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Rivers Cuomo: Weezer's Invisible Man

On the way to making Weezer's new album, Rivers Cuomo gave away his possessions, took a vow of celibacy and began disappearing for weeks at a time to meditate. He hasn't had sex in two years. Boy, is he ready to rock

May 5, 2005 12:00 AM ET

Below is an excerpt of an article that originally appeared in RS 973 from May 5, 2005. This issue and the rest of the Rolling Stone archives are available via Rolling Stone Plus, Rolling Stone's premium subscription plan. If you are already a subscriber, you can click here to see the full story. Not a member? Click here to learn more about Rolling Stone Plus.

A couple of days ago, Rivers Cuomo was helping his parents out with an epic spring cleaning at their house in suburban Connecticut — "I was the motivational coach," he says. "My role was to ask, 'Do you really need this third can of hair spray?'" — when it was decided that it would be better not to do the European promotional tour for Weezer's new album, Make Believe, the band's first record in three years. That meant two weeks free before they started rehearsals for the Make Believe tour. That meant Cuomo could do some more vipassana, a strict style of meditation developed by the Buddha and passed down by Burmese monks.

"There was nothing else for me to do," explains Cuomo.

Nothing is exactly what one does on a vipassana retreat: ten days of twelve hours of silent meditation beginning at 4 a.m., with small breaks for food but none for conversing. Most people wouldn't enjoy this, but Cuomo, 34, is not most people. Life to him seems to be a gigantic behavorial experiment, a large part of why Weezer have put out only five albums in thirteen years, despite their Prince-like vault of hundreds of songs. Cuomo had been to ten retreats in less than two years — following precepts like sleeping on the floor and fasting after noon — and he was ready for another. In fact, he completed one in northern Massachusetts a couple of weeks ago. That one was twenty days long, and he spent it in a closet. "It was great!" he says.

So instead of asking the band to head to the East Coast for the Rolling Stone photo shoot and interview before leaving for Europe, Cuomo decided to fly to California for a retreat in Yosemite, and if it was possible to accommodate the magazine in Los Angeles, great, but if not, he wasn't missing his retreat. "How many people would love to be on the cover, and then you've got Rivers saying, 'I can only do it on this one day, and if you can't fit it in, it won't work?" says Weezer guitarist Brian Bell, 36. "On one hand, I'm like, 'Jesus, how could you do that to us? We've worked hard for twelve years and we finally make the cover, and you screw it up with one sentence.' Then there's another part of me that's like, 'That guy has balls!' Even if it is really selfish."

These are the kinds of things that happen, though, when you're living the moment, which is Cuomo's new mantra — un-tethered from miserable thoughts about the past and future and free at last from the greedy ego, Cuomo is currently in communion with his deep, true self. This self needs to be free, and, accordingly, Cuomo has been careful not to make any pacts about future Weezer recordings; he has also only agreed to support this album until the end of this year. "We were going to call this record Either Way I'm Fine," says drummer Pat Wilson, 36." 'Cause Rivers kept saying that when we had to decide about things." Serenity is important to Cuomo. The shoot at the Playboy Mansion for the video for their first single, "Beverly Hills," posed a threat. "There were 150 fans around, and when we played we heard that sound, that deafening sound that you get onstage," says Wilson. "I could see Dude telling himself, 'Hold on, hold on, don't get too excited!'"

Dude, as in the chill stoner hero played by Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski, is the band nickname for Cuomo, though Cuomo and the Dude could not be more different. Cuomo is not chill. He has budgeted one hour for our initial interview, and when we sit down at a cocktail table in the plum-colored foyer of a Hollywood recording studio, he pushes the alarm on his tan-and-black digital watch. It is eighty-five degrees out, and he is wearing a sweater and has set a black parka on the couch. "I don't really notice where I am," he says. "I don't differentiate all that much. I don't look around much." Talking to Cuomo is like talking to a newscaster. He's altogether pleasant but stiff as a board. No emotion registers on his face, at least not until he hears something that interests him, at which point he curls his lips into something resembling a smile, widens his brown eyes from saucers to soup bowls and exclaims, "Wow!" "Great!" or "Holy cow!" The most interesting topic, of course, is meditation.

"At first I was vehemently opposed," says Cuomo. Rick Rubin, who produced Make Believe in off-and-on sessions that lasted more than a year, suggested meditation. "I sent him a very anxious page, saying, 'Rick, no. I cannot get into meditation because it will rob me of the angst that's necessary to being an artist.' And he said, 'OK, don't worry about it, forget it.' I think because he put no pressure on me, I began to get intrigued. Then I did a Tibetan-Buddhist meditation retreat. That wasn't intense enough for me. I knew I wanted something extreme."

Says Rubin, "I'm often associated, or in some cases blamed, for Rivers' meditation practice. It's worked for him — you might see him smile or laugh now, and before you would never see that. I never suggested the particular style of meditation he's doing. Whatever Rivers is interested in, he dives in a thousand percent. He takes thing to radical extremes."

Radical extremes are what Cuomo has made his life from, and in the context of his history, the Either Way I'm Fine era isn't all that outrageous. It even makes some sense given his childhood, which was spent on ashrams — first at the Zen Center in upstate New York and, after his father left the family when he was five (he eventually settled in Germany for a while as a suffragan bishop in a Pentecostal church), at "Woodstock guru" Swami Satchidananda's Yogaville commune in Connecticut. Everyone was a vegetarian, and no one raised his voice or cursed. Cuomo didn't like it much. He declared himself a metalhead at eleven and started playing Kiss covers with the neighborhood kids. "I was only interested in Slayer and Metallica then," says Cuomo. "I still love that music, but now I have so much appreciation for what my parents' generation did for opening up our country to Eastern philosophy and raising me like that. I feel so lucky."

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