Frontman BEN WEASEL tells the stories behind each song on the reissue of SCREECHING WEASEL’s 1998 full-length,Television City Dream. The album features five bonus tracks from the original recordings.
Count To Three
Television City Dreamwas recorded and released in 1998 when the internet was still kind of new to me. This song is sort of a heel pro wrestler-style answer to message board nincompoops, complete with a Ric Flair “wooo” in the middle. I thought internet mouth running was a trend that was going to die as quickly as it had started. Ha!
Speed Of Mutation
I dreamed I was in a record shop that was playing a great song over its speakers. I was sure it was a Toxic Reasons song, but when I woke up I realized it was mine. So I made the 4 a.m. trudge to the office to put the idea on tape. This song is about the fleeting feeling of nostalgia and loss you sometimes get in dreams.
We were going to try this one as a Riverdales’ song—that’s a band comprised of me, [Dan] Vapid [guitar/bass] and [Dan] Panic [drums] from the prior lineup of Screeching Weasel—but it worked better as a Screeching Weasel song. I like themed songs like this. Having to keep up with the spy references for three verses was a challenge.
This is one of the four songs on the reissue that was originally released on Panic Button Records, a label I owned at the time. The whole thing stemmed from the melody and lyrics from the line “Shut your pretty face/shut your pretty, pretty face.” I thought and still think music videos are silly. The only one I’ve ever really liked was the Replacements’ video for “Bastards Of Young,” which shows a speaker playing the song and the out-of-focus arm of a guy sitting on the couch smoking a cigarette while he listens.
This was another answer song to the internet message board creeps, specifically the modern-day puritans who make and try to enforce rules for punk bands. I have the advantage of having been a self-appointed scene cop in my late teens and early twenties, so I know exactly how completely full of shit these people are.
This came from an idea proposed by a guy who briefly worked for Panic Button. He suggested a compilation of 30-second songs, all featuring the kinds of messages you’d hear in public service announcements. We never did the comp, but I wrote this song for it. I like deadpan humor and it’s always getting me into trouble, so I shouldn’t be surprised that a lot of people take the song seriously. To complicate things, of course I don’t advise sharing needles. But mainly, I advise against using heroin or speed in the first place.
Punk Rock Explained
Just like the title says, this song tells the story of what it’s like to go from a nobody to a somebody to a has-been. A few of the details have changed: MaximumRockNRoll isn’t quite the kingmaker it was in the ’90s, and most punk musicians eventually turn to acoustic music now rather than spoken word. But the point stands.
I was writing a decent amount of stream-of-consciousness lyrics at the time, most of which never ended up on records. This one did because I thought it was funny. I also wanted to tip my hat to Martina Hingis, who was my favorite tennis player at a time when women’s tennis was really fantastic. The song was unfinished which is why it has the structure it does—a short verse followed by a long bridge, then a short outro.
My Own World
This was originally slated to be the third track on the album. I was unhappy with the lyrics and melody of the bridge, and I felt like I wasn’t singing the rest of the song very well, so I shelved it. We came back to it later and put a lead guitar in place of the vocals on the bridge, which made it much better. At that point, I also realized the vocals were fine, but by then the album had been released. So we gave the track to a friend for a compilation record.
Outside Of You
This is one of several songs on the album that was about an actual person. That’s a lyric-writing habit I’ve since pretty much broken. You’re always going to get your point across better if you write about a type rather than a particular person. The problem here is that the lyrics aren’t anywhere near as good as they could be because I was too worried about making specific points.
We Are The Generation X
I wrote this in 1990 for a short-lived band I was in called the Gore-Gore Girls. We even recorded it, but the band never released anything other than a track on a compilation. I really like the lead. Zac Damon is a terrific guitarist and did a terrific job on the record, bringing something different to the band without making it sound out of place in comparison to what we’d done before.
This is another song about a specific person. I like the way the chorus goes somewhere a little unexpected out of the 1-4-5 chord progression. The bridge is pretty cool, too, and I love the outro. But somehow all the parts don’t add up for me.
The First Day Of Winter
The second of the “First Day” songs (there were four for each season; the final one was on my second solo album, [2007’s These Ones Are Bitter]. I like this one because it’s not about a specific person, but it addresses a specific problem. It’s written from the perspective of the friend, or maybe the boyfriend or girlfriend of a drug addict.
I’d been wanting to write a song called “Crybaby” for years. This was the first tune I came up with that sounded like it fit the title. It came out better than I expected. The lead section goes on a little too long, but ho-hum. Live and learn.
Shut The Hell Up
Granted, this is kind of a throwaway, 30-second “fuck you” tune, but it’s entertaining enough and perfectly sums up my feelings about most people in the music scene.
I love the intentionally kind of clunky lyrics on this. It was meant to be written from the perspective of a pissed off teenager who uses suffocation as a metaphor with lyrics like, “I’m stuck in the refrigerator of your ignorance” and “I’m stuck inside the Hefty Bag of your pedantic worldview.”
I Don’t Give A Fuck
I did a record under a pseudonym in the early ’90s with a band we called the Shotdowns. This was one of the songs. It’s just another good old-fashioned “fuck you” song.
Only A Test
This song was about white-knuckling my way through panic attacks. I’d felt like I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown for years, but started to realize I had no idea what a nervous breakdown actually was (it turns out that the term doesn’t mean anything, medically speaking). I got a line stuck in my head: “What does a nervous breakdown look like?” I thought maybe a nervous breakdown was something like in the movie Fear Strikes Out when former Red Sox outfielder Jimmy Piersall (played by Psycho star Anthony Perkins) hits a home run, then freaks out and climbs the backstop. In real life, this apparently didn’t really happen, though Piersall did supposedly once climb the backstop after disputing an umpire’s call.
Pervert At Large
Another Gore-Gore Girls song, this had also been recorded by the Vindictives when I was playing guitar for them. By the time we got around to recording it, it was eight years old, but it was new to most of the fans. It’s a heavily fictionalized account of what I imagined to be the private life of a guy I knew who was into some weird sexual shit.
Burn It Down
This was written at a time when I still had the idea that most people were stupid and beneath contempt. That’s a childish and embarrassing thing to believe and I’m glad I don’t think that way anymore. The thing that makes the song interesting to me on a personal level is that it shows me losing the last of my faith in Democratic politicians. Lots of people claim I’m a Republican or conservative now and I enjoy the heat that comes with that, but I’m afraid the truth is a lot less interesting: I’m a die-hard independent. Anyway, the song has kind of a sci-fi vibe and suggests a future where the middle class disappears, the rich get richer, and the poor die. A little dramatic I suppose, but if you can’t be dramatic in song lyrics then I quit. For what it’s worth, I don’t know if I believed that’s where America was heading even then, but I certainly don’t believe it now. alt