We Become What We Hit

Some people find it hard to believe that after all the ups and rather precipitous downs we’ve been through, I could still harbor a bit of sympathy for Ben Weasel and the predicament he has most recently gotten himself into.

I find it a little unbelievable myself.  In my younger years, in fact for most of my years, I was a fairly vengeful and resentful fellow.  If someone wronged me, either in reality or in my imagination, I was not likely to forget it anytime soon.  I didn’t always do something about it, especially if the person in question was bigger, stronger, or otherwise more powerful than me, but I’d at least devote a great deal of time to hatching plots and sketching scenarios whereby I’d get my much-merited revenge.

When I did try to put these schemes into action, they’d usually come to nothing or backfire on me, and on the few occasions when they did work out the way I’d planned, I’d wind up regretting it, or even feeling sorry for the person I’d supposedly been wreaking vengeance on.  My fond fantasies notwithstanding, I never would have made it as a Machiavellian.

So when my relationship with Ben reached a new nadir last week, when he published some truly awful misinformation about me on the internet, my first reaction was not to get revenge on him by posting some similarly scandalous misinformation (for that matter, when you’ve known the guy as long as I have, you don’t even need to make things up; the truth can be bad enough).  No, actually it was to pray for him.

I’m serious, too.  I’m not claiming to be so devout or turn-the-other-cheekish that I didn’t have other, darker impulses, and I don’t wish to enter into a theological debate about who or what I was praying to.  For those of you who believe in some sort of God, the short and sweet version is that I was asking God to bless and take care of Ben, and to bring him the happiness and success.  For those of you who have no truck with deities, think of it as me sending best wishes, “good vibes,” as the hippies would put it, willing the universe to enfold him in its arms, lighten his load, and make smooth his path.

So, you might infer, I must be really bad at this praying/good vibe-wishing business, because within days Ben underwent the most spectacular meltdown of his career under the merciless gaze of dozens if not hundreds of cameras and numerous representatives from the national media.  He even made it onto the nightly TV news for his foul-mouthed rant against the South By Southwest festival, the music journalists and industry flacks there to see him, and the fans who grew testy and confrontational in the face of his complaints about his label, his staff, about not being paid enough and even himself, for having agreed to play the show in the first place.

It all culminated, of course, in an ugly brawl in which Ben jumped into the audience, took a swing at one woman who’d been harassing him with taunts, chucked ice cubes, and a mouthful of either saliva or beer (accounts vary) launched in his direction.  Which he then followed up with a couple attempts to hit another woman, who turned out to be the manager of the place.

People have tried to spin this as garden-variety woman-bashing, which I don’t think is accurate or fair to Ben.  If I know him – and I think I do – I feel confident that given his state of mind, he would have swung at anyone or anything, regardless of gender.  And to me, that state of mind was the real problem, far more than the actual punches, none of which seemed to connect with any great force, nor done any substantive damage.

Except to Ben and his career, of course.  The first fallout came with the cancellation of the following night’s show in San Antonio, which couldn’t have come cheap.  Rumors – almost certainly inflated – had him passing up a $25,000 payout in order to get the heck out of Texas, but even if the amount was only half that, it would have been a hefty loss, especially considering that it represented half the money (a Friday night show in Dallas being the other half) meant to make up for his having accepted a nominal $250 (“We normally get that much per song”) for the SXSW showcase.

Seeing videos of Ben’s performance, which appeared to contain as much diatribe and vitriol as it did actual music, I realized that his foul temper was part and parcel of a mood that had been building up all week, and that his attacks on me and other people, particularly a transsexual poster on the PPMB, had almost certainly been a part of it.

But why?  It should have been one of the best weeks of his life.  Mr. Weasel had, you might say, finally got all his ducks in a row: he had gained complete control of the lucrative Screeching Weasel brand, and put together a band of outstanding musicians capable of bringing his musical visions to life with a level of prowess that exceeded  – at least on a technical basis – all previous lineups, even the “classic” one.  A new album, the first in 11 years, had come out to mostly positive reviews, and showed signs of being the one that might finally edge Screeching Weasel into the musical and cultural mainstream.

Is it too flippant, then, to ask, “Why so glum?”  I had a similar go-round with Ben back in the early to mid-90s, when, just as he was achieving some of his greatest commercial success, he announced that he found the rigors of touring and performing on stage nearly unbearable.  At the time, I found it difficult to be sympathetic; in my own narrow view, no sane person would pass up an opportunity to be a rock star who could play night after night before crowds of adoring fans.

It was insensitive and clueless on my part not to understand that one person’s dream can be another’s nightmare, and not to take seriously his earnest protestations that most of the time he found it too painful to put himself through the wringer that live performances entailed for him.  When I had matured (or, to put it bluntly, sobered up) enough to understand this, I apologized, and encouraged him to find other, less stressful ways of pursuing his career.

Which, until this last weekend, he seemed to be doing.  Granted, he and I, after a period of tentatively renewing our friendship, had again drifted apart, primarily as a result of differences over politics and religion, but this didn’t seem a major deal; I disagree with almost everyone, sometimes including myself, about politics and religion, and yet manage to maintain civil relationships most of the time.

But where we really seemed to run afoul was over what seemed like an increasingly hostile, negative, almost hateful attitude Ben began exhibiting toward almost anyone who crossed him, even if it was something as minor as saying they didn’t like the new record as much as previous efforts.  Ben had always been sharp-tongued and smart-alecky, often to hilarious effect.  It was one of the qualities that made me admire and like him from the first time we met.

Lately, though, the humor seemed to grow more heavy-handed and, even when it was funny, it was often at a level that had you wondering, “Whoa, should I really be laughing at this?  Do I like myself when I laugh at stuff like this?”  On the day his new album was officially released, Ben unleashed a Don Rickles-cum-Charlie Sheen offensive on the PPMB, seeming to seek publicity (or possibly just amuse himself) by hurling insults with a velocity and intensity even long-standing friends and acquaintances had never witnessed.

I’m not a perfect human being, not even close, and I’ll readily admit that I laughed out loud at some of his sallies, especially the brutally childish sort that mocked people for being fat or wearing glasses.  And I’ll admit as well that while I tried to abstain from the fray as much as possible, I joined in on some of the wisecracks, some of the “carnival of Schadenfreude” (Ben’s eerily prescient characterization of the whole SXSW phenomenon) that followed his spectacular fall from grace.

But while the darker, pettier side of me wanted to shout “karma’s a bitch,” the part of me that rules the roost most days was deeply saddened.  Even after Ben posted an apology that sounded sincere to some and to others as though it had been written by his publicist (not surprisingly, I found myself somewhere in the middle), I didn’t much feel like listening to my favorite Screeching Weasel tracks, not even the ones that have been in steady rotation on my iPod for as long as I’ve had one, and on my Walkman long before that.

The troubling thing about Ben’s apology was that while taking full responsibility for his own actions, he couldn’t resist throwing in a veiled comment about the actions of the offending audience members that seemed to suggest Ben’s actions were, if not acceptable, at least a little understandable.

The way I was taught to apologize is to keep the focus on myself.  If I’ve injured someone, regardless of why or how I did it, I try to describe exactly what I’ve done and why I regret it, and avoid as completely as possible any discussion of what the other person might have done to deserve it.  This is because when I apologize, my primary reason for doing so is to undo the harm I’ve done to myself.  I can make amends to my victim, repay any loss, replace what was broken, but try as I might, I can’t fix them, can’t repair their damage.

This being so, you might ask, why am I commenting on Ben’s behavior at all?  Well, first off, because this isn’t an apology.  I’ve said and done things to hurt Ben in the past, and I’ve acknowledged and apologized for them, but in this case I don’t feel I’ve done anything wrong, not when I upbraided him for speaking crudely to and about a transsexual woman, and not when I described my feelings and thoughts about his recent misfortune.

He may or may not believe it, but I still like him, still wish him well, and hope very much that both he and his life get better soon.  I’m not a shrink or a doctor or a priest, so I won’t presume to judge or even guess exactly what went wrong for him, but I don’t need to be any of those things to know that a happy man at peace with himself does not say or do the kinds of things Ben Weasel did last week.  I doubt I’ll be visiting him or going to hear him play music any time soon, but I’d be thrilled, once he’s done wrestling with whatever demons might be assailing him at the moment, to see him back out in the public eye and enjoying all the success and adulation he and his music deserve.

 

21 thoughts on “We Become What We Hit

  • March 23, 2011 at 1:09 am
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    I must admit I wasn’t sure what was going on with Ben for a while after I saw him pop up on your Twitter, but this goes a long way towards clarifying what’s been going on lately. Wonderfully written as usual. Hopefully he gets himself sorted out soon, cause we all know he’s better than this.

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  • March 23, 2011 at 1:48 am
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    I’m glad you commented on his jab at the audience in his “apology.” It didn’t really sound like repentance.

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  • March 23, 2011 at 3:03 am
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    “Garden-variety woman-bashing,” is a disgusting term. I’m not faulting you for using it, but I am troubled that when you use it, I know what you mean. It is upsetting that understanding exists.
    As for Mr. Weasel, I’ve always kind of thought, “Man, I like his music, but he seems like a real asshole.” This violent approach, and the double-paned apology that he issued, only seem to deepen that.
    He seems like trouble in demin – caustic mostly lately to himself. I’d pray for him, too, and I don’t even know him.
    Good article.

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  • March 23, 2011 at 3:43 am
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    Interesting read, I didn’t actually know about Ben attacking a transexual on PPMB. I just took a look at some of that stuff, and it’s left me even more disappointed. As a left leaning, atheist, anti-Scientologist (Ben’s ignorance regarding the evils of that cult is staggering) that works in the transexual adult entertainment industry it looks like I couldn’t have anything less in common with the guy. Which is a shame as I happen to have been a big fan of Screeching Weasel for going on 18 years now. It just seems to me that the guy lacks any understanding of the outside world; of other people. He’s 12 going on 50. I know that it’s the punk thing to not “grow up” but there’s a difference between staying young at heart but at the same time becoming more wise and mature with age than literally just acting like a 12 year old flailing around in the dark, attacking everyone and everything he thinks is somehow out to get him. I also think he’s astonishing lucky to be in the professional situation he is in – it’s no secret that the last few albums were mediocre at best, yet instead of ending up washed up, working at Burger King, he’s managed to release solo albums, Riverdales albums and now a new Weasel album on what’s arguably one of the biggest punk rock labels on the planet. He would not have been able to do any of this without people like me buying his records – people like me, it seems, that he fucking hates. I just feel like for me, personally, it’s time to move on. There’s bigger problems both in my life and on this planet than to be worrying about some ignorant American’s public nervous breakdown… Great article though Larry, I love the blog and always check back regularly.

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  • March 23, 2011 at 3:49 am
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    There has been a lot of ‘chatter’ on the internets about this event, however I feel it misses the most vital and important point which really should be utmost in everyones minds right now (and I feel its particularly applicable to events in China) –

    What would G.G. do?????…..

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  • March 23, 2011 at 4:36 am
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    I disagree that he would have lashed out at anyone regardless of gender, I didn’t see him direct any of his attack towards the large security guy.

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  • March 23, 2011 at 5:54 am
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    Mike, I think you’ve missed the point of this article and seem much more concerned with the opportunity to share your macho, minimalist opinions…and I really hate to take the bait and dispute every nickel and dime, but: realistically, the large security guy grabbed him, from behind, by both arms. You’re being petty.

    Larry, this is one of the first reasonable things I’ve read regarding this incident. Nicely done, ol’ chap.

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  • March 23, 2011 at 11:40 am
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    This is 100% on Ben. We can say that the woman who threw the ice and spit on him was out of line, but he’d just spent the last hour baiting her and everybody else in the room. This is how (alleged) drunks react, and it’s what he wanted.

    It should have been so simple. Huge money. No money (but good promotion). Huge money. Home. Shut up and play. The audience is not the enemy. They seemed to be into it whenever the band was playing. He went out of his way to piss people off.

    That poor band. Vapid’s used to Ben’s antics, but I don’t know if Justin Perkins has been involved in anything like this. I’ve met him. He seemed very non-confrontational. Almost shy. I don’t know if he’s thrown a punch in his life. And good for him if he hasn’t.

    It gave us something interesting to talk about.

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  • March 23, 2011 at 1:40 pm
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    Another great read. I listened to a Screaching Weasel record for the first time last week, and i’ve certainly been put off further investigation right now because of what i’ve gathered from these events.

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  • March 23, 2011 at 1:44 pm
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    (oops, i was Mr. Anonynmous, for what it’s worth…) Another great read. I listened to a Screaching Weasel record for the first time last week, and i’ve certainly been put off further investigation right now because of what i’ve gathered from these events.

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  • March 23, 2011 at 2:11 pm
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    Joe Queer’s take is a lot different from those of the eye witnesses.
    http://www.facebook.com/notes/king-joe/weaselfest-and-the-weasel-debacle/154567054603586

    In his version, she was harassing Ben until he snapped. It had nothing to do with him bitching and moaning about everything during the entire set.

    Here’s a trick. If one person in the audience is annoying you, A: Ask security or their friends to escort them away from the stage or B: Play another song! You’ve got the microphone and a band behind you. You don’t have to listen to schmucks in the audience. Ben wanted a fight, and he got one.

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  • March 24, 2011 at 7:35 pm
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    How the hell did a weak mediocrity like Screeching Weasel get popular to begin with? I know the late 80’s/early 90’s was a low ebb era as far as punk, but ferchrissakes..

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  • March 31, 2011 at 11:36 am
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    With the San Antonio, East Coast and Weaselfest dates canceled, each punch cost at least $50,000. Who knows what’s going to happen with those Fat re-releases?

    Nice going, dickweed.

    People will get over it. Many musicians have had a history of violence or jerky behavior and still sold plenty of albums after people found out about it, but I just don’t feel like playing any of my favorite SW/BW/Riverdales albums at the moment.

    Dude needs therapy. I don’t mean that in an insulting way. He needs to talk to somebody and work things out. Meditation isn’t enough.

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  • May 15, 2011 at 9:17 pm
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    Ben has longstanding psychological issues that were bound to catch up with him sooner or later. In the age of iPhone videography and Youtube, you can be sure that his episodes, unlike in the late 80s and early 90s, will be recorded and published for all to see, forever and ever.

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  • June 26, 2011 at 11:35 pm
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    Ben ought to be prosecuted. Technically, no matter how many punk rock points pro and con, this is assault and battery. Mr. Law or Order “I hate flakey punks who know nothing about reality” is going to have a nice healthy dose of reality pretty soon.

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  • August 6, 2011 at 9:30 pm
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    I actually feel a bit of sympathy for the guy.But seriously, he’s a grown
    man with a Wife and 2 kids who was spending his time debating people
    in a genre of rock n roll he openly detests.. I read a bunch of his posts
    and let’s face it… The guy has not matured since his days baiting punk
    readers in old yellowing pages of MRR.. What an embarrassment.. Hitting
    a girl is what a 7 year old would do…Look, nobody’s perfect, and mistakes
    are made, but Jesus Christ.. Dan Vapid has had to put up with this bullshit
    for how many years?

    It seemed that as the band resurfaced, Ben gradually started to lose it…
    I’d love to see Vapid form a Riverdales line-up without him.. But he’s too
    classy for that…Having said all that, I hope mr. Weasel finds other things
    to do than bait kids half his age on a message board… He’s too talented for that..

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  • March 7, 2012 at 10:30 pm
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    Ben (Foster) Weasel is a parasite. A two time woman puncher. He is also a hateful destructive mid life crisis having idiot. Playing god evertyime he gets the chance. Kicks people out of his band as fast as he kicks them off his ‘message board’ renamed to Weasel piss poor acres nowadays. He actually has the audacity to censor and change what people write to what he wants. If that is the completel antithesis of what true punk is all about, I don’t know what is. He is a true red blooded american hypocrtite and anyone who buys into his lame ass philosophies on life is equally braindead. He would gladly hit a female again if he had the chance. He firmly believes he was right here, no matter what that sad excuse for an apology said. Their then drummer stuck it to him, according to Bena and called him out on the lame apology and gturned all the then members of ‘his’ band against him. Well maybe so, but ol’ Benny deserved it and instead of worrying how much you pay the ‘peasants and clowns’ in ‘your’ band, worry about treating others with human decency and respect! His friend Joe (King) Queer is an even begger asshole. A bigger poison. A sexist, racist, anti-semite. Ben Weasel wanna be ass kisser in his own right. Both of them pander for whatever reaction they can get, evne if it means hurting others or themselves. All that being said check out their self titled through Wiggle for amazing punk. I wouldn’t buy anything after wiggle because it’s simply put psellout lame mainstream mall pop-punk crap. But they did put out 2 more decent affairs before breaking up 1000 times in the process. Television City Dream/Major Label Debut are good. But other than that the Weasels haven’t put out a relevant passionate punk record since 1992. I don’t wish either of those shmoes good luck or pray for them. They need to pray for a soul, a charcater, integrity, a compassion, decency, empathy for others. Because Joe and Benjamin are pathetic losers@!@

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  • July 31, 2012 at 1:58 am
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    Punk rock 2000 is a sad sad thing. Never been to a FEAR concert? Punk is punk.

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