I was amongst the hundreds of people who witnessed the much talked about, slightly traumatizing moment during SxSW when Ben Weasel punched two women during Screeching Weasel's encore at the Fat Wreck showcase on Friday night. Like many of my contemporaries, I felt the urge to be the first to explain what I just saw go down at the Scoot Inn, be it by tweet, Facebook or a post here on Impose. But that urgency was quickly washed away by an overwhelming sensation of disappointment and confusion.
Screeching Weasel is one of my favorite bands of all time. I even have a Ben Weasel lyric tattooed on my stomach (trust me, it looks better than my jail-gun tattoo of an alien). To emphasize my proximity to the situation, I'll point out that the second woman Ben punched—the woman who ran onstage to defend the fan he had just hit—was Stephanie, one of the managers at the Scoot Inn and the Longbranch Inn where we held our Austin Imposition shows. She's someone I've worked closely with over the past two years, having shared many whiskey shots in the process. One of the men who ran to her aid was Rufus, the booker at both venues and the reason Impose had five shows at the two clubs this past week. These two people were also the reason I was standing about 50 feet from Screeching Weasel, stage left, as they played. And there they were, piled on, over, and around, my teenage hero, who had just pulled a stunt straight out of the GG Allin handbook.
Incidentally, I was scheduled to interview Ben prior to his show (one we ultimately rescheduled for NYC), and my first question was going to be: What the fuck are you doing playing SxSW? He made his anger and general disgust clear when he ranted on stage about his manager, label and booking agent who pushed this on him as “a good career move.” He derided the system that charges $650 for badges, $20 at the door, and gives the headlining band $250 in return: “I don't care if it's me doing the swindling,” he said, “but when I'm getting swindled, it pisses me off.” This was a very valid point, not lost on the crowd, but the validity of which would soon dissipate when the anger became pointed at the venue staff, the media photographing him, and the proverbial “music journalists” in the crowd.
I personally found it all to be quite amusing and exactly what I expected to hear out of Ben Weasel's mouth. I laughed out loud when he wondered aloud where his boss Fat Mike was, asking the crowd if there was a “Columbian convention” in town. I thought it was amazing he sang with middle fingers stretched out on either side pointed at the throngs of photographers; insisting if they wanted pictures, they would have to jump into the pit with the real fans—and not starting back up until they left the stage. I even thought it was cool when he had his “people” ask me to stop filming “My Brain Hurts” with my iPhone; made even more memorable by the fact that this is my favorite of his songs. Not that I'll ever have trouble remembering this night.
Earlier that evening, Stephanie told me that part of Screeching Weasel's rider is that all drinks be served in plastic cups, and that no bottles or cans would be given to fans until Ben left the premises. I understood the reason, but I was about to witness firsthand why. Once I put my phone away and entered the pit for Screeching Weasel's encore, I was equally pleased with his ten minute rant that bled into “My Right” and “Hey Suburbia.” That was when the first beer hit him square in the face.
To his credit, Ben Weasel finished the song. And for what it's worth to anyone reading this, their performance was one of the tightest sets of any band I have seen in a long time. I would've been pissed off too, and found nothing wrong with his offer of 20 bucks to anyone who would rat out the person who did it. “It was a girl” they screamed. (You think a large group of men look uncomfortable when posed with the task of outing one of their own, imagine what they look like when they're asked to rat out a girl). After no one took Ben up on his offer to beat her ass, I stood and watched as the woman in front of me started throwing ice cubes at him. Her first two or three tosses missed, and sensing the vibe was deteriorating, I wish I would've stopped her. The next one hit him square in the face and she quickly raised her hand proudly when Ben asked who threw it.
“I don't give a fuck if it is a girl,” was the last thing I heard before the thud of the microphone. I couldn't see the “punch,” and while I absolutely think Stephanie was right for jumping in, my perception of the second punch was that it was not nearly as hard as the windup. Meaning, I think he tried to pull it back once he realized it was a girl. But let me be clear, this is not a defense of his actions.
I couldn't watch any more. While everyone else stood standing on tipped toes as Ben was wrestled off stage, I put my head down, and quietly walked the 8 blocks back to the Longbranch. When confronted by my friends wondering how it was, I bragged about his “fuck you” to SxSW, but didn't bring up what I had just seen.
Honestly, I still don't know how to feel about it. Stephanie and I shared text messages after the incident, to which we both expressed our dumbfoundedness of the situation. The Scoot Inn and it's staff were the point of constant ridicule from Ben throughout the night, and as she put it, “when he hit that girl, it was the last straw.” I agreed, feeling slightly guilty for singing along to every song, fist waving in the air, a few feet away from her earlier in the night.
But that's nothing compared to the guilt I have for hating the girl who threw the ice cubes. Her (presumed drunken) stupidity was the catalyst for my childhood idol crashing down in front of my eyes. I won't call her the reason, because as Ben said himself, it was his actions, not hers that caused this, but that doesn't stop me from hating her. Hating her smug happiness with pelting him in the face with an ice cube. She probably thought it made her punk rock. Unfortunately, it makes her about as punk rock as it does Ben for hitting a girl who threw an ice cube at him.
As for Ben, all I could think was that it was a very hair metal moment. Something he would've detested in his youth. I guess “We become what we hate,” right Ben?
Now I just have to figure out what to do with this tattoo. Perhaps he'll have some advice when we finally have that interview in NYC.
Oh, and one other detail: In the 20-or-so years I've called Screeching Weasel my favorite band, I have never once seen them play live. This night was my first.