BMOWP Classic Album: Chocolate and Cheese

Thirteen months ago, I wrote my first book proposal – a proposal for writing about Ween’s Chocolate and Cheese. It as an open call for proposals for Continuum’s 33 1/3 series.

BMOWP Classic Album

Chocolate and Cheese by Ween

I looked back at it yesterday, and was pleasantly surprised. It was good, if you don’t mind my boldness. And it’s wasting away, just sitting there on my computer. So I’m posting part of it. Specifically, my two-page description of why Ween’s Chocolate and Cheese is worth considering on a critical level.

Bear with me. It’s long.

Why Chocolate and Cheese?

Chocolate and CheeseThere is a fine line between ridiculous and brilliant.

Skirting that line is dangerous. It takes an unwavering skill, and it can’t be done without full awareness of the limits of human understanding. By working that line, an artist risks lapsing into irrelevance, forced into parody without being given a chance at redemption. Or, the emotions seem false, as if they were fighting for a joke that never materialized. As they say – drama is easy. It’s comedy that’s hard.

But when the two mesh perfectly – when the line has been pushed right to the edge, where it sits balanced like a paper football at the edge of a school lunch table – there’s magic. There’s happiness. There’s the revelation that music can be both inspiring and hilarious. That an album can make you rethink the boundaries of the acceptable. That deconstructing the typical can be just as brilliant as The Beatles, or Bob Dylan, or Radiohead.

There are some obvious examples of success along that line. Frank Zappa. Captain Beefheart. Certain songs off of The White Album. They trap convention and refuse to let it out, openly mocking the heretofore accepted standards. They make wonderful music by reworking the definition of music.

In the 90s, no band was able to do that better than Ween.

And no album was better at doing that than Chocolate and Cheese.

The Case for Chocolate and Cheese

Part serious tribute album, part rollicking parody of, well, everything, Chocolate and Cheese reaches across the entire spectrum of music, with Dean and Gene Ween grasping at every possible inspiration to craft an album that not only mimics convention, but shatters it.

Is it an important album? That depends on who you talk to. Can it be written about? Yes. Convincingly. Without a doubt.

Ween isn’t simply a novelty act. They are serious musicians – artists who taught themselves to play, throwing themselves into their awfulness with the air of prodigies. They didn’t have the skills – but they had a passion for ideas, and those ideas fought for approval on their early albums. Their brilliance was masked by shredded chords, childish lyrics and simple weirdness.

And then, in the span of a couple of years, everything seemed to click.

The response was a series of albums that defied the boundaries of music, the best being their first major label debut: Chocolate and Cheese.

At first listen, the album sounds like a label sampler, moving from artist to artist in an effort to raise awareness of minor acts. “There is simply no way these songs are all by the same artist,” you might say.

You’d be wrong. Ween exploded onto the major label scene by acting as creative pirates, stealing genres from unsuspecting musicians and giving life to the idea of emulation as art form. This isn’t “Weird” Al Yankovic – this is true musicianship, from a pair of weirdoes who, beyond all belief, had become virtuosos of both the guitar and the pen.

It’s this question of emulation vs. parody that gives Chocolate and Cheese its topicality. Ween takes parody and turns it into a form of respect. It’s said that artists feel like they’ve made it when “Weird” Al re-writes one of their songs. What must it feel like when Ween takes your style and does it better?

Chocolate and Cheese doesn’t make fun of country, but serenades it. It doesn’t mock Prince-inspired funk, but co-opts it. It reinvents the Spaghetti Western, idolizes fallen heroes and recreates the horrors of childhood illness. It does everything an album is supposed to do – drive emotion, produce memorable music and, most of all, create a feeling of happiness.

Any talk of Chocolate and Cheese has to be done in all seriousness. This album is not a joke album. While it tackles some of music’s most endearing genres, it does so with a healthy respect for the style. And though it’s dedication to John Candy may suggest otherwise, this album is all seriousness. In its own completely unserious way.

While “Push th’ Little Daisies” may have been Ween’s introduction to the world (thanks, Beevis and Butthead) and while Rolling Stone may have passed on giving Chocolate and Cheese a full review or rating (instead, it was paired with Daniel Johnston’s Fun in a short, ill-advised review that proclaimed Johnston’s album the better of the two), make no mistake – this is Ween’s true introduction to the masses.

It’s an album that deserves a chance. And as a book, it deserves its chance as well.

One Final Word

Hey. It’s me. Back from proposal land.

From there, I talked through an outline, justified my lack of a music journalism background, hyped the idea of promoting a book that had boobs on the cover and whatever else I could think of that would make someone take me seriously. Maybe they did. Maybe they didn’t. All I know is that my submission was one of the first cut.

But that cut may not have been as harsh as I first imagined. Ultimately, while my proposal wasn’t accepted, another was. Hank Shteamer, the author of Dark Forces Swing Blind Punches and writer/editor for Time Out New York.

In other words, the Chocolate and Cheese book is going to be written. Luckily for Ween fans, Chocolate and Cheese will indeed get its chance after all.

This was lovingly handwritten on January 21st, 2010