This couldn’t be a bigger 90’s-bomb if it was wearing flannel and a black plastic choker, at least going from the production values of the video. Dean and Gene Ween were idols to the weirdos among 90’s kids. But there’s a reason why their career has unexpectedly outlived the decade, and why we don’t mentally file them away as 90’s music like we do with so many bands who were much more popular in those years. It’s because their imaginations roved way beyond anything as mundane as popular trends or commercial viability. They proved, once and for all, that weirdness is so much more timeless and eternal than being on-point. They made a nautical-themed concept album, because prog rock and sea shanties were two things that needed to be brought back for the summer of 1997.
“Don’t believe the florist when he tells you that the roses are free”
I want to print these lyrics and hang them in every grey cubicle in every office, for the edification of everyone who needs a little uplift to get through the day. What could be more motivational? All it needs is a picture of a kitten in a tree. Ok, maybe the twisted humor of Ween is not for everybody. For some people it might just be the worst shit they’ve ever heard. For others, it’s music that speaks directly to their own weird souls. There’s not a lot of in-between; you’re either an acolyte of Boognish or you can’t press the stop button fast enough. For acolytes, however, Ween really are an inspiration. They’re two homely dudes who started out as teenagers making tapes in their basements and bedrooms, and somehow their mutual weirdness and in-jokes reached out and touched – in pre-internet times! – an awful lot of people who recognized them as kindred eccentrics, and they’ve maintained that connection over decades. Obviously being wildly gifted and able to play any kind of music helped them along, but you know, a lot of people are wildly gifted in the technical sense but still don’t have anything to say, and it’s a much higher calling to be eccentric in a way that touches people’s hearts.
Like a lot of people, this was my first Ween song. Of course, I was a good full decade late to the party, because my initiation occurred sometime in the mid-2000’s, while older generations got to enjoy the weirdness way back in 1992. In fact, now that I think about it, Flies On My Dick might have actually been my first Ween song. But, you know, same album, same difference. For a lot of people, though, this was their first Ween song. It became Ween’s “big” “breakout” “hit” after being featured on an episode of Beavis and Butthead, who, apparently, played the tastemaking role of Ed Sullivan for early 90’s MTV fans. As with the inception of American Beatlemania, an entire generation remembers that indelible moment in music and television history. Or not. But it was momentous enough to ensure that Ween would never have to make tapes in their basement again, unless they felt like it. Beavis and Butthead’s original verdict was “These guys have no future.” Beavis and Butthead were wrong.
How far into this song can you get before you realize it’s not what it sounds like? I mean, it is what it sounds like; it’s an old school country song with a lot of twang. But it’s also tongue-in-cheek in a way almost no old school country songs have ever been. Earnestness has always been the bane of country music; it’s music to cry in your beer to, gerd-dern it, and fans take their beer-cryin’ pretty seriously. What they genre really needed was a little touch of Weener in the night. So, if you like the musicianship of classic country, but hate the weepy cowboy and hard luck lady stereotypes, saddle up for Ween’s 12 Golden Country Greats.
These guys, who have not been heard from in forever. Disappeared forever back into the cornfields from whence they came? Or just resumed normal life under their real names? Either way, I’ll always love Ween for being the musical bastion of weirdness for the entire bleak 90’s. I didn’t actually discover them until well past their heyday, but it’s nice to know they kept the freak flag up for more plugged in members of my generation. Who else could have made a psychedelic maritime concept album? In 1997, just when the world needed it most, too. They really filled a need that didn’t have a name.
If I had known in 1997 how much weird and wonderful was out there, I would have been a much happier camper. As it was, I didn’t know Ween existed, and didn’t find out until much later what I’d missed out on. In those dark times, there really wasn’t any way to find out. Now we have little flashback timebombs flying out of the infinite ether of the internet all the time, breeding nostalgia for things we never actually personally experienced, but theoretically could have. I’m not immune to 90’s nostalgia – I’m the right age for it – and if it begets a Ween comeback, that would be awesome. Come back, guys, there’s got to be at least a little popular demand for your brand of weirdness-as-its-own-reward.
Given their relative obscurity, it’s rather surprising how many times I’ve been asked what my favorite Ween album is. It may say something about the circles I find myself moving in, and it may be that unlike your average garden variety Beatlemaniacs, Swifties and Little Monsters, Ween fans (Weeners?) feel underserved and eager to connect. Anyhow, to them I say, my favorite Ween album is The Mollusk.