It ended with a fistfight by the side of the road as Jawbreaker bassist Chris Bauermeister lunged at singer/guitarist Blake Schwarzenbach during mounting inter-band tensions. Years of relentless touring, cross-country moves and going major label had exhausted the trio and made them pariahs of the punk rock world, and with sales of their final album Dear You tanking, it was over.
Fast-forward 20 years, and filmmakers Tim Irwin and Keith Schieron (of the Minutemen doc We Jam Econo) present an in-depth look at the forming of Jawbreaker, the subsequent years rising to fame and the pressure-filled descent into obscurity—outside of most punks, that is—until the second life of Dear You some years later and, eventually, Bauermeister, Schwarzenbach and drummer Adam Pfahler's unexpected reunion at 2017's Riot Fest.
Don't Break Down was actually released in 2017, but a new deal with a wider release finds it on streaming services such as Amazon for the first time. For longtime fans, it's a blessing, a strange journey of art school weirdos, battling egos and punk rock ethics as told by the members of the band, their contemporaries, and those they inspired like Smoking Popes' Josh Caterer and Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong. We even hear from famed producer Steve Albini, though it's possible he thought he was working with the band Jawbox the entire time.
Mistaken identity, politics and hurt feelings aside, it's a deeply fascinating look at the missing link of punk, a band that inspired countless acts—who should have made it, and came so close, but that was never fully appreciated in their own time by the masses. As one interview subject implies in the film, while many looked to Green Day as the bridge between punk and the everyman, it was actually Jawbreaker's mantle, though one they tragically lost.
Don't Break Down thus becomes required viewing for the punk rock elite, the poseurs and those who still believe poetry can come with distorted guitars and raspy voices. For old-timers, it's a feeling that we're still part of a community, for newcomers, it's a lesson in a brief window in the '90s when everyone wanted to be punk. For everyone else, it's a solid music documentary with a subtle lesson: Keep passing the open windows.
+Jawbreaker rules; interesting music history
-Light on non-band interviews
Don't Break Down: A Film About Jawbreaker
Directed by Irwin and Schieron
Amazon Prime, NR, 77 min.