The following piece was originally published in a slightly rawer / clunkier form in 2008 via the Crawdaddy! website. Though the careers of both Van Halen and Weezer march on (inexplicably, almost vexingly) I believe the core truth here continues to ring true.
The biggest mistake my generation ever made, aside from dismissing funny man Norm MacDonald once he left “Saturday Night Live,” was believing from day one that Weezer was just kidding around about all those 1970s hard rock references. Oh, those jokers, we thought upon hearing “In The Garage.” No way do they have KISS posters on their walls. It’s probably all Frank Black collages. We were similarly tickled when the Weezer logo was unveiled, a giant W that aped the flashy symbol of party metal gods Van Halen. Finally, Gen X had taken a direct shot at those Dutch assholes, and it felt so good.
A decade later, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Weezer fan from way back who isn’t infuriated by the trajectory their career has taken. The quirky little bubble gum grunge band behind such heart-on-the-sleeve anthems as “Say It Ain’t So” and “Tired of Sex” has become an arena-filling Top 40 machine, authoring vapid hits like “Beverly Hills” (the video of which was filmed at the friggin’ Playboy Mansion!). Shame on them for selling out? No, shame on us for not realizing much sooner that Weezer’s prime directive was never to keep the Cobain flame burning. Unlike their Seattle contemporaries, this slick, L.A.-birthed group never openly declared war on David Lee Roth and the spandex nation he begat because their dream was always to conquer it.
After all, lead Weez Rivers Cuomo started out in a heavy metal band, Avant Garde (later called Zoom), decked out with requisite poofy hair, severe facial expressions, and six string wizardry. Had the Nirvanas and the Pearl Jams not crushed the Sunset Strip’s skull with their Doc Martins and dropped D tuning, there’s a chance we’d know a very different Rivers C (whose “rocker” pseudonym was Peter Kitts). Luckily, Riv wasn’t just a flashy guitarist—he could also craft a heartbreaking melody. This would prove useful in the days of flannel and Luke Perry sideburns. Ultimately, it would make Rivers Cuomo the Clinton-era’s Eddie Van Halen (read: guitar genius with funny name).
At a time when Van Halen was floundering, wondering how they’d connect with the kids of the rabid fans they drew into football stadiums fifteen years earlier, Weezer burst forth with 1994’s Weezer; the album has its beautiful, introspective songs, but it also has plenty of rockin’ radio anthems teenagers loved to blast as they zoomed out of their high school’s parking lot on any given mid-nineties afternoon (“My Name Is Jonas,” “Surf Wax America”). It was definitely the record you threw on a party if you wanted to get people moving. Loud guitars, isolationist lyrics, earnest melodies, sitcom references—there was something for everybody. This broad appeal and demographic balance was something bands like Everclear and Silverchair couldn’t quite master. At a time when it was still slightly frowned upon, Weezer became America’s only bona fide rock stars.
The so-called “glory years” of Van Halen and Weezer were both relatively short. David Lee Roth exited VH after half a decade (give or take) and was replaced with Sammy Hagar. This was considered blasphemous to hardcore fans, many of whom disowned the band immediately and dubbed the new, mature Van Halen “Van Hagar.” The departure of Weezer bassist Matt Sharp after 1996’s cathartic Pinkerton didn’t illicit a comparable reaction, but it did close the book on Weezer’s “classic era.” What’s interesting is that while Van Hagar soldiered on making albums that bordered on adult contemporary and struggled for relevance, Weezer went on hiatus following Sharp’s take off, almost as if to say, “You know what? This might be it.”
Oddly, the disappearance of alterna-rock’s favorite sons allowed them to ascend to Van Halen-esque levels of reverence in the minds of anyone who was on the fence before. At the close of the nineties, lyrical couplets from Pinkerton were just as oohed and aahed over as any pentatonic explosion Eddie V. ever played. Emo bands proudly wore the Weezer influence on their sleeve in the same manner late eighties hair bands solemnly praised Roth and Co. in their prime. Would the now-legendary nerds ever return and grace us with their awkward pop laced with junk culture quips and wanky leads?
Yes, they would, at the exact moment the world was just bursting at the seams for more Weezer. In 2001, Rivers, rhythm guitarist Brian Bell, and drummer Patrick Wilson came out of hiding (with rookie bassist Mikey Welsh) and mounted the arena tour they probably always dreamed about. Fans made cross country treks and hung out in parking lots for hours in hopes of catching a glimpse of the sweater-wearing foursome in their giant Ecolounge bus. Sound like steaming heaps of rock n’ roll bullshit? It was.
Weezer could still put together a catchy tune or three, though, as evidenced on that year’s creatively titled Weezer (a.k.a. The Green Album) and 2002’s Maladroit. If those two were the Women And Children First and Fair Warning of the Weezer catalog, respectively, then 2005’s Make Believe was without question their 1984. The difference is, whereas Van Halen was praised for graduating to light, fun pop, Weezer was derided for not offering up more mopey opuses of regret and longing, the stuff many fell for in the first place.
Anyone who goes to see Van Halen or Weezer in this day and age is trying to recapture something from years past. With the former, it’s probably the beer-soaked nights of the Reagan eighties, when the sex was loose and pink mesh was not a crime. With the latter, it’s the self-conscious nineties, when the sex was a painful mystery and buttoning the top button was not a crime. Weezer as a nostalgia act stings for many people I know, people who were hoping the band’s 21 Century return would herald Pinkerton II. As much as we want Rivers Cuomo to be our Brian Wilson, that’s not the way he wanted it. Otherwise he wouldn’t have added those wings to the W in the first place.
Our shared frustration be summed up in a lyric Diamond Dave shouted on 1978’s Van Halen at the start of the ferocious “I’m the One”:
“We came here to entertain you, leaving here we aggravate you, don’t you know it means the same to me, honey?”
It’s strange to think of Weezer as having a “tragic figure” (aside from the perpetually heart-swollen Rivers Cuomo), but that’s exactly the role Mikey Welsh played. Welsh, who was found dead Saturday in a Chicago hotel room from a suspected drug overdose, famously struggled with the pressures of major label rock stardom when he replaced founding bassist Matt Sharp for Weezer’s big year 2000 comeback. By his own admission, the Syracuse-born musician suffered a drug-induced nervous breakdown during the year he performed with the band, finally leaving Weezer in August of 2001 to pursue the more leisurely career of painting.
Welsh played on only one full Weezer recording, 2001’s Weezer (a.k.a. The Green Album), the album most discouraged fans point to as the last instance in which the band was any good. That subject will of course remain open for debate until the human race is extinct; if you care, yes, these ears find that Green’s breezy melancholy is one Weezer hasn’t been very successful in replicating on successive efforts, but let’s retread that well-worn ground another time. The important thing right now is that I can’t hear any part of The Green Album without thinking about Mikey Welsh. Welsh played smoothly from “Don’t Let Go” to “O Girlfriend,” and his glowering expression on the album’s sharp lime cover contrasts rather humorously with his band mates’ expressionless stares.
It’s unfortunate that the evidence is suggesting Welsh never fully got a handle on his personal problems, and for that reason the world’s now been robbed of an energetic, fashionable musician who proved to be an equally talented painter. It hardly seems fair when we have
people shitheads like Pat Robertson and Fred Phelps still puttering around. Where’s the justice in that?
Mikey Welsh, born Michael Edward Welsh in April of 1971, is survived by a wife, two children, and Lord knows how many fans of alt rock. He will be missed.
Dig the latest tween mall jam from Weezer, “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You.” Here’s something I thought I’d never say: this song makes Tinted Windows look like the Ramones.
Speaking of Weezer, did you know they’re a five piece now? I’m not even making that up. Patrick Wilson moved from drums to guitar/back-up vox (Brian Bell, you better watch your ass!). Taking Pat’s place on skins? Josh Freese. Guess those Chinese Democracy royalties didn’t amount to much more than a hill o’ beans for ol’ Josh. I ain’t hatin’. Freese gotta eat.
But anyway, this “I Want You To” song makes me wanna go buy Crocs and nail polish. I think I’m gonna go do that now.
Like most human beings alive between the years of 2003 and 2006, I have a Myspace profile. I kept a blog there before I started this one, and you know what? A lot of what I wrote there was really interesting / funny / much better than the crap I’ve been writing here lately. So I’m going to begin intermittently resurrecting entries from that blog on JG2Land, so that they may live on in a non-creepy social networking / stalking environment. Here’s Zombie Myspace Blog Entry #1:
TOP TEN WORST ALBUMS OF 2007
Because my friend Jennifer asked nicely, here are my picks for the worst albums of 2007.
1. The Libertines – Time For Heroes: The Best Of The Libertines
I made my disdain for the Libertines clear in this slightly controversial Crawdaddy! piece. I stand by everything I said before; you legally should not be allowed to release a greatest hits album after only two regular studio albums, they sound like a wet napkin anyway, and Pete Doherty is a scab-covered danger to kittens.
2. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
I liked ’em better the first time…when they were called XTC. Great, now I owe David Spade eight bucks. This album makes me feel empty and sad, like Bud Bowl (or if I saw a literal arcade on fire). I don’t think I’ll ever get the whole mopey, depressed pop thing.
3. The Stooges – The Weirdness
They didn’t just phone this one in—they faxed it in. Telegraph, possibly. Pony Express? Much like The Phantom Menace, I saw the crushing disappointment coming a mile away here. Yeah, five rich dudes in their fifties are totally gonna be able to rock like it’s 1968 again, no problem! Assholes.
4. Insane Clown Posse – The Tempest
All five or six joker’s cards have been revealed, so now these guys are rapping about roller coasters. Okay, whatever. This actually may be brilliant. It’s kind of hard to tell. I have a feeling a lot of history will have to go by before we can accurately assess ICP and their legacy. For now, though, this quasi-Six Flags commercial can jog the hell off.
5. Avril Lavigne – The Best Damn Thing
This bitch makes Miley Cyrus look like Joan Baez. I’m pretty sure she lives at Claire’s Accessories and exclusively eats at Nature’s Table. If Avril leaves her enchanted home at the Toronto Mall, she loses all her special powers!
6. Poison – Poison’d!
Like being at the State Fair, only without the stale cigarette smoke and mild nausea!
7. Foo Fighters – Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace
The only reason Steve Albini called Smashing Pumpkins the REO Speedwagon of 90s alternative rock is because the Foo Fighters hadn’t become a band yet. How much more generic FM modern rock slurry can these dudes pump out? It’s getting harder and harder to believe Dave Grohl used to be in Nirvana.
8. R.E.M. – R.E.M. Live
How come there’s only like two songs I know on this one? WTF? LOL. No one wants to hear live versions of post-Monster material. You’re lucky the crowd cheered that hard when you started playing “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” Stop pushing your luck, fellas.
9. Rob Zombie – Zombie Live
I hate to dog my boy here, but this just seemed extraneous. It’s not like Rob Zombie is all that different live than he is on record. Call me when you bust out the Casio or the mouth harp, bro ham.
10. Rivers Cuomo – Alone: The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo
This would seem appropriate if Rivers Cuomo died six years ago. Seeing as he’s still alive and squirming, this ego stroker just reinforces the fact Riv thinks he’s the Brian Wilson / Syd Barrett / Wilhelm Wagner of gooey Generation Y fuzz pop. Too bad his maudlin jams come closer to some Muppety seventies bullshit (I knew there was a reason he was hanging out with Kermit the Frog so much).