Staying Brown: Gene and Dean Ween in the 21st Century (Relix Revisited)
Photo by Sabrina Lantos
Mickey almost died recently. At the time, he was fishing.
“Oh God, man!” gasps Aaron.
“I was in the river in a pair of chest-waders and I slipped and I fell and they filled up with water and I went to the bottom,” Mickey says of his “rookie mistake.”
“Dude, that’s really freaky. Not cool.” Aaron is smoking a cigarette. Slipped from his flip-flops, he is barefoot, wearing a camouflage mesh baseball cap. “You could go right down the rapids there, in New Hope! You’d definitely be dead.”
“I only got a scrape on my elbow,” says Mickey, the taller one who plays guitar. “I was standing on the little plot of rocks in my underwear, dumping my waders out.”
“It’s a river town,” says Melchiondo. “That’s the most defining thing about New Hope: it’s right on the Delaware River. It’s really key.” Also an inexplicable stop on the hippie highway between Burlington and Boulder, neither Deaner nor his partner has strayed far. For most bands, the idea of recording in a farmhouse—as Ween did for La Cucaracha —comes with rustic serenity. For Ween, it was just a place with a collapsing porch, filled with black mold, “about 1000 yards” from Melchiondo’s house. “I hope a tree falls on it so they have to bulldoze the building to its foundation,” he wrote in a press release.
“I’d rather live with middle class white conservatives than 20-something white hipsters in Williamsburg or whatever,” says Freeman. “I can’t stand that kind of shit. I feel much more comfortable with soccer moms than I do with hipsters. Mickey’s like that, too.”
“I don’t like clubs, I don’t like parties,” says Melchiondo. “It’s not that I don’t like people, but I don’t like crowds. I don’t go to concerts, even here, at home, or parties. My idea of a good bar is a bar that has one other person, and has a game on. That’s what I want when I go out.
“Ween is definitely a product of the school that we went to,” continues Mickey. “It was a weird school. Our graduating class had 50 or 60 people in it. There was no football team. There was no anything. It wasn’t like the athletes were the popular kids. There was nothing like that. We probably couldn’t have met in anywhere but New Hope and done this. Growing up here was an influence. Like, I dunno if I take it for granted. I never left.”
As it happened, he only had to travel 16 miles to the southeast to get discovered—and, even then, Melchiondo somehow managed to bring the mountain to Mohammed. Lured from Trenton, Andrew Weiss had lately encountered the teenage Melchiondo distributing copies of his self-published Yuckzine outside hardcore shows at City Gardens, the center of the local scene.
“The first time I saw them was in their garage playing for, like, three neighborhood kids or whatever, literally,” says Weiss, who has produced nearly every Ween album since, working in close collaboration with the pair. “I knew it from the get-go, absolutely,” Weiss says. “It was totally obvious to me that those guys were wickedly talented.”
“They kind of took Mickey under their wing,” says Freeman of the Trenton musicians, which included Andrew Weiss’s band, Scornflake. “I didn’t have anything to do with it. I’d be home, like, clearing land as a punishment from my father for getting bad grades, and Mickey would call me and suddenly we’d be opening for The Ramones at City Gardens. It was really cool.”
Suddenly, Ween had an audience for their music, which emerged at prodigious rate on cassette: The Crucial Squeegee Lip in 1986, Axis: Bold As Boognish, Erica Peterson’s Flaming Crib Death, and Synthetic Socks (a Gener solo joint) in 1987. The Live Brain Wedgie/WAD followed on vinyl in 1988. No one has been able to accurately date the release of Mrs. Slack.
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