Ween and the Reality of Bodies in Music
They don’t really tell you about Ween during music nerd orientation. You’ll probably be introduced to them as a joke band, maybe someone will play you “Mister, Would You Please Help My Pony” to show you how weird and hilarious it is. maybe you hear somewhere down the line that they do some shit that people actually care about, that The Mollusk is a really solid album or whatever, but kind of brush it off because silly voices and intentionally jokey and offputting lyrics are still kind of their stock in trade.
Two or three weeks ago I found a couple of Ween CDs in that corner of the library where they sell used books and VHS tapes for a dollar apiece. Iwas at that point where I’d heard good things from a few people, read their Stereogum worst-to-best albums list, knew what the appeal was generally supposed to be, so I picked them up and listened to Quebec on the drive to work the next morning. I knew the first song, “It’s Gonna Be A Long Night,” from one of the Tony Hawk’s Underground games. It’s a straight Motorhead pastiche and not altogether unenjoyable, but nothing special. It kind of gives you this sense of, well, they play a pretty convincing Motorhead, but why would Iever opt for this over the real thing?
But I was pretty much a convert by the time “Tried And True” came on. Listening to it a second time, I was really impressed by how intricately it was put together, how the instrumentation in the background would subtly shift, like the pulsating reverb after the word “blinding” in the second verse. Most of all, it seemed content to be a really good psychedelic pop song with no unnecessary silliness added.
That is, until a few listens later, when I realized what exactly it was that they were going for with the line “could you smell my whole… life.” Cool, the elegant, well-made psych pop song Ihad really fallen for was actually an elaborate butthole joke.
But a few listens later it started to make sense. Like I said earlier about their Motorhead aping, Ween, as a band that likes to appropriate different genres wholesale, sometimes changing to a different distinct, established style on a song-by-song basis, can feel like a pastiche. As if behind all the genre cosplay, convincing and solid as it might be, there’s nothing real or substantial.
But what if the poop jokes are the substance? Uncomfortable as they may be, they function as a constant and a connective tissue between all the differences in style. And more than that, they add a distinctly bodily feeling, something oderous and visceral. It gives you a sense of the humans behind the pastiche: maybe they can’t be contained by a single genre, but they’ll make explicit how they’re contained in their own bodies, full of waste and grime and other unpleasantnesses as they are, to a degree that most other musicians wouldn’t think of touching.
The most uncomfortable one I’ve heard so far is “Chocolate Town,” a folk-pop tune that’s so wistful and jaunty that it took me like five listens to realize that it’s not just a suggestively gross title, but that the entire song is an elaborate, almost poetic description of taking a shit. I mean, there are some other lyrics about not being able to fake his life and lying to his mother, but those come off more as thoughts he’s having while “makin’ time, breakin’ brown.”
But, as it turns out it’s actually actually a song about Aaron Freeman (aka Gene Ween)’s drug addiction. only instead of a delicate, Elliott Smith-esque metaphor about prison bars, he’s confronting the drug’s bodily aspects. Iit’s no accident that it sounds so much like he’s talking about poop. I’ve never done heroin, but I know that proper procedure for shooting, I guess in order to avoid an embolism, is to stick yourself, pull the plunger back to draw blood into the syringe, and then shoot. God, that must be a weird sensation, to see your own blood intermingle with this shit-colored substance, to actually watch it happen and then willfully shoot the sludgy mixture back into yourself. That has to give you some pause, has to give you a more intimate and emotional relationship with your body’s basest functions.
Over the past few months, I’ve been a lot more conscious of and unhappy about my own body. It’s something Ithink about constantly, every hour of every day. If I’m not squeezing my fat rolls to see if they’ve gotten any bigger or smaller it’s probing my teeth with my tongue to check if any gaps have gotten wider, if my gums are still inflamed. I’m overly aware of how my body takes up space, and because of that I’m physically uncomfortable almost all of the time.
Bodies are a real thing. They’re the most real thing. And recently, mine has been the source of the bulk of my discomfort and unhappiness. With how prevalent body image issues are, I can’t imagine that I’m the only one. so why is it that when most music deals with bodies it does so in an idealized, sexualized, positive way? Where are the stinking holes, the rotten teeth, the guts pressing into belt buckles? Sex is something that would concern my body for a couple of hours a day at most, and that’s only if i’m lucky, but these are the things Iworry about constantly, that actually affect my emotional state. Maybe using your music to acknowledge those bodily feelings and fears only reads as facile or sophomoric to us because they’re easier to write off than to actually confront. Since I already spend 90% of my time confronting them anyways, Ween can only help. For me, right now, I don’t know if music could get any more emotional.