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I Was Scared

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.

43 Comments

  1. GuessWho wrote:

    Definitely one of my Alone II favorites. Love that bridge.

    I don’t understand how anyone thought it was a song about Mikey Welsh though – the lyrics are pretty literal. Of course, I’m saying this from the perspective of one who knows the song’s backstory, so perhaps someone listening to the song out of context could interpret it differently.

    Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 5:24 pm | Permalink
  2. s.o.s. wrote:

    Definitely one of my favorite tracks off Alone II. I get a “This is Such a Pity” vibe from it, which isn’t a bad thing at all considering “Pity” is one of the best (if not THE best) off of MB. Give me Alone III containing a good quality Hot Tub home demo and more gems on par with “I Was Scared” and I’ll be one very satisfied Weezer fan.

    Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 5:24 pm | Permalink
  3. s.o.s. wrote:

    Ha…posted comments at the same time with practically the same opening sentence.

    Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 5:25 pm | Permalink
  4. clonus wrote:

    Wasn’t there a Stereogum version of this too? I seem to remember not liking it for some reason, but I’m pretty sure it exists. And that bass is total Blink-182 (but I still like it, this song could have easily fit on Make Believe.)

    Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 5:32 pm | Permalink
  5. GuessWho wrote:

    There is a Stereogum version! It’s not that great, though; the harmonies aren’t as pronounced and the pianist flubs a few parts.

    And the bass definitely has a Pixies edge to it, as well… Debaser immediately springs to mind.

    Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 5:42 pm | Permalink
  6. Madcap wrote:

    I have the Not Alone DVD and the stereogum version is on there, and I love it.

    Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 6:22 pm | Permalink
  7. John wrote:

    Great write-up, soy. You nailed this song’s significance in the post-Pinkerton catalog. I am not a recording history buff, so sorry if this is far-fetched, but: I would love to find out this was recorded by Weezer and wound up on Odds and Ends.

    I think one of the great tragedies of post-Pinkerton Weezer is when Rivers revealed, in comments about “Dreamin’,” that his bandmates encourage him to iron personal stuff out of his songs. I think this line of thinking pushes some worthy material off of albums, and who knows how it alters songs we’ve heard that were altered for this very reason.

    “I Was Scared” is so good that I have to think it’s personal nature was what kept it off a Weezer record. This is a shame.

    Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 6:59 pm | Permalink
  8. Soyrev wrote:

    Yeah, someone post a link to the Stereogum sessions version? I remember it being not too good.

    John: your wish is my command! Apparently, it was recorded in a couple of the 2003 acoustic sessions (a la “I Can Love” and “The Story Of My Life”), a few times electrically on 11/06/03. There was Rivers’ “unaccompanied demo session” at Cello Studios on 12/19/03, as well, which may very well be the version we have — sounds a little too spiffy to just be another home recording job. But in that case, that would mean we have one of the latest versions that exist…there are a couple more appearances of solo Rivers recordings of “I Was Scared” in 2004, but they might just be copies of the earlier version — or perhaps we have one of those.

    Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 7:08 pm | Permalink
  9. GuessWho wrote:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GPgiy47t0OI

    Stereogum~

    Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 7:46 pm | Permalink
  10. John wrote:

    Soy: Thanks for doing the leg work on that. I agree: the recording does sound very good. Could very well be the solo studio session.

    Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 8:19 pm | Permalink
  11. clonus wrote:

    I remember the Alone 2 booklet having some “additional production” or mixing credit for this song and “My Brain is Working Overtime”. So maybe Rivers had it touched up a bit for the official release? He’s clearly fond of this one.

    Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 9:02 pm | Permalink
  12. noobcakesmcgee wrote:

    I really didn’t like this song at first, it sounded almost over-earnest to me. It’s definitely grown on me though and I can definitely get behind replacing Pardon Me with this.

    Nice write-up again, soy, keep pumping ’em out!

    Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 9:13 pm | Permalink
  13. clore wrote:

    This song had to grow on me — I was indifferent at first. I think that fantastic bridge and backing vocals won me over, and it definitely uses the conversational “speaking” very well. Good to see it’s Grand Playlist-worthy.

    I honestly thought I’d read more complaints about this song so far. I was under the impression that this was either hit or miss among the fans. I suppose there are comments to come.

    Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 10:52 pm | Permalink
  14. Soyrev wrote:

    It was a grower for me, too. I always at least “liked” it, but in reviewing it today I realized I have pretty much nothing bad to say about it. Great track! Even Terry Gross likes it!

    Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 10:53 pm | Permalink
  15. clonus wrote:

    Not to harp on this too much but-this is one of the most “personal” songs Rivers has ever written, and it’s *still* universal. Everyone can relate to the emotions in the song, despite not actually having abandoned your brother in a fight.
    (and I think some people didn’t like this at first because of the talk-singing in the verses. It works so well here, though.)

    Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 9:31 am | Permalink
  16. Wentlyman wrote:

    Great song choice, one of my favorites from Alone II. I never knew that this song was rumored to have been about Welsh, but I suppose I could see it, albeit very hazily. Love the introductory bassline, as noted in the write-up, and the honest pained lyrics. The final product that became Make Believe seems to have polarized emotionally to one side (Hold Me) or the other (WAAOD) and this song could have really helped to keep things honest.

    Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 10:30 am | Permalink
  17. Soyrev wrote:

    Not to get too off topic too early, but is anyone else having trouble with ATW?

    Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 2:29 pm | Permalink
  18. noobcakesmcgee wrote:

    yep, redirected to stonr.com

    Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 2:31 pm | Permalink
  19. noobcakesmcgee wrote:

    stond.org, actually, my bad

    Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 2:32 pm | Permalink
  20. ThomYorke wrote:

    Yeah I just pulled that up on my work computer. Not cool. Then again, I supposed I shouldn’t be fucking around on a weezer message board at work either.

    Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 3:12 pm | Permalink
  21. clonus wrote:

    Their twitter account says they were hacked, so…might be a while. Odd choice of site to redirect to, although WAAOD, right?

    Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 3:17 pm | Permalink
  22. waitingandwaiting wrote:

    yeah, what’s the point of hacking and redirecting there. Anyway, i love the falsetto touches in ‘i was scared’ and i think it’s a great vocal effort from Cuomo, even the spoken word part.

    Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 4:17 pm | Permalink
  23. brado8 wrote:

    Love the tune! I imagine ‘Pardon Me'(which I think is a great tune) is more of an apology song for Mikey.

    Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 4:38 pm | Permalink
  24. AF wrote:

    I am so glad you mentioned the “I might get my ass beat, my throat slit (etc)” line. This method of ‘shoe-horning’ a bunch more words into one line than the standard structure should allow has been used to such good effect in the Weezer back-catalogue…

    “This way is a waterslide away from me that takes you further every day”
    “The driver said ‘hey man we go all the way’”
    “Hate you see you lyin’ there in your Superman skivvies”
    “That way there’s no way I will crush your pretty toenails into a thousand pieces”

    … and that’s just Blue!

    I never even knew about the Mikey speculation until I read this – that would have certainly been something. I was reading the Alone II booklet when I heard this song for the first time, so I’ve never been under the impression it was about anything else. My favourite part of Rivers’ story was Leaves’ reaction (basically “Huh, what? Seriously?”) when Rivers showed him the song.

    Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 7:42 pm | Permalink
  25. Soyrev wrote:

    Brado8: True, although that’s very generalized…I guess Rivers had a lot of people to whom he owed apologies.

    “Pardon Me” is okay as it stands, but I definitely take Karl’s word when he says that Rivers’ home demo is lightyears beyond what’s on the finished record. That, in my opinion, is Make Believe‘s biggest failing: they overthought it. Too much production, too much mixing, far too much recording — I think the band had their feelings for earlier versions of these songs mixed up with what they wound up becoming. A small example would be how a lot of the best details in these songs are buried in the mix — like the lead guitar in the chorus of “Hold Me.” What’s the point of wailing on a guitar if you’re gonna make it half as loud as everything else!?

    AF: Awesome insight! Thanks for the great comment. Are there any other great examples of lyrical shoe-horning that anyone can think of?

    And man, as regards ATW being down…I never realized exactly how much of my time I spend on that damn thing. 95% of the time I’m in front of the computer, a window for that message board is open — and it’s not even that good anymore!

    Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 11:49 pm | Permalink
  26. s.o.s. wrote:

    perhaps you could do another write-up until we get A6 back up, soy! 😉

    Friday, January 22, 2010 at 1:22 am | Permalink
  27. noobcakesmcgee wrote:

    This thread pretty much explains what happened w/ the A6 hack: http://www.weezercountry.com/bboard/index.php?topic=463.0

    Pretty funny how A6ers are signing up on the redirect site and pissing off the guy who hacked us.

    Friday, January 22, 2010 at 9:40 am | Permalink
  28. clonus wrote:

    oh man, I thought the hacker just redirected it there as a joke-the fact that it’s his OWN SITE and he thought people would start posting there is hilarious. It’s the hacking equivalent of leaving “Miss Sweeney” off of Red.
    I’m trying to think of more recent (MB-era to now) examples of that lyrical shoe-horning..would the verses of Sweeney count? Otherwise I’m stumped.

    Friday, January 22, 2010 at 10:49 am | Permalink
  29. Soyrev wrote:

    SOS: I might, but the low comment counts on all the latest posts is a little concerning for me. I guess these aren’t exactly “big” songs but the fact that it’s just the same few people commenting over and over (and I love you all for it, but still) makes me wonder if I’m going too fast or if people just stopped reading my site. I have no way of calculating hits so I really don’t ever know what the interest is in this site at any given time.

    Clonus; I don’t know, I think those lyrics fit the meter of “Sweeney” pretty well…It’s a pretty unorthodox technique that conveys something conceptually while also risking sounding musically “wrong,” so it makes sense that the stay-on-the-safe-side Cuomo of the 2000s has only used it once or twice.

    Another example I can think of from the past is “Falling For You” — “I’m ready, let’s do it, baby!” all rushed into one bar.

    Friday, January 22, 2010 at 11:31 am | Permalink
  30. nate wrote:

    I always like this song. One of my favorites off of Alone II. I’m really surprised this didn’t get on any album. It would have been good to get this with the full band with Brian and/or Scott doing the backups and Pat to tighten up the drumming.

    This would have been pretty awesome live too. Especially in a festival setting. I could definitely see a crowd rocking out to the chorus and the ending.

    Also, Soy, curiously, are songs from Raditude in the shuffle yet?

    Friday, January 22, 2010 at 12:11 pm | Permalink
  31. Brownerton wrote:

    This is a solid pop-punk song. Nothing special, but enjoyable, and I have a soft spot for that genre so I’m a fan of this song. Still, a couple of comments.

    1. The version we have could very well be his home version. By 2003 I’d think that he’d have a pretty nice home studio set up, so I’d expect some decent production quality.

    2. I really don’t get the comments about the bassline. It’s a generic chord progression (I-V-VI-IV isn’t anything special), and the bass is literally just playing 8th notes through the progression. It’s exactly what any other pop punk bass player would do for that progression. A cool bassline is something like Getchoo, say. The bass-and-drums-during-the-verse trick is pretty much the first thing a pop-punk band learns to do, so it’s not like he’s breaking new ground here.

    I like this song okay, but it’s sad that the bar has fallen so far for Weezer that we’re commending them for a song that would be an album-only track on a Blink-182 record.

    Friday, January 22, 2010 at 12:50 pm | Permalink
  32. danup wrote:

    Soy: you don’t have a hit counter set up? I know there’s a great wordpress plug-in that keeps track of visits, but there’s also all the older free options—stat tracker, etc.

    As for “I Was Scared”, I enjoy it, but I’ve always been a little put off by Rivers’s vocal delivery in this one; it just makes me think of the worst of “Make Believe”, especially in the bridge.

    Friday, January 22, 2010 at 2:40 pm | Permalink
  33. Soyrev wrote:

    Nate: Yeah, they are, I put them into the mix as soon as the record came out. None have come up to date, though…

    Brownerton: “It’s a generic chord progression (I-V-VI-IV isn’t anything special), and the bass is literally just playing 8th notes through the progression.” Classic Kim Deal right there, homie. As others have said, it sounds very “Debaser.” And yet I hear the blink-182, too (a matter of context, perhaps), so I’d say it’s somewhere between…And you’re being a little hard on the song if you really think it’s like “an album-only track on a blink-182 record.” This song does more interesting stuff than they have in their entire career.

    Friday, January 22, 2010 at 4:31 pm | Permalink
  34. Brownerton wrote:

    Sure it’s classic Kim Deal, but it’s also classic every other person who picks up a bass.

    Friday, January 22, 2010 at 5:26 pm | Permalink
  35. Soyrev wrote:

    Aight.

    Friday, January 22, 2010 at 5:41 pm | Permalink
  36. Art Vandelay wrote:

    I think the concept/topic of the song is a cool and rare instance of real sincerity and specificity, and knowing the story behind the song makes it somewhat interesting… but that chord progression and the way it’s presented just makes me involuntarily associate it with every song written by every talentless garage hack who ass-rapes the I-V-vi-IV into the depths of hell.

    The bridge is a cool moment though, possibly only because of how melodically dull the rest of the tune is.

    Saturday, January 23, 2010 at 1:16 am | Permalink
  37. GuessWho wrote:

    I guess you’d consider My Name Is Jonas shit, then, since it uses the same chord progression? I’ve said it before, but if you can’t stand generic chord progressions, Weezer is not the band for you.

    Saturday, January 23, 2010 at 4:28 am | Permalink
  38. ThomYorke wrote:

    Valid point, Guesswho. Weezer isn’t exactly known for unique chord progressions, but they are pretty damn good at writing a memorable melody over it.

    Saturday, January 23, 2010 at 7:30 am | Permalink
  39. Soyrev wrote:

    Good Weezer is so good that you forget they’re using a standard-ass chord progression. At least that’s how it is for me.

    Saturday, January 23, 2010 at 11:22 am | Permalink
  40. Art Vandelay wrote:

    Guesswho, It’s not the chord progression itself that makes it sound amateurish, it’s the way it’s used. ‘Jonas’ is not an apt comparison, because there’s so much more going on harmonically in the song. ‘I Was Scared’, on the other hand, gets all the way to end of the 2nd chorus before anything interesting happens. If not for that bridge, it would be 3 solid minutes of the same bonehead riff on loop.

    Saturday, January 23, 2010 at 11:55 am | Permalink
  41. GuessWho wrote:

    Until the bridge of Jonas, here is what happens:

    Acoustic guitar line.
    Guitar and bass play the same four notes while the drummer bangs on the crash cymbals.
    Acoustic guitar line.
    Guitar and bass play the same four notes while the drummer bangs on the crash cymbals.
    Guitar and bass play the same four notes while the drummer plays a simple beat.
    Guitar and bass play three out of the previous four notes while the drummer plays a simple beat.
    Repeat.

    Saturday, January 23, 2010 at 1:30 pm | Permalink
  42. David wrote:

    Really like this song. The bridge is excellent and the vocals are pretty strong for a post-pink song.

    Saturday, January 23, 2010 at 4:10 pm | Permalink
  43. Lams wrote:

    i think the stereogum version is very good, i like hearing rivers with a piano accompaniment (well i’m think of brain stew only).

    Thursday, August 12, 2010 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

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