Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Song of the Day: Weezer - In the Garage (1994)

It's hard for teenagers--and even some adults--to realize this, but eventually you have to accept that rock stars don't necessarily have to look like Rock Stars. For a lot of people in my generation, that idea was first implanted with this photo of molten hot uncoolness: 

When you're young, what music you like doesn't matter quite as much as what music you think you're supposed to like. In 1994, white teenage males were supposed to like alternative music, and one thing the great alternative bands of that era had in common was they all looked like complete badasses. Kurt Cobain, Eddie Vedder, Chris Cornell, Anthony Keidis, Scott Weiland, Trent Reznor… those guys all had a seemingly effortless coolness that just couldn't be contained. And then there was Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo, wearing fucking khakis on the cover of their first album. 

Look at those losers. Nothing baggy, no flannel, no long hair or facial scruff, no shirts emblazoned with the logos of underground bands we'd never heard of, and named after an asthmatic condition. Even as a 13-year old that played Magic: The Gathering between inhaler puffs at the time, I felt like you had to try to be that uncool.

It's hard to say how we eventually came to accept Weezer. It definitely didn't happen quickly or easily. Their first two hits, "Undone - The Sweater Song" and "Buddy Holly," both felt like joke songs. Destroying sweaters and music videos set in Happy Days--this was just not "real" rock music. By the time "Say It Ain't So" became their third major hit, we'd all pretty much succumbed to buying the album, but we were still suspicious. While we were sure bands like Filter and Seven Mary Three were the next superstars, Weezer seemed like a band that would never be heard from again and future generations would mock us for listening to. Yeah, we were idiots. 

Looking back, Weezer's debut might have been the best American rock album of '94. Even if you'd go with The Downward Spiral, or Vitalogy, or Superunknown, or any other possibility, it's hard to deny that Weezer is firmly in the conversation, and maybe even in pole position. Its ten songs are mostly perfect, all catchy, all distinctive, well produced by former Cars frontman Ric Ocasek, and the epic closer "Only In Dreams" was the kind of song other bands just weren't writing anymore. Unlike most other alternative albums of the era, Weezer doesn't feel bloated with a maximized CD length, three or four filler songs demanding to be skipped, and a momentum that all but ceased to exist by track 6. But no song quite told us who they were like "In the Garage."

In the first verse, Rivers tells us he relishes playing Dungeons & Dragons and reading X-Men comics, and not even the cool, contemporary Jim Lee-drawn X-Men. No, the '80s X-Men of Kitty Pryde and Nightcrawler, who by '94 were on a British super-team that even American comics readers barely cared about. I mean, after that album cover, we didn't need any further evidence that these guys weren't cool, but they just kept on giving it to us. Eventually, of course, you learn that really being cool is being who you are, unapologetically and without ulterior motive. In that, these guys were ahead of the curve, and that's what this song is all about. 

"In the garage, I feel safe. No one cares about my ways. In the garage, where I belong." That's the chorus, and it speaks to anyone who feels like their treacherous uncoolness could be exposed at any moment, which is basically every teenager on the planet. But even at the age where being uncool feels like the riskiest thing anyone could do, we still have a safe place for it, and eventually that safety net of our real selves expands out to the public world once we relax and let it. Weezer had already reached that relaxed state, which is why they could announce so emphatically and obviously on their album cover that they wouldn't be playing the same image game everyone else was. 

(Two years later, Rivers took the not-your-daddy's-rock-star thing even further by opening an album with a song about how depressing it was to have sex with groupies--a subject that Mick Jagger and Gene Simmons apparently forgot to ever weigh in on.) 

Check out the Song of the Day Archive!!

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