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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8 Comments

  1. strashila
    Posted November 24, 2009 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    As for J Mascis’ personality, yeah he’s not very engaging, is he? Though, I’m not really interested in interviews with him so who cares that he talks as much as a plant? Let’s not assume that nobody liked their music, lyrics and “inferior vocals” before they covered Just Like Heaven. Ok, I’m only one person, but I do have a hard time deciding which is my favorite of their songs, and Just Like Heaven ain’t on my short list. Granted, I don’t love every song they ever put out, but that’s a pretty tall order for anyone.

    I actually like singing to Dino Jr songs (and Neil Young, Nirvana, Tom Waits, Sonic Youth, etc) *because* of their inferior vocals…

    On the topic of “commercial success” … please just don’t equate this with quality. “You had to be stupid or Mudhoney not to hit paydirt during the alt-rock ’90s.”
    You’d have to say the same thing about the Meat Puppets and Thin White Rope, then, and from my humble perspective that just does not compute.

  2. Posted November 24, 2009 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    Over intellectualism and ad infinitum dissection is what’s killing music today. At least listen to You’re Living All Over Me, Matt before you prejudge that which you have not heard. Pretty funny bullshit here, tho.

  3. Don
    Posted November 24, 2009 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    The fact that Curt Kirkwood was omitted from the random indie-guitar-hero-name-droppings from these so-called music ‘journalists’ only indicates that neither of them have any business ‘writing’ for Magnet. This whole article reeks of two Grade 7 wanna-be hipsters arguing whose dad could kick whose ass. Mike McCready???? Jeezuz Christ!!! I think all the above-mentioned guitarists are owed an apology!

  4. None-ayer bizzness
    Posted November 24, 2009 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    Matthew Fritch, you’re a fucking idiot. Mascis isn’t a technically gifted singer?? Guess that really put a stop to Dylan, Neil, Lydon etc. Who gives a fuck? The guy writes great songs that ARE catchy, and is the Jimi Hendrix of the past 20 years. “Livin all Over Me”, “Bug” and “Green Mind” are classics. Live he is amazing, with or without Dino jr, but since you, the indie rock editor, have never seen them, how would you know? By the way, Bob Mould 3 times by accident? C’mon. Glory holes don’t count.
    Where’s the street team for editors?

  5. CC
    Posted November 24, 2009 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    Some real good sarcasm here. Kudos! You can compare J. Mascus’ guitar playing with Doug Martsch all you want, but if you tried to compare personalities, I’d have to bust a can of whoop ass on Matt (x2). I know Doug and he is just a really great person. It’d be great if J. Mascus was little more socially ept. But like other talented artists (Picasso, Bukowski, Gary Oldman), the talent trumps the assholitality. Generally if I don’t like the singers voice in a band, I’m out. And so it’s not easy for me to appreciate a “style” type singer. But, I do like me some Dinosaur Jr. By the way, maybe your next “Put Up Your Dukes” could be “Why the Fuck Isn’t Nada Surf Super Freakin’ Famous”!!??

  6. Posted November 24, 2009 at 6:01 pm | Permalink
  7. Russ
    Posted November 24, 2009 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    If you look at the pantloads that Magnet has salivated over during the years (read Earles “Street Team” column for the appropriate response to the blatant offenders), how can anyone NOT be positive and supportive of Dinosaur Jr’s body of work.? I put Green Mind, Without a Sound, and Where You Been up there against most collected works over a short period of time for an “alternative band”. The “guitar hero or hack” argument is either intentional button pushing or complete retardation, and having read Fritch’s previous contributions, I confidently vote the latter. Mascis is a solid rock and roll guitar player, not a shred-meister, but still a guy that’s been featured in plenty of guitar magazines over the years, both for his equipment choices and the sound from his fingers.

    As far as him being an asshole? Boo hoo. I don’t want to take him out for dinner or date him, rocking out to a solid library of music will suffice.

  8. Scotia Dimitri
    Posted November 10, 2012 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

    I am contemporaneous with J, and I am every bit as good a guitar player. So let’s not get too carried away. There are guys like us in most towns, probably. We all grew up listening to ridiculous amounts of music and playing the holy hell out of guitar. J happened to form his vision early on, though, and that led to remarkably strong albums. “I Bet On Sky” sucks, though.