El Scorcho

I want to think about Weezer as if they all died in a fiery car wreck in 1999. Let’s start with Pinkerton, partially because it’s so accessible, but also because it was so universally panned at the time that it drove Rivers Cuomo out of music for years. It was a colossal failure. Rolling Stone rated it the 2nd worst album of the year (god only know what got first place…hopefully not Harmacy! [haha like Rolling Stone reviewed Harmacy…]) But wait…this wasn’t a dumbass Techno-freebasing critic who gave them that rating…that was from a Reader’s Poll!Why did this record turn fans off the first time they heard it?

This phenomenon isn’t limited to its time of release, either. This from an amazon review: “So I finally went to the store and bought this album because I always had heard that it’s their best album from all the people on the .com boards. So, I pop in the CD and listen to the first few tracks, and thought to myself, this was a waste of money. So I didn’t listen to it again until the next day and after listening to the entire album a couple of times, it dawned on me: This album is quite possibly the greatest album I have ever heard.”

I remember the first time I heard songs off of Pinkerton. I had only just realized that the Blue album was Punk Rock. At the time, if something wasn’t Punk Rock, then it was probably Indie Rock and good only for pussies in sweaters with thumbholes and little chick backpacks, and possibly chicks who wouldn’t talk to you with the same sweaters/backpacks. I was in the process of dropping out of college and spent most of my time flipping between Nick at Night and MTV in the basement of my dorm at 3 am while smoking USA cigarettes and steadfastly not drinking. I had dismissed Weezer previously because of the Sweater song, though I had a secret crush on “Buddy Holly,” but when one of my less bigoted punk friends played me “Surf-Wax America” I realized that they were more like the Descendents than Pavement. So when I saw that the video for El Scorcho was coming out I was siked.The video features the slackers sitting around a theatre, miming at playing their instruments (often not very convincingly, in the style of In Bloom—sometimes just waving the drumsticks mockingly or pretending to tune instead…) in which lights flash and jumpcuts jump…lots of bright colors on the band and in the set, but all the corners of the theatre are in shadows.

It begins on a close-up of Uncle Sam from the I WANT YOU poster…(ggirls, he’s single!) The song is clearly supposed to be a sweater-song knockoff, but there are some major differences. The music is jaunty, but a little off kilter…the guitar is thin and screechy, with the last note of the riff sometimes spiking up past the right note into a kind of squeal…it sounds like a DJ scratching a turntable almost. The beat is loping along, sort of funky, but in a really silly way, like parody of a parody of a rap song…white guys making fun of white guys trying to rap. The lyrics rhyme– a lot (“the redhead said you shred the cello/ And I’m jello, baby…”). Internal, half-rhyme, but not always…some lines that function wholly rhythmically (“Why you wanna go and do me like that?”) are paired with lines that have zero rhythm and don’t rhyme with anything: “Come down on the street and dance with me!”

The chorus is hooky in that sweater-way, but with so little complexity (1-4-1-5 1-45-1, I think, chord-progression-wise) that the sweet runs to treacle. The facial expressions don’t help…it’s like a pop song in a movie about aliens who pretend to be rock stars in order to take over the earth, but it’s a funny movie, and maybe the aliens just secretly want to get laid by hot earthgirls, but wait—at the end of the movie they really do conquer the earth.

As for the lyrics…The very first line says it all. “Goddamn you half Japanese girls…” I’m not going to get into too much detailed lyric analysis (cuz this is Punk Rock, after all) but right off the bat, he sounds pissed rather than seductive. God damn you. Why Half-Japanese? The short answer should be—it sounds more real that way, it sounds like a real girl…a Harvard chick, where Rivers was going to school… (The long answer involves the background of the song… that it was originally part of a rock opera based on Madame Butterfly—whose main character is Cio-Cio San the geisha— that was supposed to be their second album, called Songs from the Black Hole. OK more on that later…) But nevermind…and nevermind the band Half-Japanese, because what the hell would he mean by that? We get the point of the song easily, it’s not too obscure…there’s this chick who won’t hook up with Rivs, and he’s like, WTF? He’s not truly trying to get her in the sack, in fact, he sounds kinda desperate. It’s possible she may not even know who he is…?The only part that is truly indecipherable is the second verse…

I asked her to go to the Green Day concert

(Why Green Day? They started out as a underground punk bank, made a few identical records on an respected indie label, then sold out cheerfully and made just about the same record on a major and became bazillionaires. Their response to fame was to make Insomniac, their darkest most buzzed-out rock and roll album, with a cover stolen from the Dead Kennedys, and song titles stolen from their idols, Op Ivy. Plus, right as Rivers was writing these lyrics, Green Day was canceling their European tour because of “exhaustion”…the same exhaustion Weezer was feeling about the non-stop insanity of touring/drugs/chicks/critics possibly. Or maybe he hates Green Day and thinks they’re sellouts? Either way.)

You said you’d never heard of them how cool is that?
(Not very cool? Is this the same girl who does drugs and has tattoos in No Other One? Nope, this is the cello-playing good girl…the Harvard genius who’s going be successful, not some groupie…this kind of chick is just as inaccessible to Rivers as she is to me, or her husband. So it is kinda cool, in a non-cool way…maybe because Green Day kinda sucks anyways.)

So I went to your room and read your diary
(Her dorm room? Say It Ain’t So!)

‘Watching Grunge leg drop New Jack through a presstable’
(Say WHAT? Yah Rly…Certainly the first {hopefully only} recorded nostalgic usage of the word grunge. So both these things could be the case:

  • A. Her diary is full of nonsense (Japanese?) and

  • B. There’s something in this line about the state of music in 1996, grunge is dropping [fallin off] new jack swing is over, the presstable is covered in applications for employment…) BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE: Extreme Championship Wrestling’s two most extreme wrestlers: Grunge and New Jack…Damn. So:

  • C. She secretly watches wrestling—how blue collar! She’s attracted to the dark and violent opera of fake blood and broken chairs…

Then my heart stopped: ‘Listening to Cio-Cio San…’ fall in love all over again(The girl is listening to Madame Butterfly, and it makes the big nerd swoon…)

So not only is this new romanticism causing the R-dog to question the life-style of a member of Weezer, it’s causing him to question Weezer-like music. He longs for an aesthetic experience that edifies rather than titillates—something sweeping and epic, like classical music…but it escapes him, like this classy smart broad who is destined to be a doctor or something, who doesn’t want anything to do with this two bit punk. He can’t even get her attention: Hello?

So then the chorus goes bling for a bit, lights flash in the video, the camera spins around the set…suddenly three things happen at once. Just as the chorus ends, there’s this microsecond pause in the music on an upbeat…there’s a medium shot of R. bringing his guitar down sharply with this expression of pure rage, his eyes wide, his mouth open with white teeth exposed…then the lights go out and in the shadows the band thrashes around playing at triple-speed. HOW STUPID IS IT? he sings and the guitars whip through the pop chords and the drums are, hey, those drums are waaay too loud. The bass drum sounds like a wet cardboard box being slapped by a flyswatter and the snare is rattling in the mike like it’s filled with gravel. How many mikes did they use to record this part: 1 & ½? “I gotta sing about it /And make a record of my heart…” he says and then we’re in a breakdown, N/Y/H/C style, the drums bashing out the beat halftime, a gigantic W appears and lights up behind them like a sun, and you have to say o fuk yeah and cock the metal horns with your hand and bang your head appreciatively like Ronnie James would recommend and when he says, “I’m falling for you…” everything slows and stops and the music goes back to normal, another verse, somehow even sillier, and then a happy singalong ending as Rivers and Matt trade overlapping lines… “I’m a lot like yoI’m a lot like yoI’m…” You and I are united, but the line ends unresolved on a third note in the scale, fading out melancholically as the camera spins around striped colorful sweaters.

So, sitting in the basement watching this…I remember being … confused mostly. As in, what the hell was THAT about? Were they being ironic? Was that a joke? Why the thrash-hardcore part? Are they making fun of rock music? Either way, the song certainly doesn’t make me want to dance, or mosh, or buy soda, or screw, or write in my gurnal. It makes me curious…I’ve got to hear the rest of that record!

El Scorcho
El scorcho, Aye Carumba

Goddamn you half Japanese girls
Do it to me every time
Oh, the redhead said you shred the cello
And I’m jello, baby
But you want talk won’t look won’t think of me
I’m the epitome, a public enemy
Why you wanna go and do me like that?
Come down on the street and dance with me

I’m a lot like you so please
Hello I’m here I’m waiting
I think I’d be good for you
And you’d be good for me

I asked you to go to the Green Day concert
You said you’d never heard of them how cool is that?
How cool is that?
So I went to your room and read your diary
‘Watching grunge leg drop new jack through a presstable’
Then my heart stopped: “Listening to Cio-Cio San…”

Fall in love all over again

I’m a lot like you so please
Hello I’m here I’m waiting
I think I’d be good for you
And you’d be good for me

How stupid is it
I can’t talk about it
I gotta sing about it
And make a record of my heart

How stupid is it
Won’t you gimme a minute
Just come up to me
And say hello my heart
How stupid is it for all I know you want me to
Or maybe you just don’t know what to do
And maybe you’re scared to say
I’m falling for you

I wish I could get my head outta the sand
‘Cause I think we’d make a good team
And you would keep my fingernails clean
But that’s just a stupid dream that I won’t realize
‘Cause I can’t even look in your eyes without shakin’
And I ain’t fakin’
I’ll bring home the turkey if you bring home the bacon
I’m a lot like you so please
Hello I’m here I’m waiting
I think I’d be good for you
And you’d be good for me

I’m a lot like you so please
I’m a lot like you so please
I’m a lot like you
I think I’d be good for you
And you’d be good for me

You can download the video on weezer.com.

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5 Responses to “El Scorcho”

  1. The “watching Grunge leg-drop New-Jack through a press-table” actually refers to professional wrestling.

    Nice write-up. I felt the same way about that record the first time I heard it. I was a huge fan of the Blue Album, and I literally gasped at how awful “Tired of Sex” sounded the first time I heard it. Now it’s one of my favorite songs. Go figure.

  2. i think the album is solid gold. have you ever heard the b-sides to the album? they’re all pretty good too in that they have the same sort of sound and mood but i dont think they carry the concept that the album originally was slated to be.

  3. Excellent, but it would be better if in future you can share more about this subject. Keep rocking.

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