I Meant To Listen To: Jawbreaker, “Dear You”

I love a great band teeshirt; especially parody ones.

The first one I fell in love with was the Deftones’ “Dickies” shirt. I had seen it in some trashy rock magazine like Hit Parader or Metal Hammer where there was a picture of Zach de la Rocha wearing the infamous shirt.  The classic horseshoe design with DEFTONES blazed on the front looked so cool. I just loved the idea of it, intellectual properties be damned. I never bought the shirt, even though it still lives on with the help of online markets selling an obvious inferior version.

The second shirt I loved (and actually bought) was the 311 “7-eleven” parody shirt. I basically wore that shirt until it fell apart. As someone who thrived on any kind of attention, the shirt did in fact make a few people do a double-take. Seeing a shirt that looked like a logo for a convenience store to actually be one for the Nebraskan funk-rapping quintet must have made people all mixed up.

The last one had a design that I really liked, but didn’t know anything about the band associated with the shirt. The tee featured the timeless “Umbrella Girl” from Morton’s salt and was for a band called Jawbreaker. I’d see the shirt from time to time at various shows over the years, but never did any digging about who or what Jawbreaker was.

What I did see in the coming years were the constant variations of the “Umbrella Girl”. Boston-based designer Johnny Cupcakes released a version with sprinkles falling instead of salt. Independent Professional Wrestler UltraMantis Black also had a version that he would sell at events. My local ice cream shop is Somerville also sells a shirt, but instead of an umbrella, a girl is holding up a giant ice cream cone. On the back of this shirt there is a quote that reads, “Every little thing must go wrong”. Putting these pieces together like a jigsaw puzzle for a preschooler, I figured they were lyrics to a Jawbreaker song. Evidently, they were and later that day I bought their album Bivouac.

While I enjoyed Bivouac very much, I felt like it was meant for that time. It was rugged and untidy and looking to punch you in the jaw (possibly even breaking it, idk). I came across the album Dear You after reading that it was the band’s last. Apparently the album was not received well since it had taken on a more polished sound, which alienated a good amount of their fans. Shortly after the album’s release and subsequent tour opening for upstarts Foo Fighters, Jawbreaker had broken up.

Now I can understand why diehard fans may have been upset with Dear You. The songs are cleaner and more tightened up, almost like they belong on Offspring’s Smash or Green Day’s Dookie, whose albums came out a year prior to Dear You‘s 1995 release. It was just a massive deviation from previous efforts. Upon listening to Dear You, you can hear the blueprint that the following generation of pop-punk artists have used as a template to offload their baggage.

Unlike most of what that next generation of pop-punk created, Dear You is good. Like, really good.

Dear You rips open with the track “Save Your Generation”, a call to arms of sorts. Lyrics such as, “I have a message: save your generation. We’re killing each other by sleeping in”, stab like a dagger to those who are all talk and no action. Songs like “Fireman“, “Chemistry”, and “Lurker II: Dark Son of Night” are all punishing in their own ways, but are all still wonderfully constructed songs with tremendous hooks.

The absolute highlight of the album is “Sluttering (May 4th)“. Driven by the unrelenting bassline from Chris Bauermeister, the song becomes an instant classic for me and my ears within the opening measures. The way that Blake Schwarzenbach just unloads on this song is something to behold. The last verse is overflowing with every emotion from every bad breakup from every person that you thought you wanted a future with. It’s vulnerable, yet therapeutic, but not (if that makes any sense).

Like any great song that uses repetition to drill the point home, “Sluttering” ends with the line, “if you hear this song a hundred times it still won’t be enough”. It might not be one hundred listens for me yet, but it’s getting close. And you’re right, it still isn’t enough.

One last thing, I did buy the Jawbreaker “umbrella Girl” shirt when I saw them perform this past March.

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