Stuck in the Tape Deck

Three Reflections on Weezer’s Blue Album

1

By Noah Weinrich

Weezer’s “Blue Album” is stuck in my CD player. Over the last ten months, the album has spun in my car’s stereo over a hundred times. No matter where I’m driving, what I’m doing, or who I’m with, the Blue Album is there. This album is remarkable for seamless synthesis of music with lyrics and for its emotional authenticity.

In 1994, Weezer released their debut self titled album, which most fans refer to as the Blue Album. Rivers Cuomo, the singer and principal songwriter, recorded the album with his band at just 23 years old.

The Blue Album is an exercise in catharsis. Cuomo exorcises his demons: loneliness, selfishness, and painful hope. He seeks to purge and purify. He crafted a young man’s earnest diary, accentuated by drop-tuned guitars and pop-rock production.

        Not many songwriters can unify music and lyrics like Cuomo. The catchiness of the music brings out the poignancy of his lyrics. The instruments give structure to Cuomo’s reflections, cohering them into something meaningful. For instance, “Surf Wax America” begins with acoustic guitars tumbling softly, then adds melodic bass, then quickening drums, and finally electric guitars washing over it all. The pacing of the track is cyclical, mirroring the waves flowing in the surf. Other tracks rely on a simple, catchy four-chord rock structure, shaping Cuomo’s candid memories into something listeners can understand.

A meticulously crafted, sedate epic, “Only In Dreams” is written unlike anything else on the album. Acoustic guitar and the guitarist’s falsetto dip their toes in and out of the water of the song while Cuomo pines for the woman he only finds in his dreams. At the end of the song, the vocals drop out. The guitars begin to weave together, in and out, slowly strengthening, rhythm accelerating. After two minutes of building, the song finally climaxes, reflecting the impossible ecstasy of Rivers’ dream. The pace and swell of the instrumentation merge with the narrative, each enhancing the other. The track exemplifies Cuomo’s catharsis: he takes his real experience and forms a song around it. It is the only way for him to give meaning and structure to his otherwise confusing, painful inner life. The song serves as an epilogue to the album, purging the unrequited passion of a teenage heart in the cleansing fires of distortion.

        In tracks like “No One Else,” Cuomo works through the pent-up self-loathing latent in most introspective adolescents. He puts his feelings on display, with no varnish: “I want a girl who will laugh for no one else / When I’m away she puts her makeup on the shelf / When I’m away she never leaves the house / I want a girl who laughs for no one else.” The only way for him to work through his issues and to understand his failings is to pour them into the microphone and guitar strings, and it comes through in every note. The studio is his therapy center, the listener his psychologist. After so many repeats of the record, Cuomo’s authenticity is what remains with me. It is impossible to understand the Blue Album as anything but a genuine confessional — the earnest pouring out of a soul, exposing itself for all to see and hear.

       The Blue Album was unapologetically written to please. Cuomo craves acceptance, from his father, from women, and from the audience. But that’s not the point.The album may connect with teenage listeners for decades to come, but Rivers Cuomo put his true self in the album. He presents the lows and highs of a self-conscious genius. He works through his issues without varnish, giving us the raw portrait of an artist, one with which we can sympathize without reservation.

Noah Wienrich is a junior studying politics.

2

By Mark Naida

The Blue Album offers a glimpse into the poetic tradition through the young mind of Rivers Cuomo. In it, Weezer takes hold of the listener’s head and pushes it downward, toward the chest, forcing a contemplation of the heart. In a flat-toned tenor, Rivers Cuomo sings about heartbreak, jealousy, and alcohol as he crafts an encyclopedic narrative of late adolescence and its growing pains. The album contains both confessional and lyrical poetic elements, as Cuomo speaks about his personal experiences, placing them within a framework of adages which express universal themes. Phrases such as “I want a girl who will laugh for no one else,” and “The world has turned and left me here,” along with the ever-cathartic chorus of “Only in Dreams,” center the listener, especially when these adages reflect life experience so succinctly.

In this way, the album operates as a time capsule of poetic themes. The best example of this is found in the chorus of “Only in Dreams,” a single stanza which epitomizes the aubade. Cuomo sings:

Only in dreams

We see what it means

Reach out our hands

Hold on to hers

But when we wake

It’s all been erased

And so it seems

Only in dreams

This chorus contains themes similar to “La Belle Dame sans Merci” by John Keats who writes, “And there she lullèd me asleep, / And there I dreamed—Ah! woe betide!— / The latest dream I ever dreamt / On the cold hill side.” The act is over, the consummation finished. It is all in the rearview mirror. “Only in Dreams” transmits this lamentation of the passage of time passed to a younger generation, unaware of a poetic tradition, and in need of art which can begin to relate the old verities.

Moreover, the transience of love, especially young love, imbues the album with a hopeful melancholy as Cuomo sings “The world has turned and left me here / Just where I was before you appeared / And in your place an empty space / Has filled the void behind my face.” Once again Cuomo resonates with Keat’s poem and with much of the tradition of lyric poetry as he revisits the memory of his lover in his song, echoing Keats’ speaker who says, “And this is why I sojourn here, / Alone and palely loitering.” Cuomo’s engagement with universal themes, coupled with his poetic flair, forms an album of the highest rank.

Adolescence is the most liminal of spaces. Young adults can feel everything and express very little. Their hearts are wide open and their mouths are taped shut. The whole range of emotion is capable and deeply felt, yet a poetic imagination, the capacity to condense great meaning and introspection from life experience, coupled with a knowledge of a poetic tradition, is still far off. Poetry and art help us to empathize as they inform and shape an emotional life. They offer us a framework which can reflect and express more fully our own emotions. The Blue Album accomplishes this end for a large number of people who could benefit from an engagement with the great themes of the poetic tradition, the themes which Cuomo molds and places into his songs.

Mark Naida is a junior studying French and English.

3

By Dr. Dwight Lindley

 I have been startled into joy by a gift of self. It is 1994, and I am fifteen. Weezer’s eponymous first disc (“the blue album”) is in the CD carousel, and my friends and I will not suffer it to be removed for months: the album appears never to grow old. From the bracing first lines of “My Name is Jonas” to the cathartic close of “Only in Dreams,” the album—each song—gives itself to us, gladly, generously, open-handedly. I say “give” because, first, there is no apparent reason for its being recorded: it has no designs on us and did not need to be made. Rather, it seems to rise, ebullient, out of the fullness of the band’s experience. The overflow expresses itself in a rush of buoyant energy and élan that never lets up from start to finish, though its character modulates from song to song.

I call it a gift, second, because its mere presence, gratuitous and bold, affirms the human life it sings of—affirms the goodness of the world in which we find ourselves. Why does Rivers Cuomo sing about his garage? Because his garage is (to use a classic ’90s term) awesome, which is to say ordered to the good for (a young) man. He belongs there, and in singing his song about that belonging, in giving us that gift, his generosity opens up a sonic space in which we too belong, in which we are newly enabled to affirm the world we live in. A tell-tale sign of a gift is that it fills the heart, making the receiver want to give in turn, out the fullness of the surplus. We listen to the Blue Album, and keep on returning to it, because it makes us happy to be alive.

Years elapse and it is 2004. I am a senior in college. While many other musicians have vied for my ten years’ attention, Weezer continues to occupy its place, and especially the Blue Album. (Indeed, my sophomore band was formed precisely to cover Weezer, and we favored especially the early work.) By this time, three other discs have come out, and yet none of them can do what the Blue Album does: Pinkerton is musically fresh, but the self-conscious world-weariness of its lyrics (“I’m tired of sex,” etc.) opens up an unwonted space between us and the band. If the Blue Album captures a youthful love of reality, Pinkerton dramatizes the break-up of that love. The third and fourth albums then try with middling success to regain the old magic, the simple directness of “Say It Ain’t So” or “Surfwax America.” But it always sounds like older, sadder men trying to imitate their younger, more innocent selves. The irony (we are Weezer, doing an impression of . . . Weezer) is often distractingly thick, and leaves us jonesing for the immediacy of the original gift.

And now it is 2014 (or close enough to keep me from abandoning the every-ten-years model) and I am more than twice the age I was when I started listening to Weezer. Rivers Cuomo is in his mid-to-late forties, and still dresses like he (and I) did at fifteen. I have no idea now how many albums have come and, and it doesn’t matter anyway. It’s likely I’ll only ever return to old Blue, and every once in a while (if I’m feeling sorry for myself) to Pinkerton. Why? Because of the primacy of the gift. Amid the deep green shades of their primeval bower, our first parents gave themselves generously to each other because their hearts were full to overflowing with the generosity that they had already been shown. They saw that it was very good, and gave as good as they got. I think I return to the Blue Album because its gift of self participates in and reveals that same original gift, however imperfectly. Only in dreams do we see what that gift means in full, but every time I hear this album, I get another glimpse.

Dr. Dwight Lindley is an assistant professor of English at Hillsdale College.

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