24 Hour Revenge Therapy
“Listening to this makes me feel like I’m sixteen again,” I said to my buddy Adam, when I was 22. We were sitting in the living room of the punk house where he lived and I was crashing at the time, drinking Big Gulp-sized whiskey & Cokes, listening to some punk band or other. “You always say that,” he said. “I do?” “Yeah. Every time we listen to punk, you say it makes you feel like you’re sixteen again.”
When I was 16, I was fucking punk. I’d been on the way to turning out a punk for many years. I became part of the scene at age 15, and by my 16th birthday (New Year’s Eve, 1997) Jessie was a Punk Rocker. So what else was there to do in 1998 but throw myself into living like a punk? What living like a punk meant to me was living a life of adventure, living a life like I’d read about in Cometbus. It meant a life of travel and exploration, of dumpster diving and short-lived love affairs. It meant a life of the most rooftop-scaling joys and the most bone-deep lows. Now, some of that was part of being a teenager (it was so easy to feel like everything was either The Best Thing That Had Ever Happened or The End Of The World). And some of it was intrinsic to who I was (manic-depressive tendencies will do that to you). Some of it was part of the world I’d glimpsed through zines and Sassy when I was tiny and tenderhearted. (That world of art and pain and love, of boys and girls/men and women who did interesting things.) And some of it was as Beat as it was Punk, but there’s no surprise there (I got into the beats at almost exactly the same time I got into punk). Maybe saying that I threw myself into living like a punk doesn’t quite describe it. Maybe what I mean is: for so many years, I tried to keep up the outward appearance of being a good girl, and I was afraid to do certain things (at least in public: I did those things either in private or when I was far away from home). I was afraid of disappointing my parents, and afraid of the ‘cool kids’ thinking I wasn’t cool enough. But by the time 1998 hit, I’d said ‘fuck it, I’m gonna do the things I want to do anyway,’ and I openly engaged in desperate acts (the kind that made me look stupid).
The way I got into Jawbreaker was the way I got into a lot of bands - I’d first heard them a few years prior, on a mix tape from a zine pal, and I’d liked the sound but it hadn’t stuck with me. The timing had been off. At 16, I was ready for Jawbreaker. I bought 24 Hour Revenge Therapy (and Bivouac & Dear You shortly thereafter). 24 Hour Revenge Therapy was like a train (into you like a train), it bounced and chugged along, it screeched into noise but then slowed down into tiny soft moments, barely noticeable but everpresent. It was sadness and loneliness and drinking and love, and it had its depressing moments - and I had my depressed moments during that terrible, wonderful year, but Jawbreaker made me feel almost joyful in my depression. 24 Hour Revenge Therapy was like nothing I’d ever heard before and everything I’d ever wanted, and it became the soundtrack to that year, the soundtrack to the adventures and the mundane moments. I listened to the record in my room while I pasted up my fanzine or sipped from my secret stash of booze. I made a cassette copy and carried it around with me like it was the Holy Grail of Punk, and I listened to it while I rode my bike or wandered around Racine, and while I smoked cigarettes on the garage roof. I took it with me on airplane trips to see my friends back east or to explore the Pacific Northwest, took it on car rides to summer camp in Whitewater and the coffeeshops of Milwaukee and the subdivisions of suburban Illinois and the 24-hour diners of Kenosha and the wilds of Door County. It rode with me on trains and trains and trains between Kenosha and Chicago; I listened to it while I looked out the window at the lake and at the backsides of brick buildings in sleepy suburbs. I listened to it while I rode CTA buses and el trains and found my way to Belmont Ave. or to shows at Metro or the Fireside Bowl. I listened to it while I lay in bed, with the volume low so I could hear the sounds of trains and foghorns (and gunshots and sirens) that came in through my window; at those times, Blake Schwarzenbach’s raspy voice was a punk rock lullaby that sent me off to a restless sleep full of sad and beautiful dreams.
“The Boat Dreams From The Hill” was all my impossible dreams, I listened to it while I walked by Lake Michigan, that blue-grey expanse. I knew it was only Michigan on the other side but it looked to my heart like the high seas, and I thought: “I wanna be a boat, I wanna learn to swim.” And there I was, stuck on the hill - but sometimes rain brought girlish wonder. (Because of the scenery of my life when it was the soundtrack to my life, when I listen to 24 Hour Revenge Therapy now, I often see rain soaked visions of Racine, Kenosha, Waukegan, Chicago. Funny that a Bay Area band reminds me of the midwest.) “Boxcar” was the theme song, is the fucking theme song; I was fucking punk but already hated the elitism, the rules, the way people said there was one way to be punk - their way. I was passing out while you were passing out your rules, and “you don’t know what I’m all about, like killing cops and reading Kerouac.” “Ashtray Monument” is so sad, so sad, that worst part of a divorce or breakup when your whole life breaks apart, and “No one said that this life was easy. Did that no one ever live a life this hard?” (The song came back to haunt me in later years, after the breakup of my first long-term, cohabitant relationship: “Do you remember our whole life? I did the dishes while you read out loud.”) “Condition Oakland” was my life, again I picture Racine, not Oakland, when I hear it. Well, no, now I picture both, but I’m trying not to jump too far ahead in time… It was my life when I was 16, so when Blake sings “I rode down to the tracks,” I see myself riding my bike to the tracks that cut across State Street, standing there hoping for a train to go by so I could read the graffiti and imagine hopping on it (but they just stared back, trainless). When he sings “Climbed out onto my roof, so I’d be a poet in the night,” I see myself sitting on the garage roof that my bedroom closet led out onto, chain-smoking and scribbling in my journal. And then, you know, halfway through it’s beautiful noise and woven in is Jack Kerouac’s voice: “and everything is pouring in, the switching moves of boxcars in that little alley which is so much like the alleys of Lowell and I hear far off in the sense of coming night that engine calling our mountains,” and oh God, oh God. “Ache” made me ache, I felt it in my soul. I believed in desperate acts, and “I never felt like this before. I say that every hour.” That was being a teenager, that sense that every intense thing I felt was completely new to me, to the world. “Do You Still Hate Me?” was the way I felt about everyone, all my desperate crushes and loves (that I usually assumed hated me, or at least didn’t like me as much as I liked them). I wrote them letters that I never sent, letters that said: “Hey, I remember that day. And I miss you.” “Jinx Removing,” was and is one of my all-time favorite songs. It’s a happysad tune that made me jump up and down, because I was too old not to get excited about rain and roads, Egyptian ruins, our first kiss. And “In Sadding Around” - that was another one that came back to haunt me. By the time I was 21, five years after I’d first heard it, sleeping off those last five years took another five.
If I ever see Adam again, I’ll let him read this piece. This is what I meant all those times when I said “this makes me feel like I’m 16 again.” Certain punk albums - the best ones - whether they’re new to me or old favorites I’ve rediscovered, remind me of how I felt back then. They remind me of having 24 Hour Revenge Therapy in my Walkman while I rode my bike, and how, though my heart broke every day, when I heard those drumbeats, bass lines, and guitar chords, when I heard Blake sing: “Boat on a hill, never going to sea,” and I rode my bike down the hill, toward the lake, it felt like maybe I could turn into a boat and float forever.
[originally appeared in Reckless Chants #22; I’m sharing it in honor of the announcement that Jawbreaker will be reuniting to play Riot Fest this year]