The first rock and roll album I ever owned--I mean real rock and roll, not the DC Talk my youth pastor gave me--was Weezer's blue album. I had it for about six months, and then in a bout of Christ-inspired excitement, burned it to a crisp in a pentecostal parking lot fire.
But those six months were filled with joy. The idea that I was listening to "secular music" inspired an even stronger feeling of delight as I blasted the tunes in those sweaty, sponge headphones on trips with my parents to visit relatives in Florida.
Seeing the album cover today reminds me still of the pain of being in middle school. I bought the cassette tape at K-Mart in Gainesville when I was 13. My mom was in another aisle, when I snuck into the electronics section and paid for the album myself, scraping together chore money.
Mom was convinced that any music that wasn't Christian could punch my ticket to hell. It was an impressionable age too, so imagine the guilt I felt when I handed over $14 bucks for the tape and stuffed it in my back pocket. Guilt would make further cameos in my life.
When I got home, I went in my bedroom and locked the door. Stuffing the cassette tape into a big, gray boombox with crackling speakers, I turned it low, so it wouldn't echo through the walls.
The album began friendly enough, with upbeat, unassuming guitar picking. "My Name is Jonas" roared to life in seconds. It sucked me into the distorted fuzz and River Cuomo's earnest vocals.
The song felt like some sort of plea...or a confession of hopelessness in tough circumstances. Maybe that was me distraught over not owning a Starter Jacket.
"No One Else" tackled a different kind of middle school problem. Girls. They were everywhere, and they were taller than boys. To complicate matters, the pitch of my voice would change suddenly without warning when I tried to talk to them.
The song detailed the complications of having a girlfriend who's everybody's best friend except his. Been there. Cuomo sings of a significant other who flirts and "laughs at most everything whether it's funny or not." At 13, the idea of a girl "who laughs for no one else" seemed appealing, but then again, so did the idea of having a girlfriend.
The second track ended and segued with sudden drum thumps into "The World has Turned and Left me Here." Hearing it now, the lyrics remind me of a teenage version of The Cure's "Pictures of You," when all that's left are Polaroids. Cuomo speaks of absurdities like talking "for hours to your wallet photograph," but the song's honest tone demands the empathy of its listener.
"Buddy Holly" begins with force. You're knee deep in the music in seconds. This was actually the song that roped me in. It was on my friend, Chris' PC, as a Windows demo when we were kids. That was the first time I heard Weezer, and I made Chris play that video a dozen times in one sitting.
What makes this song sound so good is the contrast of ominous, doomsday guitar riffs in the the verse, and the sudden switch to happy-go-lucky love in the chorus. It makes for a nice night and day juxtaposition.
"Undone-the Sweater Song" sort of creeps to life after the last high-paced melody. I had to turn down the volume on this one sometimes. If overheard by my mom, I knew it would end up in the garbage. All the other tracks I could fake it through, saying, "yeah, it's Christian music." Not this one.
Cuomo drops the GD bomb about a minute in. I was sure the haunting, almost atonal guitar picking was the sound of flaming hell itself. Keep in mind, my church did not subscribe to the "once saved, always saved" school of thought. Read: I was prepared to endure tormented eternity for this music.
If the ambience of the Sweater Song divined thoughts of damnation, the next track echoed redemption times 1,000.
"Surf Wax America" was about the happiest song I'd ever heard. I'd blast this number, and it made me want to go out and get on my skateboard. Ollying over a 2 x 4 in the driveway never felt so good.
The way I remember it, "Say it Ain't so" put Weezer in the pop culture spotlight. If "Buddy Holly" failed to secure their place in pre-emo history, this song screamed for critics' recognition. I sported a Weezer ringer T-shirt proudly.
Perhaps a little too proudly. I recall one 7th grade day as the school year drew to a close, we were sitting in class hours before summer break began. Our teacher had nothing planned, so she turned on MTV (seems weird now, but she really did).
The "Say it Ain't so," music video came on, and I stood up, walking over to the television. A hot girl in class walked up next to me. "What are you doing?" she said.
I pointed to my Weezer T-Shirt. "Look! They're playing my band," I said. She raised her eyebrows and turned around. Fair chance she thought I was retarded. But I was happy for Weezer. Like they were my own invention.
With that lack of social skills, the next song rang truer than ever. "In the Garage" began with a lazy harmonica, but the warm fuzz of distortion sizzled to life as Cuomo touted a laundry list of items in his special room.
"In the garage, I feel safe. No one laughs about my ways." Who didn't prefer the solitude of their private quarters to the painful reality that awaited them outside the door? You had everything you needed in your garage--or bedroom--great music, Nintendo, snacks.
While "Holiday" was one of the least memorable tracks to me on the Blue Album, it's still worth recognizing. It's a song about daydreaming of the perfect getaway "where they speak no word of truth, but we don't understand anyway."
"Only in Dreams" was the kind of song that could only be featured at the very end of an album. Running an 8 minute track anywhere else in the lineup could have disrupted the organic flow of melodies. A song, again, about dreaming of a sunny landscape to escape the present state of affairs.
The album's elemental blue seems the color of a dream itself. At a time when reality felt like about the worst place I could imagine, this musical gem struck a powerful chord in my 13-year-old brain.
Even after burning the cassette tape to a smoldering cinder in the church parking lot, I would go on to buy it again: another tape, which I lost, and a CD, which I still own to this day. Secular music or not, owning it was worth the ticket to hell.