Sunday, October 24, 2010

Alexander Blake Schwarzenbach Still Has It.

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I am thirty three years old.  I did not hear Jawbreaker until I was twenty three.  Bivouac being the first record I heard.  The album that completely changed my life.  Though, I had known about them for a long time before that.  Having been involved in the Punk/Hardcore community in the Midwest for awhile, very few bands escape the radar when kids are starving for any sound from "out there".  As a younger man I explored every facet of the scene to see which social group I could most comfortably align myself with (as young men are prone to do).  First, at Thirteen or Fourteen, it was Straight Edge.  That was fine for awhile,  we loved Minor Threat, we loved Uniform Choice, we loved skateboarding and Coca Cola.  All fine activities for children before the discovery of girls, alcohol and the almighty plant.  Eventually, middle school became high school.  I was left with little comfort from my peers.  Sure, I had a few cohorts with similar beliefs and interests.  Mainly skating around, getting stoned, listening to Black Flag or Minutemen.  Some friends were getting turned on to bands like Braid, Evergreen, Still Life.  At the time, maybe I thought those sounds were just a bit too tame for me.  I was hearing Crust and Grindcore for the first time, absolutely falling in love.   I could never explain to Willie what it meant to me that, while he was developing a love for 311 and Sublime, I was getting more out of bands like Septic Death, GISM or Deviated Instinct.  I am sure those bands from our youth still meant plenty to him,  I just didn't understand why his tastes were beginning to travel so far askew of our original path.  My beliefs, and clothing were getting a bit grimier, while he was beginning to resemble the jocks we fought so vehemently against when they would hurl insults, rocks and fists at us after school.  Looking back, I realize how closed minded I was.  If it wasn't Hardcore for the Hardcore, I didn't want to have anything to do with it.  How ridiculous.  Needless to say, our friendship did not last.   I wonder what ever happened to him?   Eventually...  1995, Graduation, escape from Wisconsin!!  As soon as I had a bit of money saved up, I decided to buy a ticket to California.  Oakland to be exact.  I wanted to be where Gilman was.  I wanted to walk the same streets that Neurosis walked.  I wanted to live the Crust Punk dream.  With my Dreaded Mullet just right and my clothes patched up with all the right band patches,  I sure looked the part. The problem was, it just wasn't moving me the same way it had a few years prior.  For all the shocking, outward imagery and revolutionary banter Crust Punks had, there was very little action.  The music was not standing up to the message.  I saw far too many punks succumb to living for the bottle, the needle, the nothingness.  Shit, I am plenty guilty of wasting my life away on pointless substance abuses.  It is still a struggle today.  Maybe that is why I am writing this blog.  Sober now,  I feel like my mind is finally clear after years of clouded motionlessness.
     Anyway,   the late nineties were filled with hopping trains, organizing Food Not Bombs, collecting vintage typewriters, writing as much as I could and exploring new sounds.  I was finally beginning to understand the attraction to Classic Rock.  Robert Johnson became a salvation.  Suddenly,  those bands I was too afraid to grasp as a younger man were beginning to make an impact.  I devoured everything Ebullition Records, everything Gravity Records, everything No Idea Records, anything and everything that was or could be considered Emotional Hardcore.  Frail, Jasmine, Ivich, Current, Portraits of Past, Reversal Of Man, Forstella Ford, the Ladderback, Orchid.  These bands were proving you could write thoughtful progressive lyrics without having to resort to tired cliches.  I had found a new favorite sound. 

     The new Millennium was upon us.  Everyone was in a panic, wondering if the world was going to go black at the stroke of midnight.  Luckily, 2000 came and went with little fanfare.  I had just moved back to the Bay Area after a much needed break from the road.  I was living in Richmond with a roommate who had the largest record collection I had ever known.  It was a veritable wonderland.  Everything from original Avengers records to one off pressings of Zappa bootleg 45's!!  One day, as I was exploring the letter J in the LPs, I happened upon Jawbreaker.  I hadn't thought of them for a long time.  But, I had learned one really important thing about them by then...  Girls ABSOLUTELY loved them!!!  Shit, if the ladies like them, than they would have to like a guy who likes them, right...?  I might as well throw it on the turntable and see what all the commotion is about.  Holy Shit!!!  First song!!!  "Shield Your Eyes"!!!  Fucking Brilliance like I had never heard!!  And those lyrics!!!  Never before had I encountered such naked, raw emotion!!  And the title track!! Ten minutes and six seconds of hectic, distorted beauty that made me weak in the knees!!!  At that moment, Jawbreaker became my favorite band.  'Unfun' is certainly a fine first album.  Filled with shining moments of the wonder to come.  'Bivouac' is, well, quite possibly the greatest Pop/Post/Punk/Hardcore/Emo/Whatever record ever made.  '24 Hour Revenge Therapy' is also amazing.  Absolutely tear jerking Post Punk written by a man who could only speak from his heart.  Lyrics laid so bare, it was almost discomforting listening to them.  Shit, I even enjoy listening to 'Dear You'.  Unfortunate for me, I had, by years, missed the boat on ever seeing them live.  Jets To Brazil was a competent replacement.  'Orange Rhyming Dictionary' had some very strong, stand out tracks.  Still, where was the energy? where was that bitter restlessness?  Where were those tears of rage?  Gone with the years, I guess...

Enter Forgetters.  The first new band from Mr. Schwarzenbach since Thorns Of Life, and the first to produce any vinyl.   This self titled double 7" is a welcome return to form for Blake.  Gone is the polished Pop of Jets To Brazil, opting instead for that fuzzy, distorted, whiskey and cigarette delivery we all loved so much.  The songs are darker, more driving, more in line with 'Bivouac' than anything from the three Jets albums.  Hallelujah!!!!  Also featuring Caroline Paquita from the band Bitchin' on Bass and Kevin Mahon from Against Me on DrumsThis is a much appreciated reintroduction from one of the most amazing lyricists of the last thirty years.  Thank you Blake,  Welcome Back.

1 comment:

  1. Well, you sure did stink in high school, literally, but before you opted to invert, you could skate like a mad man, and I sure looked up to you!