Here’s what you do: Get them to sit down and say, “Listen. Just listen.” Then you crank the Dino. I’ve been getting people to listen to Dinosaur (Jr.) for 25 years now. It used to be my job.
In 1982, when we were in High School, I was the kid who couldn’t play an instrument, so I booked the gigs. J told me where he thought it might be cool to play, and then I made the phone calls. Back then, the band was Deep Wound: J on drums, Lou on guitar, Scotty on bass, Charlie on vocals. Hardcore punk: fun, loud, fast as fuck. But I wasn’t making people listen to the band then. For hardcore shows at The Guiding Star Grange in Greenfield or Gallery East in Boston, kids just got together and put on a show. Everyone pretty much knew what to expect.
By 1984, Deep Wound had fizzled. The interim band, Mogo, was over after only one gig on the Amherst Common. It featured Charlie screaming “Fuck the cops!” before the plug was pulled, a total high-point in my personal catalog of rock-n-roll moments. Then came Dinosaur: Murph on drums, Lou moving to bass, and J bringing all his inner Moon and Bonham (Keith and John) to the guitar. And with Dinosaur came the tunes.
The first cassette I had to take around to get gigs for Dinosaur was a raw but vital sketch of two tunes, “Forget the Swan” and “Cats in a Bowl,” recorded in J’s basement on a crappy old tape recorder. J and I were students at UMass but we spent a lot of time at Hampshire College, where the kids seemed hipper and more inclined to dig what Dinosaur was laying down. But this was not always the case. The guy I went to talk to for a slot on Hampshire’s Spring Concert line-up, half-way through listening to “Forget the Swan,” started talking about how great his own lame 60’s retro-poseur band was. In the middle of “Forget the Swan”! I was incredulous. We did not get the gig, but the real disappointment was that this seemingly tuned-in guy didn’t get it. Listen to the lead riff on “Forget the Swan” again. If you really listen, it will haunt you. This guy did not listen.
And once you get it, you can’t do without it. For me, Dinosaur’s tunes are indispensable; they are songs that have been rattling around my head for as long as the band has been playing them. “Repulsion,” from the first record, still knocks me out. The second record, “You’re Living All Over Me,” is an exception in that I can’t listen to any one tune on that record without needing to listen to the whole damned thing. J once said that he writes songs that he himself would want to listen to, and he’s got great taste. I never took the Cure seriously until I heard what these guys did with “Just Like Heaven,” a monster of a cover that hits the level of what Hendrix did for Dylan with “All Along the Watchtower.”
When Brian at Bleemusic floated the original Dinosaur line-up reunion idea a few years ago, I was dubious. J, Lou, and Murph never had a “stable” marriage to begin with. But, of course, the tensions within their layered relationships as a band helped to make them so insanely powerful. Kids seeing the band on the YLAOM tour would come backstage after the show, dazed and transformed. It wasn’t just the wall of J’s Marshall-driven guitar or Lou and Murph locked in as tight as any bass/drum duo ever has been. It was vitality of the tunes themselves, delivered with emotion distilled to rock-bottom rock-n-roll essentials.
After examining it from all angles, the guys decided the reunion thing was worth a try. The thawing out period was especially interesting. At one point I dug up photos from when we were kids, and now, as grownups sitting around at an Indian restaurant with spouses and houses and lives that are more-or-less “established,” it felt comfortable and right. And then came the tunes again.
“Beyond” was the rejoinder to the worry that Dino was merely flogging the back catalog as a reunion gimmick, and now here’s “Farm.” I’ve had this record for a week now, playing it constantly; it’s pure Dino, great Dino. These tunes are now in my head for good, along with all their other tunes. This is what these guys do best, and they are really good at what they do. So do someone a favor: sit them down and say, “Listen.” Then crank the Dino.
Hadley, MA 2009
Jon Fetler lives in Hadley with his four children and his wife, a girl he put on the guest list in Bedford, England, during the Bug tour of 1988. That same year, he was unanimously voted Worst Roadie of the Year by his fellow roadies in Rapeman and Band of Susans.