Blender article - November 2008
Burner - Greatest Songs Ever: "Buddy Holly"
How four L.A. rockers created the definitive hipster-doofus battle cry.
By Ryan Dombal
Making their debut in May 1994, just one month after Kurt Cobain's suicide, Weezer weren't exactly dressed for a funeral. Whereas Cobain's music rose and fell on the pain he felt as an outcast, Rivers Cuomo was a geek who basked in the role: a Connecticut-bred child of hippies, he rocked a floppy bowl cut and thick-rimmed glasses and specialized in triumphant songs about sweaters, a 12-sided die and man-crushing hard on Peter Criss. He remains the king dweeb of '90s alt rock, yet his signature dweeb anthem, "Buddy Holly," was almost scrapped before it ever had a chance to define a nation of muscle-free misfits.
The year before, Weezer hired former Cars frontman Ric Ocasek to produce their self-titled debut (known as The Blue Album). The band didn't mind getting goofy, but they didn't want to get dumb - and there was a disagreement between them and Ocasek as to which category "Buddy Holly" belonged in. "We thought 'Buddy Holly' was a novelty - we were leaning toward not including it at all," bassist Matt Sharp tells Blender (he left the group in 1998). "But Ric said we'd be stupid to leave it off the album. We'd come into the studio in the morning and find these little pieces of paper with doodles on them: WE WANT BUDDY HOLLY."
A mash-up of hip hop slang and Cars-esque synth squiggles, the song owes its existence to an old Korg keyboard Cuomo had once bummed off a Santa Monica College buddy. "I decided to write some new-wave-influenced songs," Cuomo has said. A few crunched-up chords and Beach Boys-worthy ooo-we-ooos later, "Buddy Holly" was born. The song tells an ambiguously romantic tale: A protagonist and his "girl" - based on a friend Cuomo had met in the college choir, who wore her hair like Mary Tyler Moore - fight for their right to look ridiculous in the face of some "homies dissin'" them. Cuomo labored over the lyrics - "An early version read, 'Ooo-we-ooo, you look just like Ginger Rogers/Oh-oh, I move just like Fred Astaire," Cuomo has said - but he remained unconvinced by the finished product - even after Ocasek insisted on including it on the album. "I thought my songs were so intimate and specific to my life, no one would ever relate to them," Cuomo later recalled.
Instead, the result was Bonnie and Clyde for the vintage-duds set - but it wasn't until the Spike Jonze-directed Happy Days-themed video that the song truly broke big. "We basically owe our career to Spike," drummer Patrick Wilson once proclaimed. The clip casts Weezer, clad in creamy varsity cardigans, as the house band at Arnold's Drive-In, seamlessly splicing in footage from the '70s sitcom. (Cuomo went glasses-less, fearing he might look too much like Buddy Holly. It was a great digital trick - much easier it turned out, than obtaining permission from the cast. "Potsie didn't want to have anything to do with it," Sharp recalls. It was only after Weezer's label boss, David Geffen, wrote actor Anson Williams a personal letter that he gave in. The clip became an MTV staple - and Potsie's legacy was safe.
One Happy Days star didn't need any convincing: the Fonz. Henry Winkler's son, it turned out, was a Weezer fanatic. "I was happy to do it," Winkler tells Blender. But would the Fonz really vouch for a group of such unapologetic squares? Winkler thinks so: "The Fonz would have had Weezer on vinyl."