When I was a sophomore in college, I got it into my head to do a fanzine. Fueled by a steady diet of pizza and ginger-ale from Captain Nemo’s Pizza in Boston’s Kenmore Square, I became giddy with thoughts of the acclaim and accolades my zine-to-be would garner. It would be like the Paris Review of hardcore zines, erudite, knowing, and fun, reflecting my teenaged years as a straight-edge posi kid but with a burgeoning art-rock maturity that I believed my soon-to-be twenty-year old self possessed in spades.
I scoured Lungfish lyrics to find a suitably cryptic name for my zine. Would it be Plague of Particles or Invisible Regime? Either way, it would kick Suburban Voice and Flipside’s respective asses to the curb. It would be the kind of zine that would get you laid.
I decided that Jawbox would be my first interview. They had a show coming up at the Middle East. I bought a tiny reporter’s tape recorder, and got some film for my junky point-and-shoot camera. I thought about all the kids taking hot shit photos at shows, Brian Maryansky, Justin Moulder, countless others, on stage, snapping away, cameras slung over their shoulders like how Gregory Peck held a Sten gun in Guns of Navarone. Sure, that could be me too. Who needs a real camera or expertise or any sense of how to take a photograph that will look good on the printed page? Not me!
It was a heck of a show. This was in February of 1993. I know I saw Drive Like Jehu at the Middle East around the same time, and Shudder To Think as well. I can’t imagine it was all at the same show, though conceivably that bill could have existed--three legendary bands at the height of their powers--in my hazy memory, all three shows exist at the same moment in time, followed the next night by Jawbreaker playing a student performance space at Northeastern, followed by Kingpin and Eye for an Eye at TT The Bears.
It was a long time ago, but I remember them playing Ones and Zeroes specifically. I vividly remember Zach Barocas’s barely contained mania on the drums, a theatrical display of virtuosity, all flailing, rubbery limbs. Kim Coletta smiling and grooving, J. Robbins and Three-Dollar Bill Barbot somehow battling their guitars and coming up victorious.
After the show, I steeled myself. I had snapped a few bashful photographs of the band, but found the activity to be distracting and embarrassing. I was not the machine gun wielding Gregory Peck I’d thought I was. Robbins was loading up his gear when I walked up to him.
I stuttered out that I wanted to interview him for my zine. And what happened next is why I truly and completely will always love hardcore, punk rock music, and the strange little scene I grew up in. There was a moment of honest hesitation on Robbins’ face as I asked him. Like he was thinking, “good god is there a back door I can run the fuck out of an away from this kid? Can I tell him sorry, but no, I have to be somewhere? Is there any conceivable scenario where I don’t have to get interviewed for this kid’s fanzine that will probably never come out or end up being a garbled mess of misspelled words and xeroxed cliches? Can’t I just have like five minutes of peace?” And then he sighed, stood up straight and said, “Sure. Fine, okay. Let me just get a beer. I’ll meet you upstairs.”
Poor J. Robbins. I wish I could remember all the ridiculous questions I asked him, but I can only imagine the patience it took on his part to kindly and sincerely reply to each of them. We met at a table upstairs in the bar/restaurant portion of the club. I was nineteen years old at the time, so it might very well have been an impossibility, but it continues to astound my adult self that I didn’t even try to buy him a beer. They guy was willing to take his time and talk to me, and I didn’t have the presence of mind to get him a beverage.
I told him I’d seen them a bunch of times, which was true. I was a huge fan since their first seven inch. I’d seen them at the Anthrax in Connecticut, and at UCONN with Shudder to Think. I had a gray Jawbox Grippe t-shirt that I wore to death. After a few softball questions, I prepared for my big Woodward and Bernstein moment. It was about the hard hitting subject of lyric sheets. Why did the Novelty LP lack a lyric sheet? What were they trying to pull over on their fans? You’re a Dischord band for cripe’s sake--don’t you know the music is the message? Robbins threw it back at me, polite but firm. That was intentional on their part. Very much so. He didn’t want a lyric sheet--they weren’t a protest band, they were doing something different than their counterparts on the label. I had some sort of lame follow-up question filled with knowing self-righteousness, first they came for our lyric sheets...then they took our freedom, etc, but he had pretty much shut me down.
I know at least that my mom taught me enough to thank him for his time, and then I hustled out of there. The T stops running earlier than it should in Boston. I walked back towards my dormitory on Beacon Street in the biting New England cold. Across the Mass Ave Bridge where the wind whipped off the Charles like a knife.
I never transcribed the interview. I never developed the roll of film. Instead I skipped class, ate a lot of pizza, and played World Cup Pinball until the semester was over. I think I was embarrassed by what a poor journalist I was--or maybe I just lacked the hustle. I’m sure both the camera and the tape are now in a landfill somewhere, buried under twenty-two years of garbage. A golden apple of the past, lost except in memory.