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    When Dinosaur ruled the Earth

    After a 15-year long feud, Dinosaur Jr.’s original lineup lets its deep wounds heal


    On Fri., April 15, 2005, the seminal American alt-punk trio Dinosaur Jr. appeared as the musical guest on CBS’ "Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson." Plowing through the muddy melodies of "The Lung" from Dinosaur’s second album, You’re Living All Over Me, the 15 years that had passed since the group’s original lineup shared the stage were soon forgotten. The lingering tension that once swelled between bassist Lou Barlow, guitarist/vocalist J. Mascis and drummer Emmett Jefferson Patrick Murphy III, aka "Murph," was nowhere to be found. In its place stood three humble and determined punk adults whom Ferguson affectionately introduced as "grunge-rock pioneers." The notion is hard to refute. Dinosaur was cranking out loud, sludgy and distorted dirges that bridged punk and classic rock when Seattle was only known for rain and coffee. On television, Dinosaur Jr. played without incident, but things didn’t always go so smoothly the first time around.

    Prior to playing opposite each other in Dinosaur, Mascis and Barlow formed a high-school punk band called Deep Wound. The uneasy teens used the band to temper their youthful anxieties, but after releasing a 7-inch, Mascis decided the explosive pace of hardcore had become passé. The group disbanded.

    The two reconvened in 1984 with Murph on drums, adopted the name Dinosaur, and released a self-titled debut. "Jr." was added only after San Francisco acid-rock group the Dinosaurs claimed legal rights to the name. Dinosaur Jr. rose above the hardcore blitz, embracing frazzled-rock tones that were driven by intense emotional release and wrapped in hazy recording qualities.

    From the beginning, egos and infighting plagued the group. Barlow grew increasingly withdrawn and Mascis’ songwriting allegorically addressed the rift between them. By the time the group released You’re Living All Over Me in ’87, the tainted relationship was plain to see. With songs like "Lose" and "Poledo," Barlow began inserting his own noise collages into Mascis’ arrangements. By default, Murph became the moderator. "It was a stressful role," Murph says. "We all had pretty big egos back then and clashed pretty heavily, mostly over just teenage and early 20s angst stuff."

    When Bug was released in ’88, the title offered bleak insight into Dinosaur Jr.’s state of affairs. Mascis and Barlow had bugged each other so much that something had to give. During a show, Barlow launched into a noise bit without warning, disturbing Mascis so much that he attacked Barlow with a guitar. Barlow was ousted soon after. "They kicked me out and I held a grudge against J. for years," says Barlow. "It was horrible! I didn’t even think I’d play on stage ever again after that. Fate, obviously, had other plans for me."

    After leaving Dinosaur Jr., Barlow went on to explore folkier, lo-fi recordings with Sebadoh, Sentridoh, the Folk Implosion and most recently a solo effort, titled Emoh. Murph and Mascis continued with Dinosaur Jr., delving deeper into areas of fuzzy classic rock. After the ’93 release of Where You Been, Murph left Dinosaur Jr. and later joined the Lemonheads. Mascis finally retired Dinosaur Jr. in ’97 to pursue J. Mascis + the Fog.

    The possibilities of J., Lou and Murph playing together again seemed impossible. All three had gone their separate ways and unresolved drama left a black cloud hanging over the group.

    According to Barlow, he carried the grudge. "J. at least made an effort," he says. "He came out to Sebadoh shows. One time – about five years ago – he came to a show and I just yelled at him, calling him a fucking dick, and he didn’t do anything. A few years later, I apologized for it and he just said, ‘It’s OK.’"

    It was Barlow’s apology that opened communication with Mascis. "Lou had finally mellowed out and was taking some responsibility for everything that had happened," says Mascis in a hoarse and perpetually stoned droll.

    With bygones actually bygone and Merge Records’ recent reissue of the first three Dinosaur Jr. recordings, getting back together came naturally. After playing on Ferguson’s show, the prospects of playing in Dinosaur Jr. once again offered each of them a unique and cathartic opportunity to put a lid on a troubled past.

    Mascis has the least at stake in revisiting the group. When asked why, he lethargically offers, "I don’t know. I guess to get more people to hear the old records."

    For Murph and Barlow, however, reuniting Dinosaur Jr. is a much more fulfilling venture. "The best possible thing that can come from this is just enjoying playing the music and giving Dinosaur Jr. a sense of closure," says Barlow. "Every group I’ve been in ever since, from Sebadoh to the Folk Implosion and even with Emoh, it’s all a celebration of the music, and we never had that with Dinosaur. It was such a tense and emotional time that we never got to enjoy the music."

    Murph concurs, "We’ve all done our separate things, but it was never the same as Dinosaur. I missed the power and force that we used to have as a trio and now that I’m doing that again, it’s very gratifying."

    For this tour, the group is only playing songs from the first three records, evoking Dinosaur Jr.’s most turbulent era. But this time, the group functions as friends. "Things are awesome now," says Murph. "We’re like brothers and we really do enjoy each other’s company as opposed to before when we were just tolerating each other’s company. Even after we played on TV, we all went back to Lou’s house and watched a tape of the show. In the past we would never have done that."

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    King Tubby
    "Coma Girl" wrote:
    "Things are awesome now," says Murph. "We’re like brothers and we really do enjoy each other’s company as opposed to before when we were just tolerating each other’s company. Even after we played on TV, we all went back to Lou’s house and watched a tape of the show. In the past we would never have done that."

    Wow. That’s hard for me to imagine — good for them, though. And for us. Can’t wait for the shows!

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