If you don’t like it, you can shove it / But you don’t like it, you love it…
The pop world is not flat.
My favourite quote from the movie Ghost World is where Enid, the film’s protagonist, ironically sneers that a performance at her high school prom was “so bad that it went past good and back to bad again.” I’ve repeated this line countless times in the years since, not to mean and condescending as Enid did, but because I genuinely believe its conceit: that when it comes to art – in particular, pop art – quality is a cyclical concept, not a linear concept one.
When a song, for example, reaches the edge of awfulness, it doesn’t fall off never to be heard from again. It rolls down the other side towards genuine awesomeness, a ride made all the more smooth with the sweet grease of irony easing the burn. Unfortunately, it can skid too far and continue onwards: through bad, through good, through bad again, through good again, and so-forth.
(This can also work for a song reaching the edge of awesomeness, but it’s a little more complicated because the consequences of something being “so awesome it’s awful” are quite different. But that’s a subject for another time).
The catch is that everyone’s quality cycle is a different size and shape; everyone has their own tolerance for art of the awesomely awful variety. Which is why some people might consider “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived” as one of the year’s worst songs.
I, clearly, disagree.
Some undoubtedly will hear echos of “Beverly Hills” – the nadir of the band’s woeful post-Matt Sharp material – in the lyrics’ wish fulfillment and immediately tune out. Others who keep listening will come across the absurd Queen-esque falsettos and shut off the track. And I bet a good chunk of everyone else will stop listening when the outlandish spoken-word interlude cuts in, where Rivers riffs on Shakespeare before talking about bodies being “all up on his behind.”
All of this is ridiculous. Some of it is awful. It’s also AWESOME.
I’ll admit, I didn’t quite know what to make of the track at first. There’s so much bonkers crammed into its six minutes that it really can’t be comprehended on a single listen, let alone a few. Ultimately, though, the sheer volume of crazy is the core of the song’s appeal. If it was just lyrically excess or musical excess at play, the whole thing would probably end up pretty awful. But like multiplying two negatives together, the excesses come together into a wonderful, unbelievably excessive whole.
I could probably just leave it at that, but I feel like I need to make a case for “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived,” as more than just a guilty pleasure. In part, it’s because the song marks the first time in over a decade that Weezer – one of my favourite bands during my teenage years – don’t sound like they’re overthinking things. On the contrary; Weezer sound like they’re actually having fun here, in contrast to the cold calculation of Maladroit and Make Believe. Listen to the way Rivers’ voice as he screams Heyyyy this is what I like / Cut my heart with a modern spike. Check out that rolling piano backing him as he says he can take on anybody. And what about the catharsis of the final, sped-up rock-off on the chorus?
Rivers may have laboured endlessly over how this glorious monstrosity came together, but not unlike Dr. Frankenstein, the working parts of his final creation make it truly, vibrantly alive. Some might find the result horrifying. To me, it’s brilliant.
Download: Weezer – “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived” (The Biggest Celebrity in the World)
No, I do not think that Barack Obama is the greatest man that ever lived. But I couldn’t resist the urge to juxtopose the most infamous attack ad of the McCain campaign with a lyric about the glorious excesses of superstardom. It’s almost like Rivers is responding to the lady voiceover when he sings about playing in underwear. No worries, folks: this is the last song for a while that uses the election campaign as a conceit. Onto other things…