The Fall and Return of Gene Ween by Charlie Nickles

Boognish
Boognish

I met Aaron Freeman (a.k.a. Gene Ween) on April 7th, 2010. I had bronchitis, but Ween is my favorite band and they were playing at the Millennium Center, located two blocks from my apartment. There was no way I was going to miss that. After I got inside the venue, I walked onto the back porch area to smoke a cigarette. (Bronchitis won’t stop anything apparently.) Sitting at a table together were Gene Ween and Dave Dreiwitz, Ween’s bass player. There was no one else around.

 
I was hesitant about walking up to a musician I’ve idolized for over half my life, but when was I going to get this opportunity again? There is a theory in the cult world of Ween fandom that a fat Gene is a sober Gene, and this was definitely a fat Gene. He must have gained over a hundred pounds in the course of two years. He seemed happy though, strumming an acoustic guitar, looking out into space as if meditating on all the good moments in his life.
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The specifics of the conversation are a little vague, but I remember talking to him about not “getting” their music at first and being enlightened when I saw them perform on a Comedy Central variety show that has since faded into obscurity. He told me that particular performance was a blur to him but seemed genuinely delighted that it was how I became a fan. I told him I looked forward to the show that night and, in typical Gene Ween showmanship, he looked me in the eyes and loudly exclaimed, “Alright Man!”
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On stage that night, Gene had more energy than I had ever seen. At that point, I had watched Ween play six times, in three different states, and this was by far the best show I had seen them play. They even did a spot-on cover of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” in the middle of the set that night. It was great to see them in top form and even better to know that Gene was sober and content with his life. The addictions he’d faced in years past seemed far behind him.
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Then came December 11th, six months after that incredible show. Gene was playing a solo acoustic set at Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro. It was a cold, dreary night, and the events that followed made it even more depressing.
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Walking into the club, I noticed Gene right away. He was talking to some fans and laughing, but something wasn’t right. The hundred pounds he’d tacked on being sober were gone. His clothes were baggy on him. He had a twitchiness about him that made him unapproachable. Here I had another opportunity to talk to my musical hero, but I chose instead to grab a beer and take a seat on a bench.
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One of the guys he was talking to sat down next to me and proceeded to tell me, “There’s something wrong with Gener.” He said Gene asked him for crack and when he told him he didn’t do crack, Gene called him a pussy. Then Gene stuck his hand down his pants and put it through his zipper. He asked the guy if he wanted to suck his dick.
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Concerns about Gene’s behavior were confirmed when he went onstage. He sat down in a chair and immediately dropped his guitar. He picked it up and tried to start playing a song but had to quit. His playing was off, like he needed to retune the guitar. But it was clear he was in no shape to perform. He tried though. He attempted to play through songs with his guitar out of tune and his voice sounding like a warped record, stopping some songs midway through and, at one point, re-playing a song he’d already played once. A lot of the crowd cheered on every fuck-up and sang along with the songs, but some of us were too depressed to be engaged. A lot of people walked out, but I couldn’t. It was a train wreck I couldn’t peel my eyes from.
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The next day, I contacted friends, fellow Ween fans, to tell them how messed up Gene was the night before. I sent YouTube links so they could witness it, but the responses I got back were disheartening. “That was just Gene,” they said. “He was just having a good time.” I had difficulty romanticizing his condition. I imagined he would end up another dead rock star.
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Less than two months later, Gene had a meltdown onstage in Vancouver. During the set, he started forgetting the words to his own songs. Eventually, he couldn’t stand up anymore and sang lying down. The rest of the band walked offstage, leaving Gene by himself in front of a sold-out crowd. He called them pussies, eventually getting up to slog through a couple of songs by himself. Some of the crowd thought it was entertaining; others wanted their money back.
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Ween broke up later that year. They played their last show on New Year’s Eve 2011. Gene went back into rehab and came out disowning his “Gene Ween” persona. He wanted to go back to just being Aaron Freeman, his birth name. He put out a solo album to critical acclaim, but no one took much notice.
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At the end of 2015, it was announced that Ween would be reuniting to play two shows in February, both in Colorado. While good news and unexpected, it still didn’t signal much of a future for the band, until the response was big enough that they had to add a third date. Then announcements for other shows started popping up.  As a diehard fan of twenty years now, I can only hope for the best. I hope Aaron Freeman has tackled his addiction and can go back to being “Gene Ween,” frontman for the best live rock band I have ever seen.

Charlie Nickles, Contributor
Charlie Nickles, Contributor

Charlie Nickles has held jobs painting car emblems, inspecting cereal, and making vegetable trays. He currently lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where he writes, works, and beatboxes “Billie Jean” to unappreciative cats.

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2 comments

  1. I was never able to see Ween live, I discovered them in 2012, but when I first heard them they immediately became my favorite band. And then I spent the next 3 years consuming as much as I could to become a sort of Ween-savant, because they’re possibly my greatest inspiration, definitely musically. I’ve been to every Dean Ween Group and Aaron Freeman show I could make over the past year, which is about 6 I think. 4 Deaners and 2 Geners. When I saw Gener he looked healthy, well relatively anyway. He doesn’t have hair anymore but he has some mass to his body and he looks happy. I think the Freeman thing was good for him. It helped him get in touch with music again. AND NOW WEEN IS BACK. I’ve been dreaming of this moment for 3 years now. And I plan on seeing them every chance I get. I’m going to all 3 nights in Colorado and 1 night in NYC so far. I’ll also go to any Philadelphia shows they announce, and I think I have to go to Bonnaroo to see both Ween and The Claypool-Lennon Delirium. Ween and Claypool at a festival is literally a fairy tale joke my friends and I would go on about. And now that its happening my actual fantasy is coming true. I can only thank Gene and Dean for existing and making the wonderful music that has changed my life, and now for giving me the chance to see them play live. It’s gonna be a brown year in music, that’s for sure.

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