Christmas can bring a lot of things. Family, friends, presents and joy. For Jonah Washnis it brought international fame, fans from across the globe, a documentary toting his escapades and a larger than life persona that champions his name through fan fiction and comics. All of this came from Christmas cards, but it wouldn’t be until Myspace, 20 years later, that Washnis would see their impact. For him, a world class harmonica play, comic buff and adventurer, Christmas, and everything else for that matter, is all about giving. This is his story up to today.
In 1976 Polaroid was well into the DIY market. In the holiday season they ran an advertisement for Do It Yourself Christmas cards with all the clichés associated: Family values dressed in Santa hats, the dog by the fire. A young Johah Washins saw this on television.
Future folklore will tell at the time the time he saw this he was possibly sitting at home sharpening his knife, possibly shredding solo harmonica and possibly breaking a new world record of most boards broken by staring at them, all at the same time.
Jonah was going to make some Christmas cards.
As an avid comic buff, gun enthusiast, trained martial artist, goofball and all around natural bad ass, it’s obvious Jonah wasn’t going to make another cookie cutter card. He took to the woods.
With his sword collection he put together a fantasy scene with a damsel in distress and he, the hero, with his trusty dog. He sent them to his friends.
They we’re confused at first. Their friend Jonah was doing what sword and gun owners do (take pictures with them) but this time it was for Christmas. They said it had nothing to do with Christmas, but Jonah disagrees. He say is it is.
“You have to remember what Christmas is about. It’s about giving, it’s about giving without reciprocation. I don’t want a card in return,” he said.
With a newly found Christmas spirit, his friends gave back with help for next year’s. And the year after that. And the year after that. His friends donated their gear to add to his adventure photo shoots. The holiday cards continued.
Over the course of a decade, his friends brought Doberman Pinchers, Army Jeeps, more swords and guns. They brought their Harley Davidsons, they brought their beautiful girlfriends dressed scantly. His friends started to be as excited to be a part of the Christmas cards as to receive another gifted photo.
It was the spirit of giving and receiving, drinking beer and takin’ photos.
Jonah got to cover all of his heroes.
He did Sinbad, Indian Jones, Rambo, Highlander and the Punisher, his favorite and future namesake. He did Zoro and Robin Hood, 007 and a few more he wrote himself. All with real weapons, all with him, the photo series being tucked into a classic winter scene holiday card and mailed out every year. (It is the 70’s, you know.)
What has to be understood, however, if it isn’t already, is that the that the five-foot-eight Jonah consists of three things: muscle, bone and sunglasses. This guy ain’t no Santa Clause. He never would, but he could break your arm before you were done waving. With nunchucks, or a high kick. He could shoot it off with an arrow.
With more shoots Jonah saw more opportunity. As he got more gear from his friends and followers, he he saw that he could truthfully represent the superheros he emulated.
“It got more important to make these things real,” he said.
When he did Robin Hood he studied bow shooting for a year and physically climbed a tower. In Rambo, he acquired the real machine gun. For the Highlander he wears a custom an authentic Nors helmet.
“I thought to myself, ‘hey I could do that.”
In the moment the photo’s were taken, Jonah became a super hero and his friends were happy to facilitate.
Jonah did Christmas cards into the early 1990s until they ran their course. There were plans of a calender but they didn’t materialize. He didn’t think anything of the photos other than a good time. Entertainment and gifts to his friends, that’s all they were.
Jonah just plays harmonica and does cool stuff like bringing a bunch of naked girls to waterfalls with guns and a some film gear. He kept doing his thing.
THE MYSPACE GENERATION / JONAH GETS NOTICED
In 2006 Myspace was alive. In the same year Tilla Tequila took off, Jonah posted a decade of decade old photos to his profile made for “Have Harp Will Travel,” a 7 track metal album with harmonica breaks and Jonah’s lead vocals. Though, you might not have known this by looking at it, his page was awash with flashing texts and absurd pictures.
Aside from the calamity, or perhaps a part of, his old Christmas cards were a new hit.
“Before I knew it I was getting 200 friend requests a day,” he said.
He got an entire high school in Colorado in the matter of a few hours. He got some attention of celbs and other comic buffs. Jonah got thousands of friends. He did some more shoots, posted videos, accepted more friends and packed his Myspace page to the brim.
Two years later Jonah sparked the attention a media man, Jon Caron. At first, he Caron planned to make a Myspace fan page for Jonah. Ironically, he described Jonah’s current page as “a Christmas tree with nuclear weapons on it” to Encorebuzz.com. He made a page called The Church Of Jonah but from the start he knew there was more.
As a media guy, Caron had to figure out how the world was going to see this hero, if he didn’t do it now, someone else would soon.
“I had already started building the Jonah brand before I spoke with Phil Healy and JB Sapienza (two of the three others involved with what would become a documentary). With my background, I always tend to think of something in terms of its marketability. So, when we all met for the first time, I had a logo, dvd cover, all sorts of rough concepts ready to show,” Caron said.
“With the popularity of reality TV at the time, I couldn’t help but notice the potential for Jonah’s amazing escapades being made available to the public. I originally saw My Name Is Jonah as a reality TV show, not a documentary, but I certainly think we made the right choice.”
After the Jonah brand was defined the group got to work.
At first it was phone calls, then there were meetings, then there was filming. The group quickly learned what they had gotten themselves into. They would work for four years creating the documentary MY NAME IS JONAH with the tag line Real life hero, adventure seeker, musician. They interviewed his friends, arguably as goofy as Jonah. They followed Jonah to bars where he would steal the show when he would join the band and shred harmonica. They worked to learn and express Jonah through his ‘Jonahisms,’ random bad-ass lines that make you question if you are actually living in Jonah’s movie world. The filming was so long and consistent -the group coming up from Boston to do so – that one of the gaffers even met his wife through the process.
They started to figure out how to tell his story, released trailers and the hero was redefined.
His name is Jonah now, again. Putting his old fans love into hyper drive and gaining more, his reputation made it to page as the fan fiction really began. He fought aliens and seduced super models. He wore a leather jacket, a punisher skull, toted guns and wore sun glasses, specially made to be able to take the power of his gaze.
All of these hero qualities coming from just a Christmas gift, to remind you again.
Twenty years later, he had an advice column for an Australian magazine. For three years running he has had a comic book for Free Comic Book day. His old videos made it to new websites, his Have Harp Will Travel album became the soundtrack to the documentary and made its way on to Touch Tunes Juke Boxes, 300,00 world wide. He did more film shoots with hotter girls, he made a professional music video with the producers.
Jonah describes the jump of fame with the stone soup fable. “We all bring what it is we have to give and try to make something better.
“I‘ve Grassroots local to global,” he says.
HAVE HYPE WILL TRAVEL
My Name is Jonah was completed, then rejected from Sundance and Slamdance Film Festival in early December but no one seems worried. The Facebook page revels in it a little.
It shouldn’t matter, it is all about giving and sharing these days, anyways, where a picture of a cat wearing a bow tie can hit billions. What’s different about Jonah is that he isn’t JT’s next single. Jonah isn’t Ben Affleck playing Batman. Jonah just is. He’s a bad-ass Rochestarian who fixes buses by night, with an accidendal cult following online, suddenly a star of a documentary, and an incredibly gifted harmonica player who got all of this just from giving and getting in return.
Hell of a Christmas right?
He doesn’t know what to expect. All of this has been from pictures with hot girls, guard dogs, with cammo and guns, and by just being himself. His fate could be in the hands of giving again.
He could go viral, but probably not tonight.
Tonight, it’s possible Jonah is sitting at home watching TV. He’s shredding harmonica, maybe cooking food. He could be thinking about what Christmas Facebook messages me may send tomorrow. While cops and vigilantes roam the streets, Jonah is going to go to his night job.
His fans lay in bed and dream.
They’re in a dark warehouse, a scrap heap of junked machines. Jonah tinkers on an engine, making conversation. There’s a sound in the corner and Jonah disappears. Sounds get closer, a shadow is taking over the only light left. Jonah appears behind them, pulling on his fingerless leather gloves, his knife between his clenched teeth. He takes it out, they see their own mortality reflecting back in his sunglasses.
“Come with me or you’ll be as dead as these cars,” he says sheathing his blade.
And his fans wake up, in morning. Another good dream. Dreams are better when they can happen. Oh, and presents!
EDIT: My Name is Jonah Primers Thursday, the 27th, at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts!!