The Weezer Time Machine

As a woman, hearing the word “you” repeated so many times over the course of an album primarily about how terrible and hurtful and disastrous it is to interact with any woman, anywhere, ever, induces a deep and primal irritation.

But maybe you have to be a girl to notice it. — Sady Doyle on Weezer’s Pinkerton in her essay Rivers Cuomo Messes You Up Forever

“I didn’t think girls liked Weezer.” — Some Dude, standing next to me at a Weezer show

“I love you so much, I love you sooooo much. Ooh ooh, ooh ooh.” — Weezer, “Jamie”

EDIT: Drew tweeted some important corrections to me re: this blog entry. It has been updated as per his specifications. (I would have updated it sooner, except I didn’t know about them until I went home to eat lunch and was greeted by him saying, “Didn’t you see my tweet?! Your piece is full of factual errors!!!” (this is mostly a paraphrase, by the way.)) Drew was also disappointed that this blog entry didn’t encourage people to listen to Maladroit.

On Friday January 7th, Drew and I drove to Chicago for the Weezer Memories Tour Driven By State Farm, a two night event (I reiterate: driven by State Farm!) that involved the band playing both the eponymous “Blue Album” and Pinkerton in their entirety over the course of two performances. Each album was accompanied by a “Greatest Hits” set and a brief presentation on the History of Weezer, Driven By Karl Koch. And I am going to try to figure out how to talk about it.

So, I’m a casual Weezer fan. I had the Blue Album growing up and I had Pinkerton, too. When the Green Album came out, I had a mad crush on Brian Bell as seen in the “Hash Pipe” video and dreamed of him endlessly during my drafting classes. Unfortunately, beyond Bell’s eternal dreamboat status, it turned out that the Green Album didn’t have much to offer me and I haven’t bought a Weezer album since (though my mom did buy Make Believe when that came out, if that counts for anything.)

Drew on the other hand? Drew is a rabid Weezer fan. Awhile back when I wrote that piece for Tiger Beatdown on Rivers Cuomo and Liz Phair and how we have gendered expectations for song writers, especially when they are writing about sex, I made a joke about Drew being a source because he has an honorary PhD in Weezology. Except if that was a degree you could get? Drew would have it. He would graduate Magna cum Laude from Weezer U with a PhD in Weezology and graduate certificates in Karlification and Matt Sharp Studies. He knows so much about Weezer that it gives me a headache and makes me bored. And me? I’m like, “I just want to see Rivers Cuomo jump on a trampoline and hear them play ‘Surf Wax America*'”

Totally Unrelated: I know I won’t be able to work this in anywhere else, so I just want to say this: guitarist Brian Bell is truly an impeccable dresser. I can see why hardcore Weezer fans call him “the sass master**.”

It’s probably already obvious that I’m not really interested in talking about the technical proficiency of the band (surprise! they are professional musicians and are good at playing their instruments!) What I do want to talk about? The weirdness of being a girl, particularly a girl with progressive feminist politics, in a space built around worship of cultural products that are hostile towards women. (I also want to talk about the weirdness of Weezer in general.)

On the first night of the Memories tour, Drew and I were standing near the stage by a group of guys. One of these guys took a look around the audience and said, “I didn’t think girls liked Weezer.” Now, I don’t know if I’m just being conservative in my estimates of how many women were in attendance that night, but let’s just say this: from where I was standing, there weren’t a whole lot of girls. And the next night? When the band played Pinkerton? There were even fewer. On Pinkerton night, Drew estimated that he saw four guys for each girl that he saw (this was after I prompted him by asking, “How many girls do you think are here?”) In the space where I was standing, I could see a handful of women (maybe 5-7) and a veritable sea of dudes, so it’s not even like there was an unusual number of ladies to set off this guy’s Lady Alarm. (Which begs the questions: Who do we expect to see at concerts and why? What preconceived notions do we have about who constitutes an audience for a band and where do those preconceived notions come from? Consider: Would this guy stand amidst a sea of ladies at a Tegan and Sara show and say, “Huh, I didn’t even think girls listened to Tegan and Sara”?)

Now, in all fairness, as a girl, I can think of a lot of reasons why girls might not like Weezer. The most important of which is the tendency of their songs to include narratives about not liking women because they are selfish lying heartbreakers. Plus there are the songs about wanting to control women, wanting women to be subservient sexual objects, etc. Don’t get me wrong — “Surf Wax America” is all well and good, but “Getchoo”? “Butterfly”? “No One Else”? These are, for me, as a woman, deeply creepy and uncomfortable songs. And yet I was one of 5,000 people singing along with my fist in the air. Of course, there are a handful of reasons why girls might enjoy listening to Weezer, starting with the fact that their output consists almost entirely of incredibly catchy pop songs.

Anyway, although I might be troubled by the lyrical content of some of Weezer’s best known jams, I’m (almost equally) troubled by the audience member’s assertion that girls can’t, shouldn’t, or don’t consume cultural products made by men that speak to the “male experience.” I mean, if there’s one thing that women have gotten really good at, for better or for worse, it’s living in a culture that more often than not erases the female experience in favor of endless reruns of Masterpiece Dude Theater. To suggest that women can’t/don’t consume cultural products produced by men is absurd***. It’s not like, “I didn’t think girls liked Weezer,” is nuanced critique or anything. It was just some dude’s off the cuff honest observation. And it’s one that got to me, because as soon as I heard him saying that, I couldn’t stop thinking about how I reconcile my personal politics with the act of listening to Weezer (and liking it!)

Kate recently had an entry on her blog, Her Five Dollar Radio, called “Listening While Feminist”, where she addresses the challenges of looking critically at one’s own music consumption. Every now and then, Drew calls me out on the ways in which some of the music I consume (particularly hardcore punk and rap) rubs up against my feminist politics. Like Kate, I’m in a place where I’m struggling to reconcile my political beliefs with the cultural products I consume (and enjoy.)

Sometimes art tells ugly stories about who we are as a culture and I think that Weezer songs tell some pretty sad, ugly stories that have the potential to tell us a lot about one type of (adolescent) male experience. While a lot of people look at the Blue Album as a collection of 10 heartfelt geeky pop songs, it’s just as easy to see at as a 41 minutes and 17 seconds of an emotionally stunted yearning for love and acceptance. The “ugliness” of Pinkerton, often described as an emotionally “raw” album, is a little more apparent (why hello there, reprehensible racial and sexual politics, full-on Orientalism, etc.!) What’s so interesting to me, though, is the fact that although I’m aware that the personal politics outlined in these songs are often diametrically opposed to my own, at my core, I still like them. I want to hear them. I want to sing along to them. It’s not because I like the messages encoded within the songs, but because I like the songs themselves, the way they sound, the way it feels to sing them (which begs the questions: Is the whole of a song (music/lyrics/production) a text of its own that can be read differently from “just” the lyrics, “just” the music, etc.? What do we erase from a song when we remove its politics from our analysis of it? Are all songs inherently political or are some songs just songs?)

Aside from the juggling of personal politics and pop/rock politics, the Memories Tour was straight up one of the most surreal concert going experiences I’ve ever had. I know that there’s an element of performance/constructed identities and experiences to every live show, but this was the first time I had been to a show so consciously constructed and performed. Before the shows even began, you had to walk through a lobby where State Farm reps were handing out fake Rivers Cuomo glasses and offering to take pictures of concertgoers with big backdrops of the covers of the Blue and Green albums (former members Matt Sharp and Mikey Welsh were cut out of the covers so that you could place your face where their faces had been.) You were clearly being set up for an Experience from the outset.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, the first half of each night was a ten song “greatest hits” set — the greatest hits set started with the most current hits and moved backwards in time (sitting cross-legged on the floor of Lora’s apartment at craft night the other week, I explained the experience of the greatest hits sets by furiously waving my arms in the air and saying things like, “And then Rivers was like, EVERYONE CLIMB ABOARD THE WEEZER TIME MACHINE! WE’RE TAKING YOU BAAAACK!”) This was the part of the night that involved Rivers Cuomo jumping on a trampoline.

In between the Greatest Hits and the Main Event, Karl Koch came out and gave a brief presentation. For those of you who aren’t Junior Weezologists, Karl is a longtime friend of the band & has been involved with them for over 15 years now. Karl’s role with the band is such that he even has his own WikiPedia page, describing him as “U.S. Rock Band Weezer’s webmaster, friend and historian.” Karl’s presentation consisted of a slide show of rare Weezer photos and fliers particular to the Blue and Pinkerton eras. Having an archival component to the show was really, really interesting in terms of identity construction — over the past few albums, this “new” Weezer vs. “old” Weezer narrative has really taken hold, so it was interesting to see the band kind of harness that narrative, effectively dividing their show into “new” Weezer and “old” Weezer sets, separated by a stage-setting presentation of “old” Weezer artifacts.

I’m still processing the tension between Weezer and my personal politics (and may never be done doing so), but I feel like a month later, I finally got the Memories tour. The other day, I was sitting at my desk at work, listening to the Blue album, and something in my brain just clicked as I realized, “Shit, I saw this performed.” & honestly? I’m not really sure what else I can say about it beyond that.

* Even right now, writing this, I am like “Wait, is ‘surf wax’ one word or two?” These are the kinds of Weezer questions that Drew never has to ask himself.

** Much like “surf wax” I am unsure as to whether “sass master” is one word or two.

*** This is not to suggest that these cultural products can’t be hostile, alienating, or both, just that they are real and omnipresent and many women can and do consume and/or identify with them.

To accompany this totally TL;DR mess, I have ten of my favorite “rare” Weezer songs offered with minimal commentary (rare is in scare quotes only because with the advent of the internet, pretty much nothing is rare anymore.)

10 =W= tracks, (DOWNLOAD)

01. Mrs. Young – recorded by Matt Sharp and Rivers Cuomo, later became “Please Let That Be You” by The Rentals (who in grand Matt Sharp tradition knocked the life out of a beautiful demo and turned it into a beige album track.)
02. Let’s Sew Our Pants Together – from the Kitchen Tape Demo, the best part of Rivers wailing, “We made a [liar] of desiiiiiiire.” (To me it sounds like they are saying “knot,” not “liar,” but I am going to trust Drew on this one.)
02. Autumn in Jayne – a live recording of the Rivers Cuomo Band, circa Cuomo in Harvard.
04. I Just Threw Out the Love of My Dreams – Features Rachel Haden (ex-that dog.)
05. Blast Off! – Opening track from Songs from the Black Hole, Weezer’s scrapped space opera (post-Blue album, pre-Pinkerton.)
06. Thief You’ve Taken All That Was Me – Kitchen Tape demo
07. Jamie – Another sweet jam written about Weezer’s lawyer, Jamie Young. “Jamie” is a pre-Brian Bell song & features Jason Cropper on the guitar. It was recorded by an LMU student as a project for a music recording & sound engineering class & was assigned a grade of B+.
08. Sheila Can Do It – Another Rivers Cuomo Band live track
09. Tired of SexSongs from the Blck Hole demo version, Tired of Sex was re-recorded as the first track on Pinkerton
10. Lullaby for Wayne – Appeared as a live recording on the Weezer DVD, Video Capture Device, as “Lullaby for Pat” (in reference to Patt Finn, not Weezer drummer Pat Wilson.)

10 =W= tracks, (DOWNLOAD)

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About K.

25 year old book, comic, zine, and record enthusiast. Favorite things include: 7"s, books about teen sleuths, and rabbits.
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5 Responses to The Weezer Time Machine

  1. Emelia says:

    >Alright, first time commenter here. I've been a Weezer fan since I was 16 (now 28) and I didn't have any friends who shared my love for the band. I love this entry because I can totally relate, except I was a die hard Weezer fan and a girl. While singing along to Pinkerton, I knew what I was singing along to, but couldn't stop loving it. I had a lovely friend who said "Let me have a listen to this band you love so much". Very sweet of her, right? She was appalled!! It was so funny because she couldn't understand why I loved this album so much. How on earth could I relate to those lyrics, right? I don't know, I just don't know. It was catchy and poppy and dark and I loved it. Though I thought myself to be a "die hard", the last record I bought and listened to was the Green album. It was only recently that I gave in and bought the rest, I guess for what was and not what is. I still have to love the band for bringing my awesome dude and I together. They are the spark that started the fire of our love (totally lame, I know, but true non the less). Great post and I love this blog.

  2. superblue says:

    >this was great. it should be reposted far and wide. i have a few weezer songs (all from pinkerton), i'm not a huge fan of the band. do they write catchy pop songs? yes. are their lyrics something that i can overlook? no. as a "writer" words are just IT for me. they can make or break a band in my mind and weezer didn't make the cut. but even the songs i do like are problematic. and catchy as hell. and problematic. see, it could go on like this for days. the feminist politics involved in enjoying weezer are pretty much what keep me from enjoying weezer.

    • K. says:

      I get stuck in the same cycle of “catchy but problematic but catchy but…” For me, Weezer is one of the primary offenders and also the highest on my radar because my partner is such a fan — there one of the few bands that we can talk about together and where one of us (in this case, my partner) has a deeper level knowledge of the band that makes our discussions a lot more interesting.

      the feminist politics involved in enjoying weezer are pretty much what keep me from enjoying weezer.

      I’ve been in a place lately where I’ve been thinking a lot about how my politics either are reinforced by or challenged by the media I consume. There’s been a lot of discussion about Amanda Palmer (who I am not a fan of) over the last year or so — particularly w/r/t her side project, Evelyn Evelyn, which has some really messed up and ableist elements. A big sticking point in the discussion has been fans of Palmer saying, “Look, some people might think this is ableist [which of course totally dismisses the very valid critiques that PWD have shared w/r/t Palmer], but liking it doesn’t make me ableist and besides, my interests are not my politics.” And I’ve gotten so mad whenever I’ve heard people saying things like that… but then I step back and look at what I listen to and realize that a lot of the music I listen to has problematic lyrics that rub up against my personal politics and when I say, “Yeah, Weezer has all of these songs with really messed up sexual and racial politics, but…” I’m essentially saying, “I’m willing to look the other way because these things aren’t hurting me directly,” & parrot behavior that I might otherwise call someone else out for.

      Ugh, long story short, I have a lot that I’m thinking about/working around with pop culture and politics and I wish it was easy lifting, but it probably never will be.

  3. Jess says:

    This is such a great entry.

    The Blue album came out my junior year of high school. I think I got my hands on it sometime mid-academic year, and for the rest of my high school career it was pretty much lodged in my car’s tape deck on an endless loop. That record is a really important piece of my late high school & early college experience, and I held on to a long-lasting crush on Rivers Cuomo and a Pavlovian pleasure response to Weezer for a really long time.

    Blue still takes me back, and although these days I often have to consciously stop paying attention to the lyrics (I love “No One Else”, and yet… *shudder*) I still listen when I need a pick-me-up, or something to sing along to. “Say It Ain’t So” is probably going to be one of my favorite songs until I die. But gradually my mad crush on Rivers Cuomo faded into more of an “I guess we could make out, as long as you don’t talk to me about anything important”, and then into that feeling that you get when you think about that boy you loved in high school but should never, ever have dated.

    This entry pretty much perfectly sums up my intellectual reasons for needing to move on from Weezer — which of course is why I wrote this long-ass comment! (The Green Album was also the last album I bought; the stuff that’s come out in the last 6-7 years is stuff I can’t stand.) And the “Driven By State Farm” is really… a crystallization of the fact that my generation is now the prime demographic for home insurance. But isn’t it weird how in a lot of ways, we sort of stay the people that we were at 17?

    That show sounds surreal, but I wish I’d been there.

    • K. says:

      Thanks so much for commenting, Jess! In a perfect illustration of my ongoing love/hate relationship with Weezer, I actually got an urge to listen to the Blue Album while reading your comment and immediately put it on.

      Most of the stuff they’ve put out in the last 6-7 has been sadly bad/forgettable, though there are a few gems in there (mostly relegated to “Bonus Track” status on deluxe versions of their albums.) If your local library has them, Alone: The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo vols. I & II may be worth a listen, depending on how much you actually care (the people who care a lot about Weezer really seemed to like them, I have marginal care for Weezer and thought, “Huh, there are a few good songs on these!”)

      It’s definitely weird that we sort of stay the same people we were at 17. I think that Weezer is a touchstone band for a lot of people because they discovered them at just the right age/time in their lives and that liking Weezer isn’t really so much about the band/songs, but the capturing of a feeling or a moment in time. I know that when my boyfriend and I first met, he was really surprised that I had Pinkerton, somehow, having that album seemed to say something about me (in the same way that when I hear other people loved certain artists/albums, I feel like we share a certain cultural experience and, by extension, a secret handshake.)

      I don’t think that I’ll ever really move on from Weezer (just like I’ll probably never really move on from songs like Bikini Kill’s “I Like Fucking” — whose sloganistic politics made me pump my fist in the air at 15, but now mostly make me cringe), but I do think I’ve developed a much stronger awareness of the political messages that sit under their songs and what those messages might be suggesting about some systemic societal issues, which is more than I had going for me when I was singing along to their songs while learning to drive.

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