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Remember that time Screeching Weasel’s singer Ben Weasel lost his freakin’ mind onstage and punched, not one, but two women? On camera? And very obviously on purpose? And then had to be held back by his bandmates and pushed backstage to stop him from attacking anyone else? It was pretty much the only memorable thing that happened at 2011’s SXSW, so you probably do.
In the immediate aftermath of the dual-lady-attack scandal, Weasel’s bandmates released a statement calling his behavior “shameful and embarrassing” (no shit!) and declaring that “the band … has come to the conclusion that, as a group, we will not likely be able to muster the dignity to attempt a live performance as ‘Screeching Weasel’ in the foreseeable future.”
Well, guess what, everybody? Ben Weasel didn’t agree with that assessment of the situation, immediately found replacements to take over from the line-up that was actually there for (and disgusted by) the Austin smack-a-thon, and has carried on regardless. It is now thoroughly impossible to imagine him in any state other than fists-balled-up-in-defensive-rage. Whether that’s a correct assessment or not, he is, of course, a shameless, unapologetic shit-head.
Now Screeching Weasel–or Ben Weasel and Friends, as it should be called–are playing Irving Plaza tomorrow night. The correct response to this situation is to remain disgusted and horrified by what this man did in 2011 and absolutely, resolutely not go to this show. So why in God’s name then, do I still feel the overwhelming, awful temptation to go and watch this thing?
My whole life in the 1990s was one lived within the confines of punk rock and the ethics associated with the scene–including a strictly feminist ethos. I have wondered, at length, since Chris Brown beat the crap out of Rihanna in 2009, how the R&B star could possibly still sell out shows. Who would buy a ticket to see a woman-beater perform? And how the hell am I now thinking about doing it myself?
The problem is, I fell in love with Screeching Weasel’s music years before I realized what a disgusting human being Ben Weasel was (and is). The first time I heard “I Wanna Be a Homosexual” it captured everything I loved about punk rock. It was fast, it was snotty, it was catchy and it unabashedly called out the homophobes in the scene. Weasel drummer Dan Panic, who was in the band between 1991 and 1997, later went on to be in Pansy Division–a San Francisco band that were very gay, very out, and very proud. My feminism and support for the LGBT community have always gone hand-in-hand, so of course it wasn’t hard to fall in love with Screeching Weasel, based on this one song.
Subsequently, many fun times in my life were soundtracked by the sloppy, raucous, Ramones-inspired and extremely danceable back catalog of this Chicago band of misfits. It’s good, old-fashioned, mindless fun. It is the music of teenage rebellion and staying out all night doing things The Man wouldn’t approve of. And, until the proliferation of the Internet (I didn’t even own a computer until 2001), I had zero idea what Ben Weasel even looked like–I certainly didn’t know whether or not this man had any moral fiber.
Of course, it was clear something was always terribly wrong in the band–Ben Weasel has now had 24 different bandmates (including Green Day bassist Mike Dirnt) in 20 active years of being in the band (there were a few years of being entirely broken up in between)–but it was hard to know who to blame.
The point where things started becoming clear was in 2000 when Weasel wrote a song called “You’re the Enemy” which was about the people responsible for keeping him in business–his audience. “I stand here bored and look at you,” the song goes, “Clapping like monkeys in the zoo, a horde of maladjusted miscreants all pumped and primed. Just what could possibly be limping through your one-track minds?” That was pretty fucked up, but still not enough to get me to stop listening to Screeching Weasel.
The stage that things soured to the point of no return was the same year that Ben went on his lady-bashing spree, 2011. He decided to hit up PPMB (the Pop-Punk Message Board), and go on one of the most hateful anti-transgender rants in music history. Sample quote: “What’s it like to force yourself to call a dude ‘she’? If he tells you that you have to pretend the earth is flat or his feelings will be hurt, will you do that too?”
That was enough to squash the all-inclusiveness of “I Wanna Be A Homosexual” forever–and yet still the song makes me happy. To add insult to injury, Mr. Weasel also spent some time vocally supporting both Sarah Palin and the Tea Party, via his Twitter page.
It is clear now that Ben Weasel is one of the most hateable people on earth. He is a scumbag who has zero respect for the people he plays with, the audience that pays to see him (female or otherwise) and the scene that turned his band into punk rock icons. The problem is, my brain is still hard-wired–thanks to over a decade of listening in a state of blissful ignorance–to enjoy Screeching Weasel’s music, no matter what I know about the singer.
So is it okay to go see Ben Weasel perform the back catalog I love so much tomorrow night? The truth is, I know deep down that I can’t do it. I will still listen to Screeching Weasel, just as I always have–but putting money in that douche’s pocket is just not something I can do comfortably now. I know the value of the band outside the singer’s terrible personality and amorality, and if Ben Weasel can keep his fists to himself and his mouth shut between songs tomorrow night, it will probably be a really good time. The question is whether or not he’s even capable of such niceties these days. If you do decide to go, we would warmly suggest you stay out of the front row just in case.