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Saturday, February 23, 2019

Weezer Wilderness

I love Weezer. I should say, I love the idea of Weezer, what they used to be and what they meant for me once upon a time. I don’t give lifetime passes to bands, but Weezer comes pretty damn close.

I was 13 when one of my friends put Weezer’s Blue Album on a tape for me. I listened to it twice a day for at least a year before I even went out and bought the album. I learned the bass lines for the Blue Album so well that to this day, even though I haven’t picked up a bass guitar in 20 years, I could still probably play a few of them. I knew the songs so well that I could correct the professional bass tabs in the backs of guitar magazines.

My relationship with Pinkerton, their 1996 album, was a little more strained. I was furious when it came out at first, but over time I softened on it. I had my first car accident when I was listening to Pinkerton and didn’t see a red light, so there’s that.

What was it about Weezer that made me such a big fan?

I was kept away from popular music as a kid. My mom forced me to listen to classical music, religious speeches and big band, Glenn Miller stuff. I was so sheltered that I not only knew of but also owned an album by The Harmonicats. When I got a little older, I started being able to pick my own music and somehow ended up listening to early-90s country. This was around the time of Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson in their heyday, and I really latched onto Dwight Yoakum for some strange reason.

Still, none of these spoke to me. How could they? I was 13. How could I identify with Garth Brooks talking about the joy and pain of the rodeo? How could I identify with a guy singing about getting rowdy on the Chattahoochee River? The closest I got to “rowdy” was not cleaning my room.

The burgeoning alternative scene wasn’t really speaking to me either. Not only was I not allowed to listen to it close enough to really understand it, but I couldn’t parse it. Like, I couldn’t wrap my head around Nirvana. Why was he so mad? Why was he yelling all the time? It didn’t make any sense.

What changed for me was The Blue Album. I remember when it happened. I was sitting in my brother’s room playing on his Sega Genesis, and suddenly I heard the words that made it all come together. It was from their song “In The Garage.”

I play my stupid songs
I write these stupid words
And I love every one

Suddenly, I understood. I was a social outcast and a weird kid. I had a mother who was emotionally abusive and made me feel like I was never good enough. I was told I was stupid. Not mentally stupid, but more like, “The things that you do are stupid and you shouldn’t do them.” Rivers Cuomo managed to tell a 13-year-old kid, “Yeah, sometimes people say that you do stupid things, but you know what? If they make you happy, who gives a shit?”

This was my Rosetta Stone for music thereafter. I could finally understand why Kurt Cobain was mad. I could understand why Radiohead was anxious. I could understand why Beck was like, “Fuck it, just do what you want.”

So Weezer was remarkably formative for me, and I suspect that a lot of people my age felt similar. Rivers Cuomo was never cool. He was the nerdy kid singing songs about sweaters and wearing dorky glasses, but in the Blue Album and Pinkerton, he told us that it was okay to be weird and uncomfortable. In Pinkerton, he split his chest open and spilled his guts to everyone, saying, “Look, I am a hot mess. I have all these feelings and I can’t figure them out.” (That album spawned a whole genre unto itself, but I am absolutely not blaming Cuomo for emo music. The poor guy has enough on his plate.)

So, when Weezer went into hiatus, I was crushed.

What’s funny is that Rivers Cuomo was a lot less confident than I gave him credit for. After Pinkerton was rejected by the record-buying public and music critics of the time, he went into seclusion. He went to school, made some friends, and lived his life. In 2001, Rivers Cuomo stepped out of the wilderness. He started writing and recording again, and that album was colloquially called The Green Album. It seemed like he was back, but was he?

Subsequent years would show that he really, really wasn’t back. There were a lot of really terrible albums released between 2001 and 2014, when he finally seemed to walk out of the wilderness with Everything Will Be Alright In The End.

A lot of ink has been spilled on those first two albums, and rightfully so. No one really talks about what happened afterwards, so that’s what this column is going to be about: Weezer’s time in the wilderness, song by song. How bad did it get? What went so wrong? Were there early warning signs that all was not right?

I hope you enjoy reading this column. If not, blame Weezer.

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