The truth behind Weezer's crack up
The following is an excerpt from a story in Entertainment Weekly’s May 25, 2001, issue.
”[‘Pinkerton’ is a] hideous record,” Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo says. ”It was such a hugely painful mistake that happened in front of hundreds of thousands of people and continues to happen on a grander and grander scale and just won’t go away. It’s like getting really drunk at a party and spilling your guts in front of everyone and feeling incredibly great and cathartic about it, and then waking up the next morning and realizing what a complete fool you made of yourself.”
For a kid who grew up in the tiny Connecticut town of Yogaville dreaming of Kiss style rock stardom, the rejection was agonizing. Cuomo’s downfall was as sudden as his rise to fame — Weezer formed in Los Angeles in 1992 and signed a major label deal after only a few months of local club gigs — and it’s an experience Cuomo obviously doesn’t like to dwell on.
Unexpectedly, ”Pinkerton” — the flop follow up to Weezer’s self titled, triple platinum debut (known as the Blue Album) — is now seen as a minor classic, a failed album that has, ironically, revitalized Weezer’s career, winning them a new, younger audience and some genuine musical credibility. Exactly how this happened is a source of no small mystery (especially to Cuomo), but certainly it has something to do with ”Pinkerton” itself, a raw sounding angst fest that caught critics and the Weezer faithful off guard in 1996 but has gradually won a reputation as one of the ’90s’ great lost albums.
At the time, however, Cuomo — then 26 — was devastated by the negative response. ”I got very sad,” he says. ”I became very unsure of my instincts.” After touring halfheartedly in support of the chart toppler, Cuomo retreated to Harvard, where he’d enrolled between the Blue Album and ”Pinkerton.” ”I didn’t know how people were going to react to me, if they were going to ridicule me or harass me or fawn all over me or whatever,” he says. ”But then I was shocked and disappointed to find out that they all ignored me completely. Eventually, I got to the point where I was like, ‘Shit, doesn’t anyone want an autograph?”’
For a while, Cuomo led a pretty normal student life, studying music history and poetry and writing papers on topics like ”Stravinsky’s attitudes toward Wagner and Romanticism and extreme emotionalism in music.” But two semesters shy of graduation, he dropped out. ”I just got excited about doing something else,” he says. ”I’m fickle.”
In 1998, Weezer reconvened in L.A. to start work on their third album. It quickly became clear that Cuomo wasn’t up to it. ”This is where the gruesome part of the story begins,” he says, squirming in his chair. The band had rented a pad directly underneath the 405 freeway. ”It was right across from a cement mixing plant — just the most lifeless, lame apartment,” says Cuomo. ”That’s when things really started to fall apart. I became depressed. I was saying ‘I don’t know what I want to do, I don’t know who I want to be, I just want to be alone.”’
Frustrated by the lack of progress and Cuomo’s dark mood, the rest of the band packed up and left. ”At first we were excited, like ‘Okay, we’re gonna play again!”’ says drummer Pat Wilson, 32 (the other band members are guitarist Brian Bell, 32, and new bassist Mikey Welsh, 30). ”But then three hours a day turned into one, and three days a week became one day a week. Rivers definitely withdrew. I just figured, ‘Look, that’s how he wants to be,’ so I let him be that way. What else can you do? I knew he’d figure it out. But finally I was like, ‘I don’t know why I’m here. I’m just gonna cruise.”’ Bell and Welsh followed suit.