WEEZER: Heart Songs

Born in Manhattan, Cuomo was raised on an ashram in Connecticut, and then moved to the West Coast to attend Santa Monica College-according to his [unofficial] biographer, John D. Luerssen (Rivers’ Edge: The Weezer Story). “Weezer was founded in Los Angeles on February 14, 1992, by Rivers Cuomo, [guitarist] Jason Cropper, [bassist] Matt Sharp and [drummer] Pat Wilson,” reads the official history on the band’s Web site. Of that quartet, Cuomo and Wilson are the only remaining members; current bandmates Scott Shriner and Brian Bell are, respectively, the group’s third bassist and second lead guitarist.

Videos by American Songwriter

Recorded at New York’s Electric Lady Studios with producer Ric Ocasek of The Cars, “the Blue Album” was as impressive a debut as any released during the alternative heyday, with the first single, “Undone-The Sweater Song,” introducing Cuomo’s already sophisticated songwriting and soon to be familiar themes of adolescent uncertainty and romantic angst. A hesitant, stuttering drum beat kicks off the tune, providing an uneasy bottom for two minimal, intertwining guitars. In the song, a couple of typical Gen X slackers compare notes at the bar of a rock club-“Hey, you know about the party after the show?”-before Cuomo’s paranoid geek-boy enters the scene, updating the classic rock personas of nerd rockers Jonathan Richman and David Byrne. There are no real lyrics in the verse, just an assault of incomplete thoughts. “Oh me…maybe…Goddamn…I am,” Cuomo sputters Tony Perkins-style, a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown, before a Cheap Trick-meets-The Pixies chorus charges in-propelled by a massive fuzz guitar and the anthemic hook: “If you want to destroy my sweater/Pull this thread as I walk away!”

The song became a hit on the then-red-hot format of modern-rock radio, and it was followed by the even more successful “Buddy Holly,” which was also a smash on MTV, thanks to its Happy Days-evoking video by director Spike Jonze. It certainly didn’t hurt that Weezer shared a label and a publicist with Nirvana, the band that ushered in the alternative era with the phenomenal success of Nevermind, rewriting the rules for rock in the ‘90s. (“Heart Songs” recalls that moment, too, in the climax of the song, when Cuomo sings, “Back in 1991 I wasn’t havin’ any fun/Until my roommate said, ‘C’mon’ and put a brand new record on/It had a baby on it/He was naked on it/And then I heard the chords that broke the chains I had upon me.”)

With “the Blue Album,” Weezer was well on its way to becoming an arena act of the sort Cuomo dreamed of in “In the Garage”-it even acquired its trademark giant “W” stage logo-though the singer and songwriter never wanted to be trapped on the traditional rock star treadmill. In the years that followed, the group’s major tours and new studio releases-Pinkerton (1996), “the Green Album” (2001), Maladroit (2002), Make Believe (2005) and now “the Red Album”-would be interspersed with periods when the band’s leader withdrew, either to live for a time outside of the limelight, or to pursue his studies at Harvard University. (He would go back three times before earning his Bachelor of Arts degree in English in 2006.)

“Sometimes, [the break] meant going to school, and sometimes it meant not doing much of anything,” Cuomo says. “I’m always just trying to focus on what makes me interested and excited. Sometimes, that means I want to do something other than playing in the band. When I was in school, I was actually really excited to go to school. It seemed like the most exciting thing-to go back to school, read, learn, study…live in the dorm room. It sounded awesome, and it was. Of course, anyone who is in school right now, they’re thinking, ‘Man, I wish I was in a rock band!'”

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply

RIDIN’ WITH DENZEL: Soul Brother, Where Art Thou?