Tag Archives: Rolling Stone Magazine

THE BOOGNISH IS DEAD! LONG LIVE THE BOOGNISH!

Ween’s demon/god mascot, the Boognish

In a recent interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Aaron Freeman—better known as Gene Ween, who along with compatriot/collaborator/soul-mate Dean Ween (Mickey Melchiondo) form the core for the overwhelmingly talented band Ween—has stated that after a 25 year run, “It’s time to move on. I’m retiring Gene Ween” (Levin, 2012).

“For me it’s a closed book. In life sometimes,

in the universe, you have to close some doors

to have others open. There’s no, ‘Goddamn that

such and such!’ For me, I’d like to think it’s a

door I can close finally” (Levin, 2012).

Although he implied that this break-up was more than amicable, for me this is sad news as for over the past quarter of a century Ween has consistently released some of the most interesting music out there. Due to their eclectic, inclusive, and experimental approach to songwriting, compounded by their absurd sense of humor, this duo has too often been disregarded as a novelty act—as kitsch—despite being obvious virtuoso multi-instrumentalists with a love for every genre of music.

Musical soul mates Aaron Freeman and Mickey Melchiondo met in an eighth grade typing class in New Hope, Pennsylvania and in the late eighties began self-releasing their home-recordings as Ween in a series of cassettes with such titles as Axis: Bold as Boognish, Erica Peterson’s Flaming Crib Death, and The Live Brain Wedgie/WAD.

Released on Twin/Tone Records in 1990, their official debut GodWeenSatan: The Oneness would feature one of my favorite tracks, the funk-vamp tribute to Prince, “L.M.L.Y.P.” In a live setting (I’ve been fortunate to catch one of their epic three-hour shows) this nine minutes long song has been known to be extended to upwards of thirty-minutes. To find out what the acronym L.M.L.Y.P. stands for just click the link below:

L.M.L.Y.P

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Like it? Buy it.

In 1992, Ween’s third album, Pure Guava, would produce their highest charting single, “Push th’ Little Daisies” which gained frequent rotation on MTV by being featured on an episode of Beavis and Butt-head. However, it wasn’t until this album’s follow-up—the John Candy dedicated Chocolate and Cheese—that I truly began to appreciate this duo’s “unique brand of drug-damaged, genre-jumping pop” (Eye Weekly, 2007). An album highlight—and perhaps the track most responsible for hooking my psyche into tune with what Ween is all about—is the anxious acoustic song about seeing an ex-girlfriend that once nearly destroyed you: “Baby Bitch.” With lyrics like, “Got fat, got angry, started hating myself,” the title isn’t so much humor as it is just human honesty. In November of 2007, the Village Voice’s Rob Harvilla conducted an interview with Dean Ween in which they discussed how, incredulously, the public and critics alike can dismiss their emotional sincerity, particularly when confronted with something as wrenching and candid as “Baby Bitch.”

“‘Our stuff is mostly autobiographical,’ [Dean] says, calling

in from his fishing spot on Long Beach Island. ‘People don’t

get that at all. Not just some records—all of them. Aaron

[Gene Ween] has written a lot of beautiful love songs. Some

of our best songs are some of his love songs. And it’s funny,

for the first few records, to hear people say that we do spot-on

parodies of love songs. We can’t write a fuckin’ love song? It

has to be making fun of a love song? It can’t just be judged for

what it is? How come we have that tag stuck to us? Because we

switch styles of music, we’re not afraid to play around?

“Consider “Baby Bitch,” from 1994’s beloved

breakthrough Chocolate and Cheese. It’s a willowy, somber,

acoustic kiss-off. Sample lyrics: ‘Baby baby baby bitch/I’m

better now, please fuck off.’ Dean thinks it gets a bad rap.

‘I remember what it was about—it’s about a breakup. I

remember how hard it was on him, and how well he was

able to articulate his pain or whatever in that song. I think

that was the first time I can really remember reading that

sort of thing about us, like, ‘Oh, it’s a parody of some kind

of Bob Dylan breakup song.’ Like, what the fuck are you

talkin’ about?” (Harvilla, 2007).

Chocolate and Cheese

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Like it? Buy it.

Another highlight off Chocolate and Cheeseis the R&B Soul number, “Freedom of ’76” for which Spike Jonze directed the following video:

On May 2, 2000, Ween would release their 7th album, and one that I consider just brilliant through-and-through: White Pepper. Check out their brilliant jazz inflected (in the vein of Steely Dan) “Pandy Fackler.”

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Like it? Buy it.

The album’s single, the slice of pop-perfection that is “Even If You Don’t” would be released as a video directed by Trey Parker and Matt Stone (of South Park and The Book of Mormon fame). Just listen to Dean’s sweet guitar shredding!

It seems that in light of Gene’s announcement that 2007’s La Cucaracha will be Ween’s last LP release. One track off this album that seems to jut out from the rest is the Dean Ween penned irate anthem “With My Own Bare Hands.”

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“When I’m really, really, really inspired to write is when I’m really fuckin’ pissed off” said Dean Ween, “When I met my wife, she was aspiring to be a teacher—we’ve been together 17 years, we’ve been married 11 years. She had just gotten out of college, and she had to get her teaching credentials in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, then she went and got her master’s degree. And then I ended up having to pay off these student loans—and then, just about the time it was all said and done, we had a baby and she quit and, like, never worked again. Meanwhile, I’m paying off these student loans. I was really pissed off at her, so I wrote that song, and that”s where that verse [She’s gonna be my cock professor, studyin’ my dick/She’s gonna get her master’s degree in fuckin’ me] comes from (Harvilla, 2007).

La Cucaracha closes with the group [plus smooth-jazz saxophonist David Sanborn) thanking a friend for having them at their lovely party, and I’d like to say the same to them:

We Had The Best Time At Your Party

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Like it? Buy it.

—————-Bobby Calero————–

Ref:

Eye Weekly. (2007, Oct. 25). Ween interview. Eye Weekly. Retrieved from http://bilton.wordpress.com/2007/11/01/ween-interview-eye-weekly-102507/

Harvilla, R. (2007, Nov. 6). Sincerely Yours. Village Voice. Retrieved from http://www.villagevoice.com/content/printVersion/211814/

Levin, D. (2012, May 29). Aaron Freeman Closes the Book on Ween. Rolling Stone. Retrieved from http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/aaron-freeman-closes-the-book-on-ween-20120529

Ween, G. & Ween, D. (1989). L.M.L.Y.P. [Recorded by Ween] On GodWeenSatan: The Oneness [CD] Twin/Tone Records (1990).

Ween, G. & Ween, D. (1994). Baby Bitch [Recorded by Ween] On Chocolate and Cheese [CD] Elektra (1994).

Ween, G. & Ween, D. (2000). Pandy Fackler [Recorded by Ween] On White Pepper [CD] Elektra (2000).

Ween, G. & Ween, D. (2007). With My Own Bare Hands [Recorded by Ween] On La Cucaracha [CD] Rounder Records (2007).

Ween, G., Ween, D., & Spike Jonze (1994). (Creators). ilikepie37 (Poster) (2009, Jul. 26). Ween – Freedom of ’76. Retrieved May 31, 2012 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_vsJuxYGwg

Ween, G., Ween, D., Parker, T., & Stone, M. (2000). (Creators). rebirthday (Poster) 2006, Mar. 25) Ween – Even If You Don’t. Retrieved May 31, 2012 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yarfOFdopQ0

LEVON HELM: MAY 26, 1940—APRIL 19, 2012; R.I.P.

…And we’re back! Due to moving into a new apartment and a mass amount of work to be done towards obtaining a Master’s Degree (and various other complexities and duties that all fall under the general rubric of that’s life) I simply have not been able to do what I wanted for this blog over the past month. However, I return today (most likely only to disappear again…at least for a little while) to pay my respects with a small tribute to Levon Helm, who passed away last Thursday on April 19, 2012, at 1:30 pm at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. He was 71 years old.

Levon is perhaps best remembered for his distinctive drumming—that flesh-and-blood shuffle, the thick sod of his backbeat—as a member the outstanding group known simply as The Band, but he also contributed lead vocals (as well as mandolin and other string instruments) for some of their most memorable songs, such as “The Weight” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” Jim James, talented lead singer for Louisville, Kentucky-based rock band My Morning Jacket had this to say about Levon’s singing back in 2008 for a piece in Rolling Stone Magazine:

“There is something about Levon Helm’s voice that is contained in all of our voices. It is ageless, timeless and has no race. He can sing with such depth and emotion, but he can also convey a good-old funtime growl. […] There is a sense of deep country and family in Levon’s voice, a spirit that was there even before him, deep in the blood of all singers who have heard him, whether they know it or not.”

Raised on a cotton farm in Marvell, Arkansas, Levon Helm hooked up with another Arkansas native, hot-blooded rockabilly singer “Mr. DynamoRonnie Hawkins, who took the teenage Levon on tour in Canada to play drums for his band The Hawks.

Ronnie Hawkins & the Hawks, ca. 1959.
Ronnie Hawkins, vocal, Jimmy Ray Paulman, guitar, Levon Helm, drums, and Willard Jones, piano

They soon had a hit with the song “Forty Days,” an appropriated spin on Chuck Berry’s “Thirty Days”:

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Touring and promoting this hit, Levon stated that they played “places so tough, they make you puke twice and show your razor before they let you in the door” (Scott, 2000). While up in Toronto, Hawkins and Levon recruited the best sidemen they could find, sidemen who would eventually form the nucleus of The Band: Garth Hudson; Richard Manuel; Robbie Robertson; and Rick Danko. A few years later in the late summer of 1965, as The Hawks developed through a grueling tour schedule into a precision outfit with a psychic-like level of musical communication when on stage, Bob Dylan was looking for a backup band for his first U.S. “electric” tour and ended up recruiting this group, which would soon be known by the succinct moniker of The Band. (As a small aside, it should be noted that Hawkins, among many other achievements, went on to perform at the 1992 inaugural party for President Bill Clinton–him being a huge fan of The Hawks–and Hawkins has also performed for every Canadian prime minister since John Diefenbaker).

Robbie Robertson, Bob Dylan, and Levon Helm, 1965.

On October 5th, during Dylan’s extensive tours of 1965, Dylan took Levon and the rest of The Hawks into Colombia’s Studio A at 799 Seventh Avenue in New York, and attempted to flesh out several song-sketches that he had accrued in the two months since he was last in a studio. The majority of the “songs” from this session, such “Jet Pilot” and “Medicine Sunday” would remain little more than fragments, but they were able to record a complete take of “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?” a song Dylan had previously tried to record with little success during the Highway 61 Revisited sessions back in July. The version recorded with The Hawk’s was subsequently released as a single on December 21 of that year.

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Other than some particularly clever and corrosive lyrics, in my opinion “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?” is a less than stellar composition by Dylan, and it failed to replicate the success of Dylan’s previous two singles (although interestingly enough, with the prior two singles being “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Positively 4th Street,” this song could be seen to complete a trilogy of vicious songs, all full of admonitory barbs delivered by a resolute tongue through a bitter sneer; or something to that effect).  Although I do think the band play the hell out of it despite its shortcomings, apparently Phil Ochs and I shared the opinion that “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?” is not among Dylan’s best work from this period: Dylan played him the song when the two were riding in a limousine, and when Ochs expressed a lukewarm feeling about the song, he was kicked out of the car while Dylan yelled, “You’re not a folk singer. You’re a journalist” (Schumacher, 1996).  Again, in my opinion, with its mid-period Dylan sense of absurd wordplay written in a fevered minute and its mercurial whirl of all-around amphetamine fun, the standout recording from this particular session is the much more enjoyable, quasi-parody of the Beatles: “I Wanna Be Your Lover.”

Dylan & The Hawks

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I Wanna Be Your Lover by Bob Dylan

Well, the Rainman comes with his magic wand

And the judge says, “Mona can’t have no bond”

And the walls collide, Mona cries

And the Rainman leaves in the Wolfman’s disguise

OOOooooooooooooooh

I wanna be your lover, baby, I wanna be your man

I wanna be your lover, baby

I don’t wanna be hers, I wanna be yours

Now, the undertaker in his midnight suit

Says to the mad man, “Ain’t you cute!”

Well, the mad man he jumps up on the shelf

And he says, “You ain’t so bad yourself”

OOOooooooooooooooh yeah

I wanna be your lover, baby, I wanna be your man

I wanna be your lover, baby

I don’t wanna be hers, I wanna be yours

Well, Jumpin’ Judy can’t go no higher

She got bullets in her eyes, and they fire

Rasputin he’s so dignified

He touched the back of her head an’ he died

OOOooooooooooooooh

I wanna be your lover, baby, I wanna be your man

I wanna be your lover, baby

I don’t wanna be hers, I wanna be yours

Well, Phaedra with her looking glass

When she lays upon the grass

She gets so messed up she faints –

That’s ’cause she’s so obvious and you ain’t

OOOooooooooooooooh

I wanna be your lover, baby, I wanna be your man

I wanna be your lover, baby

I don’t wanna be hers, I wanna be yours

            Eventually the tour with Dylan (and the vitriolic responses his electric performances provoked from the audience) took their toll and Helm left to work on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Fortunately, Helm returned in time to participate in one of the most prolific periods for both Dylan and The Band: the informal recording sessions conducted while convalescing in the seclusion of the Woodstock area of New York during the latter half of 1967 and early 1968, which resulted in both what is known as The Basement Tapes as well as The Band’s 1968 debut album, Music from Big Pink. Just one of the numerous songs recorded at these sessions that concern themselves with “carnal bewilderment and helpless delight” (Marcus, 1975) is the rambunctious swagger that is the Levon Helm sung “Don’t Ya Tell Henry.”

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Dylan & The Band after the crash

For a year The Hawks had shown Dylan how to cut loose and rock out on stage; now, down in that basement in upstate New York the members of The Band received a one-of-a-kind education in music history and song craft from Dylan, just as they had once learned from Ronnie Hawkins, and soon they were applying this knowledge in creating a unique rustic sound that seemingly had antecedents so familiar, and yet what was produced was some strange, new thing; certainly much stranger than the psychedelic pop that had become the latest fashion.

The Band

"Down in the basement." 1969, Woodstock, NY– The Band — Image by © Elliott Landy/Corbis

At their best, these five guys could create a swirl of sound as if you were dancing drunk and sweaty atop an organ filled with dust, or they could communicate a shiver like fever in the marrow; either way they could make you feel something. For a band so rooted and adept within the entire spectrum of American music, it amazes me that Levon Helm was the only member to actually have been born and raised within this nation. It seems that because of that very fact exactly Helm was chosen to sing lead for one of my favorite The Band tunes: the bizarre tale of finding pleasure during desperate times that is the Music from Big Pink outtake: “Yazoo Street Scandal.”

The Band outside the "Big Pink."

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Yazoo Street Scandal by The Band (lyrics by Robbie Robertson)

Stranded out in the night,
Eliza took me down
To see the widow give
Rain to the town.
It’s against the law
To be a tonic man,
But the widow knows
She’s got the upper hand.
So I went on in
Feelin’ kinda wheezy.
You know she soothed my mind, boys,
She rocked me kinda slow and easy
All day and all night.

Pick a card before you go
It’s a long trip to Mexico.

Eliza wait by the door,
I can’t stay here anymore, no, no.

Then she took a pill
She washed her feet in the mud
She said “Look out son,
You know, I just ordered a flood
For forty days and forty nights.”

Then I dropped my shoes,
Eliza called my name.
She said it looked to her
Like it’s gonna rain.
Then the cotton king
Came in chokin’
And the widow laughed and said:
“I ain’t jokin’.
Take once for all”
She said “Now don’t ya tease me.
I just fell in love, boy,
So rock me kinda slow and kinda easy,
All day and all night.”

Sweet William said
With a drunken head:
“If I had a boat,
I’d help y’all float.”
Eliza stood there watching,
William in a trance,
As the widow did the St. Vitus dance.
But just then an old man
With a boat named “Breezy”
Said: “You can ride with Clyde, boys,
If you rock it kinda slow and easy,
All day and all night.”

            Robbie Robertson—The Band’s guitarist, and principal author for this song—once stated that it was based on an actual Yazoo Street in a town in Helm’s home state of Arkansas: “I thought, ‘Wow, they don’t have streets like that in Canada. There’s no streets up there called Yazoo!’ It was like, ‘Jesus, let me make up a little story here about stuff going on in this kind of almost red light district.’ Everything was lit in red in that song for me.” Because the song was set in the South, Robertson decided that Levon Helm would be a more appropriate singer, employing his “best redneck-wildcat yelp” (Hoskyns, 1993).

Levon Helm in 1968. (Photograph: Elliott Landy/Redferns)

Yazoo Street Scandal” remains perhaps my favorite of Levon Helm sung tracks by The Band. Not because I believe it to be the “best” by any means, in terms of performance, sentiment, or composition, but simply because it’s so much damn fun to listen to. Fun being roughly 50% of what The Band’s music is about for me; the other percentage chiefly concerns empathy.

After The Band dissolved, Helm dabbled in acting, most notably playing Loretta Lynn’s father in the 1980 American biographical film Coal Miner’s Daughter. Later on in life Helm released the acclaimed solo albums Dirt Farmer and Electric Dirt, and hosted the “Midnight Ramble,” a regular concert series featuring numerous guest performers at his home studio in Woodstock, N.Y. This is something I’ve always intended to attend but never got around to justifying the time or the money for. Now I regret that.

But to bid an appropriate farewell for Levon Helm, I have chosen to conclude with The Band’s Martin Scorsese documented farewell concert of November of 1976, The Last Waltz.

The Last Waltz

At this show not only did they get to play alongside both their influences and those they influenced themselves, but they were reunited with their former mentors.

First, with Ronnie Hawkins,

Rick Danko and Ronnie Hawkins perform during the Last Waltz performance on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1976, at Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. — Image by © Neal Preston/CORBIS

and later with Bob Dylan, who had just completed the second leg of his  Rolling Thunder Revue tour at the end of that May.

Dylan backstage at The Last Waltz, 1976

One of the most gratifying moments of Dylan’s performance that evening was when The Band assisted him through an impassioned, yet immediate rendition of “Forever Young,” a song that they had all recorded together back in May of 1973 for Dylan’s Planet Waves. This sort of emotional transmission is what The Band could do best:

The Band and friends perform in The Last Waltz (left to right: Neil Diamond, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Rick Danko, Bob Dylan, Ronnie Hawkins, and Robbie Robertson); credit: Neal Preston/Corbis

However, always a personal highlight for me was to watch Levon, along with the rest of The Band, perform with The Staple Singers (being perhaps the most direct influence on The Band’s approach to vocals—the chain reaction of each voice coming in as a separate layer and playing its own unique part, as opposed to the popular method of multiple voices attempting to reach a harmonious and simultaneous neutral). So here it is:

REST IN PEACE

——————————BOBBY CALERO

Ref:

The Band and Martin Scorsese (1978) (Creators). Watanokuni (Poster) (2009, April 17).

The Band, The Weight [Video] Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sjCw3-YTffo

Bob Dylan, The Band, and Martin Scorsese (1978) (Creators). Mysyougetu (Poster)

(2011, Aug. 9). Forever Young [Video] Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EUKUMmM89IQ&feature=fvwrel

Dylan, B. (1965). Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window? [recorded by Bob Dylan]

On Biograph. [CD] Sony. (1997)

Dylan, B. (1967). Don’t Ya Tell Henry [recorded by Bob Dylan and The Band] On The

Basement Tapes. [CD] Columbia. (1975). Sony Legacy. (2009)

Dylan, B. (1965). I Wanna Be Your Lover [recorded by Bob Dylan] On Biograph. [CD]

Sony. (1997)

Hoskyns, B. (1993). Across The Great Divide: The Band and America. U.S.: Hal Leonard

Books.

James, J. (2008). Levon Helm. Rolling Stone,1066, p106. Retrieved April 24th, 2012

from Academic Search Complete

Magill, J. & Hawkins, R. (1959). Forty Days [recorded by Ronnie Hawkins and the

Hawks] On Ronnie Hawkins/Mr. Dynamo. [CD] Ais. (2011)

Marcus, G. (1975). The Basement Tapes (p. 6) [CD liner notes]. Columbia Records

Robertson, R. (1968). Yazoo Street Scandal [recorded by The Band] On Music From Big Pink [Extra tracks, Original recording reissued, Original recording remastered]  [CD] Capitol. (2000)

Schumacher, M. (1996). There But for Fortune: The Life of Phil Ochs. New York:

Hyperion.

Spencer, S. (2000). Levon Helm’s Next Waltz. Rolling Stone, 839, p46. Retrieved April

24th, 2012 from Academic Search Complete