Rivers Cuomo’s Harvard Life Seems Ripe For TV


Yesterday evening, Fox announced that it had given a put-pilot order to a sitcom called DeTour, from Psych creator Steve Franks. You may be wondering: what’s a put-pilot, and why should I care until this show actually gets a series order? Well, first off, a put-pilot is the kind most likely to reach your TV: a network must pay a hefty fee if they do not air the pilot. And secondly, you should care if you’re a music fan: Franks’ inspiration is the life of Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo, specifically the singer’s 11 years of on-and-off study at Harvard, and Cuomo himself is directly involved with the show.

The single-camera comedy was described in Franks’ pitch as “a coming-of-age story that’s slightly out of sequence,” as well as an embellishment of Cuomo’s journey via fictional character and his misfit friends. As The Hollywood Reporter phrases it, DeTour “tells the story of a 30-something rock star who, unable to rationalize his success and worried that he may not have the tools to repeat it, walks away from the spotlight at the height of his fame in an effort to rediscover the parts of his life he missed while he was busy becoming a massive success.”

Based on someone whose early career especially has proven to be an endless source of fascination for music fans, DeTour seems like it could have a deep well of stories with a built-in audience. Those familiar with Cuomo’s unconventional rock-star existence may find the pitch’s openly neurotic tone to replicate some of Rivers’ interview speak from the era.

“As soon as we took off, I became very uncomfortable with that lifestyle,” Cuomo told The Harvard Crimson shortly before his 2006 commencement, “and I had these really intense fantasies of going to an East Coast college, an Ivy League college, and getting married and settling down there and living a really quiet life, an intellectual life, and being as anti-rock as I could.” (Note: these are basically the lyrics to Cuomo rarity “Longtime Sunshine.”)

For a time, Cuomo did seem to live the anti-rock existence. Despite having only completed one year of community college in Los Angeles before Weezer’s Blue Album broke big in 1994, Cuomo applied to Harvard during a tour stop in Boston just a few months after the album came out. He had graduated high school in Connecticut in 1988, moved to LA under the auspices of school (at least to his parents) when really, his goal all along was music. (He later claimed he had hoped to transfer from the community college to UC-Berkeley.)

Upon enrolling at Harvard in the fall of 1995, he was a music major. Despite being rejected from the school’s more elite choir, Cuomo mentioned throughout interviews that his music theory classes influenced his pop songwriting, starting with 1996’s Pinkerton, a cult classic largely inspired by his isolated early years at Harvard. As he told the Crimson, the two most incomprehensible lines from “El Scorcho” — “Watching Grunge leg-drop New-Jack through a press table…/ And then my heart stopped: Listening to Cio-Cio San, fall in love all over again” — were taken from a classmate’s essay Cuomo peer-critiqued in an Expository Writing course (the classmate knew and approved, of course). After Pinkerton‘s initial flop, Cuomo did not return to Harvard, instead reinventing Weezer for a 2001 comeback that has not seen the band cease for more than a couple years since.

Over the course of five semesters at Harvard, Cuomo transferred to the English department, eventually graduating in 2006 with a Bachelor’s in English Literature. Cuomo chronicled his two latter, more social stints in Harvard (fall 2004, spring 2006) via multiple blog entries on his Myspace, rich dispatches that have long been lost in the digital shuffle. But various remnants remain on fansites, including Cuomo’s readmission essays chronicling his activities at the time. Weezer press from 2004-2006 is ripe with tales about Cuomo’s tiny dorm room, which his assistant decorated with little more than an inexpensive Oriental rug, and how much his primary hang-out was an on-campus dining hall. Oh, and quotes about how Cuomo didn’t think he was as smart as his classmates, but that he was enjoying their company nonetheless.

“The best part about being famous, is that people want to get to know me, so all I have to do is sit down, and then people come up to me and introduce themselves, and I make friends, and then I meet their friends,” Cuomo told The Crimson. “It seems like I have a very happy and comfortable social life, which is something I never had when I was younger.”

By Cuomo’s 2006 stint, Weezer was back on the pop charts with “Beverly Hills,” he had taken up Vipassana Meditation (a practice he remains dedicated to) and a public vow of celibacy, and gotten engaged to Kyoko Ito (his now-wife, whom he met at Harvard).

“I am looking forward to coming back to Harvard in the spring and finishing what I started back in 1995,” Cuomo surmised in his final readmission request. “My motivation is much different now than it was then: then I was terribly discontent and dreaming of being a classical composer, a writer, or basically anything that I wasn’t; now I just want to enjoy my life and do the responsible thing — graduate.”