18 January 2006

Being Ben Weasel

There’s been ample publicity given to my various disputes with Ben Weasel, enough so that most people will have forgotten (or never knew) that we were once good friends. For a few years in the late 80s and early 90s, we talked frequently, sometimes daily, and shared a lot of acerbic jokes at the expense of bands, politicians, and just about anything or anyone else that came up.

But one of my favourite Ben Weasel memories remains the time I visited him for what might have been the first time in Chicago. He’d picked me up at the airport, and we were driving back to his place. The Roy Orbison song, “In Dreams,” came on the radio, and we both started singing along. If you’re at all familiar with Roy Orbison, you’ll know the man had one of the most amazing voices in the history of rock and roll, with a vertiginous vocal range that went from deep baritone to heart-shattering falsetto.

Needless to say, neither Ben nor I are similarly gifted. But that wasn’t going to stop us, and as the skyscrapers of the Loop went weaving past on a bright, sunny winter’s day, we sang on, making up with volume what we lacked in precision, simultaneously sharing a moment of sheer exuberance and slyly competing, in the way that guys almost always do, to see which of us would come closest to matching the almost unearthly crescendo Roy’s voice reaches at the song’s conclusion.

As competitions go, it was probably a draw; both of us fell short of being able to sing the song all the way through to the end, but not by nearly as much as we might have if we’d been trying to do it on our own. And when it was over, for once neither of us tried to make fun of the other one’s vocal shortcomings or musical tastes or any of the thousands of other things we normally tormented each other about. A great song can do that sometimes, and speaking of which, what should come up on the iPod just as I typed those words but “Clare Monet,” my favourite Screeching Weasel song from my second favourite Screeching Weasel record, Anthem For A New Tomorrow. Climactic line: “If she can’t go on being Clare Monet, who can?” Ditto for Ben Weasel.


resident jason said...

it's nice to read something positive about ben. he is arguably the most misunderstood and/or misrepresented person in punk rock. while i have only briefly met the man (at MTX chicago show) i found him to be an affable fellow. he and john pierson are reason #1 why i ever started a band.

Tim said...

I've always said that if there's one voice in punk rock that reminds me the most of Roy Orbison's, it's Ben Weasel's.

Okay, that part was a joke, but this part is true.

If Roy Orbison was still around today and making cover albums, Johnny Cash style, he could have done a heartbreaking rendition of "In Your Dreams" off of the first Riverdales album. Perhaps that's what Ben was going for in the first place.

Your song "Now" would work just as well. You tell me, were you searching for your inner-Orbison on that one?

I might have to find an impersonator and see if I can get him to sing those two back to back.

Larry Livermore said...

"In Your Dreams" is by far my favourite Ben song off that album, and the fact that his voice wavers and quavers a bit when he reaches for the highest notes only makes it better, in my opinion, because it puts across the kind of desperate vulnerability the song calls for, something that might be missing in a note and pitch-perfect rendition.