Mikey Welsh Is Dead: How Weezer's Green Album Changed My Life
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Editor's Note: Former Weezer bassist Mikey Welsh was found dead in a Chicago hotel room on October 8, 2011. The cause of death is unknown, but it is suspected that drugs were involved. The Green Album was the only Weezer full-length he appeared on. Our condolences.
As a music journalist, I think there's an expectation to list something like The Clash's London Calling or the Pixies' Surfer Rosa as the album that sparked my musical awakening. But the reality is that I was a shy, weird only child with a dad who stopped listening to any music made after 1974 that wasn't Bruce Springsteen. My tough Hungarian-immigrant mother, meanwhile, couldn't be bothered with such frivolities.
And so my musical education was a clumsy, self-guided process that took a turn ten years ago at Wherehouse Music on La Cienega when I was 13. My CD wallet already boasted gems like No Strings Attached and Third Eye Blind, and, having just snagged Destiny's Child's Writing On The Wall, I still had some dog-walking money left over. That's when I looked up to see a neon-green poster with some cute, geeky guys on it. Weezer. I'd seen the video for their "comeback" single "Hash Pipe" on MTV, but otherwise knew nothing about them.
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Call it a gut feeling (or maybe it was just subliminal marketing), but something told me that this band was the answer. And so I grabbed a copy of their self-titled third album -- not to be confused with their first self-titled album, which came out in 1994 and which is blue -- and made my way to the register.
Buying both Destiny's Child and Weezer that day was a kind of metaphor for the crossroads most of us stand at as teens: fitting in vs. feeling like ourselves. While Beyonce and co. satisfied my desire for dancey pop that facilitated crushes and girly bonding time at sleepovers, it's not an exaggeration to say Weezer freed my misfit soul--and there was no turning back. With no frame of reference for indie/alternative music, the Green Album was my perfect gateway drug into the world of rock n' roll: crunchy, catchy and driving, but decidedly uncomplicated.
From the oo-wee-oo handclaps of "Photograph" to the power chord toughness of "Hash Pipe," I was immediately and obsessively in love. Forget the album's bland and sometimes nonsensical choruses; at that age I couldn't relate to lyrics with any real meaning anyway. It was the straightforward emotion of the record's melodies that moved me.
I eventually moved on to Weezer's earlier, more complex (and acceptable) albums, Blue and Pinkerton, which, unsurprisingly, also blew my mind. Those in turn led to the Pixies, which led me to punk, which led me to the blues, and so on, and my record collection and I lived happily ever after.
Today I can see why many wept with disappointment at the long-awaited Green Album. It's innocuous at best and irritating at worst, especially when you consider that frontman Rivers Cuomo went from writing gut-punch confessionals like "Tired of Sex" to "Island in the Sun," which was featured in an Olsen Twins tween adventure flick.
But I'll still rock out to "Photograph" any day of the week, and I maintain that the Green Album is more than castrated indie rock (or in my case, rock n' roll training wheels). Sure, it's emotionally sterile, but so was Cuomo at the time, still reeling from having aired his emotional dirty laundry on Pinkerton, which was ripped apart by critics back in '96 -- and which they've since changed their minds about. Some lamented the 1997 departure of bassist/90s indie posterboy Matt Sharp as a blow to Weezer's sound, but Mikey Welsh brought a weightier, punk-tinged edge that provided a crucial balance to Cuomo's artificial sweetener.
With that in mind, Green makes for a pretty interesting case study in emotional distraction and restraint. Plus, as a pop-rock album it's almost perfect; it was, after all, produced by Ric Ocasek.
To many of my peers and colleagues, the Green Album marks Weezer's descent into the shameless and annoying commercial drek that characterizes most of their albums since (I personally stopped paying attention at "Beverly Hills"). But to me, it's nothing less than a classic that will forever mark my ascent into music fandom.
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