In the summer of 2001, my friends and I went on a weekend trip to my parent’s lake house in West Central Ohio. I brought my huge leather-bound CD book containing all my most important discs to provide the soundtrack for the most important weekend of our young lives.
As bored Midwestern young men will do, we got completely drunk that Friday night. Naturally, it being my parent’s house, I led the charge. The next morning, I woke up in a ball on the floor hours before any of my friends. Not remembering much of the previous evening, I walked outside to survey the damage.
Beer cans littered the yard; the bonfire smoldered in its brick enclosure. Blinking in the pastel early morning light and groggy with a mutant headache, I noticed my CD book open, one of the pages ripped out, and the shattered corpses of several CDs strewn about the scene.
Among the dead lay Weezer’s Blue Album. If you were between the ages of 10 and 16 in 1994, you owned this album. And what an album! Power-pop for the ages, with songs so catchy they should come with a warning from the surgeon general, gone forevermore, shattered by some violent rogue in a fit of out-of-control drunken nonsense.
OK, what really happened was I blacked out and stepped on my open CD book. So it goes, right? Still, quite the bummer. For six years I went without that album in my life. Painful, really, especially considering how much the succeeding Weezer albums (excluding Pinkerton, of course) sucked. Last week, however, I found a copy of the Blue Album in a used music store for $5. It has yet to leave my car’s CD player.
Rivers Cuomo, for all his Pinkerton’s commercial-failure-induced-insanity and late-career indulgence, can’t be denied as a songwriter. There’s something pure about his band’s debut album, every song an anthem, and it remains a testament to his monstrous hook-crafting abilities.
The biggest song off the album from a cultural perspective is “Buddy Holly,” thanks in large part to the violent humping MTV gave its Spike Jonze-directed Happy Days video. “Say It Ain’t So” made a late charge, but the sheer ubiquity of the “Buddy Holly” video (and song as a result) during the mid-1990s assures it top billing.
But you know what I found out in my recent listening?
That song blows. Big time.
A careful listen to the Blue Album’s lyrics reveals several poignant moments. A lonely, nerdy adolescent finds solace in creativity on “In the Garage.” An impassioned plea to an absentee father soars with the bridge on “Say It Ain’t So.” The eight-minute finale, “Only In Dreams,” and its elliptical bass line take the listener on a journey through the narrator’s fragile psyche.
But “Buddy Holly”?
“What’s with these homeys dissing my girl? Why do they gotta front?”
It’s the worst song on the album! Far and away, and it’s not close. There’s nothing to it. The tune almost serves as Pop Song 101: write about nothing, go “woo-hoo” a couple times, mention girls, an unaccompanied solo bit wouldn’t hurt and smile while you sing. There you are, ladies and gentlemen, “Buddy Holly.”
It just tries so damn hard to be the cutest little pop-rocker you can imagine, from all the “woo-hoos” to the “Oo-wee-oo” and the breathless “bang-bang-knockin’ on the door” bridge. And yes, I understand that the very derision I’m currently engaging in is answered with Cuomo’s chorus-ending “I don’t care about that.” Well, you know what? I do.
The shame of it is that the album’s worst song is followed immediately thereafter by the album’s best song, “Undone (the Sweater Song),” which spent a few weeks on the charts before bowing out and becoming the track everyone came back around on a few years later.
The central metaphor of “Undone” (destroying a sweater by holding a thread while someone walks away) along with the dispassionate/phony dialogue bits before each verse (where someone mutters in response to old friends putting on airs) add up to an anthem about moving on with your life and not spending a lot of time looking back on things that weren’t real.
That’s an important message for those that rocked out to the Blue Album with the windows down on their way home each day from the high school that would ultimately amount to nothing of much significance in their adult lives; important for those who eventually have to come to terms with high school being nothing more than a weigh station between adolescence and adulthood.
But no, it was quickly digested as ridiculous nonsense, pushed aside in favor of the one with the funny video drenched in ‘90s irony. If you ever needed evidence of the radio star’s murder at the hands of video, there you have it. Subtext went out the window, in favor of the images we could picture while several different radio formats crammed as much “Buddy Holly” down our throats as possible.
Maybe it’s just gotten to the point that we can no longer separate that particular song from that particular video, like with “November Rain” or “Thriller,” and MTV’s total disintegration in musical (if not, sadly, cultural) relevance over the past five years means we don’t have to worry about this happening ever again.
Whatever it means, I'm just glad I finally got one of my all-time favorite albums back. And yes, you can call an album an all-time favorite even if you don’t like the biggest song off it. Even if you can’t stomach the first, or any subsequent, verse, not to mention the cloying bridge and slick vocal touches. Or the video that brought it into our lives in such an emphatic, indelible manner.
That’s the beauty of CDs. I can just skip ahead to my favorite song, and all is right with the world.
So long as I don’t get too drunk and break the disc, of course.