The Cuomo Ideology

Obviously, I loved Pinkerton as a teenager. Of course I did. The second Weezer record has an iconic status in popular culture, in part because its the bellwether against which the dozens of disappointing Weezer records which have come since are measured by; in part because it more-or-less set the template emo bands followed for decades since. Its USP ‐ that frontman Rivers Cuomo is revealing all sorts of psychic wounds, even if they make him look pathetic (at best) or creepy as fuck (at worst) ‐ is also why the band made a sharp right into affectless power-pop immediately following Pinkerton. In an interview promoting the follow-up Green Album in 2001, Cuomo said

It’s a hideous record… 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.

It was that exact gut-spilling, cathartic, brutal honesty which appealed to me as a nervy 15-year-old. I wasn’t so much glomming onto the literal truth” of the lyrics because, well

  1. I had never, and would never, fall in love with a lesbian
  2. I had never, and would never, receive a fan letter from a Japanese teen and then imagine her masturbating, and
  3. I had never, and likely will never at this point, let’s be honest, studied at Harvard but felt isolated from my fellow students due to painful surgery to make my right leg the same length as my left

At the time I thought the reason I listened to that album over and over, front-to-back, often scoring bus journeys into and out of the neighbouring city to my small Midlands hometown, was because there was some self-hating emotional truth Rivers” and I shared. Having been bullied for much of primary school, I entered secondary with a significant dearth of confidence: my voice rarely raising above a mumble unless with friends (and even then), asserting myself only when pushed (sometimes literally), unsure of everything about myself and increasingly concerned with what was happening to my body. In retrospect, this is an emotional maelstrom all teenagers go through, right? It’s called hormones, idiot!

It’s also, in retrospect, somewhat disingenuous. As much as I rinsed these songs about, say, the unattainability of girls thanks to your own natural loserdom – you pick the wrong ones to fancy, or else, what would they have any interest in you for? – or feeling completely isolated and lonely, this wasn’t my actual lived experience. Not really. I lacked confidence, sure, but I had a healthy circle of friends that grew throughout secondary school. I was never a bad-looking kid, although getting braces around this age did contribute to that particular complex. Past the first awkward bloom of desire, when the Gender To Be Avoided became the Gender To Be Gawped At Without Subtlety Or Much Understanding, when I realised you could talk to girls, I did alright for myself (weird thing to brag about, I know). That didn’t mean I wasn’t still identifying strongly with this self-pitying soul, bruised by rejection and romantic failure, who at the time of writing the lyrics I still have so clearly memorised was twice my age.

The thing is: Rivers Cuomo also wasn’t living the literal truth” of these lyrics. Sure, the references to walking around with an old man cane” after his leg surgery, and inability to approach girls he fancied at Harvard, are legit. The album’s opener, Tired of Sex,” is a stonking riposte to the emptiness of having sex with groupies; an up-tempo take on Keep Yourself Warm” by Frightened Rabbit. Except Cuomo wrote the earliest versions of this song before Weezer were even a band! That dork hadn’t yet had the opportunity to get tired of meaningless sex! He was already inhabiting the role of a jaded, weary rock star who wanted to find something real, despite the fact he hadn’t become one yet, no doubt cribbing from the imagined lives of the members of KISS.

What Pinkerton did, as so many powerful and ephemeral pop culture objects do, is provide a ready-made persona for artist and listener alike to slip into. I was listening to Why Bother?” before I’d even gone through a break-up. When I inevitably did go through one not long after discovering the record, it was with someone I dated” for all of two days. That didn’t stop me from listening to the song on repeat, bitterly mouthing along to the lyrics, as if I had a long and chequered history of rejection weighing me down. I was as much inhabiting the role of Rivers Cuomo” as the frontman of Weezer was, a character built from a good century (at least) of pre-incel tropes: a little Holden Caulfield, a lot of Frustrated Nerd Entitlement, a self-loathing regarding the male ego, form, and libido which goes back even further. This, again, despite my being a 15-year-old teenager in the Midlands, and his being a rock star.

Nowadays, age thirty, I don’t have much call to listen to Pinkerton. Weezer were are integral part of my early development in being into music,” and I did try with the later albums (Raditude and Hurley, released while I was at sixth form and about to go to university, are where I completely gave up on them and pledged allegiance to more nearby heartslobs like Los Campesinos! and Johnny Foreigner), but mostly my interest only just stretched to Maladroit. Nowadays I mostly go back to the odd single of The Blue Album, if I go back to anything at all. When I do listen to Pinkerton, I see as a little of myself in there as I do Rivers. I’m there for the guitar solo in Tired of Sex” that fucking rips, I try and gird myself against Cuomo’s first signs of fetishising Japanese women, and I enjoy the tunes. Then I carry on about my day.