Shortly after midnight on March 6, 2003, Rivers Cuomo logged onto a Weezer fan forum to speak directly with his most dedicated acolytes. It might sound like a shocking move for a rock star and celebrity of his stature, but it was far from the first time he had done such a thing. Indeed, Cuomo had begun direct online correspondence with his fanbase as early as 2001, and continued making appearances on various Weezer boards throughout 2002’s rigorous tours and recording schedules. But, it was the first time he had made such a move in many months, and soon the Rivers Correspondence Board (an unofficial site that got its name after Cuomo’s first appearance) was alight with hurried and excited discussion once more. After all, Cuomo had come to share a song — freshly written and home-recorded just hours before.
The lo-fi, acoustic-and-vocals performance of “Hold Me” fit the song’s spirit quite nicely. Like its recording and performance here, it is a barebones, heart-on-sleeve song that is direct, unadorned and confessional. The simple guitar riff might be warmly familiar to listeners for any number of reasons — it’s the same progression as the (otherwise wildly different) Pinkerton rocker “Why Bother?,” or the fantastic Built To Spill song, “Strange” — and the lyrics are, in their entirety:
I am terrified of all things, frightened of the dark
You are taller than a mountain, deeper than the sea
Take me with you ’cause I’m lonely
I was closer to you back then, I was happier
I am cold…
If viewed as the work of a man who once showed signs of masterful and eloquent lyricism, these could be viewed as an elementary disappointment. But as the first signs of life after 2001’s convey-belt, ad-lib love songs (The Green Album) and 2002’s aggressively nonsensical Maladroit, this kind of emotional straightforwardness might have sounded like something of a revelation — especially when sung so achingly, with such honesty. Not surprisingly, the board regulars responded very favorable, to which Cuomo was typically untrusting. (“i don’t believe those of you that say you like the song…those of you that actually do like the song will hate it in a week.”)
In any case, he spoke of “cobbling a band together” and recording a “rock version” later that day. He would instead re-emerge that night with the offensively bad “I Don’t Want Your Lovin’,” as if to keep people from getting their hopes too high. But, true to his word, he reappeared a few days later with a 100-second clip of an electrified, full-band version of “Hold Me” fresh from the studio. His distribution of this version would mark the final time Cuomo has, insofar as we know, communicated directly with fans by means of a message board.
The so called “electric clip” is quite nice. It begins with the song’s emotional climax: a burning heart guitar solo (that does sound a little improvised and unfinished), followed by Cuomo’s repetition of the song’s emotional core, “Hold me / Take me with you ’cause I’m lonely.” His vocal performance is a little lacking, but gets the idea across well enough; notably, this is the only version of the song to conclude the way it does here, with Cuomo repeating the word “lonely” before it all collapses into a wash of feedback (perhaps the closest thing to Pinkerton that fans had heard since, well, Pinkerton). As Cuomo noted on the board, it’s also interesting because it’s one of the few “Weezer” recordings that is hardly Weezer at all: Cuomo, Scott Shriner on bass, and “3 other dudes” taking care of the rest. Brian Bell was doing his own thing at the time, but Cuomo notes that he’d probably be back soon (“this guitar player was GREAT though”). Pat Wilson’s absence was not mentioned, perhaps still a sore subject since Wilson had a few months prior told Cuomo to get back in touch with what he loves about music before he gets back in touch with his drummer.
On that note, “Hold Me” sounds like an attempt to do just that, although not entirely self-directed or successful. This was one of the first “songwriting experiments” Rick Rubin had given Cuomo (he would go on to produce the subsequent album, Make Believe), and his influence is very apparent. As Cuomo himself noted on the board:
rick hates @#%$. he loves extremely simple, emotionally direct words.
bring it on.
there’s hope for me yet.
thank frickin’ god.
For all that hopefulness, though, Cuomo figured he didn’t quite hit the mark with “Hold Me.” At one moment he decides that it is “definitely gay,” but still “cool.” The next, he takes a more self-deprecating analysis of the song, and an interesting look into his own muse: “well, i know [‘Hold Me’] isn’t great, but it doesn’t totally blow. i need to get more of that romantic longing back in the melody…hopefully i’ll write some more satisfying choruses that will stand on their own. *sigh*”
This quotation is interesting for a couple of reasons. First of all, he identifies the broad, winding melodies of old school Weezer as “romantic longing,” and goes on to state that it “only happens when i’m infatuated with a girl,” and that he can’t see that happening anytime since he is “so totally over girls” by this point — an interesting insight into the beginnings of his Vispassana meditation and celibacy. Secondly, his final appraisal of the song is that it “doesn’t totally blow” but that it needs revision, when it wound up appearing on an album two years later in more or less the exact same lyrical structure and form.
As it is, the album version is pretty similar to the demo Cuomo had improvised a couple years earlier: the progression is the same, albeit sped up a few BPM, and the lyrics remain exactly the same excepting the addition of a couplet to the second verse (“You are fading further from me / Why don’t you come home to me?”). The band makes numerous key revisions and additions, however, including a weeping lead riff that cuts through the explosive chorus (a nice touch that is a bit dulled by the crunched mix), and a little guitar countermelody on the second verse that beautifully gives way to a “ooohhh ooohhh” backing vocal chant that Cuomo would soon cite as one of his favorite moments on any Weezer album. The bridge also gets a serious lift, a grand moment of arena rock glory par excellence — and one that segues into one of the best (harmonic!!) Cuomo guitar solos since the mid-’90s, full of all the “romantic longing” that he wanted so much from the song’s earlier versions. From there, the song roars powerfully to its conclusion, a winsome fade into a sad and lonely whimper. It’s remarkable how much the song has evolved, considering that from a skeletal perspective, all the core elements of the song remain intact.
Without question, this is one of the best start-to-finish songs on Make Believe, and quite arguably the entire post-’90s Weezer canon. It remains compromised in some ways (the stifling mix, the sterile compression), but is executed well enough for the true spirit and quality of the song to shine through nevertheless. Thank frickin’ God.