To me, J Mascis is a God. The Dinosaur Jr. front-man and guitar wizard descends from a rich pantheon of guitar heroes, song writers, and Neil Young inspired vocalists. For nearly ten years now I’ve been listening to the fuzz and chop of Dinosaur Jr. That’s awhile back – ten years ago I was a confused middle-schooler intent on becoming a pro skateboarder. It was attempting to realize this dream down in the covered sections of my school during wintery, rainy West Coast nights, that I stumbled upon the alt-rock grooves of Dinosaur Jr. Featured in an issue of Thrasher magazine, it was rumored that this heroic band were back from a long hiatus. Not only that, they were going to release a new album called simply, “Beyond”. The album cover was enough to suck me in; it featured a black and white photo of an old couch with nothing but the legs of some grunge kid poking out, and surrounding the couch was a Fender Jazz Master guitar, a small amp and various other paraphernalia of rock and roll.
I can’t remember if YouTube was a thing at that time, but I did use the internet and its mysterious video players to check out some of this spectacular music. At the time I was a strict adherent to punk rock: Anti-Flag, Refused, The Unseen, and The Casualties all had ample play time on my Sony Discman. In other words, I had no idea what a good fuzzy major scale melody could sound like. To me, hard guitar music was power-chords played as fast and as loud as time and the human wrist could allow.
Enter J Mascis and Dinosaur Jr. No doubt the quality was wretched back in the days of the antiquated, classical internet – but it’s always a special moment listening to a favorite song for the first time. “We’re Not Alone” was the first Dinosaur Jr. track I ever heard, and to this day it remains my favorite track of theirs and potentially my favorite track of any band, ever. The guitar melody is simply sublime, while the solo is face-melting – going on so long that it literally crumples the soul. The song is perfectly sugary sweet, fuzzy and heart-breaking. “We’re Not Alone” and “Beyond” as a whole marked the triumphant return of the alt-rock Gods.
Indeed, all their later albums would go on to inhabit a special place in my heart. Their sequel, “Farm” is a brilliant jam album. Stand out tracks “Plans” and “Said the People” are both emotionally charged magnum opuses. “Plans” is an up-beat, melodic existential crisis. The chorus runs “I’ve got nothing left to be/ Do you have some plans for me?” before launching into a whiny, fuzzy little guitar solo. “Said the People” is a slower track, clocking in at nearly eight minutes. The guitar solos in “Said the People” are amongst the most beautiful I’ve ever heard. They aren’t flashy but rather surge the pathos of the song forward in a manner that has to be heard to be believed.
Pre-hiatus Dinosaur albums are all brilliant as well. Even the albums that Mascis was producing himself in the Nineties under the Dinosaur Jr. name are, in my opinion, woefully underrated. Perhaps they are incomplete as Dinosaur Jr. albums, but as solo or collaborative works, the power of Mascis’ melodies lose none of their potency. Despite the brilliant recent work, the band seems intent on playing only old stuff live. Youtube is full of the reincarnated band playing old tracks, but is pretty slim on the selection of newer songs. They also played “Bug”, their 1988 release in its entirety when I saw them live at the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver, yet they shied away from any newer tracks.
Perhaps the band itself is going through some sort of existential crisis. Their recent albums are jewels of modern alternative rock. Dinosaur Jr. should have nothing to fear playing their recent stuff loud and live – shouting it proudly from stages everywhere. I understand that playing the old albums are important, especially to please the fan base that grew up listening to them in the Eighties and early Nineties, but what about me and people like me who got into them during the “Beyond” era? For me those songs are the jams I grew up with. I put on old Dinosaur Jr. for the same reasons I open an old bottle of wine – to appreciate the past, but day to day I prefer the here and now, the things I can really connect with.
Connecting with music, especially music we grew up listening to will always have precedent over newer (or newer to us) music we discover now. It’s amazing how by a young age our personalities are practically developed. Maybe this is why music we listened to during youth can bring back the same feelings we had then, or it can help us recall distant memories from that time. I have a rather wacky theory of how this works that does away with any sort of science. Imagine that all art already exists, floating up there in the cosmos above our heads and in a fit of inspiration the artist gets beamed the seedling of its idea. If the soul exists, maybe all souls exist in the cosmos, waiting to be plucked from the heavens, falling like a rain drop down a window sill into the body of a person at birth. Maybe pre soul plucking, all the would-be art and souls are up there together, floating around and interacting – a cosmic marriage of art and life. Back on Earth, people wandering around connecting with pieces of art – be it music, movies, plays, paintings, dance and writing are really connecting with it because way up in the heavens, long before they were conscious, their souls were dancing with it.
I know that is a crazy theory, but it is utterly mind-blowing how art can feel like such a part of us. Even if I didn’t have any part in its making I can listen to a piece of music, or read a good novel and think, “now this is me”. Dinosaur Jr. is one of those bands, and just like I feel lost, personally incomplete or un-whole if I go too long without reading a word of Steinbeck, so too if I go too long without listening to Dinosaur Jr. And that’s the beautiful thing about music – Dinosaur Jr’s albums will be there until I die. Just like a good book, an album can just sit on the shelf and when I need it I can put it on. Amongst all of life’s fluctuation and change, how people come and go and relationships shift, the art we love will always be there. A concrete, stable entity – a piece of ourselves, sitting on the shelf just waiting to be dusted off.