Jawbreaker

SHUFFLER 0074: IN NEED OF SOME GLUING

SHUFFLER 0074: IN NEED OF SOME GLUING
Wednesday, February 11, 2015
Jawbreaker – “Eye-5” from Unfun (Shredder)

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The thing about Jawbreaker is that there are so many things to say about Jawbreaker. There’s that old saying that no matter how good you are at something, there’s always someone better, and I think that probably applies to Jawbreaker fandom. There are rabid Jawbreaker fans out there, many of whom would likely break my hands and rip my tongue out of my mouth upon hearing me state that I got into Jawbreaker via their swan song, Dear You, then worked backwards to 24 Hour Revenge Therapy, and have remained more or less indifferent (with some exceptions) to the rest of the catalog ever since.

It’s not a position I can defend to myself, as it turns out, and so I’m grateful to myself for my own blog which has caused me to give some close examination to some things that deserve that level of scrutiny.

So, for scrutiny’s sake, let’s start here. Jawbreaker formed in 1986. Depending on how you’ve got your sundial calibrated, punk music was somewhere between ten and twentyish years old at in 1986. Shit, (and again, it depends on who you ask), rock and roll music wasn’t much more than thirty or forty years old at that point. To put that in some serious context, next year will be thirty years since Jawbreaker formed.

This is probably more a commentary on just how explosive and ever-changing culture was in the latter part of the last century, and less about Jawbreaker, so let’s bring it back. Unfun was their debut album, released in 1990. For me, that’s kind of a weird time for punk music, existing as it does between a lot of things (youth crew hardcore, the evolution of DC hardcore into what would be called “emo”, the explosion of pop-punk, etc.). Looking at that list of things, though, maybe that was the perfect time for Jawbreaker to really emerge, especially given that they draw from so many diverse influences (like that entire list and more).

“Eye-5” works as an excellent example of this: it begins with the sound of a car turning over, followed by a super syncopated, almost wonky rhythm that brings to mind that old Joy Division/Warsaw song “Warsaw” (famously covered by the Swing Kids at a time after Unfun came out, but I digress). As the song continues, it evolves into something of a microcosm of who Jawbreaker would become as a band. Spoken parts? Check. Infectious melodies sung roughly? Yup. Evocative samples? Also yes. In fact, the song moves into some territory near the end that’s not really so different from the best parts of Dear You, kind of a pensive sprawl characterized by, yes, emotion, but also by a slowing down that is not accompanied by any kind of a letting up.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t discuss the lyrics, a sort of stream-of-consciousness diary of an anti-hero careening down the interstate. He is unlikeable, murderous, anti-woman, and completely and utterly humanized by the gifted lyricist that is Blake Schwarzenbach, and all of this in a day before this became the currency of the kind of serial dramas HBO and others have leveraged to make television interesting again (see: DeadwoodHouse of CardsBoardwalk Empire, etc.).

So yes, all these years later, my appreciation for Jawbreaker continues to increase. Please send “When it Pains it Roars” shirts, size men’s L/XL, to Shuffler HQ at your earliest convenience.

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SHUFFLER 0045: PARKAS CLINGING ON THE LAWN

SHUFFLER 0045: PARKAS CLINGING ON THE LAWN
Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Jawbreaker – “Chesterfield King” from Bivouac (1992 Tupelo, Communion)

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If only Blake Schwarzenbach had been around to help Donny Hathaway out, the latter’s “A Dream” (yesterday’s Shuffler) may have ended differently. As it is, I’m not sure the Jawbreaker frontman’s narrator is really that much smoother, but in the end he does seal the deal. There’s a near kiss: “we were caught in an eye to eye…too scared to say a thing” that doesn’t, ultimately materialize “I left your house and kicked myself.” 

But this is a story of punk love, after all, and so our young hero, dejected, angry at himself, befriends a toothless panhandler in a 7-11 parking lot:

A toothless woman turned and stopped.
I gave her a dime and a Chesterfield.
She leaned down and kissed my cheek.
I was scared but it felt sweet.
Felt so sweet.

Setting aside, for a moment, whatever feelings we may have about tobacco products (was it a different world in 1992? Maybe it was. I don’t know. I remember seeing gross pictures and videos in health class in the eighties that were enough to scare me away from cigarettes), the Chesterfield King becomes here a vehicle for human interaction. A shared Chesterfield and a beer with the toothless panhandler (and here you really need to worry about Hepatitis, I think) are enough courage for the protagonist to finally circle back in his car, and then (and this never happens, let’s be real, outside of romantic comedies), THE GIRL IS WAITING FOR HIM OUTSIDE HER HOUSE!!! They “pulled each other into one“, and, presumably, everything was awesome forever after.

Here is the thing: this is why people love Jawbreaker. This song is poppy, and punk, but not pop-punk in the Fat Wreck Chords sense (not that there’s anything wrong with that). It speaks to all of our weird awkwardness where love is concerned — I mean, if we’re punks, we’re outcasts to a certain degree, right? The amount of good intentions present at a Food Not Bombs event or a Mumia Abu Jamal rally is inversely proportinate, I think, to any kind of suaveness one might attempt to locate at the same. So the song is relatable, and if we see ourselves in the main character, aren’t we also rooting for him at the end? The attention to all of the mundane details of life make it smarter and even more accessible. Jawbreaker’s strength was always in having smart, vulnerable lyrics with punk music that was just a little smarter than usual, or maybe smart music that was quite a bit more punk than usual.

Though I’ve complained about them in the past, Pitchfork just ran a pretty great feature that was ostensibly about 1994’s 24 Hour Revenge Therapy but really works as a retrospective on the band’s ouvre as a whole, and really begins in the Bivouac era. I don’t even like to think about what I was listening to in 1992, and didn’t come to Jawbreaker until 1995’s extremely polarizing Dear You, but the more I listen to songs like “Chesterfield King,” the more I understand the sort of rabid fandom that was already in full swing before I even knew what in the world was going on. Jawbreaker had it, long before most of us even knew what it was.