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All Limbs Intact: Celebrating Jawbreaker’s “Dear You”

Posted by March 17th, 2022 1 Comment »

“What’s the closest you can come

To an almost total wreck

And still walk away

All limbs intact?”

– Accident Prone

It’s a question most Jawbreaker fans have felt at a cellular level. On Friday I will witness the live answer to that question when Chris Bauermeister, Adam Pfahler, and Blake Schwarzenbach reunite at Seattle’s Showbox SoDo to kick off their latest reunion tour featuring the album Dear You, in its entirety.

And, I will finally be celebrating my favorite band’s fourth and final album for the first time — 27 years after its release.

Because three decades is about how long I needed to be ready to fully embrace it.

Yes, I’m part of Jawbreaker’s original fanbase that fully rejected Dear You. And I know what most people think; particularly those who became fans after the fact. I’ve been hearing it since the bands demise in 1996: “What was wrong with you guys? This album is their masterpiece!”

We dismissed it without even giving it a chance. We had a distaste for slick production. We rejected experimentation and were “incapable of nuance and mercy” (and on, and on…)

But the truth is that we are not the villains we’ve been made out to be.

Ok, so we were unforgiving dicks back then. That part is true. But we weren’t music snobs.

We were simply sick and tired. Sick and tired of industry bullshit. Sick and tired of the world’s bullshit. Sick and tired of mainstream propaganda infiltrating the things we loved, seeking to groom us to uphold the very power structures to which we had an active, visceral aversion.

Some of us were, quite literally, physically sick and tired from alcoholism, addiction, and poor mental health. We were struggling to maintain any kind of autonomy in a world that just refused to let us have it, and we simply couldn’t handle the industry eating any more of our heroes.

“Original Fanbase” by Carolyn Duchesne

You’ll have to imagine (or try to remember) what it was like being an independent music fan pre-internet. Our ability to discover and support non-mainstream artists relied on a thriving scene built almost entirely on analog communication. News didn’t travel very fast. Rumors were rampant. We had plenty of public forums to voice our frustrations, but our voices didn’t get very far beyond them.

Industry giants weren’t exactly reaching for our punkzines with an interest in nurturing the scene and preserving our subcultures. They only cared about the masses. They could have just scooped up one or two of our bands and made a decent buck. But that’s not all they were after. They wanted our entire scene. All of it.

Since Jawbreaker disbanded, and especially since the release of the 2017 Jawbreaker documentary Don’t Break Down, there has been a slew of stories on bands “selling out” in the 90’s that reference Jawbreaker as being one of the most controversial, always with special attention to how fans — quite literally — turned their backs on the band.

But the narrative has been dominated by other musicians and people who found a place in the industry. And just because someone has the ability to critique the music doesn’t necessarily mean they are qualified to critique the experience.

And for that reason, I find most of those think pieces tragically lacking the voice of the original fanbase. They diminish the experience of what it was like being a young adult in the 90’s; sick of the world’s bullshit, and tired of losing artists to the pitfalls of mainstream success.

Of course, we wanted our favorite musicians to be able to make a living and get the recognition they deserved, and we knew that’s not something that happens when you’re doing $6 shows at gritty bars and old armories.

But that success came at a huge cost to us personally. Plenty of bands who spoke out about “selling out” loved to say they owed us nothing, while maintaining the attitude that we, somehow, owed something to them: the willingness to accept changes that simply didn’t speak to us, and to find a way around the barriers that came with increased visibility and obligation (the latter being something that would only be made possible with new technology that we didn’t have yet).

No, we weren’t against Jawbreaker experimenting. After all, every album they put out was different from the one before, and I loved that.

And, no, we didn’t have some maladjusted aversion to success.

We simply didn’t like the sacrifices musicians were making to find mainstream success, the sacrifices we had to make to help them get it, or what was left of them once they were stripped of our feedback; the kind of intimate, immediate feedback that only smaller venues packed with proletariats could provide.

And the more inaccessible and over-regulated musicians became, the worse they were. It was killing their creativity. It was killing their careers. It was killing them.

Had we known what the internet had in store for independent artists and fans, we might have been a little more forgiving of the choices Jawbreaker made, and we wouldn’t have seen their signing with Geffen as the end of days. But we didn’t know, so it was what it was.

My immediate rejection of Dear You was more than just a misguided preemptive strike; it was traumatic reaction.

The first time I listened to Dear You I cried. I cried through the whole thing, because I was heartbroken and knew it was the end of Jawbreaker. It was the final straw, and something in me broke. Three years would pass before I’d listen to Dear You for the second time, and not without stirring up feelings of brokenness I’d been trying very hard to overcome.

Getting the 4 F’s emblazoned on my person in April 1998. Shout out to Joey of Sacred Art Tattoo in Corvallis, OR.

Eventually my opinion about the album would mature. My feelings about some of the tracks would shift, and I’d come to feel like an asshole, albeit justifiably so. The punishment of existing in a Jawbreaker-less world felt appropriate.

But tomorrow, it all comes full circle.

One of the reasons I’m so sentimental about this tour is that for me and so many others, this Dear You Anniversary Tour is an opportunity to heal these old wounds and celebrate together in a way that just wasn’t possible for us back then.

My Jawbreaker vinyl collection. A mix of my own albums, and albums that once belonged to the guy I used to think about when I listened to Jinx Removing and Do You Still Hate Me.
Blake Schwarzenbach post-Jawbreaker. Blake moved on to form Jets to Brazil and, missing my favorite band, I went to nearly every JTB show they played in the PNW… just to bum a light off of Blake while he tried to enjoy the opening bands unbothered. (Sorry about that, Blake. I definitely had my own lighter.)

I don’t want to end this piece without giving Dear You a proper nod for the lovely album it is.

One of the reasons this album sparked so many feelings back then, and still does to this day, is because that’s what great music does: it triggers something inside. And if it’s really good, it sticks.

Sometimes in ways that aren’t intended; sometimes in ways we wish we could shake.

If you see me raging in the audience on Friday to this album I once passionately rejected, that’s me moving forward. And, if you can’t tell if I’m sweating or crying, let me assure you it will definitely be both. Because I may be a bit older, and a bit wiser, but these eyes stayed wide. I am still the same sentimental fool that fell madly in love with Jawbreaker all those years ago.

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