Girls and boys and Weezer.

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William Brafford

William Brafford grew up in North Carolina, home of the world's best barbecue, indie rock, and regional soft drinks. He just barely sustains a personal blog and "tweets" every now and then under the name @williamrandolph.

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  1. Avatar Freddie
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    says:

    Once again, I found that “El Scorcho” and “The Sweater Song” are the singalong songs for twenty-somethings who grew up in the suburbs. What else could come close?

    I wold just suggest, gently, that you may be overgeneralizing a bit from personal experience. I couldn’t hum you a bar of “El Scorcho.”

    The whole Weezer thing– from my limited perspective, this is how it has always boiled down: Weezer was a limited pop punk band which had a certain narrow appeal that happened to hit many people in just the right way at just the right time. I don’t mean that as deeply insulting, not at all; that’s one of the nobler niches a band can fit into. I may get a Misfits tattoo soon, being as they are the greatest band to ever exist and all, but I wouldn’t pretend that they have a wide range. There’s a lot of utility in occupying those particular niches. I never liked Weezer, but I grok their appeal.

    The weird thing about Weezer is that they have always inspired these assumptions that they were bound for greater things. At many, many intervals in their career, people have wondered why Cuomo “hasn’t taken the next step.” You hear it all the time; “shouldn’t they be past ‘Beverly Hills’ by now?” My question is always… why, exactly? Where is the evidence for this greater depth? I’m genuinely curious as to why people think there was ever this promise of some next level, when they wouldn’t expect such things from every other catchy, self-aware pop punk band.

    I guess, as you indicate, it’s largely wrapped up in Pinkerton, which matches Pet Sounds, for me, in the divide between its cultural presence and its actual content. There’s so much false mythologizing about Pinkerton, such as that it “invented” emo. Emo, in fact, had its most important and immediate predecessor in the post-hardcore movement. More, though, I think it’s the source for this kind of aggrieved nostalgia for what Weezer never did.

    It’s really hard to talk about this stuff without running up against the barriers of personal taste, of course. I don’t care for Weezer, but many people do. But I find the idea that they haven’t lived up to some vast promise such a common refrain from Weezer fans that I have to wonder if maybe the thing to do is to stop wondering why they didn’t reach it and instead question whether that promise ever existed in the first place. But the idea persists, I think because the band hit just the right kind of cultural touchstones to thrill people of a certain age, class and temperament, and because Rivers Cuomo has very assiduously built this “misunderstood genius” thing, with the help of a credulous music press.

    Don’t agree with all of that essay for those reasons– can’t generate the perspective necessary to really understand it– but I thought that Sady Doyle said a lot of smart things.Report

    • Avatar William Brafford in reply to Freddie
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      says:

      @Freddie,

      I wold just suggest, gently, that you may be overgeneralizing a bit from personal experience.

      I want to respond more fully to this later, but I want to say now that I’m not deeply invested in Pinkerton being an important album. I’m definitely generalizing from personal experience, and I should have qualified my generalizations a little bit more. No need to tiptoe around that.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Freddie
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      says:

      @Freddie, When a band that produces a couple of great albums goes on to produce a boatload of garbage later on, you’re going to have people saying they didn’t fulfill their potential. The reality, of course, is that they fulfilled it nicely in producing a couple great albums, something most people, indeed most bands, never do. This also doen’t foreclose the possibility that they at some point choose to engage in the kind of growing up necessary to produce an album in their mature years worthy of what they showed they could produce early on, but appropriate to the experience of having with fifteen or twenty more years under your belt. Though if they’ve managed to let those years’ experience be warped by the trappings of the early success, such a return to form seems to be less probable. I’m not holding my breath. But this doesn’t take away from what’s already down in polycarbonate. So this really just boils down to how much good music we think the band in question has made — the same old debate.Report

    • Avatar William Brafford in reply to Freddie
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      says:

      @Freddie,

      OK, I’ve now got a few minutes to read your comment carefully. You’ve hit a lot of the important points.

      Weezer didn’t have anything to do with the post-hardcore-to-emo movement. But I had friends who saw them on tour with Jimmy Eat World around the turn of the millennium, and they blended pretty well with “crossover emo” like Dashboard Confessional. And Rivers Cuomo’s misunderstood-genius reputation has to be mostly the product of savvy PR folks. I’ll agree to all of that.

      But I think the key to understanding why people thought Weezer had so much promise is in the Pre-Durst article. There’s a weird combination of self-loathing and humor in Weezer’s music. I think maybe we Weezer fans mistook that for an extra layer of self-awareness? And the trajectory of the first two albums — clever pop album to weird, dark, ragged concept album — had us hoping the third album would be even better. In hindsight, this was an unwarranted induction.

      I’m more or less over Weezer now; I’ll listen to the first two albums every once in a while but I don’t spend a lot of time pining over what could have been. For one thing, I’ve found Superchunk, which is the band that I always wanted Weezer to be.

      Having written that, I guess all I am doing is agreeing with you that “Weezer was a limited pop punk band which had a certain narrow appeal that happened to hit many people in just the right way at just the right time.”

      One last thing: without mentioning this post, I asked a co-worker what 90s band people sing along to when he and his friends grabbed some guitars and beers, and the answer was Weezer, with no hesitation. So what I describe in the opening paragraph isn’t just my own experience.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to William Brafford
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        says:

        @William Brafford, In part, singability is its own quantity. Other bands might well be more formative to the identity of many or even most people who do sing along to The Seater Song in crowded bars than Weezer was. But those bands’ songs may simply be either less singable (has to have a great chorus) or just less well-known than certain Weezer songs. I mean, I’ve definitely sung along to “Pour Some Sugar On Me” (or whatever) enough times — but it didn’t play much of a role in my life.Report

        • Avatar JosephFM in reply to Michael Drew
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          says:

          @Michael Drew,

          Absolutely. Singability is most of what made Journey popular again I’d think.

          And among people I know, many would be more likely to say Sir Mix A Lot or Will Smith than Weezer.Report

          • Avatar William Brafford in reply to JosephFM
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            says:

            @JosephFM and @Michael Drew, you guys are right again.Report

            • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to William Brafford
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              says:

              Nevertheless, I totally get what you’re saying (and as to Freddie’s issue think the proper caveats on any implied universality should just have been implicitly understood — who would claim Weezer is a universal phenomenon; I mean you caveated pretty well as it was — why drone on about it yada yada?). I’ve never seen an entire bar (okay, slight exaggeration) that seemed theretofore at most passingly interested in the music playing just break seemingly spontaneously into song in response to any other song than “Sweater.” A solid majority, yes. Nearly every last kid? No. (And just to keep the Freddie monster away, yes, this might say as much about the bars I go to or where I live as about Weezer. Though I’ll say, too, this was the main sports bar on the campus in the town where I live. But that would be a very white town, and a whiter campus.)Report

      • Avatar Clint in reply to William Brafford
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        says:

        @William Brafford, Part of the expectations of greatness came from the weird stories of depression that came from Rivers Cuomo for the few years after Pinkerton, which led me to believe that he was a slightly tortured soul destined for rock immortality. From a long hiatus and rumors that he was holed up in a Boston apartment with the walls and windows painted black, many Pinkerton devotees thought the lack of commercial success would inspire more daring songwriting. Instead, as I recall, Cuomo confessed shortly before releasing the green album that he had given up on personal, introspective song-writing and resigned himself to writing pop ditties for the masses.Report

  2. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    Discussions of aesthetics always sort of baffle me.

    In the case of pop music, it’s like arguing why this kind of cotton candy is better than that kind. Mouth feel, the quickness of the sugar melting on the tongue, the tiny bit of tart, the finish…

    It seems like it’s silly to put so many cycles of effort appropriate to, say, a seven course meal and focusing it on something as trifling as fair food. It’s a disposable pop song. Listen to it. Nod your head and/or shake your booty. Wait for the next big thing which, hopefully, will inspire further nodding/shaking.

    But then I remember getting into arguments over why Baba O’Reilly was a more important song than Stairway To Heaven which, at the end of the day, was an argument over why pink sprinkles were not as good as blue sprinkles on a sundae. As arguments go, the joy is in the having it, not in the being right or winning it (because, at the end of the day, there’s no accounting for matters of taste).

    And,yes, this is actually a comment criticizing criticism as if criticism of fluffy desserts were not themselves fluffy desserts when, of course, they are… and, let me be the first to point out, it’s not very good.

    But, I suppose, that’s not the point of fluffy dessert.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      @Jaybird, that said, if someone came out and said that “99 Problems” was one of his favorite songs and said it in public, that would probably communicate more than merely “I like Jay-Z” and “I like Rick Rubin”.Report

      • Avatar Freddie in reply to Jaybird
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        says:

        @Jaybird, this is why I’m more interested in the self-reported disappointments of Weezer fans than I am of prosecuting my argument, “Weezer blows.” There’s more room to maneuver, I feel, in the former than in the latter.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Freddie
          Ignored
          says:

          @Freddie, we’ve all said “I grew up and stopped being quite so shallow and dumb-assed, I wish my favorite band did too.”

          That’s why God made the 70’s… to show us what it looks like when our favorite bands grow up.Report

        • Avatar JosephFM in reply to Freddie
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          says:

          @Freddie,

          I’m not a Weezer fan so much as “a guy who liked Weezer in high school slightly less than The White Stripes”, so I don’t even know if this applies, but yeah, I’m disappointed because almost everything they’ve done since reuniting has been markedly inferior to what they did before – not that what they did before was amazing, but it was at least freaking solid, you know? Well crafted. The Green Album was the last time they even seemed to try. The problem isn’t that they are still “shallow and dumb-assed”, it’s that they are significantly more shallow and dumb-assed than they used to be.Report

    • Avatar William Brafford in reply to Jaybird
      Ignored
      says:

      @Jaybird,

      Pop music is not like sprinkles because, in our culture, a whole bunch of people build their identities on the music they listen to. Both of the posts I linked to are about how a particular kind of music ties into a tender time in life. I agree that in an ideal world people like me would not have used pop music as a means of grasping and interpreting the world around us, but it’s not an ideal world, and we’re not really talking about Weezer: we’re talking about our lives. Sady and Pre-Durst do a good job of making this clear, though I can see why it doesn’t come through in my post.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to William Brafford
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        says:

        @William Brafford, when you say “a whole bunch of people build their identities on the music they listen to”, I wonder if that’s not putting the cart before the horse. I suspect that the music comes *AFTER* the identity (or, at an extreme, alongside).

        People find songs that say what they feel, not feel what the songs say. Right? They find the hippie music or the goth music or the AMON AMARTH RAAAAAAR music and they find that it fits them. Now, of course, peer pressure can say “wear this rather than that” and, sure, they may listen to such and such in public… but get everybody else out of the car and you’ll find them belting out Carpenters songs. Or, in this case, Weezer songs.

        It’s the songs that fit the identity.

        Surely kids these days haven’t changed *THAT* much since we were trying to figure out the point behind Jethro Tull’s “Thick as a Brick”… have they?Report

        • Avatar William Brafford in reply to Jaybird
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          says:

          @Jaybird, surely the arrows of influence run both ways? Like you join a group for one reason but then that group influences the way you think and act?Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to William Brafford
            Ignored
            says:

            @William Brafford, sure… and there are acquired tastes as well. If I maintained the same opinion of beer as when I drank my first MGD, I’d never have tasted Guiness or 1554 or Avalanche or now I’m thinking about beer.

            But if something doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit. There are dozens of cliques out there and one of them will cater to your personal desire for what you want to be told to do.

            It’s a wacky dynamic but you get to pick your tyrant… and you’re most likely to pick one that fits.Report

            • Avatar William Brafford in reply to Jaybird
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              says:

              @Jaybird, I don’t know what you’re talking about anymore. I think you’re saying that at basically every point in my life I bought the music and supported bands that provided feelings I wanted to have anyway. But I know for a fact that by getting really into Derek Webb and Wilco and Sweater Weather and The Prayers and Tears of Arthur Digby Sellars and Jason Anderson and Mount Eerie over the course of many concerts and albums, I was exposed to new ideas and thought about the world in different ways. I’m not sure why I even have to argue this point: songs are so much more like books and poems than they are like food because they’re a mode of communication.

              We’re at that point again where I just don’t know what else I can say.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to William Brafford
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                says:

                @William Brafford, why did you buy them?

                Did you buy them because you were told to?

                Did you buy them because people you knew/know liked them and said “dude, you will totally dig this album”?

                Did you buy them because you thought you’d like them because you heard a song or three?

                The slim majority of albums I’ve purchased have been albums that I have heard a single from and my eyes widened upon hearing it. Those in a close second have been albums that I’ve borrowed by recommendation and then given back with some measure of sorrow.

                When I’ve been exposed to new ideas, they were new ideas within a fairly narrow band of thinking… that is to say, they found new ways of saying things with which I was already inclined to agree.

                I wouldn’t have listened to, for example, Pink Floyd’s _The Final Cut_ had I not loved _The Wall_. I would not have listened to _Physical Grafitti_ had I not listened to Four or whatever it’s called.

                By the time it came to try them on, I already knew that they were likely to fit. Had I been someone who was deeply uncertain, I would have been trying Wings or Steely Dan or Crystal Gayle and, had one of those fit, be posting about them.Report

              • Jay, for the answers to these questions, you’re just going to have to wait for my post about how indie rock made me a communitarian.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to William Brafford
                Ignored
                says:

                with bated breath.Report

    • Avatar ThatPirateGuy in reply to Jaybird
      Ignored
      says:

      @Jaybird,

      Does it make me a cantankerous old man to agree with you? Because I really feel like telling the damn kids to get off my lawn right about now.Report

      • Avatar William Brafford in reply to ThatPirateGuy
        Ignored
        says:

        @ThatPirateGuy, I have to point out (and I mean this in a spirit of fun) that it’s sort of actually my lawn.

        But, yeah, this post more or less meets my annual quota of Weezerblogging.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to ThatPirateGuy
        Ignored
        says:

        @ThatPirateGuy, you see these kids listening to Weezer and being all self-indulgent but with a sense of humor/irony and you want to shake them and say “YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG!!! HERE IS A PICTURE OF GENE SIMMONS!!! THIS IS HOW YOU DO SELF-INDULGENT BUT WITH A SENSE OF HUMOR/IRONY!!! THEY MADE A DISCO ALBUM!!! A DISCO ALBUM!!!”

        And, of course, Bob Cheeks will then show up and start shaking me and asking me if I’ve never heard of Dean Martin or Bobby Darin.

        But then you have to remember:

        Every generation thinks they invented sex.

        Every generation thinks they invented the love song.

        Every generation thinks they invented irony.Report

        • Avatar James in reply to Jaybird
          Ignored
          says:

          @Jaybird,

          Every generation thinks they invented sex.

          Every generation thinks they invented the love song.

          Every generation thinks they invented irony.

          That is not true, Jaybird. The present generation (who doesn’t even have a proper fucking name, Generation Y? What the hell?) is perfectly aware that the ’60s saw the invention of sex (apparently), that the ’90s killed & then zombified irony, & that the love song was something which happened a long time ago, in the era known as pre-S.C. (Simon Cowell).Report

    • Avatar Dave in reply to Jaybird
      Ignored
      says:

      @Jaybird,

      But then I remember getting into arguments over why Baba O’Reilly was a more important song than Stairway To Heaven which, at the end of the day, was an argument over why pink sprinkles were not as good as blue sprinkles on a sundae.

      I’ve seen too many of these in guitar-related forums. All someone has to do is mention someone like Kurt Cobain in a positive light and all of the players who prefer more technically-oriented styles have a pile on. 250 comments later, we’re still at square one.Report

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