Screeching Ben Weasel & the Last of the First World Manifesto

Oh cruel, cruel modern world. Oh dear, dear stupid Ben Weasel…

Punk Rock has over the past forty years or so served on opposite sides of the great divide of the thrust of progress. That is, one can find in punk all manner of thought, ideology and action. Each genre of punk tends to align somewhat with the overarching ideologies of its adherents, but that is a loose connection.

Wikipedia claims punk has 27 subcategories, including: Mod Revival, Psychobilly, Alien Kulture, Celtic Punk, Hardcore, Punk Jazz, Skate Punk, Street Punk, Melodic hardcore, Pop punk, Riot Grrl, Rock Against Communism, Konsrock, J-Ska, Bandana thrash, Gunk, Punk Pathetique, New Wave, No Wave, Grebo, Garage, Taqwacore, and Trallpunk.

These tend to be woven together by the common threads of a sense that authorities should generally be questioned strickly, and music should largely be played on some scale as to be considered at least somewhat fast and aggressive. A matter of scale in all cases, but this should encompass roughly everyone in the scene.

Each of these insanely specific genres listed above has within its group of listeners men, women, children, et al and each individual person brings to the collective a tiny slice of their mentality to make up what ends up constituting the general scaffold of an image of what that particular brand of music ‘is’ and ‘means’. In this way, and in so many other ways, the relationship between musician and listener is symbiotic and duel-dependent.

So it’s not really appropriate to paint with broad strokes, even when those strokes probably wouldn’t actually fall too far outside the lines. You could say things like ‘hardcore kids like to fight, are more aggressive, and perhaps, more likely to be a bit misogynistic.’ This of course would be completely unfair. Some hardcore kids fall under this umbrella, while others are probably Rhodes Scholars. Some may be Rhodes Scholars who also happen to hate women. It takes all kinds.

Punk Rock’s relationship to the internet is similarly ambiguous. Some folk took right too it and used it in the early days in ways that were revolutionary and groundbreaking, and served as a template for Internet 2.0 in many ways. Other folk detract it to this day, viewing it as an ominous specter of a dystopian future void of privacy or human interaction.

Some bands have used the net to thrive, while others had to be dragged in kicking and screaming. The net is so synonymous with music today that to have a band but not a website is a diagnosable symptom of insanity.

In the middle of all of this over the past 25 years was Screeching Weasel. Screeching Weasel stood across these great divides, drawing a stark line in the sand, dividing the different worlds of punk and pop-punk with their arrogant, aggressive Ramones-core sounds, goofy, at times semi-mean lyrics, and a brazen regard for black leather jackets and Mosrite guitars.

Ben Weasel has long been a lightning rod in the punk community, spurned on by his extravagant columns in MaximumRockandRoll and his penchant for Making Friends and Irritating People. Is Ben a fuck? I dunno, never met the guy. But if I had to take a guess, I’d say no, he’s probably an alright dude. That being said, my man Ben has done a good job of creating the idea out there in the world that he’s a bit of an asshole. And that’s OK.

So in the course of like 3 weeks, the roof’s been ripped off the whole thing. This all starts with the official streaming and subsequent unofficial leaking of the new Screeching Weasel record. Let’s focus for a minute on that.

God damn! Like I said above, in these days of disparate sounds and ways of thinking, it is super difficult to ‘define’ anything. On a broader scale, for instance, what would one characterize as ‘dance’ music today? You could run the gamut from Gaga to Atom & His Package to Abba. Similarly disparity reigns.

To that end, as Phil Donahue so famously asked the Mr. T Experience… what is punk? Furthermore, today, WHAT the FUCK is pop-punk? You could grab 27 pop punk teenagers from the mall and ask ‘em their favorite pop punk band, and you’d get 27 different answers, no doubt ranging from The Queers & MTX to Pennywise & NOFX to god only knows amongst the extensive list of abhorrent drivel that exists within the genre today, as well as the few spectacular roses rises from amongst the shit. I listened to The Queers, MTX, & Screeching Weasel, but not so much NOFX or Pennywise. My friends who listened to those bands were less likely to listen to MTX or the Queers, but they did listen to Screeching Weasel. Hmmm.

If you asked me, today, what is punk? What is pop-punk? I’d pretty much have to hand you the new Screeching Weasel record and walk away. It’s kind of awesome. And it plays right into my point. There are some amazing songs on the record, and there are some stinkers. But I have seen people agree on this point, only to then characterize the other’s favorites as the stinkers. So even the bad songs are pretty great, and you’ll probably love the jams I think are only so-so.

This is SW’s first record in eleven years, and it is their best since 1994’s How to Make Enemies and Irritate People. It’s really good. And no one is ever going to hear it.

If you don’t know by now, Screeching Weasel is, at least in the short term, kaput.

After the awful and unfortunate events that took place at SXSW last week, in which Ben Weasel totally lost his cool and did some very uncool things, the other members of the band have unanimously left the band. Ouch.

The whole thing breaks down like its own little SW song.

Poor dumb Ben got himself in way deeper than he could have imagined, and to be fair, he’s in way deeper than probably deserved. I in no way advocate violence towards women. But this incident raises interesting questions regarding women’s progress towards equality within punk and in the greater world.

I have heard more than one person, including women, make the case that if the girl deserved to get punched, she deserved to get punched. I don’t necessarily accept this premise, but it must be addressed that this incident was not one-sided. The poor guy is up there trying to do his thing, despite his acknowledged social phobias, getting pelted with ice and no doubt other random bullshit. Then this girl, after admitting to throwing the ice, spits beer in Mr. Weasel’s face.

I think it is a good time to reiterate that violence towards anyone, especially women, is to be avoided at all cost.

But have you ever been spit on?

This brings me to another point. Imagine back to your worst moment. Maybe you were drunk and causing a ruckus. Maybe you got frustrated in line at the WalMart and cussed out an old lady. Now, imagine, as you collect yourself from losing your cool, you look up to see thirty kids with video cameras live streaming that shit to the internet.

Everyone knows Ben Weasel is an asshole. Again, it’s kind of his thing. Had this incident occurred ten or twenty years ago, it would have percolated through the scene via accounts in MaxRock or early versions of the Pop Punk Message board. It would be an issue, but it would be filtered enough that Ben and the band could likely get through it if they so chose.

However, it is not 1994. Everyone has a pretty good video camera in their pocket, and for chrissake, you’re standing on a stage with a band, so you are going to be a target of attention.

So when you lash out violently at a woman in front of 500 people, and then you turn and punch a second women in the ribs as she tries to subdue you, it’s gonna be available for everyone in the world to see via the internet.

It needs to be said that what that girl did was not cool. Fucking with a band while they are playing isn’t a big deal, but it’s stupid and can certainly become frustrating for the band, who are trying to focus on their performance.

Secondly, I hope, and I pray, that Ben mistakenly punched the second girl thinking she was a man (because she came up from behind like a bouncer). Then again, this is giving Ben the benefit of the doubt significantly, considering he had literally just punched a different girl, thereby indicating that ‘not punching girls’ was not something he was particularly focused on at the moment.

Still, it also should be mentioned that the second girl wasn’t too bright either, in that the first rule of fight and crowd management is that you do not get involved unless you planned to get punched.

However, Ben, dude…. You’ve been in a fucking band for like 30 years…. Get used to it! People gonna be throwin shit at you! Keep yo’ cool, man! The fact is, had Ben punched two guys like that, it would have been an interesting tidbit, but it would not have caused the uproar, black-listing, and band disintegration that it did.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. I am a 100% peaceful person who tries to avoid violence at all costs. But I can’t help feel that poor Ben is a victim here, as ridiculous as that sounds. His biggest enemy is himself. He created this whole thing, and could have very easily avoided it. And as awful as what he did is, I don’t think it can be particularly equated with the psychological and physical devastation that is the scourge of domestic abuse. Still, the brutality with which Ben strikes out at the woman is unnerving, and should only help to remind folk of the fact that violence is never, in fact, the answer… ever.

Ben Weasel is not Chris Brown. He’s not Mel Gibson. He also ain’t Nelson Mandela. He's kind of like Axl Rose... But like Axl, Mel, and Chris, Ben’s got himself some anger issues. That is no way for a grown man with children to act. But look at Chris Brown now. He’s out there, doing it, trying, albeit unsuccessfully, to make things right. Ben’s just gotta get shit straight in his head, so this is just a speed bump, and years from now he is playing shows and/or doing well. If he doesn’t get his shit straight, he’ll be throwing chairs through windows backstage on Carson Daly.

But AGAIN: This is Ben Weasel we’re talking about here. Being an asshole is kind of his thing. I don’t blame the band at all for walking away. And I don’t blame the bands that backed out of playing with them in Chicago. What Ben did was abhorrent, vicious, reprehensible.

But I can’t help feeling like I don’t know what all the fuss is about. Ben Weasel punched some people? OK. That sounds about right.

What I find absolutely adorable and hilarious is Ben’s quote about taking it all back:

“Whatever my feelings are about fans crossing the line like that, I wish I could have that moment back and deal with it in the same spirit as I did the preceding 60 minutes.”

I find this hilarious because, as video indicates and from everything I’ve heard, he had spent those preceding 60 minutes, as well as the previous show, rocking the fuck out quite excellently, while also being a whiny, arrogant little bitch. But again, kind of par for the course, right?

It’s easy to kick someone when they are down. Ben’s a fuck, but who didn’t know that? He’s also awesome, and a punk rock icon for good reason. I understand those who felt compelled to just turn their backs and walk away, but kudos should also go to those who are standing by his side. It’s a tough situation.

The new Screeching Weasel album is fucking amazing. Really, really good. It’s a fine-tuned 14 song killer that puts the band firmly back in its place at the forefront of relevant punk. Or at least it did last week.

Buy this album, or at the very least, steal it. Either way, Come and See the Violence Inherent in the System and definitely blast that shit.

“Don’t you dare call me a clown! I’ll have my lawyer shut your website down.”