Retrospective | May 8, 2014
My Name Is Jonas


Weezer

Weezer: making life better for losers everywhere. Their seminal self-titled LP, now commonly referred to as the Blue Album, proved that nerdiness and coolness were not mutually exclusive. Sure, it took some genius pop hooks to make their point, but the world has not been the same since. To celebrate its 20th anniversary, we reminisce over this classic album track-by-track with our own thoughts, stories and memories. Hit the jump to read them, and make sure to include your own in the comments below.

 

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Weezer has some pretty famous album openers.

“Tired of Sex” from Pinkerton, a song always meant for Songs from the Black Hole, is about as abrasive a first impression as you’re going to get. It immediately established the tone for Pinkerton’s vibe, which means it ultimately was the starting gun for one of music nerds’ favorite unnecessary debates.

“Beverly Hills” off 2005’s Make Believe catapulted Weezer from the quirky rock band with that annoying song about tropical vacations to a force that you couldn’t escape. It was their double down on a (possibly, maybe, hopefully) ironic style that could be gobbled up endlessly without ever making you feel full. What you might call Jello Rock (coining it).

But “My Name Is Jonas” started it all.

With a now immediately recognizable bit of acoustic guitar pluckery, “My Name Is Jonas” announces Weezer to the world (even if it’s under a misnomer). This is their invitation to you; pour yourself some tea.

And the nostalgic side in me wants to believe that this is how they’ll be remembered, because Weezer means a lot of things to a lot of different people. But this song, with its unique slant from the outset, its timeless cathartic chorus and breakdown, the lyrics that were written for a car wreck but stand for so much more; this is what Weezer was really all about and this is what they should be remembered for.

 

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The Blue Album predated reddit by a good decade or so, but I’ve long imagined Rivers Cuomo had some pissed off, neckbeard-donning MRA in mind when he wrote “No One Else.” The character Rivers creates — someone he has described as a “jealous-obsessive asshole” — is an overinflated, hyperbolic figure, but one whose sentiment is something that resonates in the dark corners of many men’s souls (sample size: one). In some ways, it’s easy to sympathize with the narrator; what’s wrong with wanting a doting lover who will laugh at their jokes? And sure, people can get jealous sometimes, but it’s just because they want to feel special, right?

But “No One Else” takes those (oft justifiable) emotions and blows them comically out of proportion. The narrator wants a girl who can follow three simple rules: no laughing at other jokes, no wearing make up when I’m not around, and, oh yeah, no leaving the house. Follow these you’re golden. Break them and, well, you can see yourself out.

The term “manic pixie dream girl” was still about a decade from being coined, but the guidelines laid out in “No One Else” fall cleanly in line with the traits that we typically attribute to an MPDG as a literary figure. Rarely more than quirky plot devices for sensitive protagonists to discover happiness or a deeper narrative meaning, these women are merely supporting roles to our male leads. Similarly, Cuomo’s jealous asshole wants nothing more from his significant other than someone that will validate him as a funny, worthwhile dude, and all but forbids her from doing anything that does not advance this end. It’s (500) Days of Summer in three minutes.

But Cuomo’s over-the-top lyrics and cheesy hair metal guitar riffs openly mock this view. He realizes that relationships aren’t a leading-supporting role dynamic and the jealousy that comes part and parcel with this mindset is wholly toxic. In the end, “No One Else” and its couplet, “The World Has Turned at Left Me Here,” act as a cautionary tale for the young male dater: treat your girl as an equal, or you’ll end up alone and wondering why she’s gone.

 

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Like most rock-obsessed millennials, I consumed Weezer’s Blue Album with insatiable gusto — first as a teenager, later as a young adult, and still today, a dozen or so years later, whenever I’m feeling especially nostalgic. Over the many listens, its power has yet to wane. Of course, superb heart-on-the-sleeve power pop meets trash rock (with extra fuzz) ballads like “My Name Is Jonas” and “Say It Ain’t So” are mostly responsible for the record’s durability. But I think the Blue Album‘s staying power is at least in part thanks to the travesty that became post-90s Weezer.

The Blue Album perfectly distilled what it was to be on the outside looking in. The narrative tone is clever, smart-aleck, frustrated, lonely, heart-broken, and confused all at once, a pubescent blender of emotion. The album’s (and Rivers Cuomo’s) voice is the voice of a vaguely hip and likable geek who’s not quite cool enough to hang with the it crowd. But still pretty cool. The Blue Album is adolescence. Our adolescence.

But the Blue Album (and again, Cuomo) is also self-obsessed and immature. “The World has Turned and Left Me Here” is a prime example: the post-breakup angst of an adolescent hungry for pity and unwilling to accept responsibility for a failed relationship. Had Rivers and his bandmates gone on to back up their debut and Pinkerton with a succession of critically acclaimed records, full of nuance and aged wisdom, we might have looked back on “The World has Turned and Left Me Here” and the rest of their early output much the way we view pre-1965 Beatles — as the pretty but ultimately humble and naive origins of blossoming genius.

Alas, Weezer never evolved, and quickly ran out of ideas. So instead, we see and hear Weezer as a soundtrack to our own personal middle school museum, the place that houses our pimples and 8th grade insecurities, our comic books and movie theater make-out memories — the place where that feeling we had before knew the world was so big stays frozen forever. And we are better for it.

Twenty years after it first debuted, I look back on the Blue Album much the way I look back at my adolescent — seeing not the obvious seeds of who I’ve become, but a strange snapshot of a teenager frozen in time: flawed, vulnerable, perfect.

 

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While I’m not old enough to be personally nostalgic about the 20th anniversary of Weezer’s Blue Album — I was four years old when the band’s debut was released on DGC Records and at the time way more into Raffi than Rivers — I still see Weezer’s “Buddy Holly” as being as timeless a staple in music history as its horn-rimmed namesake. Although the song was almost deemed “too cheesy” to be included on the album, it’s popularity helped launch Weezer into the mainstream limelight and today is widely acknowledged as a seminal example of post-Nirvana alt rock. With an impressive roster of awards and pop-culture nods, ranging from MoMA’s permanent video installation of the Spike Jonze-directed portrayal of the band performing at the original diner from Happy Days to an appearance in that classic episode of Beavis and Butthead, “Here Comes the Bride’s Butt,” the song has oo-wee-ooed its way into the hearts and mixtapes of legend.

 

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Weezer isn’t cool.

That’s the most important thing to remember about this band, and why it isn’t surprising that they failed to age all that gracefully past Pinkerton. Their uncoolness was what made them great, really, but it’s also what doomed them. When their uncoolness was ID’able (i.e. feeling left out and a loser in your high school years) it worked gorgeously.

When their uncoolness was simply uncool, however, like singing songs about how Beverly Hills seemed attractive and enjoyable, which is a pretty uncool way of thinking something is cool, it wasn’t all that fun to enjoy their music anymore. In other words: Weezer was always uncool — they just couldn’t always figure out the right kind of uncool to be.

“Undone (The Sweater Song)” is Rivers Cuomo’s uncool masterpiece, the time he perfectly nailed that sweet spot of uncoolness and agoraphobia and dread that comes when we awkward masses force ourselves to “go out and have a fun time.” Those chilling conversations at the start of the song are so knowable and spot-on I feel like they are memories that actually belong to me. (The first one “Hey brah!” is a perfect summation of every conversation I’ve ever had in my town’s bar the night before Thanksgiving)

The song is about being stripped naked, and the overtness of the metaphor somehow doesn’t cheapen it. It makes it real, and right. Cuomo isn’t cool on this song. He never was cool nor ever will be. But on this song, this perfect song, we’re right there, uncool, with him.

 

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When I got into the Blue Album, I was just exiting the punk phase of my life (though I will always have one foot in that door, just ask the folks at Court Tavern in New Brunswick). If there was one song on this album that reached both the roots of my fast-paced, sorta anti-establishment self and my love for Los Angeles beaches, it was “Surf Wax America.” That Surf rock opening riff — the way it instantly speeds up the moment the drums kick in just propels you forward. What makes this vintage Weezer though is the methodically slow breakdown that picks up right where they left off before the break. In the end, this song won my heart because who wouldn’t want to ride their surfboard to work, right?

 

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This song is just timeless. Fraught with emotions about the absence of his step-father, the memories alcohol conjures up and a confrontation with familial demons, “Say It Ain’t So” might be the most personal track on the Blue Album. It’s hard not to feel for Rivers Cuomo and sing along when he belts out, “This way is a waterslide away from me / That takes you further every day / So be cool”? The music to which Rivers pairs his lyrics only drives those feelings home; the deep guttural bass and bright shiny guitar are the perfect complements to his highs and lows (plus that key change and feedback ending just screams Weezer). Rivers Cuomo poured his heart and soul into this song. And we felt it.

 

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Though it was never released as a single, “In The Garage” is one of Weezer’s most defining songs. Written shortly after the band signed with Geffen, it encapsulates Weezer’s nerdy, heavy metal-worshipping beginnings and underlying anxiety about the baggage of success. References to Dungeons & Dragons paraphernalia, action figures and KISS posters place one squarely in the brain of a decidedly anti-rock star. “In the garage where I belong / No one hears me sing this song,” Rivers sings on a record that was ultimately certified triple platinum. Not until Pinkerton would Weezer get so personal and revealing (and frankly, Pinkerton gets so revealing it’s borderline creepy at times.)

“In The Garage” also foreshadows the disillusionment with fame that would feature heavily on their next album — the garage was a joyous sanctuary, away from demanding audiences, greedy execs and sneering critics (like the type that might call them “borderline creepy,” for example). It’s a bittersweet song, in retrospect; a goodbye to a simpler time for Weezer.

 

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Back when rock music was drowning in self-importance, Weezer focused on the basics: good pop riffs and sincere relatable lyrics. That, plus their undeniable geekiness, defined a style that caught the eyes and ears of an entire generation, believe it or not, twenty years ago. “Holiday” is a perfect example of it. The track is as straight-forward as the Blue Album gets wearing its pop influences — The Beatles, Beach Boys, and even Jack Kerouac — proudly displayed on its sweater sleeve.

It’s been said that Cuomo wrote this and “In The Garage” almost immediately after being signed to Geffen out of pure positivity and optimism. Makes sense — “Holiday” is pure, unabashed, in-the-moment happiness. It’s the spontaneity of the perfect getaway with your girl, no bags required. It’s that kind of feeling we’ve always pined for and why we identify so much with Weezer’s earlier work today.

 

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On a warm Wednesday night in April 2011, my buddy and I packed my car as full as possible and headed to our first ever Coachella. It was 2am and the adrenaline was flowing thanks to the three Red Bulls I chugged earlier. We were almost out of Berkeley, ready to take on the 500-mile journey,  when something terrible happened. The fuse blew in my car.

Ok, so maybe not being able to play my iPod during the drive is a bit of a first-world problem. But envisioning five hours of Christian radio on Highway 5, the most barren and boring place on earth, was pretty terrifying. So we pulled to the side of the road and found about 15 CDs that I had burned in high school. We shuffled through them throughout the long ride.

Around 4am my buddy fell asleep and I was alone, reminiscing the soundtrack of my awkward teenage years. While I kept slapping myself to stay awake, the sun finally rose. It was beautiful; the music faded to the background as nature pulled me out of my impending slumber. And then came that bass line. It as Weezer’s “Only in Dreams.”

As the sun was peeking above the horizon, so did Rivers Cuomo’s whispering vocals, and by the time the three-minute epic guitar build-up hit, the sun was fully up. This sludgy pop-punk anthem from over a decade-and-a-half prior became a moment-defining soundtrack. I may not listen to Weezer too much anymore, but “Only in Dreams” will always take me back to that particular unforgettable night.

— Steven Edelstone

 

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You may know “Suzanne” as the chugging, cooing, sounds-like-a-pop-punk-update-of-a-1950s-ballad song that shows up during the credits of Kevin Smith’s Mallrats. Are Weezer and Kevin Smith a perfect match? Their cultural products are these effortless but affecting generational touchstones, laden with ’90s slacker irony, that remain popular today because they court a universal appeal while still feeling like something special and unique. Both romanticized nerd culture, both came out of their respective artistic gates with an instant classic, a commercial and critical apex that (depending on you ask, I guess) they haven’t quite been able to match since.

And yet, I would much rather listen to “Suzanne” in 2014 than watch Clerks. Power pop is enjoying a nice little mini-renaissance right now, and it’d be great to see these old heads submit a late-period classic sometime soon. Rivers Cuomo and Silent Bob Strike Back? I’m in.