Twenty years ago today, I was in line at a music store for the midnight release of Weezer’s 2001 release, the Green Album.
That I was there was, at the time, a miracle, because a few years earlier, it looked like Weezer was done for good. But Weezer was the hot thing in music that spring and summer of 2001, and Green catapulted the band to new heights and is responsible for the success they have today.
The thing is, while Green is special to me, as an album, I’d rank it in the lower tier of Weezer albums. In an effort to make the perfect pop album, Rivers Cuomo made his songs a little too perfect. Instrumentally and structurally, they’re all the same. The songs themselves have little room to breathe, with no development in the choruses throughout the songs and solos that just mimic the song’s chorus lines.
Thankfully, Rivers learned from Green and changed not only his habits in composing future songs (2014’s Everything Will Be Alright in the End very much sounds like if Green had been done right), but also the Green songs themselves. By the end of 2001, Weezer was changing up the keys, solos and structures of the Green songs in live shows. As an example, for me, the 2005 AOL Sessions version of Don’t Let Go is the definitive version of the song.
And while we’re talking about 2005 versions of Don’t Let Go, this version from a show in Japan has the band’s best energy ever:
Despite my issues with the production and songs, I’m very glad we have Green. There is a generation of Weezer fans who consider Green their favorite album and I admire that.
Green is also the only Weezer album featuring Mikey Welsh on bass. Mikey joined Weezer in the spring of 1998 and left due to personal issues in the summer of 2001. Mikey passed away ten years ago, but I’ll always remember the fresh vibe he brought to the band. And his Rolling Stone video interview with Pat.
Looking back at that wait in line for the midnight release of Green, I remember having fun with my friends who were there with me. But I also remember this incredible feeling of relief and victory. That my favorite band was putting out another album. That they survived a dark, weird time. And that they were back, rocking just as much as better. I knew great times would be ahead for Weezer. And I was right.
The next 25 are in the books. Or on the Twitter.
Shortly after my last post, I started a new project on Twitter – #RiversDemoFlood. Each day I’ll post at least one ‘review’ of a random song from one of Rivers’ bundles, to give some context to the song and explain why I rated it the way I did.
I started this project on the fly and have some rules:
- I have the rated songs in an Excel file. I use a random number generator to determine which song gets tweeted about.
- If a song is a sketch and I have the time, I’ll do a second entry sometime that day.
- I’m going to try and do all the files. So there will eventually be more than 40 takes on Rules of Life. I hope I have interesting things to say after 20 or so.
- If possible, I’ll include images or videos relating to the song. While there are some of these demos on YouTube, Rivers asked that we not do that when he started bundling them (although he didn’t make that request when he sold the first batch individually), so I’ll link to other, sometimes full-band takes of final songs.
- Sentimentality, nostalgia and potential have no place in the ratings. I’m evaluating each of these files as if they’re their own songs. How would they sound on a mixtape? Or on the radio? How these sound as songs is one thing. What types of songs they could be, that’s another story.
- Above all, I’m trying to have fun with this. Which I am.
The songs so far:
Eighteen years ago, I met Weezer lead singer Rivers Cuomo during a post-show meet and greet. I was on a message board with Rivers and he invited some of us from the board to hang out with him and the band after shows on the 2002 Enlightenment Tour.
Near the end of the meet and greet, a small group of us talked with Rivers for a while. One thing I remember to this day was him saying that he wanted to share all the songs he ever wrote and recorded with all of us. Rivers had already shared a few demos with the board and other fans. And in the years after that, Rivers released three Alone CDs featuring his home demos. Rivers liked interacting with fans (on his terms) and writing/sharing music with them. And while I was a huge fan of all three Alone CDs, I didn’t expect much more.
Last year, Rivers launched (or re-launched) his personal website, RiversCuomo.com. Rivers took a coding class (because that’s what rock stars do) and started the site with a chatroom, adding other functions over the summer.
And then in October, he started putting together the building blocks of his final project- an online store to sell a bunch of old demos. After going back and forth on what to sell and how, Rivers settled on bundles, based on time periods in his life. Buy a bundle and you get access to a dropbox folder. And inside those bundles was a lot of music, but not everything. Music with co-writers or co-performers was out. Rivers set songs and ideas intended for future projects. And some songs/files he just couldn’t find.
Since launching the store right before Thanksgiving, Rivers added three additional bundles, two with co-writers and a greatest hits sampler. And he’s also added a number of files that he’s found. Currently, the bundles include more than 100 hours of files.
I’ll be the first to say that the files are a mixed bag. There are some files that are Rivers with a guitar and handheld recorder. Or Rivers humming/beatboxing ideas for tunes. Or 30-second long sketches for songs. Or songs where you can tell something is there, but the quality is questionable. Or songs with upwards of 40 versions. But there are a bunch of good, quality, full band (or one-man band) songs. And some of these songs are right up there with Weezer’s greatest songs.
There are enough songs to make alternate albums. Or earlier ideas for Weezer albums. Or Weezer albums that we never got. I’ve been listening to these song and I’m not even close to being all the way through.
Having these songs has gotten me back into music. A specific kind of music, granted, but still. And it’s given me ideas of things to write. It might be fun to write something about the evolution of Make Believe. And I would love to update one of my most favorite articles I’ve ever written. But I’m not doing either just yet because there are still more songs out there that might be added.
And there’s something else that’s happened with all of this. Rivers hangs out in the chatroom regularly and has asked for fan help for a few different things, like cataloging these files. Considering how daunting the concept of 100 hours of files is, some of us suggested putting together a Greatest Hits style bundle. Another site visitor (or neighbor) had been working on compiling the best songs from each bundle (at least when they were first released) and I had been working on that with him. But as we were talking about this with Rivers, he was receptive to the idea. I don’t remember exactly what spurred it, but he asked if I wanted to rate the songs on the spreadsheet. Of course I said yes.
A week or two later, Rivers started selling the Greatest Hits bundle, a combination of the other neighbor’s compilation and the songs that I rated at five stars. Gotta admit that was pretty cool.
So I’ve been keeping busy listening to a lot of these songs. On top of everything else I’m up to these days. I had an idea for something Twitter-related I may try, which will get the writing juices flowing.
After all these years, it’s great to have new (old) songs to get into all over again. And that’s not counting the Weezer album out (maybe) later this month. Or the other one coming out later this year. Or any of the other projects Rivers has planned.
When I first heard that E.K. Johnston would be following up last year’s solid Star Wars novel Queen’s Shadow with a prequel, I was very skeptical. But after reading the book, I was happily proven wrong.
Queen’s Shadow (released July 2, 2020 by Disney Lucasfilm Press) expands on the story told in Shadow while at the same time tying Padme and Naboo into the larger Star Wars narrative even better than its predecessor.
Queen’s Shadow took place after The Phantom Menace, telling the story of Padme’s transition from Queen to Senator and how vital her handmaidens were in every aspect of her life. Queen’s Peril is the story of how Padme transitioned from citizen to Queen, the first days of her working with her handmaidens and how the early days of her reign led right into the events of The Phantom Menace.
At its heart, this is a book about Padme and how she forms a routine and relationships with her handmaidens. While they are a bit hard to tell apart at times, they do have their individual personalities, talents and back stories. Just like in Shadow, Peril gives us a Padme more relatable than her onscreen incarnation. Padme is the idealist who wants to do what she can to make things better. She takes a situation- her security- and inventively changes it through the handmaidens to better suit her. Certain scenes, such as the first time she gathers her new team, or when they decide to buck authority for a simple night out, are very well-written and help make the galaxy far, far away feel more down to earth.
However, the novel is not just about Padme. Nearly every character from the Phantom Menace makes an appearance at one point or another, with many given weighty moments. This book made me want to watch The Phantom Menace again. The moments relate not just to the first Star Wars episode, but provide insight into other events throughout the saga (however, one of Jar Jar’s interests comes off as totally out of left field).
The book is an entertaining, quick read. However, there are some times, particularly with the character asides, where the pacing feels off. There was a concept or two (notably the idea that very few people know of the Queen’s true identity- based on my understanding, the candidates for Queen take a pseudonym when they run for office and don’t give it up) that went over my head. And if you haven’t read other Star Wars books, some references might not make a ton of sense. But none of this detracts from the whole reading experience.
Queen’s Peril is out this week. If you want to explore the state of the Star Wars galaxy right before the movie saga begins, these pages are definitely worth turning.
Don’t you just love it when your interests cross over? Or when different things you follow become analogies for each other?
That’s what happened to me today. I was thinking about the current state of the X-Men comic books and it reminded me immediately of one of the most famous professional wrestling storylines.
Up until a few decades ago, professional wrestling was regional. The country was divided into territories run by promoters who stuck to their established boundaries. Anytime a sanctioned champion would meet another territory’s champion, the match would end in a draw. That all ended in the 80s when the WWF went national, eating up most of the \ territories. The WWF’s only competition was World Championship Wrestling, an Atlanta-based outfit that lacked the WWF’s production values or mainstream recognition.
Growing up, I was a WWF fan. I mostly ignored WCW, even after they signed Hulk Hogan, the biggest name in wrestling (by now Hogan’s act had gone stale and allegations of steroid abuse tarnished his character). But they did capture my attention briefly when two WWF wrestlers, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, signed with WCW. Hall and Nash appeared on WCW TV acting as if they were still employed by the WWF, there to take over their former company’s rival. The storyline was a throwback to the old territory days. You really believed they were there on behalf of the WWF and a lot of their (scripted) promos mentioned things usually left unsaid in the wrestling world. What Hall and Nash were doing was a seismic change in wrestling. And the story just kept getting better.
After a month of trash talking WCW, Hall and Nash challenged three of the company’s top stars to fight them and a mystery partner. The buildup was huge. Going into the match, no one knew who the third man would be. Most people suspected any of WCW’s stars who had previously worked in the WWF. Others suspected that WCW had signed another WWF defector. (Here’s another thing about mystery partners: 99 percent of the time, they’re extremely underwhelming- either a wrestler in a mask or an old wrestler coming out of retirement).
All was revealed near the end of the main event of Bash at the Beach ’96. Hall and Nash wrestled without their partner, holding their own. Then Hulk Hogan, the biggest name in wrestling, the most good of the good guys ever, started his way to the ring. He got in the ring and immediately attacked the WCW crew, aligning himself with Hall and Nash. After the match, Hogan proclaimed the group the New World Order. Their goal was simple: to take over WCW.
Just like that, the biggest storyline in wrestling got bigger. They sold millions of dollars worth of merchandise, and helped put WCW over WWF for the first time in many fans eyes. The turn of Hogan was huge. The idea of Hall and Nash invading WCW was huge. American wrestling fans hadn’t seen anything like it ever.
So what’s all this got to do with the X-Men?
For the past ten years or so, the X-Men, once Marvel Comics’ star franchise, has been stuck in a cycle of circumspection and languor. While there have been some very creative people working hard crafting entertaining stories, overall, the X-family has been on Marvel’s back burner, jobbing out to other groups, namely the Avengers and the Inhumans, for the benefit of those superhero teams.
Earlier this year, Marvel announced an ambitious plan for the future of the X-Men. Writer Jonathan Hickman would take the reins of the team, cancelling a number of X-books to refocus the line. The first part of Hickman’s multi-year plan involved a 12-week period involving two alternating titles, House of X and Powers of X, which would give the X-Men a new direction while making users take a different look at the team’s past.
We’re in the sixth week of this first period and Hickman’s books are a shakeup comparable to Hall and Nash first showing up on WCW television. They tread new ground for the team- adding a new twist to the team’s past while at the same time adding a mystery to their present and allowing readers to see possible futures. There are plot devices whose full impact have not yet been revealed and many questions. Thankfully, there are some visual aids in the books spelling out some of the details of Hickman’s new world.
Before the launch of the books, Marvel promoted the hell out of the Hickman’s run, going so far as to make the seemingly hyperbolic claim in the ad below- that the depicted scene was the most important in the history of the X-Men.
But the thing is, after week three, many fans were on board with Marvel’s claims. And it all goes back to the other part of the NWO formula- the mystery partner.
In the X-Men’s case, it was Moira MacTaggert. Moira was a human character introduced in the 1970s. While she played a role in a few major storylines, she was never an integral part of the X-Men. She was just there. Kind of like Hulk Hogan in WCW before the NWO.
But Hickman changed all that. House of X issue 2 explained that Moira (or Moira X) was a mutant after all, with the gifts of her mutation being undetectable and reincarnation with full memory of her past lives. Once she realized she was a mutant, Moira used her lives to attempt to cure mutations, fight alongside Xavier, fight alongside Magneto, fight alongside Apocalypse, assassinate humans responsible for the extermination of mutants and other pursuits. Even though readers don’t know the specifics of Moira’s first nine lives, we learn each time, no matter what Moira did, human-created machines were responsible for wiping out mutantkind. It was Moira’s mission to stop this.
So finally, in life ten (or life X), Moira decides to do what she did in the panels making up the most important scene in the history of the X-Men. She opens her mind fully to Charles Xavier, showing him each and every one of those previous lives. The small triumphs and the larger tragedies. And then the readers realize what this series is about- the history of the X-Men we know has been part of Moira and Charles’ plan so that mutants can thrive.
Hickman’s issues (so far) have drawn near-universal acclaim. The X-Men feel like the hot thing in comics once again. Fans are looking forward to these books every week, along with whatever comes next.
But the future is wide open. While Hogan, Hall and Nash had the wrestling world in the palms of their hands in the summer of 1996, their success was not long-running. They were popular for a few years, but their egos (and the NWO’s own popularity) led to the watering-down of the NWO and the complete collapse of World Championship Wrestling within five years.
It’s highly unlikely that Hickman’s storylines will doom the X-Men in a similar fashion. But for all the wonders of timeline manipulation and intrigue surrounding Moira X, the series has veered slightly from the X-Men’s central concept: protecting a world that fears and hates them. Hickman is a capable enough storyteller to be building back to that. With any luck that will happen and this new X-Men phase will be longer lasting than the New World Order.