Why I don’t have Jawbreaker fever (but it is totally cool if you do)

My Instagram feed seems to have been flooded over the past few weeks with pictures of people at one of the many Jawbreaker reunion shows. Well, actually, most of the pictures aren’t of people at the show: instead, the images generally show the tiny little heads of Blake, Chris, and Adam against the backdrop of a massive Jawbreaker banner draped across the back of a big stage.

Listen, this social media Jawbreaker inundation is entirely my own fault: I am the one who decided to follow all these people who also love Jawbreaker. So I can’t complain, and I am not complaining. But when several people asked me if I had my tickets and was excited to go, I had to explain that I had no interest in going to see any of these shows. For those who know how much I love Jawbreaker, my ambivalence might have come as a surprise.

We all have our own rules. That’s certainly something we should have learned in the greater hardcorepunk scene, one composed of various pockets of rather orthodox rules. Back then we all tended to aim the rules at other people, but my rules about which shows that I will go to are for me alone. I am not saying a single thing about what’s right for others, just what’s right for me.

Jawbreaker is one of those bands that I literally grew up with. I remember discovering the Unfun LP in the bins of KSPC radio and then waiting with excitement for every subsequent album to come out. I remember the sensation that the Chesterfield King single created. I remember the debates over whether Blake’s voice had gone soft on 24 Hour Revenge therapy. And I remember being played a bootlegged copy of the “major label album” in Mark Rodgers’ kitchen in San Francisco during the Half Man national tour. In many ways, the history of Jawbreaker runs parallel to my own punk coming of age.

And I love this band. There are aspects of Jawbreaker that I can now look at a bit more critically — particularly Blake’s oversized love of the clever lyric — but overall the band completely holds up for me. The stories that the songs tell are compelling. The music has its own sound and plenty of variety. The soul of this band is real, and very real for me.

I have seen Jawbreaker more times than I can count. I know that my Claremont co-conspirator Drew Gilbert and I booked them at Scripps College during the Bivouac days. During one week in the Spring of 1992 my pal Billie Cohen and I saw Jawbreaker at least five times in a week, as we followed them up from Southern to Northern California. And when I returned to New York I am pretty sure that Half Man had the privilege of playing with Jawbreaker in the ABC-NO-RIO basement twice (once in 1993, once in 1994?).

I was an inconsistent photographer throughout these years, but the gallery below captures some of the shows where I did take pictures:

So I can’t really say that I am Jawbreaker’s number one fan because I realize that a lot of people love this band a whole lot, but suffice to say that I am a big fan. And this fandom is not just a past memory: to this day I regularly listen to all four of the Jawbreaker albums.

That brings us to the question of why I didn’t have any interest in attending any of the Jawbreaker reunion shows that were a convenient borough away from where I currently live.

The short answer is that I didn’t want to ruin everything that this band meant to me.

I have learned my lesson on this front the hard way. When’s there’s a band that I really loved — one that really meant a lot to me “during their time” — and they get back together for a reunion, it ain’t going to be the same. The show that really solidified this reality for me was the Rorschach reunion a few years back. Just like Jawbreaker, Rorschach was one of these really important bands in my punk development, and one whose shows I really cherished. I still remember a Rorschach show (also in the ABC-NO-RIO basement) right after their album Protestant came out: basically they blazed through the entire album without stopping. That made quite an impression on me.

What happened when I saw Rorschach at their reunion show? Did they suck compared to their earlier days? Not at all! Did I feel like they were somehow exploiting their previous fame? No way… I can totally understand why they would want to get together and play again, and clearly this reunion was for that experience and not for any other real gain.

So what’s the damn problem?

For me, the problem was that nothing had changed. The reunion show was the same 1990’s Rorschach transposed into the 2010’s present. It was the same songs, except for maybe they were played through a slightly better sound system at a slightly larger venue. Nothing had changed, and that was the problem. For me, my memories are sacred, maybe particularly because my memories are far more affective than they are historically precise. And the feeling of the reunion show kind of blunted a bit of that strong feeling from the original past by creating a time-space discontinuity: something that had formed such a strong emotive experience in my past had inexplicably bled into the future where it did not belong. Rorschach wasn’t ruined, but there was a far less compelling memory that got aggregated with the memories that I cherish.

And that’s why I had no interest in touching one of these big Jawbreaker reunion shows with a ten foot pole. I don’t want to see Jawbreaker today because Jawbreaker was such a big part of my yesterday.

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