An album they couldn't refuse
Comedian Dallas McLaughlin breaks down the depressing similarities between Weezer and The Godfather
Weezer will always be an enigma to me, a source of both joy and frustration. I could spend days pondering how a band that shone so brightly in the ‘90s could be reduced to making something like The Teal Album. Did they lose the thread? Do they still believe in their art? Or is it all just a paycheck for them?
So when comedian/writer Dallas McLaughlin approached me with an analysis that connects Weezer to the Godfather movies, I was like, “Gimme.”
Dallas also just put out Rough Drafts: Stories To Drink To—a collection of live stories told at So Say We All's VAMP at the Whistle Stop Bar in San Diego. As someone who’s seen Dallas perform some of these stories, I can attest to how great of a storyteller he is, making this album a must-have for anyone who has a heart and a brain. Buy it on Bandcamp and Apple Music.
Without further ado, here’s Dallas on Weezer.
May 15th, 2001 was one of the most important cultural moments of my life.
After years on hiatus and rumors the band may never play again, Weezer was actually about to release their third record, The Green Album.
It may be difficult right now to process that something like this could be important in pop/rock music—let alone a cultural event for white kids in their early 20s—but it was.
In fact, it was huge. There was a time when Weezer was the most important pop/rock band in music. Say it ain’t so.
Back in the early-‘90s, there weren’t a lot of songs on alternative radio that didn’t sound like Soundgarden. That is, until Weezer skyrocketed onto the scene and blew everyone away with the legendary Blue Album in 1994. Then just two years later, in 1996, they followed it up with what would eventually come to be known as one of the great pop/rock albums of the decade, Pinkerton.
I say “eventually” because there really wasn’t a clear way to follow up the absolute gigantic smash that was the Blue Album. It just wasn’t possible to conceive that any sophomore album—no matter how good—would or could live up to smash hits like “Undone (The Sweater Song)” or “Buddy Holly.” However, for a lot of hardcore fans, Pinkerton was actually better than their debut record, and the fact that rock critics who adored Stone Temple Pilots didn’t like it made Pinkerton even more iconic.
Weezer had released back-to-back albums that—at the time—most people did not look at as equal. But as time wore on, fans and critics alike would debate endlessly about which album was better.
For the record, I was (and am) Team Pinkerton. “El Scorcho” alone was such a perfect track, and it seemed like the album as a whole was more raw and personal than their debut. If the Blue Album changed pop rock forever—which it did—then Pinkerton solidified Weezer’s grasp on a nerd-rock genre that made people who liked The Pixies and Pavement feel less alone.
Then out of nowhere, Weezer was gone. The rumor was that lead singer Rivers Cuomo took the critics’ harsh reviews of Pinkerton to heart and shut himself away—first into college, and then into a room which he painted black and covered the windows so no light could get in. Unfortunately, this kind of action only enhanced his persona of “Pop/Rock God.” But the band had split. No one heard much until a few years later, around 2000, when they started to play again (including a bizarre stint on the punk-centric Warped Tour).
I remember most people didn’t think it was really happening. It was a hoax. Then came rumors of a new album. Haha, bullshit! The whole ordeal had to be a scam made up by the record company in order to sell a compilation of unreleased tracks that didn’t make it on the first two records.
Sounds dumb to think this way now, but this was 1999-2000 and the internet was mainly geocities websites and slow-loading porn. You couldn’t find any real information, and there was no way to trust what you did find. It was all speculation and poorly designed backgrounds.
The Green Album was fan fiction. Rivers was living in an all-black room. He was dead. They were all dead. We were dead.
However, on May 14th, 2001 we all lined up outside of Tower Records in Point Loma. It was 10:00 p.m. and the album would be delivered at midnight. At least a hundred people wrapped around the poorly-designed parking lot. The lights inside Tower were on. People were moving boxes. It was actually happening. Someone in line started singing “Undone (The Sweater Song),” followed by more people singing “Say It Ain’t So” and then erupting into a full line rendition of “Buddy Holly.” My group sung along, but rolled our eyes that no one was singing “The Good Life” or “Pink Triangle”.
11:00 p.m. and the posters went up. The Green Album cover was visible for the first time. It was here. There was a new bass player on the cover who looked like someone in the band’s nephew, but it didn’t matter.
12:15 a.m. I held the new Weezer album in my hands. We all jumped in the car and drove around San Diego blasting track after track. We replayed certain songs, read the jacket cover to cover (there wasn’t much there) and smiled that a piece of our youth had returned.
Then the next morning I woke up and put the CD on alone in my room and something hit me: The Green Album was…fine.
The longer I thought about it the whole thing started to remind me of The Godfather III.
In 1972 Francis Ford Coppola released the first installment of his iconic and masterful trilogy, The Godfather.
The Godfather was a unicorn among filmmaking at the time. The cast was full of no-names except Brando, and the film itself was based on a book that had only recently gained some public interest. But, just like the Blue Album, The Godfather skyrocketed to the top of the box office and blew away critics and fans alike. It was raw but grand; it reminded you of Hollywood, but at the same time made you think Hollywood sucked. It was punk, but it wasn’t at all, and it completely changed the game forever.
The Blue Album was also raw and grand. It reminded you of hooky mainstream rock, but at the same time made you think hooky mainstream rock sucked. It was punk, but it wasn’t at all.
The Godfather was the Blue Album.
Coppola was Rivers.
The other members of Weezer were the unknown superstars.
The record label was Marlon Brando.
They both did the impossible. They both broke through and had no business doing so.
And, then they both did it again. The Godfather II was released in 1974, two years after the original, just like Pinkerton.
And, also like Pinkerton, the film was totally different but undeniably the same. It was a Godfather movie, but it took even more risks. It was more raw than the original, it was more dangerous, and felt more personal.
Upon release, The Godfather II received mixed reviews from critics. It wasn’t immediately beloved by fans either. It made less than half of the original film at the domestic box office. Sound familiar? Getchoo.
Despite winning Best Picture, and being the only sequel to ever do it, the odd reception The Godfather II received turned Coppola off from the franchise and sent him spinning in other directions. He would constantly turn down the chance to make another Godfather film, despite another installment being a surefire hit.
Then, out of nowhere, Coppola started to talk about a conclusion to the trilogy. Of course we all later found out it was because of a financial issue with Paramount Pictures, but it was now 16 years after The Godfather II had been released, and no one believed it was actually going to happen.
It was a hoax, a scam made up by Paramount that would probably end up just being a re-release of the first two films with never-before-seen footage.
However, in 1990, The Godfather III opened to huge box office numbers and had fans lining up around the block. Two of the greatest films of all time finally had their last word. Fans and critics alike were beyond excited. It was a new New Testament.
Once opening weekend was over and fans had time to digest what they had seen, they realized that The Godfather III was…fine.
In fact, there are a lot of people who hated and continue to hate The Godfather III. They called it a retread of the original story, completely unoriginal, and this time missing an integral part of the cast for reasons no one (at the time) could understand. Sound familiar?
The Godfather III and The Green Album seemed to both be on their own island in the sun.
Most complaints following The Green Album’s release would echo those of Coppola’s epic ending. It sounded just like the Blue Album, the risks that were taken with Pinkerton had disappeared, and an integral part of the original lineup was missing for reasons no one (to this day) could understand.
So, how did it go so wrong for both of these equally significant pieces of art for guys who like to wear slacks and Chuck Taylor’s and exhaust loved ones with useless facts about music and film?
Oddly enough, it’s pretty simple. Even though the critics and casual fans were initially wrong about the sequels, they were dead right about the third installments: Both The Green Album and Godfather III were attempted course corrections, unoriginal retreads that failed to understand what made the initial entries so compelling. They both lacked the magic of what had come before.
Over time, critics blamed The Godfather III’s failure on things like Sofia Coppola’s weird performance or an extremely flimsy storyline built around Andy Garcia’s character Vincent Corleone. (To no fault of Garcia’s, mind you. DON’T YOU DARE DISPARAGE ANDY GARCIA!). Also, somehow Michael Corleone is now the richest man in the world, although you never find out how, and George Hamilton was brought in to replace an icon. It just didn’t make a whole lot of sense. I mean, they even went back to the town of Corleone and used stills from the first film to drive home weak plot points. It all just seemed too familiar and at the same time not familiar enough.
With The Green Album, Weezer fumbled with seemingly avoidable things like replacing fan favorite Matt Sharp with…Mikey Welsh? There also didn’t seem to be a point to the album other than to churn out hits. The honesty of Pinkerton was gone and replaced with sillier songs like “O Girlfriend” and “Knockdown Dragout”—both of which felt like parodies of the quirkier songs from the Blue Album. In fact, I’m willing to bet you didn’t even remember those songs were ever songs.
We could sit here and deconstruct both film and album moment by moment—and trust me, I will if you ask me to over a few beers—but I think those smaller things I’ve already listed were highlighted by a simple unavoidable misstep:
Too much time had passed for these endeavors to live up to their hype.
By the time Coppola was forced in to The Godfather III, he hadn’t taken into account that as a filmmaker he had creatively progressed outside of the franchise and so had the moviemaking and the moviegoing world at large. Between Godfather II and III, we saw Raging Bull, and Scarface, and even The Untouchables. Plus, the world had already been living with Goodfellas for three months before The Godfather III was released! That’s huge. Goodfellas alone elevated the gangster movie genre to another level and in many ways culturally felt like the unofficial third Godfather film.
To make matters worse, Goodfellas and The Godfather III were both nominated for Best Picture in 1990, meaning they were constantly being compared to each other—and Goodfellas was the better movie in pretty much every single way. To make matter’s even WORSE WORSE, in 1990 Al Pacino—the titular star of the Godfather Trilogy—wasn’t nominated at all for The Godfather III, he was instead nominated for his role of Alphonse “Big Boy” Caprice in Dick Tracy. Oof.
Similarly, it didn’t help that by the time The Green Album was released in 2001, bands that Weezer had inspired like Jimmy Eat World, The Shins, and The Strokes were all releasing music that was just downright better than The Green Album. The pop/rock they had helped pioneer had progressed past them in a way that was so tangible it made it difficult to consider them equals.
Which is very unfortunate because here’s the crazy thing: The Green Album is actually better than fine. And The Godfather III is a pretty damn good movie. But Coppola and Cuomo had let their masterpieces sit for so long that when they went back to them, they failed to realize everything else around them had changed.
After The Green Album’s commercial success. Weezer created a hit making formula that has completely washed away any originality from their music. They had brief returns to form with Make Believe (which featured Rick Rubin’s magic touch) and one or two hits from forgettable albums since.
Coppola was also never the same, experiencing a small return to glory with Dracula and an indie darling turn with The Rainmaker. Whereas Rivers Cuomo seems hellbent on churning out music just for the sake of making music, Coppola only directed a handful of movies in the past few decades and appears disinterested in the art form in general.
Both trajectories have ultimately been a huge fucking bummer. And both of those trajectories began with a decision to revisit past glory for different reasons, but with similar outcomes.
I often think of Rivers Cuomo standing in a kitchen, wearing a sweater vest, slacks, and checkered Vans, now an elderly man who just shit out another round of weird techno/rock songs, yelling to an empty room, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”
Don’t forget to check out Dallas McLaughlin’s new album Rough Drafts: Stories To Drink To.
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