Story by Samuel Duke
Dinosaur Jr. are old. You can see it in J. Mascis's hair, once a seemingly never-washed curtain of stringy brown that has turned a greyish white. Drummer Murph, once the band's resident hippie, is bald, and Mascis and bassist Lou Barlow both have, gulp, kids. But as of today they are in the midst of a grueling tour routing through Japan, Europe and the US to support their new (and second since reuniting in 2005) album Farm. Can we even call it a reunion anymore now that we're on the second record? Maybe not, but considering the fact that Mascis and Barlow (well, mostly Barlow) spent the better part of fifteen years hating each other's guts, it still seems like a gift that they have an official and regularly updated MySpace page. And that they're an almost better band than they were before.
Who knows how to explain this. The years have made Barlow and Murph better players, and Masics' obsessiveness has waned, putting the others at greater ease. But they're not exactly best friends. "We don't take field trips," Barlow tells me. "The music is really where the chemistry I enjoy with them is." He's calling on release day from Los Angeles, where he lives with his wife and daughter, and on this morning, is probably cranking out a ton of phoners while the band are between gigs at the Troubadour. When I ask how the two months of Farm sessions felt at Mascis' home studio, he says, "I like making records, but I think the way Dinosaur does it, fun isn't really a part of it." But fun is most certainly a part of listening. The band's greatest assets—Mascis' gushing open chords and couchsurfer whine, Barlow's steady hand, Murph's barely capable drumming—are not hard things to love. They are not difficult noisemakers, they are what amounts to a punk rock Crazy Horse with lyrics about feelings that don't sound wussy.
The first time I heard Dinosaur Jr. was in "Video Days," Spike Jonze's 1991 skateboard film that is regarded by some as The Godfather of the genre. Their cover of the Cure's "Just Like Heaven" played during Rudy Johnson's part. Since that moment, Dinosaur and skateboarding were inseparably linked in my brain, both regarded as gilded nuggets of Gen X slackerdom. So when their new video for "Over It" hit the web, with Mascis on a board and Barlow and Murph on BMX bikes, shredding LA street scenes like pros, I think my medulla wet itself. And yet, Barlow seems nonplussed. "The video was definitely a nod in that direction," he says. "I've never ridden a skateboard in my life. J was sort of the first person I knew who sported it and I never actually saw him ride, I just saw him carrying it. At the hardcore shows we would go to, people would be doing it, but to me it always seemed forced. 'Like, OK dude, you’re trying to ride up this wall?'"
This saltiness must make them who they are. If they were too eager, too nice, too "right on," it wouldn't be the same. They would be like Sonic Youth: still putting out okay records but also doing questionable things like appearing on Gilmore Girls and making deals with Starbucks. Dinosaur would never do that, mainly because they don't care enough. They just want to play. Loudly. When I ask if making records is, at this point, a means to an end to play live, Barlow is quick to answer in the affirmative. "For now it is. If we go make another one, maybe we’ll tweak the way we work." This is crazy to me, that one of the best records of the year exists ostensibly to keep them from getting bored on stage. I want to say it cheapens things a little, but if it means we can continue to hear new Dinosaur music, and have it be this good, I couldn't care less.