Saturday, June 27, 2015

Dinosaur Jr - interviews 1987 + 1991, and Bug review


Melody Maker, 12th December 1987

by Simon Reynolds

[yes this piece was done before they had to add the Jr at the end cos of threats from West Coast acid-rock veterans band of same name!]
They're not much to look at, Dinosaur. It's hard to connect this shaggy, sheepish trio with the tempest they unleash, live and on vinyl. They are unimpressive, and unimpressed — seemingly — by anything and everything, but least of all, by themselves. The rest of us may be enjoying the dawning realisation that You're Living All Over Me is one of the year's masterpieces, but Dinosaur themselves are groggily unconscious of just how good they are.
It's as though the noise is somehow independent of them, that it's chosen them, that they're just motes, broken reeds, in a gust that storms through them. When Dinosaur play live, there's a slackness to J. Mascis' wrist that seems incommensurate to the shock wave, the ridge of pressure, that buffets you as a result of its languid flick. Mascis holds the guitar almost vertical, pointing skyward; there's a certain angle of holding beyond which the guitar ceases to be aweapon (neither phallus nor the cutting-edge of "attitude"), where the fretboard opens up into a firmament, what Stubbs calls "the new guitar air". Dinosaur reach that critical angle, that point where self-projection is surpassed by self-dispersal, where a band is celebrating the noise, rather than using the noise to celebrate themselves. Maybe just allowing the noise.
Perhaps it's as well Dinosaur don't have pride. If they started to hold their heads a little higher, walk tall, they might emerge from the spiritual slump, the crumpled, fogginess of being that, paradoxically, enables them to speed across the horizon. Confidence rarely makes for great music. And Dinosaur are the sound of galvanised lethargy, vibrant despondency. Grey skies have seldom blazed so bright, surged so furiously.
Everything interesting in rock is happening at the extremes — rectitude or lassitude, hyper-motivation (Public Enemy, Nitzer Ebb) or complete unmotivation (Dinosaur, Band Of Susans), militant or dormant. Rigid backbone or wholly spineless. Raised consciousness or floored semi-consciousness. The fanatic's inhuman clarity of vision, eyes wired and wide, or the mystic and the mixed-up's haze, eyes half-closed. The rant or the murmer. The middleground — capability, emotional competence, commitment, continence, dialogue — is completely uninteresting. Against this world of getting on, getting things done, getting (yourself) together, Dinosaur are radically non-committal, untogether. They're supine, but they fly far higher.
To put it another way, Dinosaur don't recognise the indisputable "relevance" of The Staple Singers' 'Respect Yourself', it's not part of their tradition. Not that they muster themselves for anything as concerted as frittering away their potential, just that they lapse, succumb to a subsidence that perhaps only American middle class kids are capable of, become the conduits for an amorphous vastness of sound.
When I meet J. Mascis (the guy who failed to turn up for an interview in New York with me because he lost the piece of paper with the address on), I'm greeted by a dazed, dopey Eeyore grin. There's something boneless about J, something redolent of the halfwit, (or perhaps on even smaller fraction of the full complement). He responds to my questions with genial bafflement, a stymied catatonia: he can't figure out why anyone would want to know, but at least finds the rigmarole faintly amusing. Lou, the bassist, seems to be in pain: Murph, the drummer, unperturbed.
There's some confusion about the name, they've been forced to amend it to Dinosaur Jr. "We got sued by this group called The Dinosaurs, who are comprised of former members of Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service and Country Joe And The Fish."
The members of Dinosaur started in hardcore bands. What made them start to widen their frame of the sound, stray into wiggy territory?
"They were influences from before then, before the third, second and first generations of punk even. It's pretty standard rock chronology — Beatles, Aerosmith, Sabbath, Ramones, Pistols, Eater, UK Subs.
Hold on… Eater?!?! That LP's my favourite of all time."
Are you a… cheerful bunch?
J (archly): "Of course!"
Lou: "No. Definitely not."
J: "I think so."
Lou: "No."
The whole aspect is somewhat… bleak.
Lou: "Pretty bleak, yeah."
J (mock incredulous): "No! No way!"
Lou: "Comparatively."
J: "We're not starving."
Murph: "Not physically, but emotionally." (Laughs.) "Emotionally, we're starving. Whatever I deal with is a struggle."
That's sad.
Murph: "I try not to think too much." That's the sound of Dinosaur, the mind being wiped clean, returned to a slate-grey blankness.
What's your attitude to life, J?
J (as though emerging from a deep sleep): "What? Oh, I don't want to get into this. I don't even wanna think about my philosophy of life." Minutes seem to elapse. "Paaarty all the time." Unconvincing.
Lou has a strange way with a bass: he seems to be cuffing it, chastising it. "I used to play hardcore guitar, and you really work your wrists. I used to be able to go twice as fast, but my bones have atrophied."
Live, I felt like I was surfing, or standing on a shinglebeach, facing breakers. You feel yourself surging, swaying slightly at the hips. The sound hits you in the face like spray. Murph: "Most of the songs, J will say 'ride on the cymbals', fill out the sound. Otherwise there's too much emptiness."
J: "Smashing on the cymbals swirls everything together."
The other element of flux that leaves the listener breath-bereft and hurting are your guitar effects.
J: They have names like Electric Mistress, Clone Theory, Big Moth, Cry Baby. They're all real cheesy weirdness effects, old and out of date. They're more severe than the effects you get today."
This parallels the way groups like Band Of Holy Joy and Suicide like to use out-moded, primitive synth technology because you get harsher, more alien, fake tones.
"It's all that sounds good. The new stuff, it works on a smaller range, it's designed for subtletiesrather than… harshities."
Murph delivers pizzas. J still goes to college. Lou takes care of old ladies in resting homes and half-way houses. Is Dinosaur the best thing in their lives?
Murph: "No. Probably the worst."
Lou: "It's just the thing, it's part of our lives."
What's your favourite activity, then? Or favourite passivity, even?
Murph: "I used to like skiing in the winter."
Lou: "I used to like music a lot. Hahaha!"
Have you not got one, J?
"It sounds too hard… to sit down… and figure it all… out."
Lou: "It's kind of cool being in Europe and stuff."
You don't sound as though you think it's cool, I say tetchily.
They rally a bit. "Oh no, I really do think it's cool."
Murph: Oh yeah! (adopts showbiz voice) It's-rilly-great-to-be-here-an-we-lurve-Englaaand…"
Do the songs have precise meanings, J?
J squirms, shrugs, looks helpless, lets out a low moan.
Do you prefer not to think about these things?
"Not at the moment. Probably never. It doesn't matter."
Lou: "Doesn't get you anywhere."
Murph: "And maybe you don't want to get anywhere."
Lou: "It takes too much from yourself to think about it, so to preserve yourself, you stay away from it."
J: "Everything's a bunch of mixed-up feelings mashed up together…"
And is the net result uplifting or dejected?
J lets out another low whine of reluctance: "…Either… Or both. Or neither."
Is Dinosaur your favourite band?
"No way".
What is?
Murph: "I like The Good Rats, from Long Island. I still play that record." Ah, that one.
Lou: "I like The Swans."
J (wailing): "Naaa — they all die!"
Not worth getting involved?
Murph: "We had a cat once and my dad took him sailing and he jumped ashore and we never saw him again."
J:"My turtle… ran away. Very slowly, he ran away."
How did you develop your lonesome, creased, Neil Young voice, in a hardcore context?
"I don't know… when I started to sing, I guess… probably through listening to all this rock damage… what can you say? How do you walk? How do you shift? How do you sing? It's hard to get a grip on these things."
What do you think of British bands, their self-consciousness, their grip on what they're about?
Lou: "It's kinda cool, you get a whole package. Like The Jesus And Mary Chain, they created their whole scene. It's okay. US bands just do it, it's more generalised."
US bands aren't into selling themselves…
Murph: "US bands are into the music, rather than the package. Maybe cos there's so much TV, you've got people selling themselves and projecting themselves so much all the time."
Do you spend a lot of money on records?
J: "Not anymore."
Lou: "Used to spend a LOT of money on records
J: "My mom's money. I used to take 20 dollars out of her purse and hide it under a vase or something, and if she hadn't found it after a week it was kinda mine."
If she hadn't noticed it, she evidently hadn't missed the money and can't really have needed it in the first place! This sluggish casuistry seems to sum up Dinosaur — the band who can't even rise too fully-fledged crime.
One of the best "tracks" on You're Living All Over Me is 'Poledo', an eerily beautiful ectoplasmic tone that could go on in perpetuity, created by Lou out of bits of tape, in his bedroom. "It's not a tape loop. I recorded this sound from a piece of classical music on the radio, and made a tape of it lasting 15 minutes. Then I started to layer stuff over the top at different speeds, little swatches of sound over and over again, and I got all these weird overtones and stuff. I've been doing this kind of thing since I was 14."
Will you do it again on other records?
"Maybe. It just fitted there. I don't know whether it'll occur to me again."
What kind of things work you up?
J: "How do you mean?"
Motivate you?
"Huh… hmmm… not having to do… not being in one place all the time… trying to find places that aren't home. I've been there every minute of my life— and it's kinda getting to me. There's not too many rooms in the house."
Dinosaur are husks, but it's better this way. If they imposed themselves, the music wouldn't be so imposing. If they had more of a grip, we wouldn't get blown away.

Melody Maker, October 8th 1988

by Simon Reynolds

I’ve no time for the fully-rounded character in rock, all those aspiring spokesmen like Bragg, That Petrol Emotion, Sting, Bono, Stuart Adamson, who try to straddle the personal and the political, and divide their energy equally between healthy desire and adult concern. No, the interesting things in rock are coming from one-dimensional characters at either extreme of the spectrum--either the selflessly militant or the dormant self-absorbed. On one side, the fanatic survivalists (Public Enemy, Front 242, Metallica), who are physically and musically stripped down, disciplined and on-the-one. On the other, the defeatists and drifters (Nick Cave, Morrissey, Vini Reilly) or the langorous absentees-from-reality (My Bloody Valentine, AR Kane).

No prizes for guessing which camp Dinosaur Jr flop into. J. Mascis’ lethargy is legendary, verging on cliché, and something he no doubt plays up slightly for the microphone. If Morrissey is “half a person”, Mascis consists of some even smaller fraction of a whole and healthy human. And Bug, basically a slightly more emphatic and vivid replay of last year’s You’re Livin’ All Over Me, is another document of a “life” that seems to be drained and devoid of all the zestful crackle that word usually suggests.

In many ways Dinosaur Jr’s “concerns” are the eternal preoccupations and stumbling blocks of parochial US youth: how to kickstart your life; feelings of claustrophobia; the chasm between Amercan dreams and American reality; vacillation in the face of your obligation to yourself to wrench free in search of something better. These impasses have been “dealt” with (that’s to say, not resolved, just suspended in glorious mid-air between hope and despair), many times before, most superlatively by Husker Du and The Replacements. What’s different about Dinosaur Jr is the extremity of their apathy (for Mascist, the struggle isn’t to get away but to get out of bed) and a particular iridescence that veins their grey gusting guitars, little rainbow refractions in the glum, hurtling stormclouds.

Like most great miserabilists, the limits of Mascis’ voice shape his melodies--which are all chips off the same block, all unmistakeably Dinosaur Jr, all just a little bit déjà vu. The effect is rather comforting, but the samey-ness adds to the feeling that with Dinosaur Jr we never really “go” anywhere.

“No Bones” could almost be a “manifesto’ for the group. When I interviewed them, I remarked on Mascis’ boneless, rag doll sheepishness, on how it was the appropriate demeanour for someone whose life lacked any kind of spiritual spine. But in another sense, Dinosaur Jr are dissolving rock’s vertebrae, as the riff, powerchord and bassline are almost lost in a blizzard of violently serrated haze.

“Don’t”, the last track, is where the caustic dreaminess of their sound is at its most sulphuric and psychedelic. It’s a gorgeous cataract of opalescent Hendrix guitar, through which is blasted the soiling, scorching hurt of the repeated plaint--“WHY? WHY DON’T YOU LIKE ME?”--bellowed by what sounds like a voice put through a fuzzbox.

In their strange combination of urgency and ennui, bang and whimper, Dinosaur Jr are the latest angle on one of the oldest rock themes: “I don’t live today.” But understand that this lifeless life, this fogginess of the depths of torpor, this blurry indistinctness of the edges between yourself and the world that comes with inaction--all this is the necessary grey shrinkage of consciousness you must go through before you get to dream up the kind of visionary new colours that Dinosaur Jr drizzle down on us almost absentmindedly.

Melody MakerMelody Maker, 12 January 1991
by Simon Reynolds

It's been two years of nothin' much for Dinosaur Jr.  Maybe,
like me, you lost interest somewhere along the long and winding
way, with the interminable personnel wrangles, and that brace of
indifferent singles. Dinosaur Jr just seemed to be yet another of
1988's constellation to fizzle out inexplicably. In the meanwhile,
British groups took Mascis' ball and ran with it.  With the
Valentines putting a radically androynous spin on that dazed-and-
confused sound, and Teenage Fan Club providing a more literal but
nonetheless superb reiteration of the "so fucked I can't believe
it" stance, it seemed like Dinosaur Jr had been eclipsed on their
own turf. I for one had pretty much written them off.

    But Mascis and co are on the road (to nowhere) again, with a
caustic revamp of the "Wagon" single and a fine album "Green Mind"
in the pipeline. The personnel difficulties have been left
unresolved: J recorded the new stuff himself, except for three
tracks with longtime sticksman/sidekick Murph. According to J, the
last two years haven't been all indolence: "we've been out of the
public eye but we've been doing things, like playing Australia,
trying out different people for the band, talking to record

    Murph: "And we yawn a lot"

    Yawn a lot ?!?

    "No - hang out a lot."

    Just my imagination runnin' away with me. Mascis and Murph have
been vegetating as per usual in Amherst, a college town in
Massachusetts, whose stagnant milieu of kindred lost spirits and
downward aspirants provides the (negative) inspiration for
Dinosaur's blurred sound'n'vision. With Dinosaur Jr and their
lineage of beautiful losers and wasted youth, it's never clear
whether the problem is environmental or existensial. Is this simply
the small town blues, or would the same eternally unrequitable
longings and impasses resurface in even the most ideal location?

     Murph (who's that rare thing, the intelligent, articulate
drummer) frets over this same dilemma.  "After we've been on tour,
I'm totally pumped and it takes two weeks for you to wind down.
But Amherst gradually sucks you in, there's a certain apathy there,
and the buzz wears out. That's why I want to move, cos I want to
see if the problem is me or Amherst. I want to see if I sink into
the same patterns someplace else."

     Dinosaur Jr songs are often about running away, but always as
flight from rather than flight to. "There's a place I'd like to
go/when we get there then I'll know" goes The Wagon, before
trailing off with "baby why don't we...???"  There's nothing to
define this longing, no aim or destination to galvanise the spirit.
Hence that unique Dinosaur Jr vibe: a kind of torpid desperation.
"There never really is a good time/there's always nothing much to
say...  how can you move without a goal?" Mascis drawl-whines on
the exquisitely lugubrious "Thumb", the best track on the album.
All there is momentary transcendence of the limits of here-and-now,
in a melancholic maelstrom of noise, an omni-directional surge.

     Hell, J hasn't left home yet, let alone home town. "I've lived
in other places, but I always come back.  My sister is ten years
older than me, and she still lives at home. I figure that whenever
she leaves, I've still got another ten years. Ha! I'd move if I
could think of somewhere to go. I've been so many places, but
nothing seems any better."

    You didn't form a rock'n'roll band in order to see the world?

    Murph: "Maybe to get out of Amherst, you get so tired of seeing
the same people."

     *         *         *         *         *         *

     The critical consensus on Dinosaur Jr has focused on the idea
that you have a problem with motivation, but that paradoxically
it's this enervation of the will that empowers the music.

    J: "Yeah, but if I wasn't motivated, then I wouldn't do
anything. I wouldn't be sitting here."

    But you've talked before of having to wrench yourself out of
idling away all your time in front of a TV.

   "I'd probably like to be able to watch TV all day, but I can't
handle it, I have to do something else. I'm not man enough, to be
happy with that. If you're happy, you can watch TV all day and be
content. But if you're driven to do something, you can't bear to
sit around all day."

    Driven? (The idea of J. Mascis as a driven individual frankly
flabbergasts me. The way his words just seep indistinctly, barely
enunciated, from his lips, just has to be heard to be believed).

   "I'm driven just to do something. Driven enough not to want to
be bored out of my mind all the time."

    Murph: "I'd say I was a driven, twisted individual."

    Is playing music when you're at your most happy?

    "No, I'm usually at my most psychotic then. Usually because of
stress.  J does pretty well under stress. I get very tense and

    What else do you flee boredom into, apart from the stress of

    "Like J was saying, when I'm happy, I can be content just to
watch TV, or listen to music, or hang with my girlfriend, or take
a drive in a car and look at the scenery.  She and I saw a cow give
birth the other day. We drove by and noticed this huge placenta
hanging out, so we checked it out.  That was one of the highlights
of my summer, actually."

     J: "Getting charged by a herd of cattle was pretty intense. We
were on a cross-country ski, and we heard this rumble, and turned
round and saw these cows racing towards us. Everyone cruised and
jumped over this fence, 'cept this one kid couldn't make it, and
he's just sitting there, crying. All the cows just ran up to him
and then stopped a foot away. Then they drifted away except for
this bull who just stood there staring the kid out, with a ring
through his nose."

     *         *         *         *         *         *         *

     Let us imagine that for some fantastical kind of medical
reason, you were forbidden to touch a guitar or make music ever
again - how would you feel, what would you do?

     "Not too good, I guess. I guess I'd have to come up with some
hobby.  Boxing." (This provokes much mirth from all present).

     How repressive would things have to get before you took up
arms against the state?

     Murph: "It would have to get pretty bad. If Amherst enforced a
curfew, like 'if you're not indoors by ten o'clock, you will be
beaten to a pulp', then I would definitely find someone who knew
about demolition and then try to blow up the police station."

     J: "That's like too bizarre and heavy a question for me, man."

     Murph: "I think about stuff like that, actually."

     What's a typical day like for J. Mascis?

     J: "In the morning,  I'm on the phone for hours. Phones are
pretty cheap in the US, but my bills are pretty heavy. My phone
bill was $500 last month, which is a lot of calls in America.
That's like 2000 minutes. An average phone bill is like fifty or
eight dollars."

     From what I gather, American kids conduct their friendships
almost entirely on the phone.

    "Some people you can deal with on the phone better than in the
flesh. I've got a friend who lives in a shared apartment, and she
has her own phone.  She calls up her flatmates to talk to them.
And it's a small flat, y'know.  She's too lazy to get out of bed."

     Murph: "I used to be really deeply into smoking pot, and a
friend and I used to spend two hours on the phone each night just
talking and getting obliterated."

     What can you have to talk about, if you talk every day?

    J: "If you talk to someone every day, you connect on a
different level. You don't have news, you just babble on. It's
weird  but it really does work that if you talk to someone once a
week you can have nothing to say to each other, but if you talk
every day, there's no end to it."

     What do you find the most aggravating part of existence?

     Murph: "I find bodily functions really agitate me. Just having
to sleep, having to go to the bathroom - that's stuff I really
don't want to deal with.  I have a lot of trouble sleeping. Eating
too - I hate cooking. And there are so many days when I don't
really want to go out into the world and see anybody.  It's really
hard to even go out and eat something, and deal with ordering the
food and shit.  So I get really bent out of shape. I usually like
do something to change my mood so I won't be as agitated, like I
put on a record or go for a drive, and then I'm ready to to eat."2

     So 'Astral Weeks' would put you in the right frame of mind to
go buy a slice of pizza.

   "Maybe. Depends."

    Isn't cereal always an easy option for the hapless?

    "No milk.  I don't buy groceries.  And when I do buy groceries,
half of them just spoil."

     Doesn't the fact of your eventual, inevitable death make you
feel you should be cramming every day of your life with vivid
experiences and variegated intensities?

     J: "I wish...."

     Murph: "I feel that a lot, but I can't muster up the energy to
deal with that feeling."

     J: "There really isn't much you can do that you don't already

     You'll kick yourself on your death bed, for all the time
wasted in listless lassitude.

    "Nah! I just think if I can do it, I'll do it.  Like I flew
over to Holland just to see The Rolling Stones play live.  I'd
never seen 'em, and they're definitely one of my favourite bands,
so when I met this guy who could get me into the gig, I just flew
out there. Some people freak out at the idea, some people aren't
capable of blowing that much cash for no reason, but I had the
money and I thought 'what the hell'".

     Was it worth it?

     "I don't know. It cost me $500, and I happened to have the
money, so I did it. I wouldn't say it was worth it, but it was
pretty good. I went to Las Vegas, on the way back from LA.  That's
a scary place.  There's a lot of really depressing looking people
gambling, and weirdoes.  Anyway, I saw Frank Sinatra while I was
there. He's getting pretty old.  Forgot half the words.  But it was
pretty good though.  You have to see these bands before they pack
it in.  See Frank, The Stones."

     *       *         *         *         *         *         *

     Have you ever considered going in for some "self-realisation"
therapy, to deal with your "dysfunctional attitude" to life?

    J: "A lot of people I know are into shit like that.  There's a
point that a lot of 'em reached where you're so baked -"
(translators note: baked = unhinged) " - that you get into some
form of therapy.  And it does help. I've gone to a psychic, and
they do make you feel better.  And we know people who are heavily
into meditation."

     What makes you feel pride about yourself?

     J: "That we got on a K-Tel record. This is true. They had a
really bad compilation of alternative music. It didn't even have a
TV ad like the other K-Tel records."

     No acts of extravagant kindness or good turns?

     Murph: "That's the only thing that makes me truly happy  -
when someone is really upset or there's some real bad
confrontation, and I can help to make things better."

     And what's the most shameful thing you've done?

     J: "Mine is ripping off this lady. I was mowing her lawn, and
I told her I did it more than I did. So she gave me more money.
And she knew, and I knew she knew, but I couldn't stop the lie. I
was 14 or 15, but I still think of it all the time. It still haunts
me. She used to get me to do all these tasks for her. I could give
her the money now, I have the money now, but it wouldn't help.  It
would have to be something more than that. See, she never called me
after that. She knew all along, in fact she told me she did."

     I think you can probably forgive yourself for this heinous
crime now, J, I say, suppressing a sob.

     "Nope. Can't do it."

     Murph: "With me, there's just too many things. When I was into
smoking pot, I'd do anything to get high. I would rip people off, I
just didn't care. It's a blur, that period."

     When did you give up the demon weed?

     "My parents forced me to quit.  They were were over-worried
and I was into getting away, so I went through rehab. I was also
really interested in psychology at high school and thought it would
be really cool to go live with a bunch of fucked people.  It's
similar to 'Clockwork Orange', what they did to me: a kind of
behaviouristic conditioning, but they did it emotionally rather
than through chemically induced bad association. It really fried me
out.  Afterwards, whenever I tried to get high I got these extreme
feelings of guilt. They just told me continually that I was bad,
drugs were evil, and after two months you're brainwashed.  Now I
can get high, I've overcome the conditioning. But all that period,
the getting high and the cure, that was five or six years ago. It
was interesting, I don't regret it. I was into the idea of being a
psychology, and any panalyst has to go through therapy anyway.  But
as I got older I realised that my problems were enough, and that to
hear everybody else's situations would be overwhelming.

     J: "I think I could maybe be a therapist. That's what I might
do if I quit music. I can usually talk to psychotic people pretty

     Murph: "I'd like to work as a psychologist with little, little
kids. Cos that's the age where you can nip it in the bud, and after
that it's just too late.  But too often the problem lies in the
family structure, you'd have to cure the whole family to do any

For all the f***ed-up children of this world, we give you… Dinosaur Jr.

No comments: