Behind the wide glasses and the thick curtain of long, salt-and-pepper hair, seemingly getting more gray by the minute, hides an enigma.
His name is J. Mascis, and he is Generation X?s ? not the band, but the actual generation ? guitar god, the reluctant anti-Clapton who conjures up inhumanly loud, stormy, but melodic solos on a whim that summon all the ragged, renegade fury of Neil Young?s most extreme electric freakouts. Mascis is constantly being compared to Young.
?I always thought it was more my voice that sounded sort of like Neil Young,? says Mascis, a rabid Birthday Party fan. ?I wanted to sound like Nick Cave, [and] came out sounding more like Neil Young.?
In conversation, that voice, hardly ever rising above a trembling mumble, doesn?t get much of a workout. Simply put, he doesn?t talk much. Communication is limited. In essence, that?s what led to one of the messiest divorces in indie-rock history.
In 1989, the classic Dinosaur Jr. lineup of Mascis, Lou Barlow on bass and Murph on drums imploded. Tensions had been rising between Mascis and Barlow, and one night, Mascis pulled a palace coup.
He booted Barlow from the band, telling him, according to reports, that Dinosaur Jr. was going to break up. The next day, Dinosaur Jr. was still a band, but Barlow, a strong songwriter in his own right, was no longer in it.
Barlow was angry and trashed Mascis in interviews and in songs with the band he formed with Eric Gaffney, the lo-fi marvel Sebadoh. A reunion was about as unlikely a prospect as flying to the moon was in 1914. But, in 2005, Barlow and Mascis made nice for a short reunion tour, with Murph back on drums.
When asked at the time about making a record together, both Mascis and Barlow told the press that it was highly unlikely. Again, the impossible happened.
On May 1, Fat Possum, the record label known more for its blues roster, which includes Junior Kimbrough, released Beyond, the first Dinosaur Jr. album with Barlow, Mascis and Murph since 1988?s critically fawned over Bug. And the biggest surprise of all: it didn?t suck.
With all the half-baked rock reunions out there, Dinosaur Jr.?s turned out to be the one that lived up to, and exceeded, the hype. Beyond might just be the best thing they?ve ever done. On guitar, Mascis is flying without a net, his playing chaotic and hairy, reaching back to the hardcore punk beginnings of the band, and yet, the moody, rollercoaster melodies the band practically trademarked are stronger and more compelling.
Interspersed among paint-peeling, hook-crazy rockers like ?Almost Ready,? ?This Is All I Came To Do? and ?Pick Me Up,? the closest to heavy metal Dinosaur Jr. has ever come, are moments of bittersweet, bruised melancholy in the form of ?Crumble? and the Barlow-penned ?Back To Your Heart? and ?Lightning Bulb.?
The recording process didn?t go smoothly. ?It was a bit long, sort of, because we were practicing and recording at the same time, so it seemed like we weren?t getting anything done,? says Mascis. ?We?d kind of record as we practiced and then it would sound terrible, so it was a little discouraging. You know usually we?d practice and then just go in and record after we knew the songs.?
As for the results, especially with regard to the tender ?Crumble? and its lineage to other Dinosaur Jr. classics like Bug?s ?Freak Scene,? Green Mind?s ?Wagon? and ?Puke And Cry? and Where You Been?s ?Out There? and ?Start Choppin,?? Mascis doesn?t know how he gets from Point A to Point B.
?You know I?m just making them up as I go and not trying to think about them too much,? says Mascis.
Perhaps that explains the energy and wild creativity of Beyond.