Tuesday, January 26, 2016


All our lives we're conditioned to chase goals. We're taught to work toward these things like starting a family, becoming rich, and pursuing our passions. We believe that if we do this, our lives will have had purpose, fulfillment, and direction. The trouble is that all of this is an illusion. There is no textbook definition of what gives our lives meaning, no true north. We're born into this world searching for something and most of us spend its entirety hoping to find it, often coming up short. The reality is that we're just drifting, passing time, and existing until our time comes and we can look back and ask "did I make it?" The story of Weezer involves the asking and answering of this question. It is about a band who started out lost, decided they were found, and have feigned being lost ever since. It is a story about someone who brutally exposed himself for all the world to see, only to be rejected for his honesty then accept the things he hated for comfort.

I'm only going to talk about the first two Weezer records (Blue and Pinkerton) as they are the most pertinent. The story of Weezer is really only worth telling after a little after the second album is released. After Pinkerton the band's persona morphs into the cookie cutter, alternative rock by numbers band that has caused today's audiences to sneer at the mere mention of their name. To this point, when I informed a friend I wanted to write about Weezer, he expressed shock that I was even a fan. It has been twenty years since the band produced anything of note so it is no surprise that the band's importance has faded. It is interesting how Weezer is digested within the sonic discourse today. There are the normos who love "Buddy Holly" and even go into Weezer's much later discography. In a sense, these are the people who never understood what the band was trying to do with their music. These were the people who turned on Rivers after the release of Pinkerton. These are the people who listen to Blue, hearing catchy songs and pay no thought to them. 

Blue is an album that represents a lot of us go through in life: the show we put on for people, the desire to escape from our lives, and some of our deepest insecurities coming through. It is an album that shows Rivers' revealing his jealous nature ("No One Else"), abandonment issues ("The World Has Turned"), and intrusive thoughts ("Only In Dreams"). The other side of the album was a self-aware Rivers expressing his desire to escape from himself. It's bizarre that on one album Rivers can recognize his flaws, but rather than write any type of song about overcoming them, he just says "I'm someone else now" or "I'm out of here". It does fit the immature and youthful sonic aesthetic of Blue, but it does illuminate a critical failing of Rivers' person (one that comes crashing in on Pinkerton). Songs like "Holiday", "Surf Wax America", and "Buddy Holly" put a spotlight on Rivers' desire to get away from himself. The fact that the band became such a runaway sensation despite the deep-seeded psychological themes of Blue is enigmatic (much like how the ravings of a heroin addict from Seattle were considered the voice of a generation). Perhaps this is a testament to how fucked up Generation X really was.

The standout song of the album is its final song "Only In Dreams". The song, clocking in at eight minutes, is a lethargic and despondent number about a literal dream girl. It talks about how this girl is the most real and existing person in our lives but only appears while we're asleep. A person who is both real but imaginary at the same time. The ultimate paradox. The part that has stuck out to me for years, ever since the first time I heard it, is the build to the song's climax. While I rarely discuss music itself as an emotional force, the build to the ending of "Only In Dreams" is where you will hear everything. For two minutes, you hear every single bit of thought, feeling, loss, struggle, pain, joy, happiness, anger, frustration... all of it. From the guitars which quietly sound listless and lost to the drums which keep building. It encapsulates the feeling of not knowing your place in life, where you're going, who you'll be with, and what you'll be doing while you try to beat at all of the negative energy hoping it will go away. The drumming on this part is some of the hardest I've heard from a non-aggressive rock act. It doesn't even sound angry. It just sounds desperate and almost hopeful. And the sad reality is that all of that hitting, no matter how hard, doesn't matter. The song tells you from the start it is hopeless. What you want isn't there. The song, much like the album, carries a double meaning. Maybe death is the answer, then we can sleep forever and be reunited with 'her' in an endless dream. The other side is that tells us to keep hitting and keep going because something will come from it. After this build, there is a final reprise of the song's chorus. After the preceding part, it almost sounds triumphant. As if to say there is a light at the end of the tunnel, or it could just mean that death came to pass after all (again, double meaning). The acrimonious bridge is clear, the final reprise is not.

The band's second album Pinkerton is an altogether bizarre affair. After the success of Blue, Rivers took his own advice and left to find himself. He enrolled to Harvard where he hoped that he could find a dose of reality (something he detailed in a b-side "Longtime Sunshine"). What he instead found was more of the social failings that led him to Blue. This time around, in large part because of an audience that enabled his expressiveness, Rivers left nothing on the table. What followed was Pinkerton. An album that included songs about Rivers fantasizing about a fifteen year old Japanese girl ("Across The Sea"; the label demanded he change the lyrics to 18 years old, but the line "I could never touch you, I think it would be wrong" remained), falling in love with a lesbian ("Pink Triangle"; includes the politically incorrect line "everyone's a little queer, why can't she be a little straight?"), and getting rejected by a girl in a Weezer shirt who didn't know who Rivers was ("El Scorcho").

On Pinkerton, all of Rivers' flaws fully come to bare. Gone are the catchy songs veiling his insecurities. Instead they are laid out for all the world to see. The result was rejection. The guy from the "Buddy Holly" video was apparently an obsessive pervert ("Across The Sea", "Tired of Sex") who was scared of everything ("Why Bother?") and hated himself ("The Good Life"). One does not look like the other. People wanted a cartoon character, a caricature and they hated Rivers for not giving it to them. They wanted the dork in the blazer to be a dork in a blazer. What they got was someone trapped inside himself and unable to reconcile it. The cathartic leap from Blue to Pinkerton is something that very few musicians have ever made. For all the platitudes made about Nirvana and other 90s bands, so many more are left unsaid about Weezer. What happened after the critical shelling Pinkerton took is a bizarre turn unto itself (detailed at length in Andy Greenwald's Nothing Feels Good). Rivers didn't turn on the album so much as he turned on himself. He blamed himself for being so honest and his failure as a songwriter to properly capture his feelings to song. In a way the same outside forces that shaped him into the mess that he was were the same ones criticizing him for being such a mess (the pains of pandering to the mainstream).

Blue and Pinkerton represent personal imperfection. They also represent a deep desire to try and bury that imperfection. It is easier to put on a blazer and pretend to be on the set of Happy Days than to fix yourself. It also shows that if you do a song and dance, the world will look passed your flaws because you're fun. They show that we should never be too honest about who we are to people. Flaws are problems, but so are people. More people knowing your problems will almost certainly mean more problems for you.

More than anything, these albums truly teach us about what feeling lost truly means. It isn't a tunnel we trudge through until we get to the light at the end. It is a desert we have to blindly navigate. Success is literally meaningless. If we make millions of dollars, we're not 'found' so much as we've arrived at a different point of the desert. There is no true place we can arrive at where we can declare 'we made it'. The next place we arrive at will look like the place we left in some form or fashion. Life is a giant problem. Relationships, work, money, friendship, school, and, most important of all, ourselves. The only constant is that we'll always have to keep sorting through our problems until the day when we're finally out of the desert. Is that even possible? I don't know. Weezer might have answered that question in "Only In Dreams".


  1. Forgot to mention that The Good Life also dealt with Rivers' surgery to have his leg lengthening surgery.

  2. Hey man I love weezer,found this page on a B9 Thread. Maladriot is possible my favorite record due to its desire to be different again (minus keep fishin) they fell back to pop for a few records and continue that problem but Maladriot is the modern record that was solid.