Redemption Songs | Music | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
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Redemption Songs 

Aaron Freeman

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An A&R man from key indie Twin/Tone Records who caught the duo opening for one of his label's other acts must have sensed something as well. He signed the band up that very night and even became their manager. Ween's sole release for the label was 1990's GodWeenSatan: The Oneness, a compilation of tracks from their earlier cassettes that includes "Mushroom Festival in Hell" and the uproarious Prince parody "L.M.L.Y.P." The disc made swift underground inroads and that year Freeman and Melchiondo made their first overseas foray with some dates in (hmm) the Netherlands. Nineteen ninety-one saw them jump to another respected indie imprint, Shimmy-Disc, for The Pod. Supported by the group's first extensive US tour and a week in the UK, The Pod (featuring "Captain Fantasy," a faux-prog-pomp pastiche that, like much of Ween's oeuvre, foretells Jack Black's later comedy rock shtick with Tenacious D) won the band the favor of the all-important British music press and influential BBC DJ John Peel. By now, grunge had struck and the majors were seemingly signing any young band making waves on college radio. Ween would be one of them.

Elektra snagged the group and put out Pure Gauva in November 1992. Soon after, things started to get crazy. Really crazy. Released as a single, the überquirky "Push th' Little Daisies" became a Top 20 hit in Australia. "It was nuts, getting off the plane in Australia to all of these screaming girls and us just being these two 20-year-old stoners," Freeman says. The track's accompanying video blew up on MTV when it appeared in the network's smash new animated show "Beavis and Butt-Head." "That was definitely one of the greatest moments of my life, I totally loved the stuff that [series creator] Mike Judge did," says the singer, who agrees that perhaps Ween fit so well on the show because at that point he and Melchiondo were basically the real-life Beavis and Butt-Head.

Although they'd never again hit the commercial heights they did with "Push th' Little Daisies," Ween continued cultivating their cult audience, touring steadily and following up with their acknowledged zenith, Chocolate and Cheese (1994), and the other big-production Elektra albums 12 Golden Country Greats (1996), The Mollusk (1999), and White Pepper (2000). Upon leaving the label in 2001, the partners formed their own Chocodog Records to release a series of live albums and cut the lo-fi returns to form Quebec (2003, Sanctuary Records) and La Cucaracha (2007, Rounder Records). The tours—and the partying—continued. And then in Vancouver, British Columbia, in January 2011, everything unraveled. Or, rather, Freeman did. In front of a few thousand people at the Queen Elizabeth Theater, he suffered a substance-and-fatigue-generated meltdown that left him prone on the stage, blacked out and babbling incoherently. Ween finished the tour, but Freeman knew something had to change. "The lifestyle I was living while working with Mickey just really wasn't good for me," says the remarried father of two. "Chances are, when you do something like [have an onstage breakdown], you've got to do something differently."

And so in 2012 he did. That year, after announcing he'd "retired," Gene Ween and quit the group, Freeman got sober, released Marvelous Clouds (Partisan Records), an album of Rod McKuen covers, and retreated to his home in Lambertville, New Jersey, just over the bridge from New Hope. Finding the gossip mill of his former stomping ground to be a bit much, he jumped at an offer to teach at his old friend Paul Green's Rock Academy and relocated to Woodstock in 2013. "I knew Aaron would be a great teacher because he has a real reverence for the art form but doesn't take himself too seriously," says Green. "He's definitely rewarded my confidence, and the kids love him." Since joining the staff, Freeman continues to be involved in the school's innovative programming, such as a 2014 student concert with Yes's Jon Anderson and an upcoming event focusing on Ween's music. "It's great working with younger people, because they don't really know who I am," Freeman enthuses. "They're just focused on the music."

Last July, Freeman released his second solo set, Freeman (Partisan), which has guest work by fellow Woodstockers Tracy Bonham and Marco Benevento and is also the name of his new backing band. Many of the album's songs are on the dark side—something that wouldn't be surprising for another artist, but are definitely out of character for the one-time Ween-er. Two prime examples are "(For a While) I Couldn't Play My Guitar Like a Man" and the pastoral opener, "Covert Discretion," based on the Vancouver incident. But amid the bleakness and the blackness, there's an uplifting dose of redemption; the anthemic, arms-swaying, Queen-like coda of "Fuck you all, I got a reason to live / And I'm never gonna die" in "Covert Discretion" may be Freeman's most memorable moment.

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