By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
After almost eight years, four albums, and 646 shows, Jawbox broke up like so many bands do, quietly and abruptly. The members of Jawbox never had a chance to say goodbye. There wasn't a swan-song single or farewell tour, not even a final, triumphant gig in its hometown of Washington, D.C. The only thing its fans were left with was a vague e-mail the band sent out in April 1997, thanking them for their support and declaring that Jawbox had "reached the end of its natural lifespan." That, as they say, was that.
At least it was until a few weeks ago: On November 2, a year and a half after the band called it quits, Jawbox finally offered a proper farewell, My Scrapbook of Fatal Accidents, a vault-clearing 22-song compilation of rarities and live tracks. Assembled by bassist Kim Coletta, singer-guitarist-lyricist J. Robbins, and guitarist Bill Barbot--and released on Coletta's DeSoto Records--the album both ties up the loose ends and provides a starting point for nascent fans, and, if nothing else, proves Jawbox is worthy of a second look. Though Fugazi received more acclaim, Jawbox may well have been more influential, shoehorning the aggression of the so-called "harDCore" movement into a pop format. After spending the last few months rummaging through her past, Coletta isn't sure what kind of lasting impact Jawbox had. She's just glad it did.
"I really have no idea," she says, from DeSoto's offices in suburban Washington, D.C. "It's every band's hope that they leave some kind of fleeting impression, and I believe we've done that. I see bands compared to us in 'zine reviews, and it's flattering."
For some people, My Scrapbook may be their first look at Jawbox. During its time together, the band never really received the attention it deserved, spending its early years toiling in Fugazi's considerable shadow, and the latter part of its career defending itself for jumping from Ian MacKaye's idealistic indie Dischord Records to Atlantic Records. It was unfortunate, because the band's first two albums--1991's Grippe and 1992's Novelty--were every bit as powerful and thrilling as any Fugazi album, packed with guitar tension you couldn't have cut through with a team of lumberjacks. And the sell-out charge so often leveled when a band makes the move to a major label rang especially untrue in Jawbox's case. The two albums it released when it was in Atlantic's stable--1994's For Your Own Special Sweetheart and 1996's Jawbox--contained some of the band's best work.
Not that the label noticed or cared much: Atlantic dropped the band a few months after releasing Jawbox. A few months later, the band dropped itself and called it a day. Jawbox, for the most part, went its separate ways: J. Robbins and Bill Barbot formed a new band, Burning Airlines, with Robbins' former Government Issue bandmate, drummer Pete Moffett. Drummer Zach Barocas returned to his first love and entered film school. Bassist Kim Coletta turned the band's vanity label, DeSoto Records, into a full-time gig. Although the band still swears Atlantic had nothing to do with its decision, it's hard to believe them, especially when Coletta--declining to talk about Jawbox's split--only offers, "Atlantic doesn't deserve the press."
But My Scrapbook isn't about elevating Jawbox to its rightful place in the post-punk era. It's simply a 72-minute thank-you note to the people that did pay attention to the band and its impressive body of work. It contains five songs recorded live on legendary BBC DJ John Peel's show in 1994, two unreleased tracks, and four live cuts from the band's 1996 appearance at the HFStival, as well as seven covers the band recorded for various tributes and compilations and several other odds and ends. The album is nothing if not comprehensive, including everything from the first song it ever recorded ("Bullet Park" on 1989's Maximum Rock & Roll compilation They Don't Get Paid, They Don't Get Laid...) to one of the last (the unreleased "Apollo Amateur").
The exhaustive liner notes (contained in two booklets) are even more complete, living up to the Scrapbook part of the title. In one booklet, every show Jawbox played--spanning the years between its first gig at All Souls Church in D.C. on September 22, 1989, with Shudder to Think and Fugazi, to its last at R.I.T. in Rochester, New York, on February 14, 1997, with Transmission 56--has been carefully compiled. In the other booklet, which also contains 22 pages of photos, every appearance the band made on record is listed in scrupulous detail, down to the last catalog number and format variation.
For Coletta, compiling the album was a cleansing ritual, a way of finally coming to terms with a band that devoured almost a decade of her life. For a long time, Jawbox was her complete existence, consuming her free time and making all of her decisions for her. She had been there since the beginning; when Jawbox folded, Robbins and Coletta were the only two original members of the band (Barbot joined in 1990; Barocas in 1992). The band had formed in 1989 as a three-piece with drummer Adam Wade when Robbins decided to start singing his own songs and playing them on guitar after a stint as bassist in Government Issue. When the band ended, Coletta threw herself into running DeSoto--which the band had formed to release its own vinyl--turning it into a full-fledged label with a roster featuring Compound Red, The Dismemberment Plan, Shiner, and Burning Airlines. She came up with the idea for My Scrapbook, an idea that allowed her to close the book on Jawbox once and for all.