Today a two-CD deluxe reissue of Weezer‘s 1996 second album, Pinkerton, hit stores. That’s good news: it’s one of the great albums of the 1990s, an alt-rock masterpiece that embeds almost unbearably raw emotion inside singalong tunes that still sound thrilling 14 years later. At the time, however, it was a big flop, with most fans and critics recoiling at its unpolished sound and over-share lyrics. In recent interviews, Cuomo seems proud of the album, but at the time its critical and commercial rejection was a huge blow. EW talked to him when the band’s third album came out in 2001, and the singer essentially disowned Pinkerton as a “hideous record.” “It was such a hugely painful mistake that happened in front of hundreds of thousands of people and continues to happen on a grander and grander scale and just won’t go away,” he told us. “It’s like getting really drunk at a party and spilling your guts in front of everyone and feeling incredibly great and cathartic about it, and then waking up the next morning and realizing what a complete fool you made of yourself.”
In the story, Cuomo also talked about the dark, scary period after Pinkerton when he retreated from the outside world and the band nearly fell apart. Read an excerpt after the jump, or check out the whole story here.
At the time, Cuomo was devastated by the negative response to Pinkerton. “I got very sad,” he told EW in 2001. “I became very unsure of my instincts.” After touring halfheartedly in support of the chart-toppler, Cuomo retreated to Harvard, where he’d enrolled between the Blue Album and Pinkerton. “I didn’t know how people were going to react to me, if they were going to ridicule me or harass me or fawn all over me or whatever,” he said. “But then I was shocked and disappointed to find out that they all ignored me completely. Eventually, I got to the point where I was like, ‘S—, doesn’t anyone want an autograph?’”
For a while, Cuomo led a pretty normal student life, studying music history and poetry and writing papers on topics like “Stravinsky’s attitudes toward Wagner and Romanticism and extreme emotionalism in music.” But two semesters shy of graduation, he dropped out. “I just got excited about doing something else,” he told us. “I’m fickle.”
In 1998, Weezer reconvened in L.A. to start work on their third album. It quickly became clear that Cuomo wasn’t up to it. “This is where the gruesome part of the story begins,” he said, squirming in his chair. The band had rented a pad directly underneath the 405 freeway. “It was right across from a cement mixing plant–just the most lifeless, lame apartment,” said Cuomo. “That’s when things really started to fall apart. I became depressed. I was saying ‘I don’t know what I want to do, I don’t know who I want to be, I just want to be alone.’”
Frustrated by the lack of progress and Cuomo’s dark mood, the rest of the band packed up and left. “At first we were excited, like ‘Okay, we’re gonna play again!’” said drummer Pat Wilson. “But then three hours a day turned into one, and three days a week became one day a week. Rivers definitely withdrew. I just figured, ‘Look, that’s how he wants to be,’ so I let him be that way. What else can you do? I knew he’d figure it out. But finally I was like, ‘I don’t know why I’m here. I’m just gonna cruise.’” Bell and Welsh followed suit.
“Then,” said Cuomo, “I was just there by myself. I painted the walls and ceiling black and covered all my windows so that no light came in. And I rested. By the end of any day, I’d start to have some of the darkest thoughts and fears and feelings.” Rumors quickly circulated that Cuomo was in bad shape. “When I’d hear things that other people were saying, I’d think, ‘Man, maybe I’m never going to get out of this.’”
Concerned friends started calling to check up on him. Cuomo disconnected his phone. Said former Geffen A&R man Todd Sullivan, who signed Weezer in 1993: “I’m not sure how you help someone out of that. You have to let them search through it for a while. It was very dark. But did I think he was suicidal? No. It wasn’t that dark.” Why did he avoid the people who cared about him? “That’s a ‘why’ question,” Cuomo replied, then paused for several long seconds. “I guess ultimately I just didn’t want to talk to anybody.”