Watterberg, center, sports a Stormtrooper costume on one of the Weezer Cruises.
Gorgeous melody, killer fuzz guitars, and a bitchin’ acoustic line to take it over the top of Rock Mountain. Check it out, though — this shit is emo, bro. In fact, less than three years from its release, bands like Saves The Day and The Get Up Kids would be touring the U.S. inspired by bands like Weezer and Sunny Day Real Estate. Everything was right around the bend. And this track is the link.
People might not remember now what an emotional impact Weezer made on the world of music, but back then, hardly any lyrics at all made sense in alternative rock. You had this generation of songwriters that grew up in their parents’ station wagons waiting in line for fuel, then coming of age in the Reagan era when any reasonably intelligent young adult on the fringes of society felt alienated and lost. Before the emo generation came along wearing its heart on its sleeve, there wasn’t a lot of clear and honest self-expression on the radio. Lyrics were often absurd and abstract, the music angular and fragmented, reflecting the angst of a generation stuck between Free Love and Big Business.
But not here. Here the melodies are tender and beautiful, as well-composed as the best ballads of the ballroom dancing days. The singing is soft and sweet, with warm harmonies and countermelodies stacked in surprisingly nostalgic fashion. This is the 1950s from the future. This is where grunge meets pop. The chord progression itself is simple, but with blown-out guitars and arpeggiated acoustic, the combination is a revelation. This is a new sound.
And the words… well, the words are emo! Even though Rivers hides behind irony and dated slang here and there throughout the album, on this song you can feel the weight and pull of loneliness in every line. You can feel the melancholy cut through the noise, the feedback and the distortion. And this was written at a time when boys were still told not to cry, not to let it show. But here Weezer sing it out without fear, an unabashed display of the depths of the heart. This album struck a chord with a generation also alienated and adrift. We latched on, we plugged in, and we declared proudly to the world, “This is how we feel. This is where we are. So play it fucking loud.”
I first heard “Buddy Holly” when I was pretty young, maybe 8 or 9. My family had just bought our first clunky desktop computer featuring Windows 95. The PC came with some seemingly random media already on it: pictures of clouds and butterflies, elevator tunes, a few pieces of classical music, and for whatever reason, the music video for “Buddy Holly.” I remember watching it over and over because it was the only video on the computer and I needed something to listen to while playing Minesweeper and creating beautiful works of “art” on Microsoft Paint. For those not familiar with the music video, it’s set within the show Happy Days. I was familiar with and liked Happy Days, but I didn’t really understand what a period piece was. So when I saw reruns on TV, I just assumed it was a real old show from the actual 1950s. I also didn’t understand how video editing worked and couldn’t figure out how Weezer time-traveled to get onto the show and make their video. It just totally baffled me. There was a lot I did not understand then; it was a simpler time. I remember sitting at the family computer watching screensavers because I thought the computer graphics looked interesting and cool. Like I said, a simpler time. And while those screensavers, Minesweeper, and MS Paint all look pretty whack now, “Buddy Holly” and the Blue Album have definitely passed the test of time.
I first came across Weezer when they played this live on the ’90s cult show in the U.K. called The Word in 1994. For those who have never heard of it, The Word was the must-watch show for teenage indie fans at the time, a perfect mix of music, sex, and trash culture. It was the show your parents just hated. Running from 1990 to 1995, The Word had offended the tabloids with its shock tactics, but in its time, it was the best place to watch live bands and had many infamous performances from Nirvana to L7 to Blur. I don’t know what it was about the show, but bands sounded so raw and exciting on there.
Cue Weezer, a band I’d not heard of ’til they showed up on The Word. The song just blew me away. A bunch of innocuous looking guys mumbling over this quirky little riff, the this guy who looks like he’d rather be anywhere else other than on this stage begins to sing. Meanwhile I’m watching this going, “What is this? It’s pretty different. Do I like it?”
Then the chorus comes in. BOOM! It’s fucking huge! But they’re singing about sweaters! This is odd! But I think I like it!
The same thing happens again; reintro, verse, chorus. I’m so confused, but totally absorbed and thrilled. Looking back on it, it’s doing exactly what the perfect pop song should do: drawing me in and just making me go, “I’ve never seen anything like this before! What is it? I love it!” Within the space of three minutes Weezer has become the best band I’ve ever seen, and I have no idea why. And the outro is the icing on the cake, just teetering on the edge of falling apart with this amazing vocal line. It’s not often a performance gives me an out-of-body experience but this one definitely did. Pure joy.
Fast forward five months and I’m in Tower Records on Sunset in LA buying my first album in America. I see four geeky guys against a a blue background. The Blue Album has arrived in my life. And it’s been there ever since.
The sixth cut off the Blue Album, “Surf Wax America” is a great example of Weezer’s ability to throw down some seriously powerful pop-rock jams. The infectious energy of this track is one of the reasons the song became a personal favorite of mine. “Surf Wax” kicks off side B of the Blue Album cassette with some serious intensity. Sandwiched between two of the bigger songs from the album, “Surf Wax” was a perfect change of pace, pure excitement thrown in between some of the group’s more melancholy hits. The song was a crowd favorite, so much so that Weezer was closing their shows with it on some of the their biggest tours. For me, listening to this record immediately brings on the nostalgic vibes. It brings me right back to when I was first getting into music on my own terms. At that age, “Surf Wax America” was the ultimate soundtrack for me and my friends. The song’s energy, slight punk rock edge, and hint of anti-establishment were the perfect elements for days of skateboarding and kicking it with friends. And finally being able to play the somewhat challenging intro riff was always a point of pride when we were first learning how to play guitar.
While the song may have a deeper metaphoric meaning in regards to drinking problems, I always took the song at face value. It was pure energy and good times, an affirmation that we never had to give up and conform to the man. Whether it’s taken literally at its most basic — an anthem about the enjoyment of surfing — or it’s more metaphoric meaning in regards to drinking, it’s the spirit of the song that matters: that energetic, catchy, and unrivaled simplicity that brightens your mood and makes you feel like you’re forever part of something.
First off, this song should always be played loud because it is a real fucking rock song. I never listened to this tune for its deep, meaningful, insightful lyrics. I love it for its cheap thrills: verse, steamrolling chorus, bridge, solo, a couple more steamrolling choruses, end. If I hear another goddamn “singer-songwriter” dude trying to make me relate to his wisdom of the ages through pillow-voiced acoustic guitar ramblings, despite the fact that he’s 30 years old and is about as deep as mommy and daddy’s pockets… OK, back to Weezer. Very simple tune. Great rhythm and vocal base for the lyrics: refrigerator, wrestling with Jimmy, the chick he’s trying to deal with, the Billy Joel “Captain Jack” thing he’s talking about with the Bottle of “Stevens”…what fucking ever, it doesn’t really matter. It’s not about that. Again it’s when the “Say It Ain’t So” part kicks in, it just shreds both me and my car speakers every time. Great song to play while driving.
Rivers isn’t afraid to yell at you about how pissed and scared shitless he is, something I aspire to in my own music. I’ve been subconsciously inspired by this song not once, but twice in my own writing. I wrote a song called “Your Party” and realized after it was pretty much the same rhythm pattern as “Say It Ain’t So.” I wrote another song called “Polka Dot Tail,” which ends with “oh no, tell me it ain’t so.”
I love Weezer, and I have a great amount of respect for Rivers. I believe, in a world of the many limp dicks making music these days, that Rivers actually has balls.
I love this song, love it a lot — always have. I get exactly what I want out of this song every time: a simple, unforgettable song with a catchy, singalong chorus.
In lieu of an essay, So So Glos guitarist Matt Elkin hopped on chat with Weezer apologist/Flavorwire music editor Jillian Mapes, to critically discuss ‘The Blue Album’ and how “In The Garage” foreshadowed its follow-up, 1996’s ‘Pinkerton.’
Jillian Mapes: If you encountered me out in the world and needed to sum up what role Weezer played in your life, what would you say?
Matt Elkin: Well, for starters, I would think back on the “modern rock radio” milieu they were wedged in with back in 1994. I probably liked most of the shit that was on “modern rock radio” at the time, because I was 8 and had an 8-year-old’s discerning taste. But all that marble-mouthed Cobain knockoff stuff, like Candlebox, where bands were either saying nothing interesting, or if they were I couldn’t understand them.
JM: What was your first impression of Weezer then?
ME: My sister and I giggling to the “Sweater Song” in the car. Rivers’ voice wasn’t put on at all. No overwrought affectations. Same balls in the music but no bullshit in the lyrics. I mean he was smushed between Scott Weiland and Eddie Vedder most of the time! Seemed playful, genuine. I’m half-Japanese, by the way, so the lyrics of “El Scorcho” hit so uncomfortably close to home that it was the only record my mom ever banned from our house!
ME: When did you first hear Weezer and did it have a strong impression on you?
JM: I’m kind of envious that you got to experience their breakout in realtime. We’re around the same age, but I was late to Weezer — not until their 2001 comeback with Green Album, when I saw the “Hash Pipe” video on MTV during a sick day from school. I remember it felt like watching something in slow motion, seeing someone like Rivers and hearing a song that, even at 13, I knew was sort of bizarrely sexual in its lyrics. I heard Green, then Blue, then Pinkerton. And I remember Blue feeling like the most “professional” of them, I guess you could say. It felt complete, and personal, but not this raw beast like Pinkerton.
ME: I can’t even imagine experiencing those albums in reverse order like that.
JM: I wish I could go back and remember exactly how weird it was to do that. Hearing Pinkerton last was emotional shellshock for a preteen, especially songs like “Across the Sea.”
ME: It took me a while to be okay with the Green Album, and I was still not entirely let down by Maladroit. I sort of stopped following them after that though. For me it’s an entirely different band from Green onward. I used to blame it on Matt Sharp’s departure, but as I sat here and thought about the Blue Album this week… it was really Rivers’ departure. The Blue Album is all shrouded hints at those demons he bares on Pinkerton. After that, he closed up. And that’s what’s really cool to me about the Blue Album.
JM: He is more affected by the press than I think he lets on. Pinkerton being panned, I think, really did bother him because it felt like his experiences and emotions were being rejected.
ME: I mean, he basically admits to that all over the Blue Album songs! Lonely boy reaches out to touch somebody, to feel a human bond, to be approved of… for whatever reasons he can’t figure out (is it him or is it them?) completely fails… retreats back home with his tail between his legs. Feels more content being back alone but is doomed to try to reach out there again. I mean, so blatant in “No One Else” and “World Has Turned And Left Me Here.”
JM: “In the Garage” turns a corner, though. He’s transcending lonely boy status and illustrating the full extent of the nerddom that fills up the lonely space in his world. He’s connecting with iconography and things as a way to feel part of something.
ME: He lives inside his own head. Those references he makes, D&D and glam rock heroes, those are faraway fantasies for him and one in the same. It’s the only song where he seems truly happy and the only song where he even uses the word LOVE! I mean, “Surf Wax America” seems somewhat joyous, but it’s also I think the only song on the record he collaborated with someone else (drummer Pat Wilson) in writing. And I do recall him claiming to have written “Buddy Holly” and “Surf Wax America” and maybe one other just off the rush of having been signed to a record label. “Holiday” even seems a bit sad to me.
JM: I think “In the Garage” seems sad to people who were never nerdy, though.
ME: Of course it’s sad that inside his own head is the only time he’s truly happy! But it’s bittersweet. It comes right after “Say It Ain’t So,” which may be the harshest indictment of the people in his life who have let him down.
JM: He trades people for idols.
ME: Exactly. I think the constant pop culture references on the Blue Album are sort of a defense mechanism of his. It’s easy to be amused and misled by the quirk of it all.
JM: Do you think people missed the point of it all?
ME: Sure. He was really good on Blue Album with sliding in a jarring or line or two that you could totally blink and miss, but after repeated listens really repaint the landscape of the songs they’re in, like in “Holiday” where he talks about how these people in this unnamed distant land “speak no word of truth” which its yet another subtle indication of his agoraphobic tendencies. I definitely didn’t get the point until my late teens.
You know what’s cool about “In the Garage” that I never noticed until recently? At the very last line of the very last chorus, “no one hears me sing this song,” he either steps away from the mic or the volume gets turned down real low. Just to deliver the point one last time that, you know, he’s not singing for you.
JM: I’ve never noticed that. It’s beautiful when you think of it that way, that the song has sort of become an anthem for a certain kind of person.
I got three CDs when I first got a CD player as a gift when I turned 9 in 1994: Aerosmith’s Get a Grip, Nirvana’s In Utero, and Weezer’s Blue Album. At 9, I already liked Nirvana a lot, but In Utero scared me, and most of the songs on Get a Grip really annoyed me, so I listened to Blue Album over and over for years. The song that stood out to me then and sticks with me the most is “Holiday.” The guitar solo in the beginning of the song grabbed me instantly.
Years passed and it remained in normal rotation. In high school I had a giant flying =W=, the Weezer logo, on the back window of my beat-up Jeep. I vividly remember taking Yellow Jackets (ephedrine-filled trucker speed) as a teenager driving around screaming/crying the opening lines while headbanging. “Let’s go away for awhile, you and I, to a strange and distant land.” I was probably thinking about the girl in my chemistry class who I never talked to, but was convinced I was in love with and masturbated a lot to.
After high school I continued to listen to the Blue Album all the time because I have some sort of mental problem I guess, since I’m going on almost 20 years of regular listening now. I started connecting with parts of the song. “Don’t bother to pack your bags or your map/ We won’t need them where we’re going/ We’re going where the wind is blowing/ Not knowing where we’re gonna stay.” That’s an ultimate dream of a fresh-outta-high-school idiot with no plans: just travel where the wind is blowing. The cheesy breakdown with the bass vocals and snaps seems like it should make the song funny, but somehow it just makes it better.
We played on the Weezer Cruise a few years ago so I witnessed them play this several times. I was a little older and extremely drunk so seeing this live brought back a lot of emotions. The ending of “Holiday” is probably the most epic of the songs on the album. Just screaming “let’s go away!” over and over again building up then ending with “in a heartbeat” and slow fading feedback. Any good song ends with feedback.
I was 9 or 10 when Blue Album came out and I remember a poster of the cover was hung up in the window of Prime Cuts, the record store that was so close to my house that I could walk there without really clearing it with my mom. Already intrigued by the bright blue color and the four weird grown-ups in the picture, I inquired about it inside and the store-owner (THE BIGGEST HIPPIE IN THE WORLD) was like, “listen to this,” and he played “Only In Dreams” over the speakers in the store. He knew I would love it; I was always going in there and talking to him about music and how I loved songs with distorted guitars. Anyway, I just remember listening to it and staring at all these Grateful Dead bears that were strung up on the ceiling of the store and thinking “what could be better than this song?” Kind of like, how I felt when I watched Naked Gun 33 1/3 for the first time, it’s like, “what could be BETTER than this movie?” That’s just how kids think when they find something that’s right up their alley. It’s like, “OK, this is the pinnacle.”
Now I’m 30. It’s 20 years later and I write my own songs with distorted guitars. My stance on this song is exactly the same as it was when I first heard it. Every time we play this in the van, I just keep trying to convince my (already completely convinced) bandmates of its greatness, they’re like, “yeah, we know.” I’ve come to realize that what makes it so great is that the verses and choruses are kind of subdued, it’s not jammed with hooks like the rest of the record. It’s simpler and still just poppy enough to move, but it’s more about the whole song than its parts individually. There’s so much room for it to breathe that you don’t realize you’re passed the five-minute mark until the build starts. This is obviously the best part of the song and every time I listen to it, it feels exactly like the first time I heard it, where I was just thinking, “how much further can this go?” It feels like walking up a huge flight of stairs and you don’t see the top and then at the end you just start running, but when you get to the top it’s not dramatic and overdone, it’s not like there’s a bunch of dragons up there, it’s just perfect and you’re just really happy to be up there.