Philadelphia Weekly article - August 23, 2000

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The People vs. Weezer
How the greatest rock band of the '90s suffered for your insecurities.

By Joey Sweeney
August 23, 2000

Whenever indie rock boys play metal, everybody laughs. Whenever metal boys play indie, nobody laughs.

Somewhere in that aphorism lies the truth about Weezer. The confusion that's made their career a quagmire of industry bullshit and self-doubt. The argumentative nature the band has seemingly always shared with its lead singer, Rivers Cuomo. The weird vibes they've given off from day one. (The aspersion usually cast in this light is that they might have been the loopy '90s indie rock answer to the Monkees, a Hollywood-ization of something that never should have been Hollywood-ized.) And at the heart of all this, the sweaty pall of their music - somewhere between Pavement and Poison, the sound of suburban white boys howling into an emotional abyss of their own creation, created by too much sarcasm, comic book-reading, rock hero-worship, muted sexuality and, more than all of these, Van Halen.

All of which is to say that, when the dust of '90s rock settles, when everyone begins to see people who died as just that, and that the survivors had just plain bigger balls, when people like yours truly are up late on a Wednesday night secretly recasting recent rock history in their own image, Weezer's gonna go down as one of the no-holds-barred, no-shit-Sherlock best bands of the '90s.

You wanna know why? Because they've fucking earned it, that's why. No band has suffered more snide, insincere scorn than Weezer - be it of the critical or commercial variety. Weezer should've been bigger than Jesus by now, playing benefits to spring Robert Downey Jr. from prison, sharing Kirsten Dunst and Heather Graham as girlfriends, playing Sony PlayStation in every Four Seasons hotel the world over.

But people - and this includes Weezer themselves - simply could not get over that damn "Buddy Holly" song (and, more importantly, its video). Or the fact that these guys became rock stars and still couldn't let themselves be cooler than the Fonz. Or that they felt the best way to be rock stars, maybe, was with the humble grace that allowed them to be, at any given moment, 20 to 30 pounds overweight, pulling windmills, wearing lipstick and wearing tight ringer tees at their shows when everyone else in rock was wearing - excuse me? - cardigans. No, the American people would just not stand for the humble yet emotionally leveling grace with which Weezer rocked. It hurt, on too many levels, to watch Cuomo destroy his sweater over and again, in song after song. "Watch me unravel, I'll soon be naked," he sang.

People knew that there was something too true in his sissy pain, that his love was always nothing more and nothing less than that. And with that, before they'd even made their second album, Weezer became an object of ridicule.

Like the class fag or the lunchroom acne-whore he hung out with, Weezer's truths were just a bit too real for pop - even in the mid-'90s, when, for a moment, masculinity was being wildly reconstructed. (Who knew that the final apotheosis of all this would be Eminem? Anyone who did must now feel like the pilot of the Enola Gay.) If you were an American boy with glasses in 1994 - the year their first and most successful album was released (commonly known among fans as The Blue Album the same way we all know The White Album) - there wasn't a single mall in the country where "oo-wee-oo-I-look-just-like-Bud-dee-Hol-lee" wasn't sneered/sung at you in disparaging tones. How could any red-blooded American do any less? Boys like you had to be stopped.

And then Weezer made Pinkerton. The group's second album was a maelstrom of inverted machismo, sonic melee and ritual masturbation. It was the record Steve Albini always threatened to make - bruising, apocalyptic drum sounds coupled with as much guitar noise as professional studios would allow. Compared to their first, which had infiltrated the popular culture so far as to develop its own mini-system of iconography (the type, the videos ... hell, for a time it seemed Weezer even held the patent on a particular shade of blue), Pinkerton tanked miserably.

The songs on Pinkerton run the gamut, from sex fantasies with young Japanese groupies to Oedipal rage. And they rarely veer away from anything unsavory. (A key moment comes on "The Good Life," when Cuomo winds up the fact that he hasn't been shaking much booty lately by playing the blame game: "See, Mom, I'm a good little boy/ It's all your fault, MAMA, IT'S ALL YOUR FAULT!!!" [ED - The song in question is actually "Across the Sea".] Somehow this seems to encapsulate what the record is all about.) Worse still, the whole thing was so effing loud - not the controlled, Collective Soul kind of loud that was ruling the radio at the time, but loud enough to empty all the snot out of your nose and make your ears tingle. One can only imagine the scene at the group's label the day the Weez delivered Pinkerton: "Boys, we can hear the songs here, but a record like this is just gonna scare the little girls. Are you sure you're ready to do that?"

Who knows if that was the intention - to undermine their own unsuspected fame by pulling one of the greatest electric freakouts ever committed on record. But watching Weezer make the promotional rounds for Pinkerton was an exercise in rock 'n' roll heartbreak: Nobody, and I mean nobody, got the record, and the band was falling apart before your very eyes. To this day, I can listen to it up to five times in a row, and I only stop because I'm crying and want to break stuff.

Around the time of Pinkerton's release, an article ran in Alternative Press (I know, I know) that covered with painstaking detail the freak show the band had become: Everybody had a side project going, expecting Cuomo to die, quit or get lost at any second. A leg injury had given Cuomo the air of a polio victim, and, uh, he wasn't such a happy guy to begin with. After "The Good Life" single and video had run its course, the band all but disappeared, save for an abysmal release by the Rentals - the bass player's band. That, so many people presumed, was it.

There is no new Weezer album - just a small tour (which brings them to town next week) before the band goes back into the studio to record the way-too-long-in-coming third part of what could easily be a trilogy in male despair that rivals even Star Wars.

And this is cause for celebration. One can only assume the band has at least partially healed its wounds, and that somewhere in the dark, prodigiously fucked-up soul of Rivers Cuomo, there's the spirit of a man - nay, a boy - who thinks that whatever he may have thought before, the bullies were not right. And he's gonna kick their asses all over again.


Tues., Aug. 29, 8pm. $15
With Dynamite Hack
Theater of Living Arts, 334 South St.