“El Scorcho. Ay Carumba!”
It was a hot summer’s day when my Mom took me into the city to see a play. I was probably 15 or 16 years old, and I did not want to go. I was tired, I was lazy, and I would have much rather stayed at home doing, you know, nothing. We parked the car near the Steppenwolf theater, and she dragged me to a Thai restaurant for dinner before the show. I had never had Thai food before, so of course, I didn’t like it even before I tasted it. I was in a mood.
The food arrived (I had no idea what to order), and I begrudgingly forced some Pad Thai down my gullet. Wait a minute…wow! It was spicy, it was delicious, and it woke me right up. I felt revitalized, re-energized, and ready for a fun night of theater ahead. I was challenged, sparked and smiling. I didn’t know food could do that!
Yeah, I like spicy food. I think the band Weezer likes spicy food too. Just listen to their amazing song “El Scorcho,” named for a packet of hot sauce found in an L.A. Mexican restaurant. Weezer is one of the top bands to come out of the 90’s alternative music scene, but just to look at a picture of them, you might think they are a bunch of middle school English teachers rather than one of the biggest rock bands in the world. They don’t look like a rock band, and they certainly don’t look like they enjoy spicy food.
I don’t really know what “El Scorcho” is about, but it sounds a lot like what spicy food tastes like. It jumps. It bounces. It changes rhythm. It is quiet, then loud, then quiet again. Drink a little cold milk…you’ll be fine. It’s a lot of fun.
“Goddamn you half-Japanese girls
Do it to me every time
Oh the redhead said you shred the cello
and I’m jello, baby”
Legend has it that lead singer and songwriter Rivers Cuomo interspersed lines written by Harvard classmates in an essay writing class throughout this song. The seemingly non-sensical words shape the melody perfectly, and the melody spins up and down in a lyrical whirligig. There might even be a story here.
“But you won’t talk, won’t look, won’t think of me
I’m the epitome of public enemy
Why you wanna go and do me like that?
Come down on the street and dance with me?”
Cuomo’s voice goes up and down, Uncaring, then passionate. Remote, then intimate. As the words continue to reveal themselves, perhaps it’s as simple as a dyslexic love song of the time. References pop in and out, and story lines change. But there is passion. There is spice.
“I asked you to go the Green Day concert
You said you never heard of them
How cool is that?
So I went to your room and read your diary:
‘Watching Grunge leg drop New Jack through a press table…’
And then my heart stopped:
Listening to Cio-Cio San, fall in love all over again.”
From Green Day to Madame Butterfly. From professional wrestling to early 90’s musical genres. This is a song that spans decades and and references with little regard for narrative or plot. It makes no sense, but then neither does spicy food. I mean, why would we eat food that might cause us discomfort, if not outright pain? What is “Grunge leg drop New Jack?” There’s an answer I think, but would that answer mean much to you? Would the song make sense? Probably not. Who cares? It’s delicious!
“I wish I could get my head out of the sand
‘Cause I think we’d make a good team
And you would keep my fingernails clean
But that’s just a stupid dream that I won’t realize
‘Cause I can’t even look in your eyes without shaking, and I ain’t faking
I’ll bring home the turkey if you bring home the bacon.”
Spicy food. So good. El Scorcho!
Written by Rivers Cuomo
Performed by Weezer
Released September 19, 1996