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.
1. Weezer – White people immediately latched on to the rock band Weezer when they first appeared on the scene in the mid-nineties with a winning combination of fuzzy grunge pop, kitschy 1970s references, and an endearing “aw shucks” underdog persona. As with most rock groups, though, it has proven difficult for Weezer to maintain a consistent level of quality over the years; for reasons that remain unclear, white people have taken this as a personal affront from the band. Every time Weezer has released a new album in the past ten years, it has been almost instantly rejected by Caucasians who claim the band “gave up” after their initial success and resent their “laziness” and “lack of creativity.”
Weezer circa 1994. Their introverted, goofy image struck a chord with millions of white people who wished the cast from Revenge of the Nerds would form a band.
One possible theory for this strange cycle suggests that white people hastily pegged Weezer’s lead singer Rivers Cuomo as the logical successor to Kurt Cobain’s songwriting legacy (the first Weezer album was released just a month after the latter’s suicide), applying Cobain’s beliefs and ideals to Cuomo. Thus, white people feel betrayed that Cuomo and Weezer have not “stayed true to their roots,” engaging in various “soulless corporate rock” shenanigans like filming videos with Muppets and collaborating with Kenny G. While other races might view most of Weezer’s antics as merely silly or a good-natured display of humor, white people have been known to insist the band is purposely not being serious in order to irritate their own fan base (which is the entirety of white people).
For more thoughts on the current state of Weezer and their relation to white people, click here.
2. “30 Rock” – Debuting in 2006, “30 Rock” is a half hour sitcom that is quickly becoming the television equivalent of Weezer in white society. The comedy follows the exploits of a head writer for a weekly variety show; created by and starring Tina Fey, the program is based on Fey’s own experiences working on “Saturday Night Live.” Such meta humor is immensely popular with white people, who time and again have embraced programs with the quirky general feel of “30 Rock” (see “The Simpsons,” “Sports Night,” anything involving Gary Shandling). The cast of the show is also stacked with actors white people have been proven to adore: Alec Baldwin (who remains beloved despite his reputation for berating children), Tracy Morgan, the fat weirdo from that Dave Matthews Band video, and Fey herself.
While “30 Rock” has remained consistently popular amongst television critics over its four seasons and has won several major awards, white people have been complaining about its decrease in quality since season two. Specifically, they seem incredulous that such a “smart” and “witty” show would “lower itself” to participate in network television stunts. Examples include the cross promotion of former NBC employee Jerry Seinfeld’s Bee Movie in season two or the alleged “stunt casting” of major movie stars like Salma Hayek and Steve Martin in season three.
The cast of “30 Rock.” Unlike “The Office,” another NBC sitcom white people like to complain about, “30 Rock” is not adapted from anything British.
Recently, “30 Rock” complaining has revved up considerably, as a number of white people who are actually also television critics have openly expressed their beliefs that the show is in “dangerous decline.” Apparently “30 Rock” is no longer “one of the funniest” shows in history but merely a “B minus” program in a current state of “malaise.” While a B minus is still an acceptable and desired grade in many parts of the world, in the realm of white television it is akin to a D plus.
Despite all the complaining, it is clear white people hold a reverence for “30 Rock,” as evidenced by the following dramatic quote (courtesy of Nathan Rabin, noted white person and TV critic):
“I’d almost rather not write about ’30 Rock’ than write negative reviews.”
3. Late Night Comedy – Late night comedy—that is, televised comedy that generally occurs after 11 P.M. on weeknights—has long been a topic white people relish complaining about. This is interesting because approximately 95% of the programs that have made up late night comedy in the past four decades have been practically interchangeable. Generally, the format is as follows: a white comedian (or “host”) spends an hour chatting with an ugly musician while simultaneously entertaining visits from celebrity guests and engaging in absurd bits of visual humor.
Yet there appear to be many subtle and unseen layers to the bevy of late night comedy programs white people have argued about over the years. For instance, most white people will tell you that “Tonight Show” host Johnny Carson was the best late night comedian because he was “classy” and “sharp” while “The Chevy Chase Show’s” Chevy Chase was the worst because he was “awkward” and “depressing,” despite the fact both of these men wore similar suits, sat behind the same basic kind of desk, and more or less sported the same haircut.
Arsenio Hall, one of the few late night comedians in history who was not white. His show, “The Arsenio Hall Show,” was popular for a few years in the early nineties thanks to the host’s extremely long fingers and his ability to make ordinary people bark on command.
Similarly, white people love to converse about the “broad humor” of “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno versus the “sarcastic quips” of “Late Night” host David Letterman; to the outside observer, however, the only difference between these two men are how they light their studios. One should of course never suggest this to a white person in the heat of a Leno/Letterman discussion, as they take late night comedy preferences very seriously and have been known to attack when provoked. It is widely believed that former President Bill Clinton murdered his friend Vince Foster after Foster called Letterman an “East Coast elitist with no connection to the American people.”
4. The Weather – Actually, everybody likes to complain about the weather, regardless of race.
“Can you people believe this fuckin’ shit?”
5. Lines At The Bank – Uh, don’t get me started.
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.
Okay, I’ve had enough time to think about it. It’s time to start talking about “Pork and Beans.”
I think the real reason people are freaking out over this video is because it features the first pretty good-to-great song Weezer has produced since 2001. “Pork and Beans” has a super catchy melody, the lyrics are introverted / insecure / defensive / littered with pop culture references, and the guitars are mad crunchy. Those are all hallmarks of classic Weezer. I know I can’t stop listening to the damn thing.
So, yay. Rivers got the alternadork songwriting jones back. I am now officially looking forward to receiving the advanced copy of their new album I’m supposed to review for PopMatters. Before, I was kind of scared. Hey, we’ve all seen the cover:
It’s like a Gap ad exploded on the Village People during a promo for “Deadliest Catch.”
Anyway, this “Pork and Beans” video…it’s not all that great. Yeah, it’s cute, what with all those people from the Internetz in there, but all you nimrods comparing it to the video for “Buddy Holly” are off your meds. “Buddy Holly” was monumental not only because of its groundbreaking use of computer technology but also because it took an incredibly uncool property—“Happy Days”—and re-birthed it as something extremely hip. There is a direct correlation between the “Buddy Holly” video and the number of roles Henry Winkler started getting after 1995. There’s no way he would have been in The Waterboy had Rivers and Co. not jacked Fonzie for their Buzz Bin clip.
“Pork and Beans,” on the other hand, just takes a bunch of weirdo crap people already like and puts it on display in what seems like a strange attempt to remind everyone Weezer is still “with it.” I’d expect this kind of thing from Sum 41 or Sugar Ray, but Weezer? I don’t know. With a song this good, they don’t really need a bunch of viral celebrity cameos. Honestly, I feel “Pork and Beans” is only one step above that video they did with the Muppets, and I want to make it clear I am not ragging on the Muppets. I love the Muppets. Every goddamn last one of them (yes, even Lew Zealand). What I don’t like is rock video stunt casting.
I have to admit, though, the K-Fed appearance made me laugh pretty hard. His comedic value remains constant.
So, yeah, there you have it. My official line on the “Pork and Beans” video. I know you were all desperately wondering what I thought. Feels good to finally get all these thoughts off my chest. I’ll sleep well tonight!
A few Weezer-related paternal tidbits from my life: their drummer Pat Wilson looks a lot like my friend Jim Rumpf’s dad. My friend Dave Adelman’s dad hangs out with original Weezer bassist Matt Sharp’s mom. One time when I was in high school, my dad came into my room as I was listening to “Holiday” and demanded I rewind the tape back to the song’s doo wop breakdown (“This is what music sounded like when I was your age!” he told me; believe it or not, I already knew that). Rivers Cuomo is someone’s dad.