By Mabel Suen
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On November 5, I will not be going to see Ween in Lawrence.
Which might seem an odd thing to say. There are a lot of things that I won't be doing November 5: worrying about the election anymore (knock on wood); covering myself with raw liver and doing a happy dance; skeet shooting. But I was planning on driving to see Ween this Friday. Which might have led to slapping on some organ meat and getting down, but that wasn't in the game plan.
As a music writer, I strive to have broad tastes. Bring me polka, turn up some death metal, jam on a sitar and I will listen with my ears as open as I can pry them. If there's one thing that can spin a critic over the edge into untrustworthy prejudice, it is unabashed fandom. If you love something too much, you can't be trusted. People judge the output of their favorite bands the way parents judge the crayon scrawls of their kids, which means some crap gets hung on the fridge.
On the other hand, beware those who never give in to total infatuation in their musical tastes. Too even a hand betrays too cool a soul, in my opinion. Every once in a while, a music lover has to go batshit loonball for someone. For me, it's a Pennsylvania band that can write a perfect pop song one moment and follow it up with an ode to a dying pony with a fucked-up lung.
I discovered Ween in high school (embarrassingly enough, from an interview in High Times), but my fandom was solidified my freshman year of college, 1996. Last week I asked you for your Great Show stories; let me briefly share one of mine. I drove with three friends for eight hours from the University of Missouri to Tulsa, with a trunk laden with 40s of Mickey's malt liquor bought for us by an older student (thanks, Darin!). Ween was opening for the Foo Fighters at the legendary Cain's Ballroom, and the four of us didn't give a fart in a windstorm for the headliner. Apparently, though, Tulsa did care about the Foo, as the show was sold out when we arrived. (Sure, you'd think that you'd buy the tickets in advance before driving eight hours -- but you're not a college freshman drunk on Mickey's.)
Crushed, the four of us sat outside the ballroom bemoaning our (entirely preventable) bad fortune. And then Ween's van arrived. Steeling myself for the presence of greatness, I approached vocalist Gene Ween as he and his "brother" Dean headed for the club. I told him our tale of woe. He put all four of us on the guest list.
I was sold by that simple act of fan appreciation. Would the Foo Fighters have done the same? Plus, it was a great show -- just Gene and guitarist Dean and a tape deck for the strange noises and drums. We didn't even stick around to watch the Foo Fighters. We'd seen what we came for.
And I've caught Ween at least once every year since then. In their hometown of Philadelphia on New Year's Day, 1999, where they of course covered Prince's "1999." In a converted strip club in Omaha later on in '99. In the awesome towering confines of Red Rocks in 2001. Last year, here at the Pageant. This year was going to be no different. Friday, November 5, at Liberty Hallin Lawrence. No sweat.
And then I got an e-mail from Ween's manager, Greg Frey:
"Regretfully, we must announce that Ween's upcoming tour of the Midwest has been cancelled.
"There is a problem within the band, that requires an immediate intervention, for the health, welfare and safety of one of its members. For this member, years of touring have taken their toll.
"This is very sad, of course...but if something is NOT done now...the consequences could be even more dire than the cancellation of these dates...Please forgive us."
Ween and chemicals have always gone hand in hand. Most bands whom you learn about from High Times and who do four-hour shows usually have some acquaintance with mood enhancers. In fact, for a band known for goofy jokes and songs like "Help Me Scrape the Mucus Off My Brain," "Now I'm Freaking Out" and "Bananas and Blow," it'd be easy to believe this is just another inebriated prank.
It's no joke. Internet chat rooms are rife with speculation about who intervened on whom for what. Frey won't comment beyond his e-mail. Dean (using his given name, Mickey) cites "personal reasons" in a brief message on ween.com.
The band that fueled some of the best parties of my life just became a rock & roll cliché.
The day I got that e-mail, I received an advance copy of the soundtrack to the SpongeBob SquarePants movie. It's a strange document for a children's film (of course, SpongeBob is a pretty strange little TV show), with songs by the Flaming Lips, the Shins, Wilco -- and Ween. ("Ocean Man," natch.) So I cranked it up.
Like the Red Sox, my streak is broken. I will live. But from one fan: Get well soon, Ween.
There's plenty to do Friday, even without the Ween show. Go local. Check out Urge frontman Steve Ewing's new project (called, plainly enough, Steve Ewing and Friends) at the Hi-Pointe. For many Missourians, discovering the Urge at sixteen was one of life's great musical awakenings. Check out what the dreadlocked singer is up to these days. And if you see me there, buy me a beer. I'll need it.
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