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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.