Thursday, July 18, 2019

More Than You Thought I Could Write About Rivers Cuomo and Weezer

Ok, so I'm just going to tell you everything. It's a lot.

My husband and I were at dinner with a friend who invited him to a Weezer concert. Christian was busy but I was free, so I invited myself to go along and take the extra ticket. The Pixies were the opening band—I was excited about that. I have only ever been a casual Weezer fan. I bought one of their albums when it came out (Pinkerton). I didn't know much about Rivers Cuomo other than that he's a vegetarian. I got a Pixies t-shirt before the show started. They were great.

Then Rivers Cuomo totally won me over. The show was terrific. It's one of the few concerts where I have gone from meh to ZOMG during a live performance. I really loved it. And I developed a theory about Rivers Cuomo: He's not being ironic, ever. I think he's totally sincere. This is counterintuitive. It's the glasses that throw you off. Hipsters, of course, traffic in nerdy glasses, their 5th-grade t-shirts, and not caring. But I think Rivers Cuomo cares a lot about being a rock star. He's not embarrassed to try really hard. I find it endearing and it made for a special show, but not everyone agrees because, I guess, everyone cool hates Weezer now?

I listened to every album and read every article about Weezer after the show. A lot of critics are pretty tough on Rivers Cuomo. And I noticed that a lot of people who went to the show were posting things on Instagram like, "In spite of myself I loved it." Apparently it's in style to hate Weezer, and that bummed me out because I found myself wondering if I had bad taste in music. As listening to music becomes more performative (we post about it, people can see what we listen to online) new factors are encroaching on our enjoyment of it. Knowing everyone's opinion about a song before we even hear it can be useful, but it also predisposes us to like it or not, or to feel dumb about liking it. Well, that's no fun.

I take issue with some of the bad press Weezer gets. People disparage Rivers for being a meme king or a troll; people hate the video for "Pork and Beans" and think the "Africa" cover is not artistic. Agreed! But if memes and Twitter are what a certain sector of the listening population pays attention to, why isn't it regarded as a smart strategy or a cool way to pivot and stay relevant in the digital age? Why is it negative for Weezer to try to be where the kids are? I think it's especially rich for a certain sector of the listening population to be purists about how art is dispensed when they only know about "Say it Ain't So" from Guitar Hero. 

I've also read comments about Rivers Cuomo ranging from "Ew, dad," "He has a turtle-neck and wrinkles around his eyes," to "Creepily, Cuomo never ages." If you think I'm being a little bit sensitive/defensive as a woman/person aging in a hyper-critical society hyper-focused on appearance, you got that right. 

Also, while I believe it's fine for listeners to latch on to music at any time without any understanding of the cultural context of that music, if you're going to write a review of a Weezer concert describing the stage design as a "cozy diner" demonstrating zero understanding that it's a re-creation of the "Buddy Holly" video (itself a re-creation of a set from Happy Days), directed by Spike Jonze which both launched the crossover success of Weezer and left Cuomo conflicted about whether it was the video, and not their actual music, that made them famous, I'm not impressed. Because the whole vibe of the tour seems to be the band embracing the past and accepting something that they used to recoil from as prickly rock stars but who have now resigned themselves to: playing oldies while also continuing to put out new records at a pretty fast pace that fans notoriously hate. This seems to be the whole plight of the rock star who stays commercially viable (a miracle, really) while having that viability used as a criticism against them.

Is it weird that I'm identifying with Rivers Cuomo so strongly on behalf of women who are trying to be successful, who then get criticized for the very behavior that made them successful? 

The experience of listening to Weezer's whole catalog of music all at once has been poignant for me. I was listening to their greatest hits before the concert. "Say it Ain't So" came on and my son asked me about the words. I knew that "Heine" was Heineken and I thought "Stephen's" was booze too. But no, Stephen is the stepdad. This song came out when I was a married adult. I didn't pay attention to it at the time. The story unfolded as my son screamed the words, "Dear daddy, I write you, in spite of years of silence. . . . This bottle of Stephen's awakens ancient feelings. Like father, stepfather the son is drowning in the flood."

It's a great song. No wonder it continues to resonate. It resonates for me as well, even as an adult, and especially as an adult watching my son belt it out like he really feels it and knowing that he couldn't possibly really feel it in the same way I do because his dad is here and he doesn't have a stepfather and I'm glad it doesn't resonate for him in that way. And it's nice to know that by the time I noticed this song, Rivers Cuomo himself had reconciled with his own dad and, in fact, had written a song eight albums later which included the line, "Forgive your foolish father. He did the best that he could do." While not applicable in every case [mine], it's a nice sentiment. 

However, not all criticism of Weezer is unfounded. Their music is problematic for me. Some of Weezer's music (surprise!) is regressive in their views on women. OK. So we're looking back over 20 years of music. At what point do I forgive Rivers Cuomo for "No One Else" or "The Girl Got Hot?" Does it matter that he knows he's a pig and a dog and that he's sorry? Can I tolerate "I'm Your Daddy" which seems adorably inspired by Rivers' little girl when it includes the line, "You've got the brains the body and the beauty. . ." ? That's gross, Rivers. You have a daughter now. Quit doing that. Incidentally, that daughter is half Japanese—I only bring it up because Weezer songs tend towards Japanese fetishism which. . .  is. . . racist? If you marry a Japanese woman after fantasizing about a Japanese teenager, does that redeem the song? If you become, by all accounts, a doting and hands-on father to an actual "half-Japanese girl," should you stop singing the song about them "doing it to you every time"? Am I gross or complicit for listening to these songs? I don't know what, exactly, to make of it but there does seem to be a reckoning coming for racial and gender insensitivity.

To make matters worse, Rivers Cuomo also maddeningly posts on social media asynchronously with memes and quotes from his followers shielding his real feelings about current events—his prerogative, of course—but some clarification would be nice because, and this is my final point and the thing I've struggled the most with: As a newcomer to Weezer fandom I find myself in the company of some fans who are pretty different from me. When a band has as many songs as Weezer does, you can pick your favorites and discard the others as outliers. I pick the cute and clever, the quirky and beautiful, the ones with pretty bridges. Other people think the songs I hate are representative of the band. For them the cute songs are the outliers. The thing is, I'm repelled by a lot of these other Weezer fans. Their comments, the things they say—Ugh. Not my crowd. And yet, I'm really into Weezer. It's perplexing and, again, I'm not sure what to make of it. If I were Rivers Cuomo, I would shield my true feelings on current events too because he's either going to alienate the ladies like me who find him interesting and endearing (probably not the largest segment of his fans) or really make the dude bros mad—and they're scary.

Grantland has this to say about the early Weezer fanbase, "The Blue Album was a record made for people who preferred watching to doing, before the internet came along and turned everybody into watchers. What exactly were you watching in "Only in Dreams"? A guy not get the girl. It was better that way, because Cuomo's core audience of alienated teenage male virgins preferred the camaraderie of those who did not get the girl to actually getting the girl, because what in the hell do you do with a girl?"

Oh my gosh. Are Weezer songs founding documents for incels?

All of this makes for an interesting tension in Weezer and, really what I'm talking about here is Rivers Cuomo. Does his body of work tell the story of a man struggling with toxic masculinity and misogyny who changes through the transformative experience of marriage and raising children? If Rivers Cuomo is just a dirtbag, I'm not interested.  It all hinges on his self-loathing. If he is aware of his baser instincts and has made an effort to change, this male narrative could be valuable. The life he ostensibly lives (as a faithful husband committed to his family) redeems or at least reframes the repugnant parts. Just as the 70-year endurance of the marriage between Prince Phillip and Queen Elizabeth renders speculation about his infidelity not moot, exactly—but it does give us some perspective.

And so it goes for every person. It takes a whole lifetime to mete things out.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...