Broken Teeth and Dirty Sheets: A Jawbreaker Fan’s Wet Dream

Jawbreaker
Published  January 2013

It was a couple of months of anticipation and uncertainty, but finally that cardboard package with the familiar 4F stamp pressed on the back, between borders of yellow and pink tape, was in my hands. I peeled it open with the excitement, nervousness and the kind of rushed care that I used unclasping my first bra. Fittingly, the first thing I saw when I spread the flaps were a set of breasts pointing at me. They didn’t belong to another awkward, hormonally imbalanced teen but to the strange skull-headed rabbit creature painted by Brendan Murdock, the cover of Jawbreaker’s Bivouac. This would be the fifth version of Bivouac that I would own. I’ve had the cassette, CD, MP4, the newly remixed and remastered MP4 and now I have the remixed and remastered 12” record, along with the remixed and remastered Chesterfield King EP, also on 12” vinyl as an added bonus.

It’s hard for me to say that I have a favorite band, but more often than not, when I’m asked I’ll give that nod to Jawbreaker. When I don’t, it likely means all is good in my love life. But that is rarely the case. It’s usually just a torturous road of pining and regret; and when it comes to love lost or infatuations not acted upon, there is no one better to commiserate with than Blake Schwarzenbach. He’s the 3-chord Ezra Pound (and all the literary students light their torches). Maybe it isn’t that his lyrics can be so poetic, just that they can be so relatable. It doesn’t hurt that they are sung along to some of the best bass lines in punk rock history (which have been boosted and sound better than ever in this remaster from the original tapes) with such harshness that they actually broke his voice. I guess it’s that constant relevance in lyrical content and the maturity of the entire aural package that keeps these albums from my teens in constant rotation into my mid-thirties.

I seriously doubt that I’ve gone a week without listening to at least one Jawbreaker song since I first heard them; it’s usually “Chesterfield King.” Sadly, this could be the theme song to 98% of every relationship I’ve ever been in (or almost). The story of a guy afraid of his impulses, he’s finally inspired into action by a conversation outside a convenience store with a toothless woman over a bummed cigarette. My dealings with toothless women have been more awkward and less helpful: one felated a chicken wing aggressively at me while another hurled anti-Semitic slurs in my direction. Nonetheless, the tale of awkward moments spent together with the object of my desire, neither of us making a move, should be tattooed on my face as a welldeserved scarlet letter.

That connection to Chesterfield King is only one thing that makes Bivouac my favorite Jawbreaker album. Unfun  (Jawbreaker’s first LP) was the fast-paced aggressive action thriller made with unknown actors and a small budget. It was raw, powerful, gritty and while you loved what you saw, you knew that something bigger and better was coming. Bivouac is the weird art-house film. The songs are paced differently. There are spirals of noise and samples from the Twilight Zone layered in places where other bands would have inserted a guitar solo. The lyrics are more abstract and all seem to be themed around isolation and feeling small, which is a great juxtaposition to sounds so big you can hear the snare rattling even when it’s not being struck. It was very much the evolution of pop-punk and the missing link between Hüsker Dü and Sonic Youth, if it had been captured with a super 8 camera and filmed out of order, Memento style. The title track is the biggest break from your standard punk tune; filled with tempo changes and layers of noise, it clocks in at over 10 minutes.

The thing about revisiting Bivouac is that it feels like I never left it. It doesn’t give me the sense of nostalgia like listening to the Descendents. I certainly haven’t outgrown it, and maybe that says more about me than it does about the record. I hope that these re-issues introduce this awkwardly beautiful record to a new a generation of self-loathing insecure romantics.

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