Staying Brown: Gene and Dean Ween in the 21st Century (Relix Revisited)
Photo by Jack Chester
Aaron Freeman isn’t particularly psyched to be found in a 7-11 in Northampton at midnight on a Tuesday. He is perfectly friendly to the person who has spent the afternoon trying to get him on the phone for a scheduled follow-up interview, but that doesn’t mean he’s happy about the accidental post-show encounter. In fact, he looks mildly freaked out.
Freeman wears the same camouflage baseball hat, possibly dyed black hair sprouting from its sides. Under the harsh fluorescents of the convenience store, Freeman looks older than his 37 years. Carton of cigarettes and bottles of water tucked under his arm, the camouflage works surprisingly well.
“I just had to realize for myself that I’m pretty sensitive to people,” he says of life in Ween. “I was trying to intermingle with all these fans, and it was great, but when it comes down to it, I’m pretty non-social. So I’ve just got my thing now where I just go back to my hotel room and watch CNN and that’s just fine with me.”
As a frontman, Freeman still stalks the stage like a bliss-ninny. Radiating warmth, his smile is beatific. Like nearly every career rock star — David Bowie, for example — Gener’s persona has hardened into something a bit more like a regular guy. “We’re Ween,” he says to the crowd at Manhattan’s Terminal 5, where he might’ve once expanded the contraction into a silly-voiced declaration.
“This is a song from our new record, it’s called ‘Your Party,” Freeman announces in his own speaking voice at Terminal 5, disregarding the “BY WEEN!” tag he once added to every song introduction like graffiti.
Though they occasionally sing self-referential numbers like “Leave Deaner Alone,” Aaron Freeman and Mickey Melchiondo are not Gene and Dean Ween. “I just wrote the [publicity] bio for our record and I wrote ‘Aaron’ in it every time,” Melchiondo says, “and I saw it, and they changed it to ‘Gener’ every time.”
“Oh, did they really?” Freeman asks.
“And it looks so gay. All the stuff. They did it somewhere else, too. Every time I said ‘Aaron,’ they said ‘Gener.’ And I was looking and it and was, like—”
“Wellllllll,” Freeman interrupts, “you’ve gotta live up to that kinda. We are Dean and Gene,” with the implied “after all.” He stops himself. “No, it’s just a name. Nobody…” He giggles. “Maybe girls that I sleep with call me ‘Gener.’ In bed. That’s about it. I make them say ‘Oh, Gener!’”
The reality though, is that it might not be so easy being brown. Aaron closes his eyes when talks about rehab, and doesn’t say much. He has been alternating between cigarettes, a quietly played guitar, and a very tall iced coffee. “If something is NOT done now… the consequences could be even more dire than the cancellation of these dates,” read the announcement from Ween’s manager Greg Frey, posted in late October 2004.
“I am an alcoholic,” Freeman posted to the Ween forums a few days later. “This problem must take precedence over any and all aspects of my life,” he wrote. “Thank you for all of your concern and support. This is all I can really say at this time. All my love, Papa.”
“I went through two rehabs,” Freeman says. “They didn’t work. Neither of them worked. But, I’ve been doing really well. I find that psychotherapy—psychotherapy’s worked for me. I’m doing well.
“Every night on tour is a Friday night. Everybody who comes to your show, and they’ve all been ready to party and get down, and they expect you to, but you’ve been sitting on a bus for eight hours, driving, and you ate potato chips for dinner, and you’re kind of tired. There’s a lot of ‘no, thank you,’ and ‘no, I don’t wanna go out to your family’s house and have barbecue and smoke PCP all night, but thanks anyway!’”
What is maybe important about Ween, for better or for worse, is that they are a band that people feel comfortable offering PCP and delicious red meat to—and not in a bad way.
Onstage, though, Freeman makes it look easy, which it is clearly not. But it is a reason to keep going: to somehow be brown for a few minutes, with his brother Deaner, and everybody else who has come to see them. On the last night of Ween’s tour, the crowd sings along, and Freeman dances with his arms spread. During the encore, he uncharacteristically slaps five with the front row. And, at the end, he finally says it, Gener voice and all: “WE ARE WEEN!”
In honor of Umphrey’s McGee’s return to Summer Camp this weekend, we present the group’s Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger performing this version of “The Pequod” from UM’s Anchor Drops.
Dame shares a song from her new EP Preventions of Heartbreak.
Golden Bloom stopped by Relix to perform a tune from their latest EP No Day Like Today.
The Chapin Sisters share an tune from their new album A Date With the Everly Brothers.
Minneapolis-based Night Moves share a song from their record, Colored Emotions, live at Relix.
Cloud Cult share a song from their latest album live at Relix.
The Giving Tree Band enjoy a spring day on the Relix rooftop, while performing a classic Grateful Dead tune.
Canadian singer-songwriter Hayden performs a duet with his sister-in-law Lou Canon. The song appears on Us Alone his first record on Broken Social Scene’s Arts & Crafts Productions.
The Milk Carton Kids share the first song from their new album, The Ash & Clay.
Here is the new video from Serbian guitar ace Ana Popovic. “Object Of Obsession” appears on her latest album Can You Stand The Heat.
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