April 13, 2009 at 7:45 pm #50945
I was sitting at work the other day, listening to Dinosaur Jr.’s Green Mind cd, and the student intern stopped by and picked up the case to check it out. He tells me Dinosaur Jr. is playing at a new local venue, just up the road from the state university. I inform him that he must be mistaken, no way, no how is Dinosaur Jr. playing in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the Midwest, a good decade after lead singer/guitarist/songwriter J. Mascis finally disbanded the group.
Never mind the fact that they had a reunion album/tour a year or so ago, no way were they going to be playing in my town. I guess they sold out the two shows they did down the road in Ann Arbor, at the legendary Blind Pig, but I thought the reunion was just a short-lived excursion. Another missed opportunity to catch one of my favorite hardcore/post-punk bands live in person.
Oh well, I never liked Ann Arbor all that much anyways.
I’ve been re-buying all my favorite cds from the mid-eighties to the mid-nineties lately—Husker Du, the Replacements, Sonic Youth, the Descendents, and Dinosaur Jr. among them. I just happened to be on a really big Dino kick of late—J.’s guitar playing and lyrics mirroring my mood on the eve of my fortieth birthday, I guess.
But then Tony, the student intern, comes back with a local rag that highlights musical and other happenings, and right there in black and white—Dinosaur Jr., playing TONIGHT. There was J. Mascis, long hair almost completely white, drummer Murph completely hair-free and bassist Lou Barlow (who went on to form Sebodoah and Folk Implosion), staring back at me.
I saw a few shows back in the day—Butthole Surfers, M.D.C., the Circle Jerks, etc.—saw some big name bands as well—Pink Floyd, Rush, Metallica, but never saw any of the bands that I was really passionate about. And all of a sudden, here was one of the biggies, just dropped into my lap unexpectedly.
And the worst part was that it was a week before payday, me totally penniless.
After some groveling, shouting and jumping around, my co-workers were nice enough to float some fundage. They probably were just trying to shut me up, but all the same, I was going to the show.
Now you have to understand that I never go anywhere by myself—not even the corner store or the gas station, not really sure why, but no one was interested in this band nor hanging out with me. Can’t say I blame them about the latter, but doesn’t anyone I know understand who these guys are?
In my mind, the whole alternative scene was built upon the blood and sweat of bands like Husker Du, Black Flag, the Replacements, the Pixies, Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr. Constant touring, limited airplay (other than on college radio stations), almost zero acknowledgement in the mainstream rock press, and limited commercial success were their reward—but bands like Nirvana, Green Day and what passes for punk these days, wouldn’t have happened if the Dinos and their contemporaries hadn’t paved the way for them.
I wanted to pay homage and give props to one of my heroes while I still could. Dinosaur Jr. could break up again tomorrow for all I know—and we all aren’t getting any younger. Maybe that’s what this whole thing is about with me, more than anything else. On the cusp of forty, all I think about are all the things I haven’t done and wish I had. I haven’t been published, haven’t even written that novel I had been planning, haven’t visited Thailand, haven’t pursued my master’s degree, and haven’t taken that cross-country trip . . . blah, blah, blah.
My list of things I wish I had done seems to get longer and longer everyday—but I can cross out seeing Dinosaur Jr. and can also cross out meeting J. Mascis. I met him and got to shake his hand, thanked him for all the great music and memories that he’s created for myself and others. Then I stood back and watched him play his Fender JazzMaster, in person, from less than ten feet away. I was alone, but surrounded by other admiring fans, bopping and grooving to familiar riffs rising above the sonic onslaught of the Marshall stack.
In the final analysis, what is there to say? I had a great time seeing a great band. It brought back good memories, but it also reminded me of how something so simple can bring me so much joy. J., Murph and Lou are all getting older—but so am I and everyone else, that’s kind of the way this whole life thing works.
Great music captures a moment or a feeling, and somehow one person conveys those feelings to someone else. Or someone can hear something and attach their own feelings and memories to a riff or a song. Either way, my ability to open myself to that experience had stagnated and seeing Dinosaur Jr awoke that feeling again. It feels good to be alive, albeit in an ever-changing (and ever-older) form.
I used to envy people like J. Mascis, but he’s probably got his own list of stuff he wishes he did, just from a different perspective. People like me live our lives inside our heads, maybe a little too much sometimes. If there is anything to envy, it’s the ability to put something out there to be judged and critiqued, without fear of how it affects your bottom line. Having the opportunity to do something you love and make a decent living from it seems like it would be a wonderful thing, but I’m sure it comes with its own baggage as well.
As a live band, Dinosaur Jr. hasn’t lost anything—J.’s guitar playing is phenomenal, Murph’s thudding drums shake you to the core and Lou’s bass playing—maybe the best I’ve ever seen. J. Mascis is a different person on stage, glasses off and hair tucked behind one ear, guitar at the ready and microphone in front of him. A couple of hundred people crowded in front of the stage, trying to get a glimpse of the band in action, many with cell phones and cameras in hand. The crowd was mostly in their twenties, but there were plenty of grey and bald heads bopping along to wave after wave of fuzzed out chordage.
J.’s vocals hide hesitatingly behind the wall of guitar noise and if you don’t know the words, you probably won’t understand a thing he’s saying, but then you probably wouldn’t be standing in the middle of a crowd of strangers listening to every nuanced chord progression, string bend, or arpeggio like it held the answers to life’s most vexing questions. As the band took the stage, Public Image Limited’s “Public Image” and Joy Division’s “Warsaw” set the tone and the timbre of the evening, dark figures adjusting the high hats and strapping on their guitars.
An hour and a half later, they whipped through an encore, playing “Freak Scene”, “I Feel the Pain of Everyone” and The Cure’s “Just like Heaven”. Confusion, angst, hope and love, all coiled around massive columns of sound and spinning away into the cold dark night. Note after note of songs old and new or freshly renewed by the time the crowd started spilling toward the exits, the band drenched in sweat, as they stood surveying the remains of their sonic carnage.
My ears were ringing as I walked to my car, and they would continue to do so for the next couple of days. The denseness of the sound followed me around wherever I went, normal everyday noises muffled. I really need to start wearing ear plugs to concerts (plenty in the crowd had them). If and when the opportunity arises again, hopefully I’ll be open to the experience. I’ll have to check out the internet to see if the Descendents or Sonic Youth are going to be playing somewhere in the state some time soon.April 14, 2009 at 12:47 pm #134619
great telling of a small story – thanks for sharing.
i like your notes about getting older and how oneself and dino relate to that – i had exactly the same feeling when i saw them in 2005, and even more, when beyond came out.April 14, 2009 at 1:37 pm #134620
Great post Tones.Worthy of liner notes inside a Dino album.
Yeah I have good memories of the old days.Seeing Sonic Youth and The Pixies on tv,the day I bought Bug,taping Husker Du`s New Day Rising from a cassette I found at the local library…April 14, 2009 at 5:47 pm #134621
Cool story! I was at the show, standing one person back from J. I might have been one of the youngest people there (I’m 18). My third time seeing those guys and it was great!April 14, 2009 at 9:23 pm #134622
what is this, like the 4th time I;ve tried posting this…
EL or Farmington Hills or Royal Oak or whereever….
let me know!!!
I’m OLD SCHOOL carvy–fish board and all….April 16, 2009 at 8:14 pm #134623"Tones" wrote:what is this, like the 4th time I;ve tried posting this…
EL or Farmington Hills or Royal Oak or whereever….
let me know!!!
I’m OLD SCHOOL carvy–fish board and all….
Haha, cool man! Guess what? I don’t skateboard anymore! My user name is pretty deceptive, eh? I stopped skating like 2 or 3 years ago because I just wasn’t very good Never was able to cop Rodney Mullen’s skate tricksApril 24, 2009 at 8:44 pm #134624
I always thought Mullen was overrated, still do–
mostly carve and chill at the park–
was never that good at ollies,
bonelesses and plants were my thing, still are–
my kids (both teens now) started skating about 3-4 years ago,
so I started back up– been working on my pump and dropping in,
hey, i was the dude with the Green & White Boston cap at the EL show–April 25, 2009 at 9:32 am #134625
Huh, i can’t say I remember seeing you there. I think I was wearing a red Sonic Youth shirt. I was like one person behind J.
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