I'm going to preface this review with my opinion that Blake Schwarzenbach is a singular voice in American music, not just punk rock. Long after I wore out my Dead Kennedys and Fugazi records, I could put on 24 Hour Revenge Therapy or Bivouac on like an old t-shirt. I still love those other bands, but Jawbreaker felt like a meeting point between literature and music. The songs were stories that invoked real feelings. Mostly malaise and uncertainty with a heaping helping of heartbreak, but real feelings. They were the closest a band ever got to the stories you'd read in Cometbus or Burn Collector.
So when the 33 1/3 series comes out about with an edition about their high-water mark, and it spends almost 50 pages on the politics of 90's punk, it's hard not to see it as a juvenile exercise in cultural masturbation. Something author Ronen Givony points out pretty clearly, that all this consternation over how much and who pays bands seems silly when you take into account that the last decades have us worrying if anyone's paying artists at all. There are fair arguments that it is still the labels not paying anyone, but that's another essay. I will say that reading about how little people seemed to care about the actual music anyone was making, brought home why John Roderick's Punk Rock Is Bullshit didn't bother me all that much.
Of course, Blake spitting in the face of punk orthodoxy was what kept 24-Hour Revenge Therapy in my backpack for years. His music lead me to Kerouac and a wider world beyond hair gel and screechy guitars all in one album. There's a sample of October In The Railroad Earth at the end of Condition Oakland.
I read through all two hundred pages of the book in one sitting. This is not only a great album joining one of my favorite engineers with one of my favorite bands, but it was also a turning point in my taste in music.
This was where I listened to less hardcore and more old post-punk, digging into jazz, rediscovering industrial, and finding post-rock. It's likely a manufactured memory built out of the nostalgia. It's also shorting the eclecticism of late-period Fugazi, as well as getting into indie through Blake's Jets to Brazil as other broadening agents.
I love punk, some of the best experiences of my life happened at the foot of a stage with my ears ringing. On the other hand, I can see the inherent silliness of a guy in his late thirties celebrating teenage kicks, or screaming damn the man when you have a student loan to pay. I'm not saying we shouldn't fight against the ever creeping corporatism, but maybe we should have listened to Jello about not becoming zealots to the point of learned helplessness.
It was not only a way to ensure that the snapback was one of the most bluntly commercialized periods in music, but it missed that fact that actual political action was being taken to protest fucking bands! Is it any surprise the country's been at war for almost two decades, and it's run by a wannabe despot TV show host? There are some nuances I'm missing here, illustrated in the book by Godspeed You Black Emporer illustration of connections between entertainment and defense corporations. That doesn't excuse the fact that we're spending time trying to decry artists because it's easier than reforming government corruption.
So they're standing next to a crushed daisy at the bottom of a mountain when the boulder crushed the entire village. Givony does his best to try and take the whole argument apart, and give everyone's viewpoint a fair shake. It's masterful that it's sheer pointless and overwrought polemics leave you as frustrated as anyone who lived through it felt.
The rest of the book is not nearly as rant inducing, but it is well done. Givony tells the story of Jawbreaker in vignettes of personal stories. It gives the background that informed 24 Hour Revenge Therapy and gives both its musical and literary influences some robust exploration. I probably never would have spotted the Dream Syndicate influence on Jawbreaker if not for this book.
The whole 33 1/3 series is something that you either get or you don't. If you care enough about albums to read about the process that went into making them, these books are the gold standard. Jawbreaker's destruction after signing to a major label was a legend that outshined the recording of any of their albums. That gets rolled in here, as does their triumphant return at riot fest last year. (One I skipped to go see Wire, which was worth it.) Givony also adds a postscript about the girl who got him into Jawbreaker in a sweet personal afterward.
That personal connection to the music is what made this a breezy read. I don't think anyone but fans of the band and their music is going to get a lot out of this book, but that's not a bad thing. Sharing the same connection to the music as the author does a lot to make the book feel like more than scholarship or music snobbery.
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