Last week re reintroduced ourselves to you in our Introduction episode, and this week we’re getting straight to the covers with Episode 2: The Middle.
In this week’s episode you get to hear our brand new Season 1 podcast introduction music and then we get into things like the power of music videos, the pop-punk invasion of Canada and learning guitar solos, before we showcase our brand new acoustic cover of The Middle, and then our full-band production of the same. We end the episode with Jimmy Eat World’s original recording so don’t worry, you’ll get your fix.
Listen now on Spotify!
Or read on below for the official transcript
April 14th, 1865.
April 11th, 1970.
December 8th, 1980.
September 11th, 2001.
You no doubt recognize those dates as they are forever etched into your minds as some of the most life-changing events in history.
And often we’ve been asked the questions, where were you on September 11th? Where were you on the day John Lennon died? Where were you when Apollo 13 went up in flames?
And today we ask, where were you, when you first heard “The Middle?”
I’ve gotta be honest with you guys… I don’t really remember where or when I first heard The Middle.
And this has plagued my mind for years.
I remember distinctly where I was when I first heard “Get It Faster” but that’s not what today’s episode is about and despite what an absolute banger of a song that is we’re going to have to wait until its turn in the rotation.
I don’t remember when I first heard The Middle.
Probably because at the time I was hearing it for the first time I was already knee-deep in my Jimmy Eat World treasure hunt, devouring every song I could find and as quickly as I could find it, but I do remember watching the video for The Middle much more distinctly.
I don’t know and can’t speak to the hype of the pop-punk/punk-rock and emo movement in mainstream media for the States and elsewhere, but here in Canada it came in fast and it grabbed a hell of a hold.
Early leaders here were bands like The Offspring, Blink 182, Green Day, Treble Charger and of course, our nations’ pride and joy Sum 41.
At the time the pop-punk movement invaded here, we were still discovering a lot of our music the old-fashion way, which meant as a kid you heard songs first, not actually on radio but predominantly through a music video played on MuchMusic after you got home from school.
MuchMusic was Canada’s response to MTV before it was widely available here. We didn’t have Total Request Live, but we had similar iterations, and most days after school, by the middle of the week there’d be a new band strolling through Toronto who had a new video to share and if we were lucky, they’d perform it live for us, too.
Back then it actually seemed to matter to have a music video premier – it was a special event that itself could get you a small tour. If you had a music video, you were a proper professional band, even if you made that video in your basement.
And they were pretty vital to a bands success if you ask me. For many fans they were your first real look at the musicians behind the music and if the video was done well, it gave you some insight to their personality and gave you something else to gravitate towards, something you might notice about them that you see in yourself or that you want to emulate.
It was also where you’d get a sense of who was buddies with who and without realizing it, bands were promoting each other and themselves by taking part in each others videos and songs.
I remember reading an article once by some band who’d said they appeared in the music video for The Middle, so of course, now you had to wait for that video to come on the Top 30 countdown on MuchMusic to see if you could actually spot them.
And that’s my first real distinct memory of The Middle. Re-watching it to see if I could spot who else was there that day at that house party.
And my other memory is hearing about the direction of the video and what it was supposed to mean.
Because back then, music videos had meaning, too.
That’s not to say music videos don’t have meaning now but somewhere along the way there was an absolute shift in the way music videos are used to promote artists and that’s a massive conversation that we can get into some other time but I’ll tell you, I was reading some comments not long ago by some music producers who said the only point of a music video is to promote a luxurious lifestyle and it was such an incredibly stupdid assertion that I almost couldn’t hold back, until I realized this guy focuses on popular rap and hip hop videos and.. And he might be right about it over there.
But not rock. No. At least not the videos I was watching.
Do you remember what was said about the music video for The Middle when it came out?
Why all those teenagers were running around in their underwear?
The legend has it that it was a popular play on the whole, “if you’re nervous performing live, just picture the audience in your underwear”.
So there they all are, in their underwear and the band on a little stage fully clothed.
I have thought about this premise more than I care to admit to you right now. I’ve thought about this more than July 16th, 1969 – the day of the moon landing.
On the one hand I totally get it. You can’t be nervous about performing when everyone else around you is showing a much more vulnerable and silly side of themselves. It eases the tension, elevates you a little bit because you’re not the one showing any skin, and that gives you confidence.
It’s the reverse, “Emperor Has No Clothes”. Jimmy Eat World here, are the emperors, and you are lucky to be welcomed to this party.
And look at them all -I’m assuming you’re watching the video with me right now.
Look at them all!
All having such a great time talking to each other, enjoying the music, playing party games like Charades and Uno and whatever else teenagers did in the early 2000’s.
They’re showing how freeing it is to just be yourself, even with no clothes on to impress your friends with or to cover that hideous scar on your left forearm, because underneath it all, we’re all just everyday people.
And that’s a really great message to send to young people who are working their way through their lives and discovering who they are really for the first time.
Spending so much of their days wondering if they, as exactly who they are, are enough for the world we all live in.
(There are popular song and pop culture references riddled throughout this episode. Try to catch ‘em all.)
The thing that has given me great pause about this music video is why then the band is the only one in this situation who are going against the grain. They’re actively not promoting the message they’re singing about literally in this exact moment.
They, comparatively, all look great up on that little stage. They’ve got the loudest voices, they’ve got the mics, they’re commanding the attention.
And experience has shown us that these types of people are the ones that will ultimately carry the greatest influence. Sure, you might’ve been taken aback for a minute by everyone running around half naked for a quick second (remember, even in the early 2000’s music executives knew that the key to selling anything was by promoting sex in some way, and this might be the tamest way to have done it especially after some of the crudeness that we were delivered in the late 80’s and early 90’s, but, that’s still it’s main purpose here).
If you ask me, to really live and breathe the message of The Middle then, wouldn’t Jimmy Eat World have had to give in to the pressures of the party and take off their clothes?
Otherwise what’s the real message here?
Unless you are part of the 1% of professional rock bands with real music video budgets, you have to follow the rules of the party and be… just like everyone else? You don’t get to show off your slick new Converse All Stars? Your Dicky pants? Your zaney tie that you have no business wearing with that t-shirt at 16 years old? What do you mean you came straight from your shift at Krogers?
Read the sign man. No shirt, no shoes, no ties.
I thought about all of this some more when it came time to recreate The Middle for this project.
So many people have covered this song, you guys. The list is actually insane.
Taylor Swift has covered this song.
Prince – THE Prince has covered this song.
There’s this cover band that sometimes plays this bar called Hogan’s Inn in King’s City and THEY covered this song.
And I’m not going to say that I’ve gone ahead and listened to every cover of this song that’s ever been made available through the internet because the truth is no one has that kind of time.
But most people cover this song pretty verbatim.
And I get it.
It’s a really well crafted song. By all accounts it’s so well produced that it’s the kind of song that if Nickleback had wrote it instead, people would spend years and years complaining about how predictably formulaic it is as if that were some measure of it being bad instead of a measure of the kind of thing listeners tend to be drawn towards subconsciously.
If this song had come out at pretty much any other period in the 2000’s, though, I can’t say that I think it would have had the raging success that it has had. Timing for this type of thing used to be really important – really, the early 2000’s were a completely different animal when it came to getting yourself discovered and taken seriously by labels.
At the time The Middle came out, there weren’t a lot of bands that were releasing songs with this energy and this kind of messaging. They filled a void that no other band was able to fill, especially here in Canada.
And when I think about how this song continues to have such far reaching success globally, you have to wonder how it manages to be one of the only songs that continues to fill this ever present void.
What is it that other songs are saying that doesn’t carry this same type of impact through generations of new music fans?
I have two versions of this song to share with you on this episode before I wrap up the episode with the original recording.
The first is an acoustic cut of just rhythm guitar and vocal.
When you’re starting to perform music, it’s really easy to get sucked up in the idea of fronting your own band – I know, because that’s what happened to me around the time I heard “Get It Faster”.
But starting and being in a band comes with its own challenges that can be enough to deter any musician from ever playing a live show and sometimes you have to focus on the basics before you can really showcase your art in a way that’s fun and interesting for both you and your audience.
And you learn a lot about yourself as a performer when you’re forced into the vulnerable position of playing by yourself.
So that’s what this one is: this is me, on stage at the party in my underwear.
[Play Jaimee Eat World – The Middle (acoustic)]
One of the great things about bringing a song like The Middle down to its foundation chords and playing it as plainly as you can without completely losing the original melody is that it shows you that this juggernaut of a song isn’t really all that big and scary. Even if you’re brand new to playing guitar or singing, you can definitely play this song and I encourage you to try it out even if you’re a veteran player or seasoned vocalist.
Because the real power of this song comes with its simple messaging and positive affirmations – the ones that we don’t often afford ourselves as creative people trying to learn something new or make an impact.
All of these things take time. Some longer than others.
I can remember being in my mid-teens sitting in my room trying to figure out the guitar solo for The Middle. I was doing well enough with singing and playing rhythm guitar at the same time but I knew if I wanted to be taken seriously as a front-woman, I’d have to play lead guitar, too. That’s not to say that was my only motivation but remember, I’m from the music-television generation which means I spent my youth watching guys like Dave Baksh emerge from the depths of a pool and rip out an amazing guitar solo to compliment another otherwise super simple song, Sum 41’s “In Too Deep”.
For a long time, the coolest guitar solo I knew of was the one from “The Middle,” so that was the one I needed to learn how to play in order to certify myself as legitimate.
I didn’t find this same drive towards Sum 41 solos generally because those guys always made a point to mention that they were highly influenced by metal bands and, while I like some metal music, I would’ve never called myself a metal-teen and I definitely didn’t want to become a metal-guitarist. I wanted to be a rock-guitarist.
Yes, there’s a difference there.
When you break down the solo from The Middle into parts, much like the song itself, it’s not as complicated as it sounds – but try telling that to 15-year old me.
It starts out real fast though, and if you haven’t been doing any sort of speed-training or scales and you’re still familiarizing yourself with things like hammer-ons and pull-offs at this point in your guitar-career, you’re gonna have a bad time.
But I kept at it, a little bit every day or every few days when I could get the mental strength to try it again.
And eventually I got it down just well enough to say I’d done it.
It was sloppy as hell, but dammit if that wasn’t the solo from The Middle.
The right thing to have done then would’ve been to keep at it; keep practicing until I had it down nice and clean.
But that was never how I learned songs back then and it’s not even really how I learn them now.
What’s so great about being able to perform a solo exactly as it was written by someone else, anyways? Isn’t the more challenging task to write one equally as cool yourself?
And that’s the mindset I went into this full-band cover version of The Middle with. Keep the foundation, keep the main melody, but let’s try to make it a little more “me” now. Let’s go to the party with our best pair of jeans, our Ramones tee and a wristband with studs on it because we’re an individual, dammit.
[Play Jaimee Eat World – The Middle (Full)]
Of course it’s at this point we’re promptly kicked out of the party.
We did not adhere to the dress code.
Girls couldn’t even play guitar in the early 2000’s, are we insane?
What are we even doing here?
Are these kids in college? That one’s drinking a beer.
Where is this kid’s parents anyways?
But you know what?
Because while everyone else is freezing their ass off walking home in their drenched underwear after swimming in that pool, I’m pulling change out of my chain-wallet and getting myself the first bus home, comfortably.
And eventually I’ll figure out that solo from The Middle.
And eventually I’ll perform it on a stage. It might even end up on TV.
It’s just gonna take a little bit more time.
[Play Jimmy Eat World – The Middle]
Pick up the next episode next Wednesday right here or right over there on Spotify!
As it so happens Jimmy Eat World released a new video and song today, check it out: