Can’t Put My Finger On It: Ween’s Brownest Impersonations
Boognish be praised, Gener and Deaner have gotten the band—or is it the bands?—back together.
Let’s get one thing straight: Ween are not a novelty band. They may be jokesters, pranksters, and weirdos, but that doesn’t make them any less worthy of being considered one of the great art-rock bands of all time. If anything, in fact, it makes them more worthy. Who else has had the gall—and let’s be honest, the balls—to parade around singing about their dicks one minute and pouring out their hearts the next? Sure, you can credit folks like Harry Nilsson for laying some groundwork on that front, yet for the most part, Dean and Gene have spent their careers blazing through unprecedented territory.
A truly one of a kind act, Ween are, which makes it all the more curious how they could’ve become quite so singular in spite of their tendency to directly channel the acts of others. And I’m not talking, “you can hear traces of Pet Sounds,” blah, blah, blah. I’m talking full-on, honest-to-god, party-trick impersonations. Performances so completely in the key of notable industry icons that you’d have to imagine that they probably came about from conversations like, “Hey Deaner, wouldn’t it be funny if I sang this one like Michael Fuckin’ McDonald?”
In Hank Shteamer’s “33 1/3” book on Chocolate and Cheese, Aaron Freeman (a.k.a. Gene Ween) explains at one point—on the topic of the Sesame Street–inspired faux-mariachi corrido “Buenos Tardes Amigo”—that he “always [has] been very much like the movie Zelig from Woody Allen.” That admission is a poignant one, as it likens Gene to Allen’s mysterious Zelig character not only in terms of his ability to transform, but also in terms of his ability to use that transformation as a tool for success, oftentimes blurring the line between comedy and drama (and pissing off a decent amount of people) in the process.
Like Zelig—or like chameleons themselves—Ween as an entity is built upon the foundation of other entities. Look at it like you would an effective cubist painting: focus on any particular section within the frame, and it’s nothing special, but consider it in full, looking at it as a nod to influences as well as an elaboration on them, and it’s far more than the sum of its parts. Far more than just some damn novelty act. Also, it’s funny as shit.
We were only without Ween in our lives for a few years, but it felt like ages. And since we’ve established that Deaner and Gener are irreplaceable because of who they are, it seems only appropriate that we take some time to reflect back upon who they aren’t. Or, it’s like, who they are by way of who they aren’t… You know what, don’t worry about.
Motörhead — “It’s Gonna Be a Long Night”
Probably the most well-known impersonation in Ween’s catalog, and probably the best one for that matter. This is certainly blasphemous—and I’ll steer clear of the Rainbow Room for a few weeks just to be safe—but when Lemmy died, it didn’t really hit me until I played this song. I think their fake Motörhead might be better than any real Motörhead.
Thin Lizzy — “Gabrielle”
I’m worried that we got off on the wrong foot with me saying that about Motörhead and all, so I want to start this one off by saying that Ween’s take on Thin Lizzy is not better than any other Thin Lizzy song. Shit, man, there aren’t many songs in existence that are better than “King’s Vengeance,” but I digress. “Gabrielle,” though? “Gabrielle” certainly gives it a run for its money.
Jimmy Buffett — “Bananas and Blow”
And we’re back to impersonations that are better than the artist being impersonated. I mean, we can all get down with a trip to Margaritaville (real or fictional) every once in a while, but let’s not kid ourselves about how many eggs short of an omelette (sweatbands short of an outfit?) Jimmy Buffett has been for his whole career. And though Deaner may not be able to rock male-pattern baldness quite as well, that solo he lays down on “Bananas and Blow” is the only thing you should ever want to hear when you’re stuck in your cabana.
Bruce Springsteen — “Old Man Thunder”
My vote for the funniest twenty seconds of music in history.
Al Stewart — “Your Party”
Al Stewart’s Year of the Cat is one of those dollar-bin records that is really worth your dollar. Hell, I’d pay five, maybe even six dollars for that bad boy if it wasn’t so readily available. Problem is, though, it’s hard not to be kind of embarrassed when you listen to it. Solution? Have Ween sing it for you.
George Jones — All of 12 Golden Country Greats
This one’s a bit difficult to pin down, but I’d be remiss in not bringing it to the conversation. I would actually argue that 12 Golden Country Greats constitutes some of Ween’s best work, period. Regardless, it’s their most elaborate impersonation across the board. Also, Gener gets a special mention here given that anyone attempting to sing like George Jones who doesn’t sound like a total idiot is a legend on principle alone.
Michael McDonald — “Boys Club”
Prince — “Monique the Freak”
You could say that Ween’s O.G. Prince satire is “L.M.L.Y.P.”—or maybe even “Freedom of ’76,” in a way—but the real cherry on top of the purple sundae is “Monique the Freak.” What an absolute monster. 2 good 2 b tru.
George Harrison — “Flutes of Chi”
A decent amount of White Pepper falls into the category of some sort of Beatles caricature (White Album + Sgt. Pepper = White Pepper), though if you had to choose, “Flutes of Chi” is probably the most dead-on. That said, it’s pretty clearly a George tune, what with the fake sitar and acid-trip spiritualist mumbo-jumbo and all that.
David Bowie/Queen — “Don’t Get 2 Close (2 My Fantasy)”
The first half of “Don’t Get 2 Close (2 My Fantasy)” isn’t totally overt as a sendup (though it’s gotta be some sort of demented take on the structures of Ziggy Stardust), but the real goods are in that Queen-style outro that’s ridiculous enough to make Wayne and Garth join in from their Pacer. In this case, however, I cannot provide you with a no-honk guarantee.
Steely Dan — “Pandy Fackler”
If Ween had a yacht, I would gladly get trashed on it.
OK, not really Ween, and not really an impersonation so much as just a cover band that Gene Ween actually had—which itself was an elaboration on Ween’s tendency to cover Billy Joel in concert. But hilarious, anyway, and it sure beats the hell out of a band that strictly does ’80s Joel. Also, if you really needed more proof that he actually is the music industry’s Zelig, here it is.