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September, 2008:

Weezer – The how and why?

Weezer.  A band that for many people of approximately 25-31 conjures up images of middle school to high school listening to “Say it Ain’t So” while riding in a car to some destination of young fantastical (only in our minds) whimsy.  Similarly, the name Weezer conjures images of the greatness of the infamous second album, Pinkerton.  I’ve been developing a theory for the last few weeks as to why individuals of approximately my age enjoyed Pinkerton so much.  Please bear with me while I elucidate.

Weezer found a place in many of our hearts based on their first self-titled album.  The album caught us at the precise moment many of us were coming down from the Nirvana high of angst, anger and confusion.  The songs on that first album were all upbeat, all positive, all slightly-nauseating reminders of some false mental image of idealism that one has as a young person.  The most negative song on the album is “Say it Ain’t So” that describes his step-father’s drunkenness in such sweet tones that almost no one knows or remembers what it’s actually about.  It’s also hidden between songs about comimg “Undone” (whatever that means to a 16 year-old-kid), the Beach Boy’s Esque “Surf Wax America,” hanging out “In the Garage” with your friends and a “Holiday” on the beach somewhere they don’t speak English.  Any confusion caused by “Say it Aint’ So” is quickly forgotten after a healthy consideration (over and over and over) of the 38 minute album as a whole.  One is want to repeat albums many times when one is so young and impressionable.  Kids my age loved this album.  We ate it up.  It had panache.  It was catchy.  It had just enough substance to keep us listening for more than a few goes-round. I, personally, think that the Blue Album is probably one of the best albums of the 90’s.  Incidentally, I think Nirvana (who influenced Rivers Cuomo) and Foo Fighters created some of the other best albums of the ’90’s.

This first album, so goes my theory, is one of the main reasons why we all remember Pinkerton with such affection.  The Blue Album so had our attention that when River’s & Co. followed it up only 2 years later, we were ready to be filled with the joyous hook-pop we’d all been exposed to the first time around.  But, oh no, this time Rivers had a surprise for us–real emotion.  From the first song, “Tired of Sex,” the listener knows that this is no Blue Album.  Pinkerton is a dramatic shift in topic and emotion from bubble-gum rock to topics like: falling in love with a homosexual girl (“Pink Triangle), receiving a heartfelt letter from 4000 miles away (“Across the Sea“), hoping for love, instead of simply sex (“Tired of Sex“), dealing with an extended hospital stay (“The Good Life“), trying to figure out how to convince a friend to try a relationship with you (“El Scorcho“) and perhaps the most dramatic of Pucini’s operas, and in particular the abandonment of a lovely, caring woman (“Butterfly“).  This last song is, essentially, the title track of the album.

The amazing thing was that we were all unprepared or, perhaps, perfectly prepared to be introduced to these complex emotions.  Ordinarily, the album would not have caught our collective attention.  In fact, I think had we heard most of these songs on the radio, we’d have quickly turned the dial.  There was a reason that “El Scorcho” was the only single on the album.  However, it was Weezer.  This was the band we knew and loved so well from just two summers earlier.  The entire Weezer fan base collectively inserted those CD’s into their CD players and took the time necessary to listen to these complex, messy, thoughtful songs precisely because they had so loved the simple, happy, thoughtless songs two years before.  Those of us who stuck with the album for a bit realized that Rivers was a thoughtful guy, that these songs were so much better than the first album… in quite a different and previously-inexperienced way and that in the end, we would all like this album so much more than the first.  I think, years later, that we’re all listening to people so heavily influenced by Pinkerton that it’s amazing.  Bands like Jimmy Eat World and Death Cab for Cutie are precise follow-ups to both albums.  In some ways, they’re vast improvements.  How unfortunate.

The sad path of Weezer post-Pinkerton is well-known.  They’ve failed to really find a main-stream audience in almost 10 years.  My thought on this is that River’s response to the critical acclaim and lack of public approval of Pinkerton was to, first, disappear for five years.  Once Weezer finally put out a third album it was rushed and an attempt to run back to the happy innocence of the Blue Album.  We who had persisted in our love of Weezer weren’t fooled.  Next, River’s attempted some more introspection, but it still seemed cold and contrived.  To my ears, Make Believe was the closest they’ve come to Pinkerton-esque work (only on a few songs) and perhaps more importantly, the best they’ve been since Pinkerton.  Finally, the Red Album has some good things, but really falls short on multiple levels, notably allowing Brian Bell to sing.  While I think the band is, obviously, his as well it just doesn’t work for me.  The best songs on the album are the “bonus tracks” that apparently you only receive if you order the album online.  The thing these albums have in common is an inability to either find the original poppiness of the Blue Album or the heartfelt complexity expressed so eloquently in Pinkerton.  They all seem to find some middle ground, which is to say, no ground.

I have tickets to go see them, yet again.  All I hope for is for them to play all the songs from thost first two albums and “Peace” from Make Believe.  I’m sure they’ll throw in some stuff from the Red Album, I just hope its the two or three “bonus tracks” or “Heart Songs.”

What’s Wrong With You?

I was watching the Darjeeling Limited today and realized that it contains a line I always liked.  The Darjeeling Limited is, of course, a train, that is at least partially representative of the path of the characters’ lives.  The opening scene is of, presumably the main characters’ father, missing a train.  As you find out later, the father has died.  Early in the movie the brother’s train takes a wrong turn, much like the character’s lives already have, and their train must be righted.

My favorite line is uttered by Rita, an Indian woman working on the train played by the beautiful Amara Karan.


She has been taken advantage of (and incidentally has taken advantage of) Jack Whitman.  As he is kicked off the train, she poses a question to Jack.

“What’s wrong with you?”

Her inquiry is in response to the brother’s antics on the train up to that point in the movie.

Each of these brothers lives are off-track for one reason or another.  Jack Whitman is completely broken-hearted having just broken off his relationship with his girlfriend, played by Natalie Portman.  Francis Witman’s face and the rest of his body have been broken in a physical and visible way (he’s wearing bandages through most of the movie) by an automobile accident.  Peter Whitman is married and about to have a child, but is obviously very broken by the death of the three brother’s father.  They are also all self-absorbed, hurtful to one another and unable to cooporate.

The question posed to Jack is intentionally metaphorical and existential.  What is wrong with Jack?  Where are these brothers and what are they doing?  Each brother is lost along their spiritual journey.  Each is trying, in their own misguided ways, to find their way through this life.  Each is carrying emotional “baggage” conveniently represented by a large set of matched luggage.  The luggage previously belonged to their now-deceased father.  Each brother carries three or four pieces of the luggage.  Only when they are together is the entire set collected.  Each brother now carries a tangible small piece.  Of course, near the end of the film, the brothers must abandon their luggage in order to catch their train, no longer the Darjeeling Limited.

In a scene shortly after Rita’s question, the brothers push their father’s car out into the street during a flashback.  They inadvertently cut a large truck-driver off.  Peter yells at the driver out of the car door and he steps out of his truck in order to deliver a sound beating.  The brothers each in turn suggest, strongly that the man return to his truck.  He does.  This is the only scene, so far, in which the brothers work together.  A, relatively, positive outcome is the result.  You receive your first hint of the place in which they will find themselves.

In another of my favorite movies, De De asks Joe the same question.

“What’s wrong with you?”

“I don’t know.  I don’t… know.”

In the context of Joe Versus the Volcano, the question is clearly allegorical and existential as well.  Joe‘s soul is being destroyed by his repetitive, do-nothing job as a marketing assistant for a medical supply company.  His spiritual journey requires him to attempt his own suicide before he conquers his fear of death and overcomes his lack of love for life.  Joe meets the same girl three times over, but is only able to connect with the one who is willing to help him conquer his fear of death.  I always felt that the point of meeting the same girl three times before falling in love was that falling in love does not have much to do with the other individual, but more to do with your own state of mind.  In any event, he finds his spiritual peace in the context of his near-death and remains pessimistic, but with Patricia (the third incarnation of the same woman) by his side, he has positivity that contradicts, yet accepts and loves his character.

So, I ask you… and I often ask myself…

“What’s wrong with you?”

I don’t have an answer, yet, but I think its a very important question.

I want to post something… but I can’t.

Just know… “The opposite of sin is not virtue, but faith.”