener as he unloaded his fender amp out of his dented up Beemer. Somewhat shy yet appreciative of his fans nonetheless, the ostentatious stage performer spoke humbly of his growing success and graciously thanked us for coming to see them. The boys would play hard and party harder. Later on, as Ween’s fame grew, addiction would derail Gene Ween’s career and lead him down the path to eventual sobriety.
After the 2012 breakup of Dean and Gene, many of us have learned to live life without Ween. Indeed, without them, the world feels a little heavier, though few of us accepted the definitiveness of the break-up; many of us joking that they’ll get back together and tour because they’ll need the money. Notwithstanding some impressive solo efforts, especially Aaron Freeman’s recent release Freeman, Dean and Gene Ween belong together.
So with the announcement of three reunion shows in Colorado this coming February, the Ween world has rejoiced in the good news, though where it will go beyond the Colorado shows remains unclear. The announcement by Ween that they will perform “new stuff that nobody has ever heard live before” and that the shows are “going to be fucking mind-blowing” is encouraging. With their last studio album La Cucaracha released in 2007, new material is long overdue. The hint of new compositions in the works brings new hope, and we can only pray that it will be a long time before we will have to wean ourselves off Ween again.
Written by: Danny Steinman
[Cover image via MinusTheBear14]