When “I Was Scared” first leaked with the rest of Rivers Cuomo’s Alone II home demo volume in 2008, there was a fair amount of speculation revolving around how this song — an apology set to lyrics — might have been written for Mikey Welsh. Welsh was a bassist who, to paraphrase a 2005 Alternative Press Weez feature, joined the band when few would have dared (circa 1998, the “dark ages” of Cuomo’s songwriting and career) and was forcibly ejected in 2001, when Weezer weren’t at all a bad band to be (fresh off the platinum comeback Green Album). The long and the short of it is that Welsh had dwindled deep into an addiction to hard drugs and had lost enough weight to compromise his ability to continue; he checked into a rehab facility in Boston and the band moved on without him. Scott Shriner was named a temporary bassist for the second half of 2001, but the band never offered Welsh his place back and Shriner went on to become the third and final bassist for Weezer. Welsh’s comments on exactly how Cuomo explained his severance rationale to him have been strictly off-record, but the reporter who wrote that same AP cover feature has said it is “more fucked-up and insensitive than [one] could possibly imagine.”
As tends to be the case, the fans’ speculation proved unfounded: Cuomo’s Alone II liner notes specify how, after a Vispassana meditation retreat in 2003, he felt compelled to write a song about an incident in high school wherein he sheepishly allowed his brother Leaves to get beaten up by a gang of bullies. This had apparently caused Cuomo a level of subconscious guilt for some 15-or-so years, which he finally exorcised in writing this buoyant pop tune.
It’s an interesting one: the song’s opening bassline falls somewhere between the Pixies and blink-182, and the first verse is largely spoken word — which, bolstered by the occasional half-buried falsetto embellishment and an upper-register harmonic chord on the electric guitar, actually works. Delivered in a conversational and confessional tone, the lyrics work wonderfully:
Listen to me, I’ve got to clear the air
There’s something I’ve held way down deep inside all these years
You always were a friend
You always trusted me
But now I must admit that I was not trustworthy
“Air” and “years,” “me” and “trustworthy” — actually some neat rhymes there! The chorus does the predictable Weezer power-pop-explosion thing, but is floated by an impassioned delivery on the lead vocals (“I was scared! I was terrified!” — kind of like “First I was afraid, I was petrified,” now that I think about it…) and a nice wall of “ahh-ahh” backing vocal chords. The post-chorus 180 into a miniature 4-bar guitar solo is a nice surprise, too.
The song’s best moment is a surprise even greater, though: after the second chorus, the song scales into an absolutely magnificent bridge, building against the cascading weight of downstroked guitars, lush backing vocal counterpoint, and a lead vocal that not only drips with emotion — “Though I loved you, I was so afraid” — but makes a soaring, spine-tingling reach into a nigh-falsetto melody. The song itself is quite solid, but this brilliant moment — only slightly hampered by Cuomo’s subpar drum skills — is one of the best to come from his pen and heart ever since Geffen declared Pinkerton a lost cause.
The song’s mostly done all it does by then, though the last verse is no slouch: there’s a very cool, dramatically out-of-key guitar chord that comes halfway through, and Cuomo’s awkward, rushed-to-fit-in-the-meter promise that “I might get my ass beat, my throat slit, and my fingers hacked / But I’ll never miss another chance to watch my brother’s back, and I got yours!” is not only adorable but also the kind of heart-on-sleeve honesty and informality that once colored some of his best lyrics. The song rocks and rolls to a triumphant conclusion and we feel that Cuomo is all the better for it.
Why this song didn’t make the cut for Make Believe is hard to say — it is, at least in this form, a far more convincing apology song than the version of “Pardon Me” that we all know, and seems to be very poppy and accessible while also retaining a lot of character and musical complexity. In any case, its placement on Alone II is something to celebrate, and in my opinion, is proof that Vispassana really breathed fresh creative life into Cuomo rather than drained it of him. The only thing it leaves me wanting is an Alone III and an apology song that is, in fact, for Welsh — I think you know he deserves it, Cuolmes.