Apple penned this love song about her former boyfriend, the writer Jonathan Ames. Apple started recording The Idler Wheel with the help of her touring drummer, Charley Drayton, in the late 2000s. She kept her sessions secret, even from her label, and executives at Epic only discovered that Apple had recorded an album in early 2012, when she presented it to them. When they asked the singer if she thought the record was really finished she replied that it had to be finished, as the same week she'd completed it she'd broken up with Ames.
Apple told Pitchfork
why she titled the song after her former boyfriend. "I did it because," she explained, "and I'm saying this in the most affectionate way - he loves attention. I had come to New York for three months to write and to take a visual perception class at the New School. I was at the piano and I started writing a musical piece that reminded me of Jonathan because he is so extreme in some ways. He is just so hilariously quiet on a day-to-day basis, but when he's on stage or excited with a group of people, he's just embarrassingly bombastic. So I was like, 'Hey, I'm writing this music and it reminds me of you,' and he was like, 'Does it have my name in it?' I thought, 'I'll do that for him.' But then we broke up."
The song was inspired by the kindness Ames showed to Apple during a trip to Coney Island. She explained to Interview Magazine: "I was staying in an apartment in New York and he was just starting up his show [the HBO series Bored To Death]. I was writing this instrumental thing that I'd started after he had taken me to Coney Island - he takes all of his girlfriends to Coney Island. I was bitchy about it later on, but at the time he gave me this really wonderful day of simple joy and kindness."
Apple told Spin magazine that she'd considered leaving the song off the album. She spoke to him on the phone and said, "Listen, it's just a practical thing, because if I get another boyfriend, I don't want to have to deal with, 'Who's this Jonathan guy?' I honestly felt like it's just going to be the fight that breaks up my next relationship, and it's not worth it. But then I was like, 'Ah, f--k it.'"
It was this song's unorthodox instrumentation that inspired Apple to record an album. She explained to Pitchfork: "On the first night of recording with Charley, we walked by this bottle-making factory. The door was open and you could hear a machine running. We both had our recorders with us and we agreed that the sound would be good for the song "Jonathan." Juan, the guy working the night shift at the factory, let us walk through and record the sound of the machine.
That was the moment where I said, 'Oh, we're not making demos - this is going to be it. Me and Charley are going to make a record right now.' And then it just got fun."
Apple never performed this live because it's about a specific person. "That just feels weird to do," she explained.