Last month, GQ ran an op-ed that caught my eye and left me scratching my head. The piece is titled “When Did Pop Music Get So Mean And Weird?” My initial thought was, “Well, this is a good trend!” I’m not a pop or Top 40 guy, but this can only be a good thing … right? The writer singles out Bieber, Drake, and Ellie Goulding as torchbearers for the “weird and mean,” in the sense that men feel disgust and rage toward women, and women have stopped doing anything except having extremely crazy, obsessive thoughts about men. This is what constitutes weird and mean in the Top 40, and that’s fine. I like that these artists are shaking up the mainstream in their own club-friendly, gentle way. But what about us misanthropes dwelling left of the dial? Who’s proudly waving a big middle finger in our camp?
While I’d never consider Ween “mean” or “mean-spirited,” they’re certainly gleefully offensive when they want to be. They’re also sweet, sincere, goofy, surreal, and completely, stone-faced serious when they want to be. That choice to defy easy categorization, to employ levity and not give a good goddamn has been sorely missed since Ween’s swan song, La Cucaracha, in 2007. Alternative and/or indie has been so self-serious, calculated, and achingly cool for so long that we need Ween.
We need Ween to kick those indie-folkers while they’re down, channeling heartache and angst without the aid of cabins and beard cream. We need their twisted psychedelia more than we need a glut of lukewarm Tame Impala knockoffs. On paper, Ween can certainly appear misogynistic and insensitive to gays, a myriad of races, the sickly, and ponies. If Ween released “You Fucked Up” or “Mister Richard Smoker” today, I fondly think how snooty critics and social media would respond. Would Ween be seen as demons in this PC dystopia? More likely, they’d continue to be easily dismissed as “novelty rock” or “parody,” as has been de rigeuer for too many critics trying to extrapolate Ween. Surreal shock and awe has always been more exciting to me then cool detachment and faux sincerity.
I worked at The Echo in LA off and on for years, and I would groan whenever a new trend or genre kicked off. I watched countless witch house bands come and go, followed by all the synth bands that interchangeably all sounded like Tanlines. It was like they didn’t have a choice anymore, that they needed to stick to one genre or glom on to whatever was hot. There was zero shock or humor. For the most part, they looked sad and a little soul sick onstage. When a band didn’t sound cookie-cutter and had fun onstage, I clung to them for dear life and did all I could to champion them (everyone should check out Low Cut Connie or try and catch their amazing live show).
My first loves were Beck, Butthole Surfers, The Flaming Lips, and Ween. There was a glorious moment, however fleeting, when the weird, mean, and unique reigned supreme. Sadly, Beck became a mopey Scientologist. The Flaming Lips grew into caricatures of themselves. Butthole Surfers farted out, and while Ween became far less prolific, they still brought it hard on the road — the Springsteens of the underground. There is nothing like a Ween show. You could take me to the most audacious, expensive stage show in the world, and I’d still prefer the Ween experience of jeans, cigarettes, and smoke machines. Ween has never made any attempt to look cool, and I honor that. They look like guys from New Hope, PA, who like fishing, pork rolls and know how to change a tire.
We need Ween because I have never encountered a more loyal, demented, and hilarious fan base than the Ween camp. As a fellow freak with a Boognish tattoo, it’s been incredibly fun to feel, and I say this without hyperbole, alive again and connected with music. As much as I’ve tried, I’ve never experienced community (save for a gathering of juggalos) outside the Ween family. I can say from experience that if I see someone wearing a Ween shirt on the street, I will have a new friend in 10 seconds. It may be brief, but it’s brother and sisterhood. In this hipper-than-thou culture, those moments warm my crusty, bitter heart.