Tuesday, March 28, 2017

It Came From the '90s: Weezer's Geek Rock


This series looks back at the 1990s and its influence on the generation of people who came of age during the decade.

The X-Men references in Weezer's "In the Garage" resonated with me when I first heard the song in 1994. I'd grown up on a steady diet of comics and rock and pop music at that point, so Rivers Cuomo and the gang were landing squarely in my wheelhouse.

I've got a Dungeon Master's Guide
I've got a 12-sided die
I've got Kitty Pryde
And Nightcrawler too
Waiting there for me
Yes I do, I do

Uncanny X-Men comic books changed my life. I was just a bit younger than Kitty Pryde when I first read her introduction to the series. She was a lot of readers' surrogate back then, acting as our introduction to the colorful, surrealist, and expansive world of Marvel's mutants. She and the X-Men gave voice to our own struggles with fitting in at school. Years later, the music on the Blue Album had a different, yet still measurable impact on me. With songs like "Undone - The Sweater Song," "My Name is Jonas," "The World Has Turned and Left Me Here," and "Surf Wax America," Weezer seemed to reflect the the geeky introversion of so many Gen X kids haunting the malls and study halls of America.

Cuomo must've read his fair share of X-Men. Also, like me, he probably watched every episode of Misfits of Science and regularly read Choose Your Own Adventure books as a kid. At this point in the '90s, the geeks had not yet inherited the earth; we were still scamming BMG and Columbia House music clubs for free CDs and goofing around with this newfangled thing called the World Wide Web. Those moments of connection between like-minded nerds were more rare than they are today, when every other person you know is cosplaying as Harley Quinn. Just by being so earnestly dorky, Weezer stirred up the natural nerd tendencies that I'd been trying to suppress—halfheartedly and ultimately unsuccessfully—out of some fear they'd turn off potential friends or girlfriends.

During the height of the Blue Album's ubiquity across college campuses throughout the land—thanks in large part to the way their Happy Days-set video for "Buddy Holly" served as pure crack for Gen Xers raised on the Fonz—you couldn't escape its music. I was attending an outdoor festival with friends, summer of '95. Before the show, we hung out in the parking lot with everyone else, pre-gaming for the long day of music. I can still see us, sitting on the ground and leaning against the car, when one friend started humming, then full-on singing "No One Else." Soon we were all singing along to those vaguely unsettling lyrics about wanting a girl who'll laugh for no one but you.

Cut to recently, when I had a conversation with a Millennial friend about Weezer and realized that maybe you not only had to be a certain age to fall for them, but also needed to live in a certain time period to do so. This friend pointed out how narrowly immature the songs' narratives around women could be. She had a point (see "No One Else" above), one that I'd considered before but never really addressed. I stammered around a semi-coherent response, eventually coming up with this: when you remove them from the context in which they were first listened to with the most frequency—namely, by "alternative" kids in '94 and '95—then yes, they're definitely going to seem dated and out of touch in 2017.

Clearly, I could write a dissertation about my overwhelming love and affection for that era of Weezer, from about '94–'97. Even though I've outgrown much of their thematic obsessions (even if they haven't), I can still relate to those first two albums (Blue and Pinkerton) because it was the exact music I needed to hear at the exact age I needed to hear it. Any sooner and it might not have hit with as much force; any later and it might not have hit with any force at all.

In those days, through some misguided attempt at projecting depth, my friends and I saw ourselves as one pulled sweater-thread away from totally unraveling. Whether that was an organic or manufactured angst (it was likely a little of both), Weezer really did help keep us sewn together, at least for a little while.


No comments:

Post a Comment