Put Up Your Dukes: Dinosaur Jr

dinojrTwo of MAGNET’s Matts—editor Matthew Fritch and writer Matt Ryan—go to the mat to see whose opinion is more correct. Today’s topic: Dinosaur Jr. Put up your dukes!

From: Matthew Fritch
To: Matt Ryan

Dinosaur Jr came to town last month. I didn’t go see them. In fact, I’ve never seen Dinosaur Jr (or its frontman, J Mascis, live)—which, for a music journalist who’s been covering a certain alt-rock niche for more than a decade, is like lying beneath a urinating racehorse and not getting wet. You just end up seeing certain long-in-the-tooth artists by default. (I’ve seen Bob Mould three times by accident, for example.) In the interest of starting an argument with you, I’m going to throw Dinosaur into the tar pit. Yes, I’ve heard their albums. I’m bothered that their best-known song is a cover of the Cure’s “Just Like Heaven.” I’m turned off by the fugly green-and-purple “team colors” that were made into a Nike sneaker and the eighth-grade art-class album covers. Mascis might be a guitar god (more on that later), but he must’ve sold his personality to acquire such skills. He has all the charisma of Stephen Malkmus but with the appearance of an aging lesbian. Hit me back, Freak Scene.

From: Matt Ryan
To: Matthew Fritch

Maybe I missed the point of these debates entirely, but I thought we were supposed to be discussing music. I’m now left to argue … what? That J Mascis is in fact a handsome devil? With impeccable instincts for art and fashion? And a sparkling conversationalist to boot? I’ll tell you a little story. You may or may not recall that I interviewed Mascis for MAGNET many years ago. His reputation having preceded him, I went into the interview well-prepared, with pages of single-spaced questions and discussion topics. Nevertheless, the whole “conversation” lasted approximately 10 minutes and was characterized by a series of yeses, nos and grunts. Suffice to say I’d rather have a Tabasco enema than interview that fucker again. And yes, he does look like he drives a beat-up Volvo, wears Birkenstocks and listens to the Indigo Girls. All of that becomes irrelevant, however, when he plugs in a guitar. I defy you to identify any Mascis contemporaries who are as genius with a six-string. One other note: “Start Choppin’” is Dinosaur Jr’s best-known song, having reached number four on the alternative charts back in ’93. Still, there would be nothing wrong with being recognized for converting the worst song from the Cure’s Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me into something listenable.

From: Matthew Fritch
To: Matt Ryan
I remember “Start Choppin’.” Actually, I only remember the guitar riff from it. Is that bad? You’ll have to agree that J “fuzzy warbler” Mascis is not a technically gifted singer (and yet he’s no Kim Gordon, either), and it doesn’t make much sense to try to figure out what he’s been singing about all these years. So we’re left with his proficiency on the guitar. Maybe he’s in the pantheon of guitar gods somewhere between Doug Martsch and Joe Satriani, or maybe he’s three spots up from Kevin Shields and seven steps to the left of Bernard Butler. Pitchfork is working round the clock on those rankings right now. In the meantime, I’m left to wonder whether Dinosaur Jr is revered just ’cause they’re old and still kicking (hey Mission Of Burma—I’m coming for you next) or because they put their early stuff out on SST. Smells like grandfathered indie cred to me. This was a band that couldn’t make it big even during the Nirvana boom cycle. You had to be stupid or Mudhoney not to hit paydirt during the alt-rock ’90s.

From: Matt Ryan
To: Matthew Fritch
No, Mascis is not a technically gifted singer, but neither is Tom Waits nor—since you mentioned Mudhoney—Mark Arm. Last I checked, silky vocal pipes weren’t a prerequisite for artistic credibility. Perhaps this is more to your liking? In terms of guitar prowess, are Doug Martsch and Bernard Butler really the best you could do? Really? What about John Frusciante, Dave Navarro, Mike McCready, Josh Homme and Tom Morello? Disregard that. I’m not here to make your case for you (although you clearly need help). You seem to be arguing that any regard for Dinosaur Jr is a nostalgia trip. (Does anybody really give a shit that they used to be on SST? I don’t.). Yet in the same breath, you acknowledge that Dino Jr. is “still kicking.” They are indeed still kicking. With apologies to the Rush fans out there, name a better rock ‘n’ roll trio now or 20 years ago than Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph. As a final point, you’re like Fox News: When the facts don’t support your case, just make them up. Couldn’t “make it big?” Dinosaur Jr had four major-label releases in the ’90s, charted here and in the U.K. and played Lollapalooza. How is that not commercial success? By the way, I hesitate to even ask that question, as it gives credence to the silly popularity = quality aspect of your argument.

From: Matthew Fritch
To: Matt Ryan
Thanks for the Mel Tormé YouTube clip—that’s exactly what I meant. Was he on SST? I think Mel might’ve been in an early lineup of the Subhumans. I think we already established, in our Pixies argument, that a band can still breathe and tour and yet largely represent a nostalgia trip for its fans. Can I name a better rock trio than Dinosaur Jr? Didn’t I just mention Nirvana? How about Daryl Hall, John Oates and an old shoe? I’ve clearly stated that I dislike Dinosaur Jr’s crummy visual aesthetic, Mascis’ plant-like personality, the inferior vocals and lyrics and the dubious assertion that Mascis is a guitar hero. You’ve been arguing around the edges. What progression has the band made in its 25-year career? What’s the thing that I’m missing? Give me a YouTube clip of Dinosaur Jr doing something awesome and I’ll give it fair consideration.

From: Matt Ryan
To: Matthew Fritch
Dude, at least get your facts straight. Tormé was in Crass, not the Subhumans. Anyway, at the risk of repeating myself, the fact that a band can induce nostalgia and still produce viable music in the current day are not mutually exclusive states of being. This year’s Farm and 2007’s Beyond are stellar rock ‘n’ roll records by any measure. As for any lingering doubts regarding Mascis’ godhead status on guitar, please cue up Farm‘s “I Don’t Wanna Go There” at the 4:15 mark and prepare to have your face melted by the four-minute solo. Sonics aside, you seem to be hung up on the visuals, so I’ll direct you to the band’s classic Spike Jonze-directed video for “Feel The Pain,” wherein Mascis and Co. play a round of golf in NYC. Equally bitchin’ is the new clip for “Over It,” Mascis skateboard double’s ridiculous grey wig notwithstanding. It’s great visual entertainment (see if you can spot the Mike Watt cameo) and the song’s wah-wah guitar hook is insanely catchy. So there you have it.

From: Matthew Fritch
To: Matt Ryan
The video for “Feel The Pain” is really funny. I mean that it’s funny not only because of the golfing but also because it features all the band members. Both of them. Mascis and bassist Mike Johnson, the only other guy who could stand to be in Dinosaur Jr at the time. I can’t be quite as critical with regard to the “Over It” video—that is top shelf. I’m embedding it below. How’d you know that was Mike Watt? If you’d sent me the link to this video at the beginning of this whole charade, it might’ve been the shortest Put Up Your Dukes in history. However, then I wouldn’t have gotten you to make the ridiculous claim that “Just Like Heaven” is the worst song on Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me. Are you insane? Or do you think the seven minutes of sonic waterboarding that is “The Snakepit” is a stone cold gas? Don’t answer that—we could be here for days.

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