In Book 10 of his of Confessions, Augustine defines sin as encompassing what the Apostle John calls “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16). Bravely, Augustine admits that he too is guilty of these “lusts,” as his “curiosity is still daily tempted, and who can keep the tally on how often I succumb”; “I relapse into these common things, and am sucked in by my old customs and am held.” Augustine confesses these things to address our inability to resist temptation apart from God, guiding us towards repentance of sins when we do succumb and a desire to live differently through Christ.
No matter how the Spirit convicts us, through an opera or through those who surround us, Weezer shows us the importance and goodness of confession, repentance, and restitution.In that same gutsy spirit of admission of sins, our shortcomings with temptation, and a longing for a different life is Weezer’s confessional classic, Pinkerton. The album is a near-chronological narrative taking listeners through Rivers Cuomo’s experiences of loneliness, self-doubt, regrets, and struggles with sin while attending Harvard. The goal, though, is not simply to confess sins but to seek reconciliation honestly through repentance and restitution.
What led to Cuomo’s recognition of his need to confess was his interaction in a music class at Harvard with Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. Madama Butterfly is an opera about an American sailor, B. F. Pinkerton, who falls in love with, marries, and impregnates a Japanese woman, Butterfly, while temporarily stationed in Japan, only to abandon her. Cuomo saw in this character a reflection of himself:
I started becoming infatuated with that kind of girl that’s singing in that opera I just saw how the events of my life were unfolding and how they paralleled some of what was happening in that opera. I was like this Pinkerton character. He’s this American sailor that tours around the world and stops in a port in some exotic foreign country… and tries to find a temporary girlfriend and then gets back on his ship and heads to the next town, and it just occurred to me, like, “Wow, isn’t that the rockstar dream right there?”
Being confronted with his sin through an early twentieth-century Italian opera, Cuomo’s response was to abandon the space rock opera he had planned for Weezer’s second release and instead tell the story of his struggles with his “inner Pinkerton.” Prior to seeing the opera, there were seeds of disillusionment with the rock star lifestyle, as seen in his admission application essay for Harvard:
You will get lonely. You will meet two-hundred people every night, but each conversation will generally last approximately thirty seconds, and consist of you trying to convince that no, you do not want their underwear. Then you will be alone again, in your motel room.
Therefore, Madama Butterfly contextualized, through narrative, for Cuomo the struggle already bubbling beneath the surface.
The screeching and chaotic “Tired of Sex” is where Cuomo begins his confession, out of exhaustion and loss of identity, with a laundry list of women he’s had sexual encounters with—not as a celebration of his sexual conquests (like Barney from How I Met Your Mother) but as something he is ashamed of. He confesses, in Augustinian fashion, “I’m sorry, here I go / I know I’m a sinner / But I can’t say no”.
In the ever-escalating “Getchoo,” he at first places the blame on others for his sin only to turn the tables rightly on himself: “I can’t believe / What you’ve done to me / What I did do them.” Overwhelmed by the weight of his sin, his agonized vocalizations of “uh huh” set atop a wobbly bass sound like a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Frustrated and alone, he takes full ownership of his sin in “The Good Life” to a danceable funky bass coupled with gritty guitars
As everything I need
Is denied me
And everything I want
Is taken away from me
But who do I got to blame?
Nobody but me.
In Cuomo’s most vulnerable moment, he addresses an archetype of the women he has sinned against. Armed with only his acoustic guitar in “Butterfly” (the character from the Puccini opera), he pines and asks for forgiveness: “I’m sorry for what I did / I did what my body told me to / I didn’t mean to do you harm.” Like Augustine, Cuomo has daily succumbed to his temptations and ends the album tied with a bow of repentance: “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
In a way, he makes restitution for the sins he committed against his countless Butterflies with “Across the Sea.” Pensive shakuhachi merged with fragile twinkling piano is interrupted by a reckless guitar as Cuomo pours over the details of the warmhearted letter he received from an eighteen-year-old Japanese female fan. Humbled by the purity of her admiration he sings,
I could never touch you
I think it would be wrong
I’ve got your letter
You’ve got my song
These lyrics provide one lucky Weezer fan this gift of song, a simple act to right the wrongs of his past and approach his female fans in a restored sense of their humanity, not as mere sexualized objects.
Since Pinkerton, Weezer has had massive successes, from “Island in the Sun” to the radio-friendly “Beverly Hills,” but their popularity (and songwriting quality) has since waned. So with Weezer’s latest, Everything Will Be Alright in the End, the return to their musical roots acts as a gift for their fans. Weezer hasn’t sounded this good since their sophomore effort, and in a sense, the album continues the overarching themes of Pinkerton: confession, reconciliation, and restitution, specifically through the gift of song. And apologies permeate the album, as Cuomo addresses the only critics he now cares about, Weezer’s “true” fans, not rock critics or those who jumped on the Weezer bandwagon during their Make Believe era.
Self-aware of the band’s precarious state, the pop-punk opener “Ain’t Got Nobody” is honest about their nostalgic rock band status, with a voiceover introducing Weezer as part of the “Where are they now?” category. This leads up to the metal-like guitar riffs and whimsical synthesizer of “Back to the Shack,” which begins their album-long apology tour. “Sorry guys I didn’t know I needed you so much,” he tell his audience and promises them that Weezer will again be “Rockin’ out like it’s ’94” even if they “die in obscurity.”
What follows is a death of the band Weezer has been since the Green album in “Eulogy for a Rock Band,” where another promise is made: “We will sing the melodies that you did long ago.” They miss their fans and are tired of trying to chase after mass appeal, as Cuomo complains in “I’ve Had It up to Here.” Capturing the entire human race with song is not as important as creating good art, because “I tried to give my best to you / But you plugged up your ears.”
In “Foolish Father,” Weezer characterize themselves as a “foolish father” disappointing their fans (“his daughter”); but the band seeks forgiveness for their musical sins. In a moment of synergized joy, the audience and Weezer join forces in a shout chorus exclaiming, “Everything will be alright in the end,” completing the reconciliation between the two.
The epilogue, “The Futurescope Triology,” is a short trot through rock history, from ’50s-style rock-blues and ’70s classic rock to ’80s hair metal and pop-influenced rock of the 2000s; here Cuomo addresses “Anonymous,” the nameless, faceless fans that he wants to thank for their continued support, and frames the entire album as a gift of restitution.
No matter how the Spirit convicts us, through an opera or through those who surround us, Weezer shows us the importance and goodness of confession, repentance, and restitution. The band demonstrates our need to reassess ourselves constantly in light of God’s holiness but, in addition, to put more of our trust on the indwelling Spirit of Christ, working out our salvation with fear and trembling.
We seek to be restored to the one who reconciles the world to himself, and one day we too (like Weezer did with their fans) will join in a new song: “For you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). Everything will indeed be alright in the end, because our Father has done everything for us through the foolishness of the cross, and, unworthy to receive such a gift, I’ll begin with “I’m sorry.” A life-long apology tour for the daily temptations I give in to and for backsliding into my old ways.
God, have mercy on me, a sinner.