Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

The Comedy Stylings of Ween

Often crude, at least vaguely drug-influenced comic music performed by two guys devoted to each other. Before Tenacious D and Flight of the Conchords, there was Ween. But Mickey “Dean Ween” Melchiondo and Aaron “Gene Ween” Freeman are not a comedy duo, as they don’t do parody songs and they don’t go for the broad laughs and obvious punchlines. They parody not songs, but specific styles or bands, and from deep within. If “Weird Al” Yankovic is a mainstream stand-up comic like Brian Regan, Ween is UCB, character work, Andy Kaufman. They fully inhabit the world of a song, then ably mock it.

The duo started making homemade, low-tech music together in Pennsylvania in the mid-‘80s, when both were about 15 (as such “Ween” is a portmanteau of “wussy” and “peen”). While we all mess around with a tape recorder when we’re 15, making sketches, fake radio shows, or prank calls, Melchiando and Freeman kept going and got really good, evolving from a punk/DIY sound on its early releases to a musical proficiency and ability to play in most any genre. Except that the 15-ness never left. The music remained juvenile, puerile, profane, dumb, druggy, and hilarious. Some “high” lights (get it? Because drugs?):

“L.M.L.Y.P.” (GodWeenSatan: The Oneness, 1991)

It’s well-known that Yankovic gets the approval of artists he parodies, even though he doesn’t have to, and that Prince has never consented. Ween, however, has taken the piss out of the Paisley Gnome. “L.M.L.Y.P” does not send up a particular Prince song (though tere is an “Alphabet City” reference), merely Prince’s essence: that of a sex-crazed, shrieking toddler. “L.M.L.Y.P.” is a trying, eight-minute long, funk odyssey most reminiscent of “Batdance.” The title stands for “let me lick your pussy,” because Prince, and also guys, you guys.

“Push th' Little Daisies” (Pure Guava, 1992)

Screamy, pitch-shifted, batshit crazy scatting, off-key, kinda druggy. This is the definitive Ween original. You probably heard it for the first time on Beavis and Butthead, which makes sense.

“The H.I.V. Song” (Chocolate and Cheese, 1994)

Dean and Gene periodically interrupt a looped circus music to laconically shout, alternately “H.I.V.!” and “AIDS!” Yes, it’s crude and awful to mock AIDS, but making AIDS jokes is something a couple of dumb teenagers would do. But the joke is so slight it’s not even a joke. They’re just saying the name of a serious thing after some silly music. It’s dichotomy, and it’s not really making fun of anything; it’s just supposed to be broadly funny. And dumb. Which is why it’s funny.

12 Golden Country Greats (1996)

The most ironic achievement of Ween’s irony-rich career is this album of authentic-sounding country standards, because there isn’t much irony present. Dean and Gene genuinely love old country and their backup band here is comprised of veteran Nashville studio musicians. There are still some subtle jokes. One is that the album has 10 songs, not 12; standout track “Japanese Cowboy” lists incongruities (“a Japanese cowboy / or a brother on skates”) with a casual, don’t-know-any-better style of racism prominent in so very much country music.

The Mollusk (1997)

It’s a brutal deconstruction and takedown of concept albums that manages to be a fantastic if riduclous concept album. Well, sort of; they kind of come and go and make some big leaps for the “sea” concept to fit. Ween recorded it at a beach house in New Jersey, which lends the album a palatable demented sailor vibe. No one style dominates, showing off Ween’s ability to breeze through different styles in service of the song, or a whim. “The Mollusk” is a narrative, prog rock song about a magical shellfish, “The Blarney Stone” is an old sea shanty,” and “Ocean Man” basically a novelty song from the ‘70s.

“Flutes of Chi” (White Pepper, 2000)

You don’t see people taking a lot of shots at George Harrison. That’s probably because he was a gentle, deeply spiritual man who died of cancer and was in the Beatles. That’s why Ween’s “Flutes of Chi” is notable, with its equal parts phony Eastern mysticism and hypnotic guitar work. Other songs off White Pepper pay homage to instantly recognizable targets: “Pandy Fackler” is a fake Steely Dan song, all talky, bass-heavy, and interminably smug about its own cleverness; “Bananas and Blow” mocks that which mocks himself pretty well, Sir Jimmy Buffett, and almost as well as that 30 Rock episode from last week.

“Boys Club” (Shinola, Vol. 1, 2005)

Pitch-shifted to make themselves sound like ladies, some innocent lyrics that seem to really be about clandestine homosexual lovemaking, and a really good Michael McDonald impression and a keyboard solo you’d hear in a Michael McDonald song.

“Your Party” (La Cucaracha, 2007) 

Imagine if David Bowie was a middle-aged suburban dad, hadn’t been out of the house in a while, and went to an unexceptional dinner party, then breathlessly described the “tri-colored pastas” and married couples dancing as if it were a Caligula-esque bacchanal. Amping up the middle-age cheese is an unctuous sax solo by lite jazz king David Sanborn.

The Pizza Hut jingles (2002)

Ween’s never been a commercial powerhouse, but they can write fun songs, so in 2002 an ad agency hired them to write a jingle for Pizza Hut’s Insider pizza (it had cheese between two layers of pizza, because Pizza Hut wants to kill you). The band submitted six separate songs, but the diabetes fun factory didn’t like any of them, and made them do constant rewrites for a few weeks before ultimately firing the band completely. So Ween “remixed” one of the jingles, which was a perfectly good pizza jingle, by adding in a shitload of profanity, and put it on the Internet. Here’s the “before” and “after.”

* * *

Ween broke up earlier this year, in as much as brothers from another mother can break up. Freeman (Gene) wanted to pursue a solo career, and his first album is Marvelous Clouds, a set of songs built around the poems of ‘60s pop poet Rod McEwan, which would be an epic, Ween-level goof if Freeman wasn’t being completely serious.

Brian Boone makes tweets and such. Unlike Ween, he has never been the recipient of Sassy magazine’s “Cute Band Alert” distinction.

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music, ween

  • http://twitter.com/beermestrength beermestrength

    Not to be "that obsessive Ween fan" but the 12 Golden Country Greats is a reference to the studio musicians, not the songs.

    • Gordon

      Layers, man.

  • http://www.facebook.com/isaacpriestley Isaac Priestley

    Actually, "LMLYP" is a cover of the Prince tune "Shockaedelica", an old B-side.

  • Dr. Correction

    Also, LMLYP is mostly "Shockedelica" by Prince – an actual song, not merely channeling Prince's essence. Credit where it's due.

    • acidiumsix

      Thankk you. this was a half educated attempt at something i highly doubt ween would approve of….defining their style to folks who wouldn't get it if they heard iit

  • Marcus Morales

    LMLYP starts off as a Shockadelica cover before going into Alphabet Street, then they're off on their own pussy licking tangent. It's more like their going on a goofy jazz riff on the song, rather than a send-up. Gene Ween pretty much disavowed most of these theories in his WTF interview (as well as couple of other interviews). He said all the best albums have been concept albums (The Mollusk) and spouted his undying love for The Beatles (White Pepper). They were doing impressions rather than satire or "brutal take downs" and just injecting their own dark and whimsical sense of humor at times. So your last thought on Gener's new project being the perfect Ween goof, if he wasn't completely serious, can be applied to some of these examples and some others that are constantly being misinterpreted, I thought "Stay Forever" was a joke, but according to Gene it's genuine. That's why their so rad, and not just some amusing comedy duo.

  • Brandon

    Nice post and thanks for trying to articulate the weird essence of Ween. They were unlike any other band that immediately springs to mind. Maybe comparable to Zappa and his crew? The only thing missing here is "Mister Won't You Please Help My Pony?" a song I once foolishly played on a car stereo during a family road trip. My mother made me turn it off and then immediately put on a Tom Petty mix-tape.

  • http://www.facebook.com/phillip.ginder Phillip Ginder

    It's spelled McKuen.

  • JD

    Greatest band of all-time….