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Don't listen to me, I have Screeching Weasel tattooed on my arm, but ...

September 17, 2010 |  1:52 pm

There's no "American Idiot" without Screeching Weasel. If the Ramones helped define the pop-punk template for urban malaise, Screeching Weasel reclaimed it for suburbia. The down-and-out, disillusioned and financially unstable couch-bound characters that dominate the Green Day soap opera were the misfit heroes of nearly every Screeching Weasel album.

That opening paragraph makes the bratty Screeching Weasel out to be something serious. Make no mistake, the band grappled with aging (the fear of impending fatness in "Pretty Girls Don't Talk to Me"), tolerance ("I Wanna Be A Homosexual") and themes of maturity throughout its career. Ben Weasel (real name: Ben Foster) colored his insecurities with conversational, self-deprecating details. "I'm sure you got a boyfriend and he's probably a lawyer or something" he sang on "I Wanna Be With You Tonight."

Weasel_tat_Of course, he also pleaded with girls to "Lose the Dink," bragged about his political indifference and had little use for metaphors, unless they were somehow related to television shows. "If you were a TV show," Weasel told one ex, "baby, you would have been cancelled." 

Snarling its way out of the northwest suburbs of Chicago in the late '80s, Screeching Weasel created the roadmap for what would be the mid-'90s pop-punk explosion, when the songs of Green Day, Blink-182 and Offspring made the slacker a king. Screeching Weasel's anthems weren't of the woe-is-me-sort, however. There was anger, but this was motivation through sarcasm, and "old folks," Led Zeppelin, surfers and girls with boyfriends were the target of Weasel's venom. 

Now on the reunion circuit, Screeching Weasel plays Club Nokia in Los Angeles on Sunday night, making a rare appearance outside of the Midwest. The night prior, Weasel-off-shoot the Riverdales (Screeching Weasel with less snarl and more pop) will appear at the Troubadour. The Weasel Weekend is a well-deserved and long overdue victory lap, and not simply because it keeps songs such as "Amy Saw Me Looking At Her Boobs" alive in the American rock 'n' roll canon. 

Look, Pop & Hiss understands the Club Nokia gig is not a cheap ticket for a punk rock show. While the $21 list doesn't seem so steep, various Ticketmaster fees and AEG building fees ultimately result in a $41.40 ticket. That's a Hollywood Bowl-like investment you're looking at right there. But there are reasons Screeching Weasel may be worth the cash.

This isn't going to happen often. Don't expect a full-on Screeching Weasel revival. The band will never keep it together long enough for that to happen. Ben hates touring, and even when breaks seem to have come the band's way, Screeching Weasel didn't fully capitalize on them. When Green Day took their heroes on tour in the mid-'90s -- soon after Green Day bassist Mike Dirnt had helped increase Screeching Weasel's profile by playing bass on 1994's "How to Make Enemies and Irritate People" -- Ben had switched gears to the more lighthearted Riverdales. And even if Ben wins you over, if you stick around long enough chances are you'll be offended at some point. His acerbic rant about punk rock clothing, written in the '90s for fanzine Maximum Rock n' Roll, is something I will never forget, especially his declaration that gas station jackets are for "guys with 20/20 vision who wear glasses anyway to impress the dimwitted emo chicks." And for those who have a hard time separating the art from the artist, may I recommend staying away from Ben's blog.

The band's influence is still felt today. Many have long cited the Buzzcocks and the Clash when discussing Green Day, but the band's targeted tales of suburban boredom are all Weasel. Sheepish anthems like "At the Library" saw Green Day beginning as one step removed from a Screeching Weasel cover band. Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong has long worn his love for Weasel on his sleeve -- literally, as the number 27 with a circle around it graces the artist's arm, which is the logo for the Riverdales.

Another Cali-pop-punk outfit, Blink-182, has also bowed before the Weasel alter. The band covered Screeching Weasel's "The Girl Next Door" on its debut album, and Blink guitarist Tom DeLonge once told Spin, "Screeching Weasel was probably the biggest influence on my songwriting after the Descendents. I absolutely loved that band." There was some Weasel in the Offspring when Dexter Holland declared he was a sucker with no self-esteem, and San Diego's Wavves are drenched in Weasel, as Wavves' Nathan Williams is making a career out of singing songs about having nothing to say.

Screeching Weasel, however, never had that problem. If anything, Ben didn't know when to be quiet, and his tales of boredom were packed with a novelist's eye for detail. Whether it was yearning to find a girl with whom he could just watch "The Munsters" with or summing up a cultural and stress overload with the succinct "My Brain Hurts," Screeching Weasel was usually illustrative to a point.

"I'm getting old and fat." Screeching Weasel has aged well, if only because Ben was never interested in re-living his high school days. The band's songs grew up with him, but even in Screeching Weasel's early days the band was able to capture a loneliness that always seemed rather adult. Yes, on 1988's "Boogadaboogadaboogada!" he declared "I Wanna Be Naked," but on the same album he wrote "Supermarket Fantasy," in which nights spent alone are noted with the stark -- and rather domesticated for punk rock -- observation that "I'll never share a shopping cart with her." (The "old and fat" lyric is taken from "Pretty Girls Don't Talk to Me").

The politics aren't alienating. Though Screeching Weasel spent plenty of time ranting, the band had zero interest in preaching. The act's "Science of Myth" is downright progressive in its plea for understanding and accepting of all religious beliefs. "Somehow no matter what the world keeps turning," Weasel sings in the chorus, acknowledging that he has no answers. "Somehow we get by without ever learning." Elsewhere, "I Wanna Be A Homosexual" was a rallying cry against all those who took a stance in the name of morality. "It's the straight in straight-edge, that makes me wanna drink a beer," Weasel concluded, simply not wanting to be lectured on any of someone's dearly-held beliefs. 

Weasel fans are nice folks who stick together. I discovered Screeching Weasel when I was 14, when I was a resident of the Chicago suburbs, and later as a high school sophomore I had the band's sticker on my locker. One day I received a tap on my shoulder from a classmate who was triple my size -- not obese, just muscular. When such moments happened, it usually meant one of two things: 1) A spitball was soon going to be hitting my forehead or 2) I was going to be told that I was creeping out this guy's girlfriend. Instead, Jason said just five words: "So you like the Weasel." I nodded. "Cool," he said. "We listen to records and play some punk songs every day after school, if you're interested." I was, although I had zero real interest in seriously playing music (tragically, Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis were my rock stars). But we covered -- poorly -- the Screeching Weasel catalog, losing our voices to songs such as "Veronica Hates Me." I eventually had the Screeching Weasel logo engraved into my left arm, pictured above. It's less a sign of fandom and more a reminder of rock 'n' roll togetherness.

-- Todd Martens 

Video: A fan-made clip for Screeching Weasel's "Cool Kids," one of the band's few YouTube embeds that's safe for work.

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