In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week: great songs by unsavory characters.
The burden of being a Screeching Weasel fan was knowing frontman Ben Weasel was an irascible crank who didn’t seem to care for his fans or enjoy performing for them all that much. His grouchy (but funny) columns in MaximumRocknRoll only reinforced his image as punk rock’s foremost grump, and even though he was a notorious jerk, he seemed harmless. (Some of his former bandmates would undoubtedly disagree.)
Several years ago, when Ben resuscitated Screeching Weasel for what felt like the 20th time, he seemed to have mellowed considerably. He was a family man, happily married with a couple kids and living a contented life in Madison, Wisconsin. (He’d also converted to Catholicism and become a vocal supporter of Sarah Palin, to the bemusement of the punk scene.) He even released a surprisingly strong Screeching Weasel album. Then he made the bad decision to perform at that year’s SXSW, and the trip very nearly cost him everything. In short: He punched an antagonistic audience member at the venue and took swings at the club’s female owner, who rushed on stage.
His bandmates promptly quit, label Fat Wreck Chords shunned him (the incident happened at Fat’s SXSW party), and for a lot of people, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back: They’d finally had it with this guy. Weasel went off the grid for a few months, but returned, angrier than ever and feeling betrayed.
A lot of people who grew up loving Screeching Weasel, like me, had a hard time hearing those old records after all that. (I’d also just had the experience of interacting with him for an oral history of the band I was doing for Alternative Press, which didn’t go well, either.) It wasn’t just that he had attacked a woman at a show; it was how he behaved afterward: a quick apology, then a whole lot of finger-pointing and shit-talking, as if he were the real victim.
It’s been a couple of years now, and Ben Weasel is doing just fine; he replaced the lineup that quit after the SXSW fiasco, released an EP, and continues to perform periodically. While it’s good that everyone has moved on, it still felt a little weird going back to Screeching Weasel for the first time in a couple of years. The singles, B-sides, and miscellany collection Kill The Musicians—released back in 1994, when Ben Weasel was just a lovable crank—has my favorite Screeching Weasel deep cuts, including “I Wanna Be A Homosexual.” Released as a response to Sloppy Seconds’ “I Don’t Wanna Be A Homosexual,” it gleefully antagonized the close-minded homophobes lurking within punk’s ostensibly progressive community, exhorting them to “Shock the middle class / Take it up your punk-rock ass.” It’s an enjoyably silly, awesomely catchy reminder of Screeching Weasel’s halcyon days, before Ben Weasel had alienated so many of the people who loved his music.