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.
“I think it’s his lung!”
So I thought yesterday just wasn’t enough Ween. One song isn’t enough to fully experience all the joyful absurdity. In terms of combining humor, musicianship and unapologetic weirdness, they have very few peers. To take the most random concept and just run with it, and built it into a musically great song – that is a rare and undervalued gift. Frank Zappa, with his Gregory Peccary and yellow snow, comes to mind as a similarly gonzo talent. Sparks, of course, are Ween’s nearest living kindred spirits. In general, though, there a woefully few musical acts with a real spirit of Dada about them. For most people, musical comedy and/or comedic music begins and ends with Weird Al Yankovic. Weird Al has his place, but pointing and laughing at things that already exist isn’t the same as creating fresh things to laugh at. So it falls to two weird looking dudes from New Hope, PA, who don’t even play together anymore. Also, I think that the pony is just a ruse, and the man is going to find an unpleasant surprise when he goes behind the trees.
If you think this is a real ragtime song, you’ve been tricked by the boys of Ween. You’ll also be horrified to learn that Deaner and Gener are not even their real names. But they had you fooled. To their credit every song in every genre they’ve poked at is a perfect representation of that genre, until you tune it to the lyrics. Ween really are their own genre, though. They just exist to be weird. Or they did. I guess their doing their own things under their own names now, which is a bummer, but they’ve served us well.
Would you ever guess from this video and this picture that you’re face to face with one of the most significant musical acts of the 1990’s? Maybe not, but it’s true. Ween wasn’t the best selling or most notorious musical act of their time. Only one album, Chocolate and Cheese, is widely acclaimed as one a significant musical event. None of those things disproves the fact that Ween is one of the most innovative and original groups to flourish in recent memory. They’re the prime examples that prove the 90’s didn’t suck irredeemably. The 90’s sucked but not irredeemably, thanks to one or two bright spots, and Ween was one of those. Too bad I didn’t know about it at the time. They brightened the decade for a few people, but I didn’t find out about them until long afterwards. If I had known, I wouldn’t have felt so pessimistic about the future of music as I did.