Weezer’s “Pinkerton” at 20: Stories of Admiration, Frustration, and Heartbreak

DFC and friends reflect on two decades of Weezer’s polarizing cult classic.

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It’s 1994. Weezer are hot off the immense success of their excellent self-titled record, otherwise known as the Blue Album, and have just taken a break from touring around Christmas time. Now that the band has momentarily refrained from an already stressful touring schedule, it gave time for frontman Rivers Cuomo to reflect in his Connecticut hometown, as well as brainstorm for “what’s next?” Cuomo would, over this time period, begin working on a space opera entitled Songs From the Black Hole.

The ambitious project contained approximately 17 tracks, and featured prominent vocal guests. While this particular project was later scrapped, it did however set the path for perhaps the band’s most defining work, as well as their most abrasive: Pinkerton.

Inspired by Cuomo’s dissatisfaction with the rock-star lifestyle, along with his then-recent leg extension surgery, Pinkerton is a dark, heavily personal record that sharply contrasted with the bright, power pop mentality of Blue two years prior. It also featured four songs from the Songs From The Black Hole sessions: “Tired of Sex”, “Getchoo”, “No Other One”, and “Why Bother?”.

The record went on to receive highly negative reviews from critics and fans alike, with many being turned off by the polarizing direction the band undertook. The harsh criticism of Pinkerton was so extreme, Cuomo once labelled the record as “a mistake”. However, the album slowly began to pick up steam, and later became a highly influential album in the emo and alternative rock genres. Eventually, Cuomo himself came to love the record again.

But most of Pinkerton‘s success is attributed to those who connected with it best: those who have constantly related to Cuomo’s anguished lyrics of sexual frustration, awkwardness, and longing for happiness. Jeremy of DFC has gathered a few friends of the blog who once felt lost and frustrated, and turned to Pinkerton  when it all went awry; as well as others, who just loved the hell out of it musically, and continued to keep it on constant rotation throughout the years.

Ben Buchnat

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In a person’s music history, there are a few key records that completely change the person’s direction. For me, Pinkerton is one of those records. The first “emo” record I really loved. Pinkerton was dark and daring compared to Weezer’s early work and I think that’s what drew me to it. Pinkerton really helped me go through an awkward phase in my life. I related with Rivers’ hopeless romanticism while I was yearning for my high school crush.

Without Pinkerton, I don’t know if I would have gotten into other emo acts like The Get Up Kids and Brand New. Aside from it being a legendary album, Pinkerton’s greatest gift to me was introducing emo to my young high-school mind. Also “You Gave Your Love To Me Softy” is the greatest b-side of all time.

Ryan Garrett14442697_10210243815677622_1999964200_n

Twenty years ago, I would have still been in diapers. Needless to say, I have no recollection of the early 90’s Weezer craze after the release of their debut self-­titled album. I also have no memory of Pinkerton, how well it was received by the hardcore fanbase and cult following it would possess years later, or how terribly brutal the critics were toward the album at the time. All I remember is 2005. Maladroit is the “latest Weezer album.” With Make Believe just around the corner, “Beverly Hills” is dominating radio. It was that particular summer before I started my 7th grade year, that I discovered Weezer. My first impression, like most people at that time, was the Blue Album. The Green Album and Maladroit were obviously next due to the hype that was surrounding them at the time. Weezer are back!

Then… looking at their back catalog, I notice an album that I had somehow missed. The cover art didn’t depict the four misfits standing against a solid color background that I had come to know with Weezer albums. It featured this gorgeous Japanese print, restored against a black background to give it more of a dark “night sky” feel. Upon first listen, I was taken aback. I was confused, somehow unsure how this raw, ugly, and heavily distorted album could have possibly been sandwiched between the melodic greatness of Blue and Green. Weezer have always had a very rough­-edged sound, but this was like nothing I had ever heard before. I didn’t take to what I heard at first, and shelved the album in my mind.

Months later, I came back to it… and again… and again… But it took heartbreak before I could fully grasp the true beauty of this edgy, dirty record. My final year of junior high, and on into my freshman year, Pinkerton became a soundtrack. Rivers Cuomo wailing about heartbreak, sexual frustration, and even his own personal health issues somehow became relatable. I remember thinking, “How can I possibly be relating to a guy obsessing over a fan that is oceans apart from him? How can I relate to someone chasing those ‘half­-japanese girls’ only to be shot down every single time?” The situations for Mr. Cuomo and I could never have been further from alike, but the raw emotion that Pinkerton delivers can hit close to home in any angry, depressed, or downright frustrated situation.

It has now been ten years since I first stumbled across Pinkerton, and ten more since it hit the streets in 1996. It’s incredible seeing how well it’s grown on people. The album that was once considered “Weezer’s dark period” is no longer a repressed memory, but an embraced segment of their story (and of my story as well). I have also recently been informed that it has been certified Platinum. Good for you, Weezer. You deserve this.

I revisited the album this past summer after it was sent to me by a record club I am subscribed to. Owning the album on vinyl after all these years adds even more rough character to the album, and amplifies the memories. Through all the good years and bad years crammed into my brain, I can’t think of a single one that Weezer hasn’t been a part of. After all these years… I drop the needle and the drums begin to pound. The opening words of the album “I’m tired” creep through the speakers. So am I, Rivers, so am I…

Tom Hummer

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I didn’t listen to Pinkerton in full until about 2004, after I had already fallen in love with Weezer’s first two self-titled albums and Maladroit. In hindsight, I’m glad my first listen wasn’t tainted by the critical backlash it had received upon its release — I had no knowledge of the album’s history or context at that point. Despite that, I shared a similar experience to many Weezer fans in ’96: I was slightly put off, unsure of what I was hearing. The melodic presentation was abrasive, and the endearingly sweet and coy lyrics felt sour, desperate, and overly confessional.

A few of the tunes kept me coming back though (specifically “Getchoo”, “Pink Triangle”, and “El Scorcho”), and with those tracks as anchors I eventually gained an appreciation for the rest of them. This album was key in making me realize that inner conflict and struggle can still be presented with melody and not necessarily aggression; that melody can be performed with naked, unapologetic, ugly emotion and still be beautiful; that music can be catchy without inherently betraying its creator’s raw humanity; and on top of all this, that the production should complement these characteristics rather than create a polish, as polish doesn’t always work in favor of the underlying message. Pinkerton will always be a special album in the way it combines these items, taking grunge tropes and somehow morphing them into self-deprecating yet upbeat humor, humor that enhances the darker emotions rather than masking them.

Chris Lepore

(He didn’t have a Weezer-related picture, unfortunately.)

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Despite Pinkerton coming out two years prior to my birth, everyone who gets into the indie/alternative scene has their own Pinkerton story. My first copy of Pinkerton was a CD I stole from my oldest brother who was seven when it first came out.

I started college this Fall, and this was the first time I was ever stressed out at school. I tried remembering how I handled the change to High School four years prior. With music playing such a substantial part in my influences, I recalled the albums I listened to back in Freshman year. Pinkerton was played constantly with a focus on “Why Bother?” and “Across the Sea”. The album was a safety blanket for me. It felt kinda right that an album I used to cope with was an album that didn’t make good first impressions.

Weezer has produced some of my favorites songs of all-time and I could not be more happy for Pinkerton‘s later success. I hope the album continues to influence generations of people who just need a second impression because they do not make good first-impressions.

Adrian Yllatopa

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I wanna go back. I wanna go back. I’d love to go back to the first time I ever listened to Pinkerton in it’s entirety. Don’t ask me how that went down, because I don’t remember. What I do remember, is the situation I found myself in. I was in the middle of my high school days and my first real heartbreak.

It was like Rivers Cuomo was singing directly to me in “Why Bother?”, a song that became an anthem to me whenever I had the smallest thought of approaching a girl. I’m sure there were a couple of times where this song has convinced me to not be a casanova.

This album was so entrancing to me at the time. In my sophomore year, an English assignment was to write a story using inspiration from a song of your choosing. It didn’t take very long for me to settle on “Across The Sea,” which is already a sad story. I spent hours writing an eight page story. I added some fictional dialogue and scenes, but like any director of a novel-based film (or just most), I kept the main story intact and untouched. I received an A+ on it, and to this day I’m still so proud of it. I only recently found it, and I was over the moon.

It was the most raw and honest piece of music I’ve ever given my time of the day to. Eventually, those days turned to weeks, into months, and still, years later, whenever I’m in the mood for something somber and moody, I’ll put on that album. Thanks Rivers.

Jeremy Nifras

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The first time I ever heard Pinkerton was last year.

Okay, put your pitchforks away; Weezer for the most part has escaped me for most of my life up to this point. For many years, I only knew them as the “Beverly Hills” band, and only took them as such. Eventually, I got to hear the standard singles such as “Say It Ain’t So” and liked them; I tried my hand at Blue album when I was around 11 years old, but thought it was just too loud for my tastes. And at that time I thought my experience with Weezer was a closed book.

But then, several years later, I came across my fellow music writer friend Andrew, a guy I have a huge amount of respect for. He’s a Weezer fanatic, and his constant ramblings over them convinced me to give them another shot. I tried Blue again, and boy, did I flip. It was truly an extraordinary record, the one you instantly knew would stick with you. Mentally, I was kicking my 11-year old self, thinking: how the HELL did you not think this was the most insane album ever made?

But shortly after, I decided to try out a record I’ve only heard in passing, their second, apparently “darker” record (from what I have heard). My first thought, to quote Rolling Stone writer Greil Marcus: “what is this shit?” It sounded dirty and disgusting, and the lyrics were entirely in your face. I shut it off and barely got to the third song. I knew there had to be a reason many people loved this thing so much, but what was it? Later that week, I was packing for a trip to Chicago, and decided to add Pinkerton to my plane ride playlist. As I got on the plane and hit “play” again, something happened.

I slowly, but surely began to come around to this album. Something clicked in my brain and told me that this record was something different; not in a way that Blue was, but in an entirely fascinating, yet confusing way. The way Rivers Cuomo wailed on each song enthralled me; you can actually feel the emotions he felt through his vocals. The drums were punchy as hell, and the overall performances were just plain raw. I played it from start to finish, and I never looked back.

Pinkerton may not be my favorite album ever, nor is it my favorite Weezer record, but it has something that no other record I’ve ever listened to quite has: and I can’t quite put my finger on it. Many imitators have come and gone, but there’s no real album just like Pinkerton except well, Pinkerton. I may have not been alive for 20 years to truly grow up with this album, but in that short two-hour plane flight, I feel like I’ve known it my entire life.

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