Today Weezer release a two-CD deluxe version of their 1996 album Pinkerton, and launch a short tour where they play it in sequence. Cuomo used to hate to discuss the intensely personal album, calling it "sick in a diseased sort of way." But he called into Rolling Stone to explain his change of heart and the rough period of his life in the mid-1990s that inspired Weezer's masterpiece.
The second Weezer album was originally going to be a rock opera called Songs From The Black Hole. Can you tell me why you abandoned that in favor of Pinkerton?
Um... [Twenty-second pause] Wow. We are going back 15 years here. [Fifteen-second pause] Oh, I would have to go back and look at my notes but... [Twenty-second pause] I think I was planning to make the second Weezer album a sort of space-travel-themed rock opera with lots of synthesizers and new wave flavor over the Weezer rock sound. [Fifteen-second pause.] And then our bass player, Matt, put out his first solo record and I felt like it had a lot of the same musical and lyrical themes that I was planning to explore on the second record. So that would be one contributing factor, my change of heart. Also, I had this really painful surgical procedure on my leg, which lasted 13 months in all and it took me to a place, emotionally, where the whole idea of this whole rock opera started to feel too whimsical for where I was emotionally, going through the pain of the procedure. And so I scrapped the whole idea and went to a more serious and dark place.
You started going to Harvard in this time period. It has been described as a very bleak time in your life. Is that how you recall your first semester there?
[Fifteen-second pause] Well, I was overjoyed to be at Harvard. I was craving mental stimulation for about a year and a half leading up to that point, being on the road. Touring in a van and just feeling like I was wasting my life. To go back to college was so exciting to me. And on top of that, to be Harvard! Just the greatest place in the world for me to be. I was quite excited. I was pretty isolated living on my own. And I couldn't drive, because my leg was all jacked up. Socially, I was kind of retreating into a shell after the shock of being in the spotlight in '94 when our film was released.
What did you mean by you were "wasting your life" before going to Harvard? You had just become a huge rock star.
What I meant by that was that I felt like I had so much musical potential, artistic potential, to get into really sophisticated art music, classical music—and I just felt like I needed some intense training in the fundamentals. The way my life had worked out to that point, the way I was raised I felt like I didn't have the opportunity to get schooled.
Now I'm not a kid anymore. I'm in my mid-twenties and the years are going by and most of my peers have already graduated from college. And all I'm doing is driving around in a van or tour bus and playing the same 10 songs every night. And giving the same interview over and over. You know, after a year of that I just felt like extremely frustrated and like I was not going to reach my potential as an artist.
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