My Name is Jonas

An Essay by McKay Fritz

             “When people say weezer sucks past Pinkerton, I am left to wonder if they have ever even listened to the other albums. Part of the beauty of weezer is never knowing what you’re going to get…”

On June 15, 2017, Weezer posted a picture on Instagram with this caption. The picture showed the members of the band in the studio, each band in his own separate corner looking appropriately corny. It should be noted that whoever wrote this caption didn’t even bother to capitalize their own band’s name. Maybe this was intentional, as if they were trying to provide a calculated level of informality to this offhand rebuttal of their critics: a level of informality that would prove them to be the nice guys that they are. Or maybe they were just being lazy and autocorrect wasn’t working.

            I first started caring about music around 4th grade. I asked for an iPod for Christmas, and I got one. The iPod Nano. I was mostly interested in the iPod because I heard you could play games on it, but I soon discovered that the games that would function on such an arcane device only included simplistic distractions like “Marble Brick Breaker” and “Guess That Song (Multiple Choice).” So I settled for using the iPod for its intended purpose: music. The first songs I downloaded were from both the SpongeBob Movie Soundtrack and Weird Al. Music was more of a novelty for me at the time. Throw-away stuff: mostly to be listened to when trying to drown out other sounds.

            I think my first exposure to Weezer was through Guitar Hero. I actually give credit to Guitar Hero for being my first real musical awakening. I started with Guitar Hero 2, and as I played a plastic guitar with buttons instead of strings, I slowly became enamored with the songs on that video game. Songs like “Surrender” by Cheap Trick, “Heart Shaped Box” by Nirvana, and “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Ever so gradually, my flirtations with music changed from occasional hook-ups to a budding romance. Like Paul on the road to Damascus, I was visited by heavenly music messengers, and my aversion to music turned into conversion.

            That’s when Weezer came into my life. They had a song on Guitar Hero 3, and it was the first song I downloaded: “My Name is Jonas.” The sharp contrast of the plucking acoustic guitar and the crunchy power chords of the electric guitar was euphoria. I played that song on repeat, listening to Rivers Cuomo sing “The workers are going home! The workers are going home! Yeah, yeah, YEAH!” followed by an unexpected harmonica solo. The song was quirky. It was whimsical. It was kind of cheesy. I had never related to music so much before.

            The renowned online music-magazine Pitchfork gave the Blue Album (the album on which “My Name Is Jonas” is found) a perfect score, 10 out of 10. Pitchfork gave Weezer’s next album Pinkerton another perfect score, another 10.

            When I was living in Germany last year, my dad got me tickets to see Weezer in concert for the next summer when he knew I would be back home. He got me two tickets. I think he assumed I would have a girl to take by then. I didn’t. I ended up taking my cousin who knew nothing about the post-grunge pop rock group. I played him a couple of songs beforehand so he could kind of get a feel for their music. He had a good time at the concert, but I think he was out of his element. I bought myself a hat there. He didn’t get anything. I felt defeated for not having found a girl to go to the concert with. That feeling of defeat was appropriate for a Weezer concert.

            Pitchfork gave Weezer’s Green Album a 4. They gave them a 4.7 for the Red Album, a 5.4 for Maladroit, a 4.5 for Raditude, and a scathing 0.4 for Make Believe. Not exactly good scores.

            In junior high I went to an after-school dance, mostly against my wishes. The atmosphere of these dances was a nightmare for such a socially awkward person like me, especially since it included copious amounts of hormones and overplayed pop hits. But I was in 9th grade and it was about time I started to get social, dang it. Near the end of the dance a slow song came on. The DJ announced that this next one would be girl’s choice. My red-haired friend and I slunk toward the door, convinced that we weren’t going to get asked. We would head for the drinking fountain—the oasis—we would pretend we were thirsty to avoid awkward social tension. On the way out, however, I was stopped by the prettiest girl in my grade. I’m not joking. She was objectively the prettiest girl in my grade, and she was asking me to dance.

            In retrospect I think she may have just asked me out of pity, but at the time I was elated. I stumbled through some small talk as we swayed on the dance floor, and after the song was over we hugged and that was that. She didn’t really pay much attention to me after the fact.

The last song on the Blue Album is called “Only in Dreams” and it’s about loving a girl who only loves you back in your dreams. I listened to that song the day after the dance, and it fit.

            Rivers Cuomo sings about unrequited love a lot. And when he tries to sing about non-unrequited love it doesn’t work very well. Because, well, I mean, look at the guy. He’s got large black-framed glasses, he’s as pale as he is thin, and he looks 28 even though he’s well into his forties.

            I think one of the reasons the critics hated the album “Make Believe” so much is because it sounds like he’s in self-denial. It’s like when the nerdy kid tries shopping at Hollister and starts combing his hair in order to fit in with the more mainstream crowd. He just becomes more awkward than he was when he accepted his nerdiness. Observe the song “Beverly Hills,” for example. It has the basic recipe of a good Weezer song: heavy power chords and angsty lyrics. But it’s just not as good as their earlier stuff. It’s overproduced and repetitive. It sounds like Rivers’ is new goal is to make it into the Top 40. The awkward charm is lost for the sake of perceived popularity.

            That red-haired friend who was at the dance with me was my best friend. We prided ourselves in being the outcasts. We spent many hours chatting about how much we loathed the popular kids. He played the guitar, and I played the guitar and the piano. We wanted to start a band, but we had a few issues to be sorted out. The first one was our name. For the life of us, we could not think of a good name to call our band. Every name we came up was eventually discarded because it wasn’t good enough. There was one day when we were at my house and we resolved to flipping open a dictionary, pointing to a random word, and deciding that that would be our band name. That didn’t work.

            The second issue we ran into was a matter of instruments. In order to have the band we wanted, we would need a drummer, a bassist, and probably a singer (because both of us were able to sing, but we didn’t really want to unless we absolutely had to). We only had two friends that play the drums. One was unreliable, and the other one was into bands like Three Days Grace and Sleeping with Sirens. These were bands that we hated, and we had no desire to emulate their music.

            So the band never really ended up forming. I eventually had to sever my relationship with this friend of mine after he showed up to school with prescription drugs and had several hundred-dollar bills by the end of the day.

            Perhaps the thing that I admire the most about Weezer is that they refuse to stop making music. Whatever the critics may say, they press onward. And even though a lot of their newer music isn’t nearly as good as some of their best of in their early days, some of it is actually pretty enjoyable. Their White Album that was released in 2016 is actually some quality music.

            I ran into my mop-haired friend last week at the record store. He’s no longer mop-haired. We hugged and chatted for a bit, then exchanged numbers. We’ll hang out soon, we said. We said that last time too.

            I haven’t seen that girl at the dance for several years now. No idea where she’s at.

            The last time I played Guitar Hero was last April. I was on a date with a girl (a different girl). We had a great time. She stopped talking to me after a while.

            Weezer’s next album comes out next spring.