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Hash Pipe

Even to the most fervent Weezer diehards, “Hash Pipe” must have come as a big surprise. Hitting airwaves in April of 2001 as the first single from The Green Album, which dropped the following month, it was the first officially released Weezer song in five years — and it was a clear departure. To hear that thick-skulled arena rock riff surging out of the emotional void left by “Butterfly” in 1996 must have been a shock.

The song shot to #2 on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart (back when that still meant anything), and was the first time Weezer found itself building an entirely new fanbase almost from scratch. Teenagers across the country fell in love with “Buddy Holly” back in 1994, and now, seven years later, their little siblings were being introduced to the band in their own way. In retrospect, going with a second self-titled album now actually makes sense. The Green Album was a rebirth, a fresh slate.

Meanwhile, those teenagers who slowdanced to “Say It Ain’t So” and cut their braces to “Why Bother?” had grown up, and many were stunned by Weezer’s change in sound. In a rather personal and candid review for Pitchfork (before they were quite as big as they are today), Spencer Owen wrote:

It was on the radio one day a few weeks ago. I listened to it. I listened to the whole song, from beginning to end. And when it ended, I said no. I said no no no no no. No! Weezer! NO!! Where has Rivers Cuomo gone? What has he done? What has happened to Weezer?! WHERE ARE THE REAL WEEZER?!! My heart was broken. Really. This is going to sound like hyperbole, but I hated music at that moment. For just a moment, I lost faith completely.

While Owen’s reaction was extreme, many had a hard time accepting the new direction, and the great weeding out of Weezer’s original fanbase began (and has continued with every album released since). Folks who had grown up to and weened themselves on Cuomo’s ’90s material had a hard time coping with his apparent “sellout,” and many left; others developed a sort of Stockholm syndrome that keeps them coming back to the band despite a general trend of disappointment; and others still have accepted and embraced Weezer’s work in the new millennium.

While I still think it’s obvious to anyone with good taste that Weezer began with an incredible debut in ’94 and peaked creatively with one of the greatest albums of all time in ’96, I can appreciate certain parts of the later canon for what they are. In truth, “Hash Pipe” is a great song: it is not “Across the Sea” or “Falling For You,” but it makes no attempt to be. It deserves credit for getting what is essentially a heavy metal song (about a transvestite hooker! with falsettos!), however sanitized, on the charts in 2001. It is the only song on Green that actually sounds like “early Beatles meets Helmet,” as guitarist Brian Bell described the album’s rehearsal sessions on Weezer’s official site. I also love the music video, which defines 2001-era Weezer at its most flattering: stylish and hard-rocking, sneering and funny. Guitarist Brian Bell and (new) bassist Mikey Welsh were especially fun to watch at the time, and their kinetic chemistry is well captured here.

Regarding alternate versions, there’s the matter of the radio edit that censors the “hash,” the MTV version which hilariously lists the song title as “Half Pipe” (vocals unaltered, as far as I know – perhaps an idea Cuomo got, or Geffen Records kept, from labelmates Nirvana’s “Waif Me”), and the re-edit of the song that the band made after the fact, which truncates the end of the chorus and shaves about 10 seconds off the song’s runtime. Those ten seconds are important, and their radio playlist-fearing omission is one of the silliest concessions Weezer’s ever made to pop attention spans: it pretty much ruins the song’s momentum.

Oh, and then there are the versions we have of “Hash Pipe” from when it surfaced as a part of the unofficial extension of the “Summer Songs 2000,” which is basically the same, albeit there being some more interesting (and harder) guitar leads on the chorus, a few more engaging drum fills throughout, plus the occasional tweak of the lyric from “kick me” to “kiss me.” For some reason I’ve always been attracted to the “kick me” line (it’s a song about a passive aggressive ego, after all), and prefer how it repeats on the album version.

19 Comments

  1. Soyrev wrote:

    Really unfortunate that neither ever surfaced…Alternate/early versions of those songs would be cool, especially since two of them are unheard in any form.

    Tuesday, November 17, 2009 at 6:43 pm | Permalink
  2. Burgess wrote:

    I wonder if the first demo CD was just the same SS2k demos Rivers gave us. I bet they were.

    And, I take back the chronology I assumed earlier. It looks like the SS2k songs were well out of contention by the time the label expressed disappointment with the album as it was taking shape. Rivers or the band must have just gotten excited about the new songs or gotten tired of the SS2k songs on their own!

    Wednesday, November 18, 2009 at 7:29 am | Permalink
  3. ThomYorke wrote:

    I don’t think the available data shows enough to prove that SS2K songs were “out of contention” by then. New riffs and songs don’t mean they’ve moved on.

    If anything, the songs being performed live are a far better indicator of what direction the band is moving for an album. From Blue to Rad, the new songs the band plays live have had a proven track record of ending up on records (even as early as Getchoo).

    The band was still regularly playing SS2k material at shows all the way to Green’s release. That evidence is far more convincing to me than Rivers having made new material.

    Wednesday, November 18, 2009 at 7:51 am | Permalink
  4. Burgess wrote:

    Read the archives of Karl’s Corner from summer 2000 through December 2000. He semi-regularly posted lists of the songs in contention for the album. Cross reference it with the COR. You’ll see that after the Summer tour ended, the band rehearsed a crapload of songs, including a bunch of new ones. Then a list of songs in contention was posted which included all the SS2k stuff and all the new stuff. After more paring down, another list was posted in which all the SS2k songs were gone except “Hash Pipe.” This was all before Ocasek was officially on board, before recording began, and before the label expressed any disappointment.

    Wednesday, November 18, 2009 at 8:34 am | Permalink
  5. Soyrev wrote:

    But wasn’t there a time when the band gave Geffen a demo/taste of what was going on before that (even just in demos), and the label said no? I thought this was something that happened several times.

    Wednesday, November 18, 2009 at 11:51 am | Permalink
  6. Burgess wrote:

    The sequence of events, as I can tell from Karl’s Corner entries, goes like this:

    – Band gets together and starts rehearsing.

    – Band plays shows over summer, routinely playing 4 or 5 SS2k songs in every set. Everyone assumes these will make up the next album.

    – Mid-tour, band assembles a demo CD with 4 SS2K songs (Slob, Hashpipe, etc). Sends this to label/potential producers? They are turned down by Butch Vig and Brendan O’Brien.

    – Post-tour, the band plans on going into the studio soon, but hasn’t found a producer yet. Rivers has written a ton of new songs, nearly one per day, and the band starts learning these.

    – Label tells Weezer they can’t start recording until they get a producer. They record a new demo CD of SS2K stuff (Sugar Booger, Don’t Let Go, etc).

    – Around this time, Karl is also posting lists of songs in the running for the album. The first, earlier list, includes all SS2k songs + new stuff. Later lists have cut all SS2k songs but Hash Pipe.

    – Ric Ocasek is hired shortly after second demo CD is mentioned by Karl. By the time he’s there, Weezer has already dropped all SS2k songs but Hash Pipe.

    – Band finally starts recording in December. Label visits and is unhappy with the songs. The potential song list is reworked somewhat.

    Wednesday, November 18, 2009 at 1:20 pm | Permalink
  7. ThomYorke wrote:

    That’s a great account of history, but there are still enough gaps there that we can’t say unequivocally that the label didn’t hear something sooner. Plus, who is to say some of the label folks weren’t attending concerts at that time too?

    I’m not trying to be a pain in the ass, Burgess. I just think it’s fair to say we still don’t know for certain at what point the label was exposed to the SS2k material via demos/live sets, or if they had expressed an opinion at any point in between what you’ve catalogued.

    Wednesday, November 18, 2009 at 2:49 pm | Permalink
  8. Burgess wrote:

    I know, I’m not saying it’s complete. It’s just what we know from their website at the time.

    It seems to me like the label liked the SS2K stuff better, seeing as they heard those demos, approved an album, and then expressed disappointment at the new material.

    Wednesday, November 18, 2009 at 3:33 pm | Permalink
  9. ThomYorke wrote:

    If your theory is correct, it would completely blow my mind and alter the understood course of Weezer history.

    Whoa. Heavy.

    Wednesday, November 18, 2009 at 4:19 pm | Permalink
  10. catfamine wrote:

    A couple of thoughts, if I may…

    1. I remember reading somewhere that Cuomo had knicked the Hash Pipe riff from some rockabilly musician he knew. At the time, someone had posted a link to the band where it came from, and sure enough, they’re identical. There weren’t any other similarities between the songs, so Hash Pipe isn’t a knockoff by any means, but it was still a great demonstration of Cuomo’s ability to pick out a great hook and expand on it. Anyone else recall this?

    2. Hadn’t yet seen any mention of the lyrical reference to the Beatles when Cuomo borrows the line: “I can’t help my feelings/I go out of my mind.” John Lennon sings the same words in the third verse of the song “You Can’t Do That”, a rocker from A Hard Day’s Night. You can take that for what it is, but part of me has always thought that it was one of clues surrounding Cuomo’s departure from his former songwriting philosophy.

    Cuomo has always studied other forms of music, but during Blue and Pinkerton, one got the sense that Cuomo himself was still shining through his influences, be they The Pixies or Puccini. We were getting his distinct perspective. Then, Pinkerton bombed, and we all know how the story turned out. I think the choice for this particular Beatles lyrics is important because it indicates the era of their career he was studying. Help! and A Hard Day’s Night both feature songs with economic strophic structures (something we know Cuomo was into while writing TGA), tunes that rely heavily on melody and aesthetic charm for there success, and a lyrical style heavy on mixing innocent pop tropes with subtle angsty undertones.

    Tell me this isn’t the formula for The Green Album.

    Now, this may be the millionth time this has been rehashed, but a similar shift occurred in Billy Joe Armstrong from Green Day. The album Dookie was born from a young person who happened to be good at writing songs that earnestly reflected his feelings, and because he was offering his very direct, genuine perspective in these songs, the young listeners of the time recognized these feelings as there own and they latched on in a big way. Green Day, like Weezer of old, tapped into the zeitgeist.

    Trying to shake off the pejorative pop label, Green Day released the much darker (superficially so) Insomniac, and was considered a failure in comparison to their previous release. Armstrong regrouped, studied his influences and incorporated them into his next release: Nimrod. What makes it relevant to this discussion is that it also reflects the point at which the Young Person Who Happened To Write Songs became a Songwriter, someone who is soley interested in the construction and theory of songs, regardless of their personal significance.

    Tell me this isn’t exactly what happened to Cuomo after Pinkerton.

    In each case, the artist was confronted by failure, the consequence being that they shielded their own egos by removing themselves from their material so that when critics judged it, they were judging the song and not the artist. These commercial failures also placed Cuomo and Armstrong also at a professional crossroads, realizing they may not be able to rely on there own artistic whims to sustain there career in the music industry. Both Cuomo and Armstrong made the decision to view their positions in their respective bands as professional obligations, a far cry from what I assume there original intentions were: to write and record good music with their friends.

    With this, Cuomo transformed from a young person with a gift he was exploring into a songwriter for a band employed by a record label, from a youth into an adult. Armstrong expressed this transformation with Nimrod, using the Beatles as huge support pillar for his new creative template, and Cuomo studied Green Day as well as the Beatles when making The Green Album. The resulting reflexivity of all this is staggering…

    So, yeah. Cuomo quotes Lennon in Hash Pipe.

    Wednesday, November 18, 2009 at 6:22 pm | Permalink
  11. Soyrev wrote:

    On point 1, I believe the guy’s name is Kevin Stevenson and his band was The Shods…Song title was something like “Shoot Him Dead” or something. Kevin was in the RCB/Homie band and was understandably not thrilled when he heard “Hash Pipe”…

    On point 2 about Cuomo quoting Lennon, see comments 24 and 25. 😉

    But the tangents and digressions you make for their are awesome, and one of the best comments ever posted on this board. I’ll probably cite some of it in my eventual Green Album summary post. Thanks so much for your great insight! 😀

    Wednesday, November 18, 2009 at 6:39 pm | Permalink
  12. catfamine wrote:

    Many apologies for my lazy skimming of the comments section before posting the stuff about the riff and Lennon, a mistake I shant make again!

    Wednesday, November 18, 2009 at 7:41 pm | Permalink
  13. Art Vandelay wrote:

    The Shods song was “Shot Himself Up”.

    Thursday, November 19, 2009 at 1:13 pm | Permalink
  14. danup wrote:

    I’ve been listening to this song a lot lately, and I have to say that it’s strange that one of the weirdest songs in the Weezer canon was the lead single on an album derided for its sameness—really, the song that established and illustrated the new Weezer in the public eye.

    Chugging, hard rock riff, falsetto verses, opening lyric that begins with a nicked Beatles line and rhymes it with a transvestite’s ass, hook that has to be censored on MTV. Right out of the pop playbook.

    This kind of bizarre, almost-but-not-quite-self-defeating antagonism says as much about Rivers circa TGA as any of his notebooks filled with song structures, especially how uncomfortable he seemed to be with it after it was all in motion. (I love that Top of the Pops performance someone posted on ATW a few months ago— http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bLI3QoU-xgw . Whenever Rivers makes eye contact with the camera he looks like a caged animal.)

    Monday, September 12, 2011 at 1:39 am | Permalink
  15. Yim_yecker wrote:

    I’m seeing quality videos from this era and developing a new appreciation for it. Mikey now being on Twitter and Facebook is exciting as hell. What a cool dude.

    Hey Soy how about a new song writeup?

    Sunday, October 2, 2011 at 10:08 am | Permalink
  16. Yim_yecker wrote:

    no. :/ – RIP Mikey
    This is unbelievable.

    Saturday, October 8, 2011 at 9:21 pm | Permalink
  17. AF wrote:

    RIP Mikey indeed.

    Sunday, October 9, 2011 at 12:10 am | Permalink
  18. Soyrev wrote:

    Yes, he will be sorely missed…In a lot of ways, he was my favorite member of Weezer, and I always think that he brought the Green era exactly what it needed to keep everyone involved from going insane — a sense of humor. I’ve always thought he was a much, much better bassist than most fans care to realize.

    Monday, October 10, 2011 at 3:59 am | Permalink
  19. Chris wrote:

    Having just listened to the self-titled, can I say this reminds me of Blur’s “Song 2”, or is that silly?

    Monday, December 5, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

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