July 15, 2005 at 4:10 am #48187
Dinosaur Jr. is happy to be no longer extinct
By Joan Anderman, Globe Staff | July 15, 2005
Among the wild-card reunions that have littered the rock music landscape in recent years, the re-emergence of the original Dinosaur Jr. lineup ranks right up there with Pink Floyd in the category of feuding musicians least likely to stand on a stage together.
The proto-alt-rock trio — formed in Amherst in 1983 by guitarist J Mascis, bassist Lou Barlow, and drummer Emmett Murphy, known as ”Murph" — delivered an abusive fusion of noise, melody, and whining at crushing volumes for six years. Dinosaur Jr.’s influence far outlasted the band itself, which was even more explosive offstage than on. In 1989, Mascis kicked Barlow out of the band. For the next 15 years Barlow maintained a very public Mascis-bashing campaign. Murph, who briefly joined the Lemonheads in the mid-’90s, relocated to the middle of nowhere and cut ties with everyone.
”He was a sadist," Barlow says of Mascis. ”He tortured me."
”Lou was growing up or something," Mascis says of Barlow. ”It was hard to deal with."
”They were so bad, and I was always the fall guy, always the mediator," Murph recalls. ”There was lots of weirdness."
Mascis still lives in Amherst but called from Los Angeles, where he was visiting his guru. Notoriously remote, Mascis speaks haltingly if at all — he’s completely stumped by an inquiry into his well-being — and explains the incentive to put the band back together this way: ”I just like playing loud."
Dinosaur Jr. — which plays loudly at Avalon tonight — was in large part a vehicle for Mascis’s songwriting and guitar sludge. After Barlow’s departure, Mascis made two more Dinosaur Jr. albums with Murph and what amounted to four solo albums under the band name, the last in 1997. He also began a long-running collaboration with the filmmaker Alison Anders, produced a number of other rock bands, and in 2000 formed J Mascis + the Fog.
Barlow took a different direction after the break with Mascis, helping to pioneer the lo-fi pop movement with his bands Sebadoh and Folk Implosion. A prolific songwriter, he released a barrage of albums and singles during the ’90s. Like Mascis, Barlow ventured into the film world, recording songs for Larry Clark’s feature ”Kids" and appearing onscreen with Folk Implosion in the 2002 film ”Laurel Canyon."
Unlike Mascis, Barlow is a deft conversationalist — equally enthusiastic about analyzing the past, the music, and the unlikely scenario he finds himself in now.
”I basically worshiped J," says Barlow, who lives in LA with his wife and their 5-month-old baby. ”Personally and creatively he was such a mentor, and to be rejected by him was crushing. At the same time being kicked out of that band was a great thing for me. Had I stayed, I doubt I would’ve been able to find my own voice. Everything I did after that was a reaction to Dinosaur. Democracy and communication and equality became huge issues."
The retail peg for the Dinosaur Jr. reunion is a reissue of the band’s first three albums, ”Dinosaur," ”You’re Living All Over Me," and ”Bug," out on the Merge label. But the seeds were planted back in the late ’90s, when Mascis started quietly showing up at Sebadoh shows. In 2003, Barlow was touring England and ended up sitting in with Mascis’s Stooges cover band on ”I Wanna Be Your Dog." The following year, Barlow’s mother organized a benefit concert in Northampton and invited both musicians to play. During the course of the show the pair performed one song as their pre-Dinosaur hardcore band, the prophetically titled Deep Wound.
”My mother really bridged this," Barlow says. ”She said, ‘It’d be so nice if you could play as Dinosaur.’ She kept guilting me. She kept telling me J had changed, and she had started to like him. She also knows how much pain that experience caused me, and everyone knows that if you’re able in your life to revisit a painful time and somehow make amends it’ll make you a happier person."
At the time of our interview, Dinosaur Jr. had played about a dozen festival dates in Europe, a one-off at Spaceland in Los Angeles, and ”The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson." The band, plus various spouses and offspring, is traveling together in one tour bus ”like the Partridge family," Mascis says. ”It’s pretty cool. Lou’s just had a kid, and he’s mellowed out quite a bit. We sort of enjoy each other’s company."
Barlow offers a different explanation for the reunion’s success. Mascis, a vegetarian and devotee of the Indian religious leader Ammachi, is ”a more tolerant, less negative person."
Murph, the even-handed middle man, observes that all three have gone through radical personality changes.
”I’m more of an introvert, and they’re more extroverted now," he says. ”I used to be more of a hippie, and now I’m conservative, and J’s almost turned into a hippie. I think we’re all spiritual."
They’ve all got bills to pay, too, and music fans’ appetite for critically acclaimed, commercially irrelevant ’80s rock bands seems bottomless.
Barlow’s mother was right about the benefits of making peace with the past.
To play with Mascis is ”a healing experience," Barlow says. ”After everything I think it’s much harder for him than it is for either me or Murph, and it means a lot to me that J is ready to face this. The personal stuff back then totally overshadowed it, but the band was really developed. J’s songwriting was amazing. Coming back now, I know how good the songs are."
”I’m amazed at how current it sounds," Murph says. ”It feels like we went through all that [stuff] and worked it out, and we can laugh now and finally just enjoy the music."
Mascis concurs, in his fashion.
”It feels," he says, ”like a band."
Dinosaur Jr. plays an all-ages show at Avalon tonight with Magik Markers and Feathers. Doors are at 6, show at 6:45. Tickets are $25, available at http://www.nextticketing.com and by phone at 617-423-6000.
You must be logged in to reply to this topic.
- Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Tumblr (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Pocket (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on WhatsApp (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Telegram (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Skype (Opens in new window)