at the Aragon, March 9

By Liz Armstrong

Two weeks ago, more than 4,000 wide-eyed teens streamed into a once-elegant ballroom on Lawrence Avenue where it seemed all their musical fantasies might come true. At one novelty booth near the back of the main floor they could play guitars loaded with effects; at another they could burn their own CDs, compiling tracks by preapproved alternative bands. The concert later that evening was being sponsored by Yahoo! Outloud. The tickets were a steal at $15, so many kids lined up to buy souvenir T-shirts at $30 a pop. The most popular booth by far offered a photographer with a digital camera and cardboard cutouts of guitar-pop band Weezer. Any fan could get a free color photo of herself posing with her favorite two-dimensional rock star.

In the ladies’ lounge two girls about 16 years old breathlessly discussed their rock star crushes. “You know, we should go stand in that certain area right now,” said one, “so that we can see that one person.” Weezer’s set was still hours away.

Claiming floor space is important to a girl like her. The closer she is to the front, the greater her chances of enticing her love object. This is what turns a fan into a groupie–abandoning reason, diving headfirst into rapture, making oneself vulnerable. Perhaps her hero will notice the twinkle in her eye or the way she shakes her hips and pull her onstage for a kiss. Perhaps he’ll invite her backstage to enjoy the band’s catered food and fine wine. Perhaps after the set he’ll retrieve her with a bouquet of flowers and an aching hard-on, handling her body the way he handles his guitar.

It never occurs to her that a suburban teen might have nothing in common with a 30-year-old professional musician. Streamers and banners decorate the stage, and the band’s videos are projected on the backboards of basketball hoops. It could be her homecoming dance, with the school mascot replaced by a Weezer logo. The band’s songs all explore the mysterious phenomenon of falling in and out of love–a topic with which she’s all too familiar. One song, “Surfwax America,” even takes a poke at the jocks who call her a freak and a slut. This guy understands.

But the closer she gets to him, the more girls there are just like her. They’re all wearing cardigans and jeans and little T-shirts, and they know all the words to the songs. That four-foot space between the barricade and the stage widens to a chasm, and soon she’s desperate. She screams louder and moshes harder; she starts to hyperventilate. She knows she should move to the back and drink some water, but she’d rather die than stop gazing at her hero. She holds out until the last encore. Then her man waves good-bye and she’s drenched in sweat, yelling at an empty stage while he sits in his tour bus, mentally checking off another city.

The 16-year-old girls who swooned over Weezer back in 1994, when their first album went double platinum (and stayed on the Billboard pop chart for 76 weeks), are young women now, and they know better. One of them stands in the balcony, watching the chaos below and recalling how their first hit, “Undone (The Sweater Song),” spoke to her when she first heard it on the radio. A discombobulated speech about identity loss and powerlessness, it hit her where she lived. She bought the album, wrote to the band’s fan club for a lyric sheet, and memorized all the words.

One morning a DJ on Q101 announced that the 50th caller would win a pair of tickets and VIP passes to an upcoming Weezer show at Metro. She dialed the station again and again. First she was caller number 15, then caller number 32, and then, after the line rang for what seemed like an hour, caller number 50.

She invited her best friend, another Weezer fanatic, to come along, thinking the VIP passes would admit them to a private party, maybe even a barbecue, where they, Weezer, and a few of their closest friends could hang out and chat. She and her girlfriend brought notebooks so they could record every thought and emotion and publish their musings in their forthcoming Weezer fanzine.

To their dismay they were led to a crowded section of the balcony blocked off by a velvet rope. Everyone looked lame: the boys wore baseball caps and college sweatshirts, the girls wore flowery dresses and Keds with sheer black Hanes pantyhose. The two girls had carefully selected their fuzzy cardigans and tight T-shirts, and the girl who’d won the tickets had gotten her knee pierced just to show it off to the band. But Weezer was nowhere to be seen. A guy in a Q101 T-shirt passed out Weezer CDs, and she accepted one with an impassive smile. She slumped in her plastic chair. How could she have been so stupid as to think she’d get to chill somewhere with Weezer?

Then the band appeared. The other pass holders rushed over to them, clamoring for autographs, but the two girls stayed put, shocked, nervous, unsure what to do. “Have you met the band yet?” asked one of the band’s publicists. They hadn’t. “Well then, let me introduce you to Brian Bell.”

Brian flashed a white, toothy smile, extended his hand, and signed their CDs. Just as he was turning away, the girl who’d won the tickets told him about their Weezer fanzine and asked him for an interview.

She hadn’t prepared any questions. In her high school journalism class she’d learned to ask the basics–name, age, occupation, current city of residence–but Brian quickly answered those and waited for more. What kind of grades did he get in high school? Did he bite his nails? Did he ever have to mow his parents’ lawn? What was his favorite name for a girl? How did he hide a burp?

After a while he excused himself to go to the bathroom, and the next time they saw him he was onstage. The two girls sang along with every song, and the band even dedicated a song to them–“Jamie,” a rarity the band had contributed to a DGC Records compilation.

Riding home they were positively giddy. The girl who’d won the tickets kept gushing about how nice and cute Brian was. Her friend looked at her gravely. “You’re in love with him.” She denied it then and for a few weeks afterward, but after a month she sheepishly admitted that it was true.

Like a fool, Brian had told them where his parents lived, and she debated whether or not she should track them down. But it was too early to introduce herself to them as their new daughter-in-law. Instead she sent Brian a letter in care of the Weezer fan club headquarters, telling him that his talent and their interview had convinced her to quit soccer and join the school newspaper. Back then the band actually opened its own fan mail, and Brian answered her letter with a friendly handwritten postcard. She’d just finished the first issue of Cough, her Weezer fanzine, and she mailed him a copy. About a month later he sent her another postcard, saying he loved it.

That did it–she wrote him another letter, inviting him to the junior prom. But this time there was no reply. Be patient, she told herself–Brian is a busy man. She waited and waited but never heard back from him. The disappointment was excruciating. Where had she gone wrong? How had their relationship soured?

A few months later, when Weezer came through town again, she shoved her way to the front, her rib cage crushed against the metal barricade by the throng behind her. She crawled up over the crowd, surfing on their outstretched hands in order to get Brian’s attention. She caught his eye and waved. He gave a slight nod of recognition. Then she was passed to the edge of the crowd, and the same hands that had lifted her and carried her away, so that she seemed to be floating on air, dropped her flat on her ass.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Suzy Poling.