The Blue Album, Redux
Friday night found me standing at the Mercury Lounge, crowded into the blue-lit club with at least a hundred other 30-somethings belting out every word to Weezer’s Blue Album. It wasn’t Weezer performing up on the stage, though the cardigans and black-framed glasses the men on stage were sporting were pretty convincing. It’s not the first time I’ve heard of a band covering one album straight through–in fact, it’s not even the first time I’ve heard of it for the Blue Album in particular. I decided to go because I thought it would be fun, nothing more.
It was fun. But what was most surprising to me was the strangely emotional response I found myself having. The Blue Album was released in 1994. I was in seventh grade, which everyone knows is one of the most painful, angst-ridden, and awkward times in life. I distinctly remember hating “Undone (The Sweater Song)” when I first heard it–I thought it was depressing, monotone, boring. I just didn’t get it. But when you’re 12, there’s a lot you don’t get. It’s a point of pride for me, though, that I came around pretty quickly, and was soon belting out the song with all the other 7th graders who got it. I listened to a lot of music then, mostly alone in my bedroom. The first two albums I bought on CD when I got a new stereo for Christmas that year are albums I still listen to and enjoy (“Nirvana Unplugged in New York” and Pearl Jam’s “Vitalogy”). I had The Blue Album on tape, probably recorded from someone else’s CD because that’s the way I rolled. What I’m saying is, I had a pretty clear idea of what it was I liked in music at a fairly young age. And I cared. A lot.
As I sang along to songs I’d memorized nearly twenty years ago (let’s not talk about it), I couldn’t help but notice how into it the rest of the crowd was. The fact that there was a crowd at all spoke volumes about the part nostalgia plays in our enjoyment of music, like so many other things in life. The Blue Album is certainly the best thing Weezer ever did, but would anyone have predicted in 1994 that bands across the country would be selling out venues just playing mediocre, if mostly convincing, covers of the songs? I doubt it.
I don’t have happy memories of my adolescent years. Far from it. I was completely self-conscious and unsure of myself, causing behavior that can only be called annoying, needy, and ridiculous. I didn’t have any friends, I wasn’t applying myself, and I didn’t have any hobbies, beyond wallowing in my own angst. When I think of how lost I was then, I can’t help but think it’s a miracle I turned out the way I did. All of that said, you wouldn’t think that I would still listen to the same music I listened to then, at the height of my young teen misery, and feel so happy and comforted. The music of the ’90s, for me and many others in my generation, is a kind of homecoming, no matter where you are or where you came from.
I can’t really explain why I got chills when hearing some unknown band play “Say It Ain’t So” and “In the Garage,” but I did. And I probably would have the same reaction if I were to hear a Greenday cover band perform “Dookie.” It sounds silly, but it’s true. The music I listened to as a teenager, for reasons both complicated and simple, will always mean something to me. And I think that’s true for most of the population, no matter what kind of music it was, and no matter what kind of memories the music generates.
I realize these aren’t exactly revelatory thoughts, but I couldn’t help but think about the nature of nostalgia and art over this weekend, trying to process how a fun, hour-long show turned into a kind of conflicted trip down memory lane for me (I had multiple dreams this weekend featuring some not-so-nice people from that time). In my head, all of this was much more eloquent, but I think most of you know all too well what I mean.
Do you still listen to the music you listened to as a teenager? What kind of response do you have to it? Does it bring back a lot of memories, or is it just retro? How old were you when music started to “matter,” when you first started forming your own opinions of what you liked and didn’t like?