By the summer of 1995 Rivers Cuomo simply had enough. During the past year he’d seen his band Weezer go from playing tiny bars to headlining festivals around the world while MTV played the group’s video for “Buddy Holly” around the clock. It was the dream of most musicians, but Cuomo was miserable. “All I’m doing is driving around in a van or tour bus and playing the same 10 songs every night,” he told Rolling Stone in 2010. “And giving the same interview over and over. After a year of that I just felt extremely frustrated and like I was not going to reach my potential as an artist.”
He was also in extreme physical pain. The success of Weezer’s debut album finally gave him the money to correct a birth defect in which his left leg was 44 mm shorter than his right one. The procedure to correct this involved the surgical breaking of the leg followed by months in a steel brace. Four times a day, Cuomo had to physically stretch his leg, an agonizing process he compared to crucifixion.
Despite tremendous pressure to immediately record another album and keep touring, Cuomo decided to enroll at Harvard. “I was craving mental stimulation for about a year and a half leading up to that point,” he said. “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.”
Cuomo was due to report to Harvard in late August of 1995, and Weezer toured right up until that point. “Say It Ain’t So,” the third single from the Blue Album was released in July of 1995. It reached #7 on Billboard‘s Modern Rock Tracks chart, and on August 4th they performed the song on Letterman. Notice how Cuomo stands almost totally still while guitarist Brian Bell and bassist Matt Sharp bounce around the stage. That’s because he’s wearing the leg brace.
Weezer still had another two weeks of dates in front of them, but after a gig at San Francisco’s Warfield Theater, Cuomo packed his bags and headed to a dorm room in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Weezer wouldn’t perform in public for another year, and by that time they had a new bunch of songs inspired by Cuomo’s year at Harvard.