Saturday, May 3, 2008

Reasons to be Emo #100/ Jawbreaker - Dear You

I've been threatening this since Reason #50 at the end of last year:

To mark the 100th post on Hardcore for Nerds, this is a unfinished piece of writing I had done before I started blogging - on, er, the parallels between Jawbreaker's 'Save Your Generation' and the teachings of Zen Buddhism.

I think there's an implicit link between this and the influence on me of Zen and the Art of Face Punching. It's fair to say that without that site, there would be no Hardcore for Nerds. I'm glad to say that Blend77 has recently reported that he now has a garden - a physical one, which I hope will complement the garden of the soul which the blogging community is, to some degree, to all of those involved in it.

Thanks, as always, to blend, sweetbabyjaysus, josephlovesit, papstar and all the others who have helped, linked, read and commented over the while. Read on!

(flowers + broken/rusted things = emo garden!)



Jawbreaker plays noisy, brash yet tender pop-punk, built around Blake Schwarzenbach’s artfully crafted lyricisms. On Dear You, their sloppy punk sound reaches its most polished (though still faithful) texture through the application of high production values. The opening song, ‘Save Your Generation’, while more poetic than anthemic, encapsulates that paradoxical world of disaffected youth which features so strongly in their creative output. It is both typical and original, familiar and potent.

While reading Alan Watt’s The Way of Zen, I happened to listen to that song once again, and was amused to be struck by a strong similarity between Schwarzenbach’s lyrics and the Buddhist philosophy I had just digested. Amused, because I doubted that Jawbreaker would be constructed around any particular ideology or doctrine; yet surprised, because the resemblance were more than fleeting, and altogether, something more than tangential. Certain lines reflected quite aptly some central ideas of Zen, or even presented them to me in a clearer or more illuminating light.

Whether it be by true intent, or absorption of the wider culture, or simply by some kind of parallel moral evolution (and of course, let’s not forget the distorting power of perception), there is a tangible link between these two apparently disparate subjects. I thus suggest, as a fervent yet hardly serious idea, that Jawbreaker is Zen. If, as they say, truth is stranger than fiction, is enlightenment stranger than art?


Quietly, urgently, Save your Generation begins with a typical Schwarzenbach opening line – clever wordplay all bound up with cool honesty:

"I have a present – it is the present

You’ve got to – to learn to – to find it within you"

Buddhism regards most abstract concepts with suspicion, and particularly those peculiarly human ideas of past and future. After all, they aren’t really real, at least not in any tangible, immediate sense – merely mental perceptions and categorizations, or maya, which forms the apparent reality, in fact a construction of the mind. Of such effective delusions is created the difficulties of the human condition, or as Buddhism sees it, dhukka – the continual, pervasive and ubiquitous ‘suffering’ which defines life.

Much better, then, to abandon all thought of these empty abstractions – either through the contortions of relativistic philosophy (Mayahana Buddhism, heavy on reading scriptures) or through the cultivation of sudden enlightenment, as in Zen. Instantaneous enlightenment, say through meditation, is at the heart of Zen Buddhism, and is in one way an embrace of the present – of spontaneity, of detachment from clinging concerns for past or future. In Zen, the present really is a 'present', with its own reward of philosophical bliss, or satori.

Okay, so maybe Jawbreaker aren’t exactly pointing out some kind of mystical enlightenment. But neither, exactly, is Zen. The present of enlightenment is really something very ordinary and everyday – that’s the whole point of Zen Buddhism, to bring enlightenment into the immediacy of real life. Similarly, Jawbreaker lives in the moment, delivering this salvation to the modern generation’s ills with immediacy, with a statement of momentous simplicity. The present, an instantaneous joke, sudden enlightenment; a panacea of profound ordinariness.

Furthermore, the truly creative and counter-intuitive part of Zen is this very simplicity in finding the deepest of religious or philosophical truths. No doubt, then, that Jawbreaker’s quasi-spiritual salvation can really be found within you, and that all the difficulty is in truly realising this simple fact.


The refrain of the song offers a kind of punk community plea, urging the individual to act in some way for the common good. It is a sentiment which has a correspondence with Buddhist tradition:

"If you could save yourself, you could save us all"

The idea of the bodhitsavva in Buddhism is an early historical adaptation of the original teachings of the Buddha. Basically, a bodhitsavva is one who, having achieved enlightenment, or otherwise, reached nirvana, returns to mundane existence for the greater benefit of all. Initially, the idea was for those first enlightened to teach others, and those to stay and teach yet others, and so on (ad infinitum, perhaps) until everyone and everything sentient reaches enlightenment. Thus the attainment of Buddhahood is not really a personal achievement – in line with the doctrine of an-atman, or no-self – but rather a salvation of all. Buddhism is fundamentally a religion of compassion, and hence enlightenment is of truly social benefit – its message is as another noted punk rocker, Jesse Michaels, imprinted on the back of Common Rider’s Last Wave Rockers, “may all beings know peace”. The doctrine of bodhitsavva is central to achieving this.

Later, as Zen was developed, the understanding of enlightenment progressed to the idea that life was inherently a state of nirvana as well as the traditional sufferings of samsara. Hence, actually attaining Buddhahood and nirvana is, conceptually, not a possible goal or aim of life. Zen therefore treats enlightenment, and ‘salvation’ as instantaneous, continual, and momentary. Moreover, it stresses the attainment of Buddhahood in the action of everyday life, and within the worldly community.

It can then be seen that saving oneself, or attaining enlightenment, is in fact a social goal, and not merely a personal achievement. Therefore salvation of the self, notwithstanding the abstract nature of ‘self’, is integrally the ability to ‘save us all’.



Jawbreaker - 'Save Your Generation'

Jawbreaker - Dear You (via the Jawbreaker mega post on ZAFP)



"you don't know what I'm all about; like killing cops and reading Kerouac"

(Jawbreaker, 'Boxcar')

When I put on Dear You and 'Save Your Generation' for the first time in a little while this week, I was thrown back to an earlier time in my existence (read: a year or two ago) when listening to punk, emo and hardcore was combined with reading and re-reading the Kerouac novels. People talk of 'synchronicity'; well, in my case it's when the features of one medium (the opening chords to a Jawbreaker song) become psychologically intertwined with the memory of the experience of another (the profoundly affecting philosophical, spiritual and literary world of the Legend of Duluoz novels). Fleeting perhaps, but powerful.

My other blog, Steady Diet of Books has been on effective hiatus since the start of the year. I do hope to get it up and running again, maybe in the summer when I have more time. With the same money that I've been using to buy all the cool vinyl which I've been posting over the last few months, I bought the Original Scroll On The Road (not the original scroll, I'm not a millionaire, but the new hardback edition based on the unedited manuscript). Since it has no paragraph breaks, it's not that easy to read, and for the last while I've switched over to this year's Dublin One City One Book, Gulliver's Travels... the point being, I'm still reading, so I'll get back to writing about reading sometime...

In the meantime, I can only recommend these two books of poetry for you if you're interested in Kerouac and Buddhism. They aren't as direct on the subject as, what is possibly his best novel, Dharma Bums (which I've reviewed already, early on) but they have got some interesting stuff in them, as well as being fairly challenging reads:

also -

Steady Diet of Books/Kerouac

Steady Diet of Books/Zen


cheers, Gabba


josephlovesit said...

Beautiful hundredth post, Gabba!

I'm considerably less learned in Buddhism and the like, but it's the one religion/philosophy that consistently holds my attention. I like and can relate to what you bring up about commonplace enlightenment. Once the broader concepts are grasped, scraps of it can be found in anything. Wonderful and liberating. It's also quite refreshing.

I used to listen to Refused while reading Allen Ginsberg. I guess that's somewhat of a parallel to Jawbreaker and Kerouac :P

papstar said...

great post man...your writing blows me away every time. I've never really had a tremendous grasp of Buddhism, but I can relate to the philosophy of living in the present. Took me too long to realize that I need to stop worrying about the past, or future, and just concern myself with the present.

Keep up the awesome posts. looking forward to the next 100.

gabbagabbahey said...

I meant to work in something about the connection between Buddhism/Hindu philosophy and American hardcore. More 80s stuff perhaps, not that I know much about it; Krishna-core and the like. I was looking at the cool picture on the Fugazi EP, you know, with Guy Picciotto doing the backflip and - you can see it clearer on the inset photo - he has a tattoo of the sanskrit eight-spoked wheel of life on his shoulder. (symbolising the cycle of samsara/nirvana).

I have to say, I'm impressed with both your reactions to the piece. For me, Zen Buddhism is both such a simple and a complex philosophy, it's amazing. It's like once you grasp it (intellectually or intuitively), nothing really changes except you understand everything better.

- papstar. How can I respond to that? Another hundred does seem a little daunting, but I'll keep up the writing!

- joseph. I'm not sure what poetry they're talking about, but I always liked the intro to Refused's 'Worm of the Senses':

"They told me that the classics never got a style, but they do, they do. Somehow baby, I never thought that we do too."

josephlovesit said...

All I know is that the title of that song is a Ginsberg reference, but I love that part too. On a good day that intro'll send a chill down my spine because of all the good memories attached to listening to that album with people.

gabbagabbahey said...

of course, I forgot that. Worm of the senses/faculties of the skull is a line from Howl, right?

I don't know much Ginsberg apart from what I find through Kerouac, but I have an audio recording of Ginsberg reading that poem, I should maybe post it up sometime...

josephlovesit said...

Yea that's a Howl line. I've got a recording of that too, maybe it's the same one. His voice creeps me out a little for whatever reason, haha.

I have an album of spoken word by Kerouac on MP3 too, Legends of the 20th Century. Pretty good stuff, and there's some light jazz piano backing some of it.

gabbagabbahey said...

this where I got my recording of Howl;

there's a Jawbreaker song (Condition Oakland) from a different album which has a long sample of Kerouac reading from his poem October in Rairoad Earth. Also, Jet Black on this album opens with a sample of Christopher Walken from Woody Allen's Annie Hall.

I've seen some stuff on eMusic with Kerouac reading and *singing* stuff from his books & poetry, never bothered so far (when there's music to be had elsewhere...)

blend77 said...

this was a fantastic post!!!

really, between Jay spilling his guts on my self imposed issues and reading this post, i am filled with the awe and wonder that drives my days, the gratitude with which I subsist on for everyday I get to see more and more of the mysteries present all around us.

you have a wonderful outlook and wonderful words with which to convey this outlook to others.

never lose that, and I will remain open and excited to the ever changing world.

thanks Gabba!

gabbagabbahey said...

blend: wow, that's a very profound reply. Many thanks.

Then again, that's what I'd expect from a guy who has The Dharma Bums as one of his favourite books...

Chus said...

This is what I think: Jawbreaker