March 6, 2009

NT's greatest hits, vol. 5

We continue. The conceit: I have an iTunes playlist of my 34 favorite songs of all time, and I discuss them here, one by one, in random order. This edition…

"My Name Is Jonas" by Weezer
For a male of my age with a touch of the misfit in them, I suppose this isn't a surprising choice. Weezer's first album hit me a particularly potent time—not yet remotely a man, but couldn't possibly remain a boy—and Rivers Cuomo's intensely potent blend of rock hooks, abject sentiment, and outsider anger absolutely homed in on the tender underside of my psyche. I think that album is an absolute monument of rock & roll (eight of its ten songs are included in my ever-expanding mixtape series), and its opening track, "My Name Is Jonas," is its strongest moment.

Lyrically, I really have no idea what it means (go ahead and take a stab), but I almost feel as if that's part of the song's strength. Impressionistic, the words almost sound as if they were chosen for their sound rather than their meaning, and Cuomo spits them out with such energy that I wonder if any lyrics would have done the job. Probably not; obscure or no, there's something poignant about desperate repeating chants of "making noise!" and "the workers are going home!"

Also, it fulfills a mandate of many of my favorites: It's just a little bit experimental. The forlorn harmonica solo at the end of the raging instrumental solo and the fact that the whole song is in 6/8 time signal to anyone listening that Weezer is infinitely more interesting that the pop-punk pranksters the media framed them as in '94. (I will never understand that. During my music journalism days of the late '90s, I was laughed at—literally laughed at—for suggesting that Weezer's first record was among the top 200 best releases of the decade. Amazing.) I'm a rock purist, of course, little use for the artier genres, but I often feel a seductive pull to any rock & roll that drifts slightly into the realm of the bizarre (hence my love for Devo, although that band will not appear in this blog series). You can see that in a number of my entries so far; kind of unsurprising my favorite Steely Dan song is the one most like a standard rock tune.

A warning about "My Name Is Jonas," though; actually, a warning about all of Weezer's debut album: I find it awfully, awfully depressing. It's clear Rivers Cuomo was (is?) an awfully sad man, and like all great artists, his emotion comes through and digs into the audience. So on a melancholy Friday evening, you might want to dial up something a little more sunshiney. (Try this; a runner-up for this series.)

Next time: A new-wave classic that I played to death on my college radio show? The bombastic anthem of my high-school misanthrope stage? The soundtrack to the night of the best sex of my life? Only the random magic of iTunes can tell.

Earlier editions of NT's greatest hits:
"OK Apartment" and "Just What I Needed"
"Objects of My Affection" and "Crimson and Clover"
"Reelin' in the Years"
"Mr. Tambourine Man"