Ween May Be Gone, But Their ‘Good Run’ Lives On

With the band (apparently) calling it quits after 25 years, Bigger Than the Sound offers a eulogy.

In my review of [artist id="1157"]Ween[/artist]‘s 2007 album La Cucaracha (which also happens to be the last time they were mentioned on this website), I referred to them as “musical cockroaches,” the kind of scurrying, scrounging band that — much like the titular (and totally gross) arthropod on the record’s cover — was capable of surviving nuclear holocausts and subsisting on a bar of soap for weeks at a time.

“In essence, Ween are indestructible,” I wrote. “They will be here long after you and I are gone.”

It turns out, I was wrong about that last point. Because on Tuesday, Aaron Freeman, better known to bong-rippers and Scotchgard-huffers everywhere as Gene Ween, told Rolling Stone that he was retiring the mantle and ending Ween, saying, simply, “It’s been a long time; 25 years. It was a good run.”

Of course, this apparently came as a surprise to Freeman’s partner for the past quarter-century, Mickey “Dean Ween” Melchiondo, who reportedly wrote on his private Facebook page that the band’s breakup “is news to me, all I can say for now I guess.” There’s been no official announcement on Ween’s site, and as late as 2010, the duo were talking about entering the studio to begin work on the follow-up to Cucaracha, though, from the sound of things, those sessions probably didn’t go all that well … if they ever happened at all.

But if this really is the end of the band, well, most fans probably saw it coming. After an infamous onstage meltdown at a Ween show last year, Freeman entered rehab (and just released a solo album, Marvelous Clouds), and in recent years, Melchiondo has devoted most of his time to his side-job as a fishing guide (he describes himself as both a “pretty good conversationalist” and “fully insured”). Still, none of that makes the news any less of a bummer, especially for folks like me, who grew up with Ween, got sh–faced at their live shows — a genuine rite of passage for any fan — spent endless smoky nights dissecting their wildly divergent back catalog and, as a result, would go on to process popular music through their own uniquely cracked spectrum. Freeman is right: It was a good run.

And that’s why it’s taken me almost a day to write this column. After all, how does one encapsulate their 25-year career, which began in eighth-grade typing class and has encompassed tape-machine schlock, bizarre, brain-addled semi-hits — 1993′s “Push Th’ Little Daisies” — critical acclaim and Pizza Hut commercials (and master classes in old-school country & western, nautical prog, Beatles-y psych, Buffett-y calypso and, uh, Philly Soul, to name just a few of the dozens of genres they’ve skewered)? Because of all that, they most certainly rank up there as one of weirdest acts of all time, earning their rightful place alongside the likes of Zappa, Spike Jones, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and Captain Beefheart … though, to me, Ween were always something more: They were an entry point to all that oddity, the first of their kind. The moment I heard “Dr. Rock” or “The Stallion, Pt. 1″ (from 1991′s The Pod), I could practically feel my musical consciousness being expanded, and from that moment on, everything was different. In a lot of ways, Ween made me.

I followed them through every twist and turn, often as puzzled as I was delighted (12 Golden Country Greats and The Mollusk remain two of my favorite albums ever). But through it all, Ween remained an important band for me, an old favorite, a reminder of the good times when I didn’t know better and when it was socially acceptable to wear basketball shorts and sit cross-legged in smoky dorm rooms all day long. And while nothing I write can effectively eulogize them, I do think that, in closing, it’s important to defend them in one regard: No matter what anyone tells you, Ween were never a “joke” band. They were a terrific band, one adept at doing anything — mostly because they wanted to — and brilliant enough to carry it out to the nth degree.

The attention to detail on albums like White Pepper or Mollusk was the kind of thing only true musicians (and music aficionados) could muster — if Ween were gonna do a prog record, you’d better believe it was gonna sound like a prog record — and that held true to the very end. On what might very well end up being their final album track (the smooth-jazz-slaying “Your Party,” from La Cucaracha), not only did they nail the buttocks-clenching uprightness of the genre, but they went out and got none other than David Sanborn to play satin-sheet sax on the thing. That goes beyond mere humor; it’s pure genius.

And that’s what Ween were, to me, and to a whole lot of other people too: musical geniuses. They just managed to hide it for 25 years — though those of us who worship at the altar of the Boognish knew otherwise. Ween may not have lasted forever, but the memories they’ve soundtracked certainly will. It’s a Brown day, indeed.