Wednesday, July 7, 2010

July 7: Weezer, "My Name Is Jonas"

Artist: Weezer
Song: "My Name Is Jonas"
Album: Weezer
Year: 1994

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At some point in their career, nearly every band will encounter a point where a large group of music listeners openly voice their distaste for the band due to a wide variety of reasons.  From image to sound to something the band may have said, it is often moments like these that draw strict lines of separation within the music community as you are either "with" or "against" that band.  Then of course, there is the odd situation of one band finding themselves in this position from nearly the moment they first appeared on the national music scene.  Deemed as "posers" from day one, over the decades, there are few groups that endured the scorn of music fans in a similar manner to that of the band Weezer.  Furthermore, regardless of "when" it hit in their career, few groups have taken such distaste with so little evidence to back up the claims of the "haters."  The main argument that the group were "posers" is nothing short of ludicrous in retrospect, as their "indie" image, combined with their hard rocking style was about as far from the mainstream (read as: grunge) sound as one could find.  Their 1994 self-titled debut (AKA "The Blue Album") yielded a number of massive hits, and perhaps people only hated the band due to their overwhelming popularity.  Regardless of the reason, Weezer were certainly disliked loudly by many, but pushing this to the side, one simply cannot deny the solid musical performances that grace their first record, and yet the albums' most brilliant song was never even fully released as a single.  While the so-called "deep cuts" from bands are usually buried in an albums' final tracks, Weezer defied this norm with the first track from the album, their irresistible song, "My Name Is Jonas."

For many reasons, "My Name Is Jonas" is an oddity in the complete Weezer catalog, perhaps most notably because it is the only song which gives writing credit to guitarist Jason Cropper.  It is Cropper who composed the songs' opening acoustic riff, yet there remains a large discrepancy as to who actually played it on the recording.  By the time the band went to record, Cropper was already gone from the band, and frontman Rivers Cuomo claims that he himself played both rhythm and lead for "My Name Is Jonas."  However, Cropper's replacement, Brian Bell asserts that it is in fact his playing on the rhythm sections for this song, and to this day, neither have rescinded their statements.  Regardless, one cannot deny the fantastic power behind the song, as the distorted, crushing guitar gives "My Name Is Jonas" a tone and attitude that play a brilliant contrast to the almost detached vocal performance.  Truthfully, "My Name Is Jonas" offers something musically for every music fan, as the central hook is absolutely irresistible, and yet there is an aggression and mood of chaos that can speak to the fans of metal and hardcore.  It is this ability to reach into so many different musical groups that perhaps incurred so much hatred, as on a musical level, it is almost impossible to relegate Weezer to a single musical category.  Driving this point home, the rhythm section of bassist Matt Sharp and drummer Patrick Wilson push the song forward throughout the track, as they are on the attack from the get go, whipping the mood into a superb frenzy of sound.  The fact that in the waning moments of "My Name Is Jonas," the band is able to seamlessly add in a harmonica solo somehow works perfectly, and the contrast between this sound and the forceful playing of the rest of the band in many ways sums up everything that "is the sound of Weezer.

Along with their original approach to their musical construction, there is an attitude and tone within the voice of Rivers Cuomo that has come to not only define the band, but in many ways, the entire "indie rock" scene as well.  With his powerful voice that sounds just as good speaking on tracks as when he is singing or yelling, Cuomo has an intangible element to his performance that is, in essence, "what" makes him so hard to ignore.  Perhaps it is the unrestrained approach he takes on "My Name Is Jonas," perhaps it is the seemingly endless sounds and styles he presents on the track.  Regardless of "what" it is, one cannot deny that there is a sound to Cuomo's singing that is rarely found elsewhere in music.  Working in perfect harmony with the music and singing, the lyrics and theme on "My Name Is Jonas" are just as unforgettable, and many interpretations of the song have been made over the years.  In reality, the song was influenced by the issues that Cuomo's brother (who is NOT named Jonas) was encountering with his insurance company following a severe car accident.  This point is instantly made clear with the opening lines of, " name is Jonas, I'm carrying the wheel..."  The rest of the song features lyrics that beg to be sung along with, and though they may at times seem absurd, the fact that they are so memorable shows the genius they contain.  Perhaps speaking to the music scene at the time, which was beginning to become somewhat stale, Cuomo sings the strangely profound lyric of, "...they're fresh out of batteries, but they're still makin' noise..."  Taking nearly any line from the song, there are many ways in which it can be interpreted, and this is the final piece that makes "My Name Is Jonas" such a fantastic musical accomplishment.

Truth be told, as the lead track on Weezer, it is rather strange that the song was never "fully" released as a single.  The band had already solidified their success with the first two singles, "Undone - The Sweater Song" and "Buddy Holly," and many Canadian radio stations began playing "My Name Is Jonas," leading the band to release a small number of "promo" copies of the song.  Yet for whatever reason, this idea was quickly nixed, and "Say It Ain't So" became the "official" third and final single to be released from the record.  While the Canadian promo singles remain one of the most highly sought collectors items for the band, it leaves one wondering why such a change was made, as clearly "My Name Is Jonas" had caught on without any "push" from the band.  This in many ways proves the genius behind the song, as even the biggest skeptics of Weezer cannot deny the fact that "My Name Is Jonas" contains irresistible hooks and lyrics, and the vocal performance from Cuomo stands as one of the most impressive of the entire era.  It is this fact that leads one to seriously ponder exactly why Weezer received as much disdain and negative feedback as they did, as their music defied the pop norms of the time, and is far harder rocking than the whiny drivel that would define the "indie" sound over the next few years.  Perhaps better termed as "alternative rock" as opposed to "indie rock," Weezer clearly took their influences as much from the likes of The Pixies and Dinosaur Jr. as they did from bands like The Buzzcocks, and all of these musical influences can be heard clearly on what may very well be Weezer's greatest musical achievement, their 1994 song, "My Name Is Jonas."

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