If there was a list of potential reunions unlikely to happen ten years ago, Dinosaur Jr would have ranked second, not far from checking Morrissey and Marr back together in a tour bus.
Let’s travel back in time to a seminal year: 1991. Rock history was turned upside down.
Nirvana released Nevermind.
Capitalizing on Dinosaur Jr. influential works, Nevermind was the landmark album which will lead “Seattle wave” to conquer the world. Twelve songs that swept the eighties away as a tornado.
Meanwhile J Mascis was working all alone to finish the fourth Dinosaur Jr. album: Green Mind. Almost a solo project; the first without his schoolmate, bassist Lou Barlow, and Patrick Murphy’s drums.
The clash of egos in the previous months ended up in fights and the original Dinosaur Jr. line-up went into pieces.
Murphy went drumming with Evan Dando’s Lemonheads.
Barlow took his side project to main, and shouted all his frustration versus Mascis on The Freed Pig, the instructive opening track of Sebadoh masterpiece: III.
“You were right
I was battling you, trying to prove myself
I tried to bury you with guilt; I wanted to prove you wrong
I’ve got nothing better to do than pay too much attention to you
It’s sad, but it’s not your fault
Self-righteous and rude
I guess I lost that cool
Tapping until I drive you insane
I’m self-righteous, but never right
So laid back, but so uptight
Destroying your patience to tolerate me
With all the negative spirit I bring
Right, I was obsessed to bring you down
Watching your every move
Playing a little-boy game
Always with something to prove
Waiting to cut you down, making it hard to live
With only one thing to do
Cut me first, make it easy
Now you will be free
Now that nothing depends on me
Tapping until I drive you insane
Now you will be free
With no sick people tugging on your sleeve
Your big head has that “more room to grow”
A glory I will never know”
[The Freed Pig – Sebadoh III (1991) – Lyrics by Lou Barlow]
Apparently Barlow didn’t hurt Mascis’ ego enough to make him stop. J toured Green Mind and selected, as support, an emerging Seattle band – guess who? – Nirvana.
The twist is complete and the revolution set to start.
Harsh guitars, kindly offered to rock scene by Dinosaurs, with Pixies and Sonic Youth’s contribution, will be merged into that marketing operation called “Grunge”.
It will dominate rock music for the next decade, any bunch of guys playing guitars in Seattle make it to a label, an album and surely a rank in one sort of indie chart.
Even a declining star as Neil Young, at a complete loss during the eighties, managed to find his second youth being acknowledged as a godfather by this unstoppable music wave.
Everything culminates with Cobain death in 1994. A Neil Young citation “it’s better to burn out, than to fade away” closes his suicide note, it is worth mentioning.
Dramatic but true, the shock of a man life is a perfect chance that the music marketing took for its goals. The sanctification of the man, the band, the music and the whole period will bring huge incomes to anyone involved with it: from music to books, from clothing to hairdresser.
[Suggested reading: “Naomi Klein – The Shock Doctrine (the Rise of Disaster Capitalism)“]
Begin of 2005. Rumors are spreading; Dinosaur Jr. original line up will tour again.
Having missed the real thing on the good old days – a teenager in Rome doesn’t have so many chances (and money) to access any indie label overseas – I was thrilled, curious and a bit worried to see live a band which I discovered too late. Can they still rock?
8th of June 2005. I stand in the front barrier of the Forum; Dinosaur Jr. third gig of the new era is in London. I managed to sneak in my camera to catch them (not having a pass those days) but a big security guy confiscated my camera after my second shot. Me: “everyone is taking photos!” him: “this is too professional”.
Since that day I haven’t realized there is a professional camera’s ranking, I never thought my worn-out film SLR would even be eligible to compete! I got it back at the end, though.
The gig was extremely loud, very wild and little interactive; everything followed expected plans. Apparently nothing changed in the 18 years gap.
The music sounded still embryonic, as if the band was trying to decide what direction to go but it got surprisingly better song after song. I won’t forget the inimitable sequence Sludgefeast, Freak Scene, and Cure’s cover Just Like Heaven as a closure that left me excited enough to be seduced and buy a 5£ unofficial T-shirt outside the venue.
The message was to be spread: Dinosaur Jr. are back!
15th of May 2008. Still resentful for that guy who blocked me from taking pictures, I proudly enter Koko holding a proper photo-pass and showing off the security my full-size camera bag.
Dinosaur Jr during these three years have been very busy.
Whilst incessantly touring, they curated 2006 All Tomorrow Parties festival, they played on its entirety their second You’re Living All Over Me and they find the time to record an album full of new material: Beyond. Their first release in 18 years, doesn’t add more than a couple of songs to their “best of” playlist, yet is one of the few notable comeback albums to have ever been issued.
I think I am ready. Standing in the Koko photographers’ pit for this warm-up pre-ATP festival, I am selecting the best spots, sneaking at the setlist and counting the pile of Marshall amps on stage… when I figure out I forgot my earplugs, gosh!
The trio starts playing as soon as they walk on stage. Usual coldness, usual wall of very loud sound for my unprotected ears. I am dazed by their mix of feedback and distortion, a noise which mix to melody and deliver their ageless sound.
Mascis (and Barlow) voices don’t have the volume high enough to emerge over the guitars explosion. The songs are rowdy, the public goes wild.
It is a feedback driven trip from the start, a sonic journey into distorted rock history which gets its best moment in the instrumental rides of solos.
Mascis is the heart, soul and hair of the band. Hidden behind his cascade of long, straight, tiny and grey spaghetti, he is fully dedicated to his guitar. He forgets the audience and ignores his mates.
Lou Barlow, split between his two creatures (the reunited Sebadoh played Koko just a couple of days before), tonight looks satisfied to keep is ego on a side, let Mascis have the leader role and even play bass on a couple of songs from the post-Barlow Dinosaurs catalogue.
Patrick Murphy, not a single hair left, still drums the hell out of his kit.
In the brilliant mayhem that the three manage to produce, you wouldn’t appreciate which remarkable songwriters they are if you didn’t know the songs. To distinguish between the eternal classics from the weaker, recent material on the setlist is a for-fans-only task.
Earsplitting guitar, bass and incessant drums are Dinosaur Jr. distinctive live quality whatever they play.
If you want to listen to good songs, you better buy their remastered special priced first 3 albums.
If you are after a night of distortion and feedback, better you hurry up and get a ticket, the spell is still on.
“I’ve been asking ’round if you were there
Asking, but I’m always scared
Asking ’cause I want to care again
Come on life
I’m almost ready
I’m almost ready”
A classic of rock music: Long hair.
Something linked to teenagers’ rebellion that, if you are a rockstar and baldness spares you, will last until Robert Plant age.
If you were a musician in the 70s they were a must-have. Nowadays they are more occasional, but when you meet someone with hair falling over his shoulder it still retain the rocker cliché.
Mascis straight, long, grey hair are, on their own, a subject worth a reportage. The use he makes of it, mainly to hide his face, would be argument of an interesting psychoanalytical lecture.
Photography wise, it is a good occasion for some different portraits.
Use a medium telephoto lens, something like a fast 85mm would be best. Open it wide to minimize the depth of field (DOF) and exploit a longer shutter speed (ideally 1/250s @ f1.4). What you need to achieve is freezing any movement in order to have a sharp crisp image which emphasize the hair.
If you can use the artist head to cover a backlight, you will have a bright background which will glorify the haircut for the joy of your viewers and his hairdresser. It is not easy but keep trying, it will happen sooner or later.
The other effect you can try with long hair is to use their movement to increase dynamism in your pictures.
A situation difficult to control, the procedure is exactly the opposite of the previous one for portraits. You better set a wider lens, a longer shutter time that will give you a blurred image but will let you use a deeper DOF (let’s say 1/15s @ f5.6) helpful to keep your hero in the in-focus area even if it moves.
Try and then try again…especially for the one of you working digitally who can check the photos straight after, you can quickly improve the results.