Why I love Weezer
A story about music and being yourself.
If you were to ask me what my favorite rock band of all-time is, there would be a few names I’d have to consider. Rock music has had a big impact on my life. The reason why I first started playing guitar when I was in 7th grade was because I heard Jimi Hendrix’s rendition of “All Along The Watchtower”. I’d never heard anyone play the guitar with so much soul, so much passion. I strummed my acoustic guitar hoping to be able to draw out the same kind of raw energy. Nine years later and I’m still nowhere close.
When I got to high school, I started singing in a fake British accent to imitate the Arctic Monkeys’ lead singer Alex Turner. It made no difference that I was raised in San Jose, California. I loved the way his voice sounded. I spent hours singing the opening line from “Flourescent Adolescent”, trying to get his pronunciation to the word “fishnets” just right. Pretending that I was from Sheffield seemed a lot cooler than the stifling reality of suburban life.
Even though the Jimi Hendrix Experience and the Arctic Monkeys were major influences on me, neither would qualify as my favorite rock band. That distinction goes to Weezer.
Weezer formed in Los Angeles in 1992, with drummer Patrick Wilson, bassist Matt Sharp, rhythm guitarist Jason Cropper, and lead guitarist and vocalist Rivers Cuomo. The band’s self-titled first album went platinum within a year. What set Weezer apart from other bands at the time was Rivers Cuomo’s unique songwriting.
Born and raised on a Buddhist commune in Connecticut with dreams of becoming a rock star, Cuomo wrote songs that were just as unusual as his upbringing. Cuomo made Weezer famous by making songs that seemed like they were for children, singing about sweaters and dressing up as Buddy Holly. There was a kind of innocence to Weezer’s music that was hard to find in rock music, a genre where lyrics often are about sex and drug usage, but it doesn’t compare to what was to come.
One of my top-five favorite albums ever is Weezer’s 1996 release Pinkerton. To this day, I have not heard an album that feels so real in terms of dealing with difficult emotions. The album takes a very different direction than the band’s first album, a representation of the difficult times that lead singer Rivers Cuomo was going through. After enrolling in Harvard, Cuomo underwent a surgical procedure on his leg. He spent most of his time alone in his apartment constantly in pain. The songs he was writing no longer had the same veneer of carefree happiness.
Pinkerton is personal to the point of sometimes being embarrassing. The album shows an honest look at Cuomo’s personal failings, with the song “El Scorcho” dealing with Cuomo’s difficulties expressing his feelings to women (“How stupid is it? I can’t talk about it/ I gotta sing about it and make a record of my heart”). On “Across the Sea”, Cuomo talks about his loneliness and blames his unconventional childhood for his life problems. (“It’s all your fault, momma, It’s all your fault!”)
I’ve never heard any musician speak so candidly about certain issues and I can understand why. There were times in my life when I struggled with extreme social anxiety. I remember being in high school and being too afraid to ask someone next to me for a piece of paper. It took me a long time to get over my irrational fears.
Even though I’ve conquered my anxiety, it’s still a part of my life that I try my best to forget. When people ask me how high school went for me, I try my best to keep my answer short, with something like “Oh yeah, it was whatever.” Then I change the topic. There are certain things that are best to avoid in normal conversation. Cuomo didn’t care about what was considered normal. He went on stage and laid out all the things that people usually reserve for their therapists. It’s remarkable to see someone be able to display their insecurities so openly, to lay himself out to the masses while being unafraid of judgment.
When I was a teenager I loved daydreaming, imagining myself onstage as Alex Turner or Jimi Hendrix. They oozed confidence, never seeming the least bit uncomfortable in their own skins. I wished I could be them. But when I wasn’t fantasizing, I was just a scared kid who was unsure of my place in the world. Though I loved pretending I was someone I wasn’t, Rivers Cuomo made the music that most resonated with my reality.
Do I love Weezer’s newer output? Not really. After Pinkerton’s disappointing critical reception, Cuomo fell into a deep depression. He painted the walls of his home black, exchanging the glass windows for glass fiberglass so no light could come through. Cuomo wasn't proud that he had revealed his inner demons to the world. In 2001, he described Pinkerton as “a hugely painful mistake that happened in front of hundreds of thousands of people and continues to happen on a grander and grander scale and just won’t go away. It’s like getting really drunk at a party and spilling your guts in front of everyone and feeling incredibly great and cathartic about it, and then waking up the next morning and realizing what a complete fool you made of yourself.”
Weezer’s next release, The Green Album, featured songs with much more conventional rock lyrics. Though I still love songs like “Island in the Sun”, it’s a typical love song whose lyrics could have been written by anyone. No longer were Weezer’s lyrics riddled with insecurity and self-doubt. Though Weezer continued on to fame and success, the music felt more impersonal than ever before. Cuomo had run away from being himself and as a result, the quality of Weezer’s music suffered greatly.
As I got through college, my taste in music changed significantly. Though it took me a while to see the genre as something more than the overbearing drops of dubstep, I’ve grown to love EDM. I haven’t really been listening to much rock music lately. Many of the bands I grew up with now sound painfully outdated in era where Ableton can create more lush and intricate soundscapes than even the most talented guitarists. Still, I can always cue up Pinkerton on Spotify and be drawn in Cuomo's intimate descriptions of his personal problems.
It doesn’t matter how much times change. Authenticity is always in fashion. I wish I could go back and tell that to a teenaged-version of myself.
Photo credit: Drew de F Fawkes - Weezer, Brixton Academy, London, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52314422