I really hated high school,
It was such a drag.
Every time I walked the halls,
the kids would call me a fag. - Screeching Weasel, 'I Was a High School Psychopath'
Full disclosure: Like many of my vintage, my introduction to modern punk rock was through Green Day. As a budding ne'er-do-well, I knew that there was a difference between the harlequins of '70s-style punk and the pseudo-hip-hoppy vibe of the hardcore scene in downtown New York. Those influences would come. What drew me into the stewy pathos and vitriol of punk was the ubiquity of an MTV that still played music videos, and these catchy brats were soup du jour.
Green Day's early catalog was on a label called Lookout! (with an exclamation point), an incestuous outfit from which "pop punk" grew in the East Bay during the early '90s. Lookout! had a lock on three chords by white kids who were kind of pissed off. They released early Green Day, seminal work by Operation Ivy, Rancid and local witty darlings The Mr. T Experience (the frontman of which, Dr. Frank, is now a successful Young Adult author… ironic revenge?). Most of Lookout!'s bread and butter were the sons and daughters of The Revolution, entitled Bourgeoisie bands that two decades later would give birth to extroverted kids spewing terms like "Emo" and "Renewable Energy" and "Vintage." These were not the Trench Coat Mafia.
Screeching Weasel, led by agoraphobe Ben Weasel (nee Foster), hailed from the Rust Belt. Coming from the Wayne's World of suburban Chicago, Weasel was a few years older and more haggard than his fresh-faced counterparts in The Bay. By the Lookout! boom of the early '90s, Ben was in his 20s and they'd released a few records on local Midwestern labels. Weasel and his Joe Perry, Jughead (he wore the hat), relied on a strict punk ethos that stayed true to The Ramones' canon; black or white Chuck Taylors, motorcycle jackets, cuffed denim and a snotty voice that made Billie Joe Armstrong sound like Billy Holiday. This writer would argue that Screeching Weasel's inclusion into the hip, pretty world of Lookout! was a play for authenticity on the label's part, sort of like casting John Turturro in Transformers - Look! A real actor!
Smack dab in the middle of pop punk's modern inception (or rebirth, if you count The Ramones), Screeching Weasel released their second album through Lookout!, Wiggle, in 1993. Recorded and released within the year that Green Day went from label-mates to teen idols, Wiggle represents an authenticity that was fast becoming a commodity. The record is rife with all the trappings of its genre; petulance, alienation and puns this side of dad humor. Within its iconography is something that makes Wiggle a rarity: it acknowledges the Outside World. We might be fighting The Powers That Be, but we're also waging a losing battle against being grown-ups. To write that in appropriate nomenclature, that shit is fucked up and it sucks. In "Hanging Around," the album's opener, Weasel sings "This girl came up to me and said 'I think my teacher used to go to school with you' - and she was right." Tunes like "Second Floor East," "Jeannie's Got a Problem With Her Uterus" and "Sad Little Girl" engage in feminist repartees that range from sympathy to accountability. "Crying in my Beer" is the closest to Doo-Wop the genre's ever come to, with a walking bass and the classic line, "If you were a TV show, baby, you would've been cancelled due to decline in viewership, recycled plots and bad acting." The record ends with a masculine, anti-authority mea culpa co-written by grande dame 'zine writer Aaron Cometbus, "Going Home." Weasel sings "I'm just going home, I've had a long day, I'll leave you alone...Is it the way I look or just because I'm a man?" As a whole, Wiggle is a twilight of punk, and essentially, a setting sun on our youth.
Ben Weasel went on to continue recording on Lookout! for years with Screeching Weasel and later his extremely authentic '70s-style outfit The Riverdales before releasing solo records and a couple books. The Riverdales, a side project that was most of Screeching Weasel's members, toured with Green Day during their heyday and even had a minor hit on the Angus soundtrack, "Back to You." A couple years ago, seemingly over his fear of the Outside World, Weasel reformed his band and started touring, even headlining a pop punk festival called WeaselFest. After an altercation with an audience member at SXSW in 2011 that decimated the band, his reputation and WeaselFest, a reformed Screeching Weasel has returned to touring. The number 27 has been a recurring theme in Weasel's work, with 2013 marking the 27th year since the band's inception. As a fan, it's also this author's lucky number.