Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Screeching Ringers

(originally from March 19, 2009)

In the last few days it has come to my attention that Screeching Weasel will be reforming June 19th to play a show at the famous club in Austin, Texas, Emo's. My first reaction to this was excitement, however as more details came out excitement turned to disappointment. No, it's not because it turned out this show is a hoax, Emo's website confirms it on their calendar, as does the Screeching Weasel myspace page, and while a band billed as Screeching Weasel is scheduled to play, the Screeching Weasel that people know and loved may not. Throughout their history the band had an ever-changing line-up, but two members remained constant, frontman Ben Weasel, and his right hand man, guitarist John Jughead. Ben and John formed the band together, played on every recording and every show together, and broke-up the band together (three different times). They complemented each other well, both musically and personally. Ben's persona (whether it be true or not) was the large fan bases, and being seemingly oblivious to any sort of existence of an
cocky abrasive loudmouth who was a friend to many and enemy to many more, mouthing off in his Maximum RocknRoll column. Jughead was the nice quiet guy, who stood by Ben's side, the bands voice of reason, who said in his book, Weasels In A Box, that as a child his mother would get frustrated because he literally would not hurt flies. The two were the closest thing punk rock had to an Axl and Slash, the abrasive controversial singer, and his guitarist who shut up and played, hiding behind his long hair and goofy hats.

Without Jughead there was never a Screeching Weasel, but on June 19 that may not be the case. Ex-Weasel guitarist Phil Hill has confirmed that he, bassist Mass Giorgini, and drummer Dan Lumley, all members of the bands last incarnation, would not be participating in this show. He also added that Jughead did not want to talk about the subject of this show with him, doubting that Jughead himself will participate in it (Phil has since said Jughead was not even told about the show). The only other ex-member likely to be guaranteed to play with "Screeching Weasel" is Dan Vapid, who is currently playing with Ben in the recently reformed Riverdales (the Riverdales are scheduled to play Emo's the next night).

Screeching Weasel essentially had two core line-ups. They recorded My Brain Hurts, Wiggle, Anthem For A New Tommorow, Bark Like A Dog, and the Ramones cover album with Ben, John, Dan Vapid, and Dan Panic. When Vapid and Panic left they recorded, Television City Dream, Emo, and Teen Punks In Heat, with Mass Giorgini and Dan Lumley. During these times there were various additional guitarists coming and going, and at one point Vapid left, was briefly replaced by Green Day's Mike Dirnt, and rejoined again. While this core of the band existed, and while Vapid, Panic, Mass, and Lumley played important parts, their roles where always replaceable. Jughead's wasn't.

At various times Ben Weasel stated Screeching Weasel would always be him and Jughead, the band wouldn't exist if both of them weren't playing together. Throughout the bands history this rang true. When they broke up for the second time in 1994, Ben, Vapid, and Panic continued playing music together, but as the Riverdales. When they broke up for a third time in 2001, due to Jughead's frustration over a lack of touring, Phil Hill suggested they bring back Dan Vapid to replace John and continue on, but Ben wouldn't have it. He would team up with Vapid, but to record his first solo album. In both of these situations he could have cashed in on the Screeching Weasel name and continued playing under the name but he didn't, because Jughead was not there, and therefore Screeching Weasel was not there. So why now in 2009 has he changed his mind?

For the record all my experiences with Ben have been positive. From meeting him at a show, email, and even him taking the time to comment on my very first blog entry (which was inspired by his call for more punk-related blogs) he is to me, a well-grounded and nice person, far from the rockstar jerk that some people make him out to be. I will always be thankful for him, for taking the time to communicate with fans like me, and will always enjoy his music. But now every time I think about Screeching Weasel, I think about them a little different. This is similar to way the Dead Kennedys and Misfits will always have the faux reunion messes hanging over them, popping up in the back of my mind when I listen to them.

Ben Weasel has changed a lot from his Screeching Weasel days. The kid who was expelled from three different high schools, who left his home to live a life touring with fellow miscreants across the country in a beat up ride, playing on stages naked, and sleeping at overcrowded punkhouses and strangers floors, is no longer a kid. Today Ben is a John McCain supporting, church-going family man, living on a farm in Wisconsin with his wife, an expecting mother of twins. While by no means a
member of the religious right, or a yuppie, his transformation is nonetheless prevalent, and a testament to the fact that overtime people, and the values they hold, can change.

So has Ben Weasel abandoned the morals he once had about Screeching Weasel always being him and Jughead, all in order to cash in and help put his kids through college? Or is he just continuing to go against the grain and living up to the Ben Weasel persona by making enemies, and pissing people off, by doing whatever he wants?

I know people will argue that music should stand by itself and ones opinion of what the artist does outside of the studio/stage shouldn't matter, but that’s hard to do. When you invest so much time into, and have such a great time listening to a band you like it's almost as if you've developed a friendship with someone you've never met, but have a pre-conceived idea of who they are. Having Ben go against what he once said his band stood for, him and Jughead playing together, and going against the integrity I thought he had, in order to make more money, feels the same as a friend stabbing me in the back.

Ben Weasel is Ben Weasel, at the end of the day he decides what he wants to do and think. But I am I, and also decide what I do and think. I think playing without Jughead comes off as a cash-in that hurts the bands legacy, and I think Screeching Weasel is not Screeching Weasel without John Jughead.

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