Deuce’s D- Book Report: Nick Attfield – Dinosaur Jr.: You’re Living All Over Me
Dinosaur Jr.’s music is hard to classify. Slacker-noise-rock with catchy pop melodies and insane solos. Does that count? It's about as unpunk as you can be from the popular consensus of what punk is. It has none of the bravado of the anthems the Sex Pistols or the Clash, it's not short bursts of visceral anger and unrest like Minor Threat and Black Flag, it's not even the weird cultural experiments and art projects of the CBGBs or No Wave scenes. It's a sustained, bored chaos. It's noisy music with guitar solos. Not guitar solos to impress you with skill, but mostly because J Mascis doesn't have anything better to do than kick on the fuzz box and melt your face with a distorted solo that sounds like someone made melody out of a 56k modem dial tone.
It is the greatest thing ever.
Which is why it’s so funny and odd to me that this book was written with such an academic tone. Then I flipped the book over to discover that the author, Nick Attfield is a professor at Oxford.
Maybe that’s why at points, it devolves into literary wankery, the kind of language academia likes to use to alienate those outside of their world: "...he launches into about two minutes of vertiginous solo, leaving it unclear at times if he is playing the guitar, or if the guitar might be playing him -- flesh fist hammering metal string, or wooden body yanking sympathetic sinew."
...All right, dude.
His Oxford digging actually comes in handy; it's much more welcomed than his self-consciously flowery language. There are some interesting historical bits in here, including discussion of the pre-Dinosaur band J and Lou were in, Deep Wound. He also provides a nice background to give some context to Dinosaur Jr.'s style. Most notable is the fact that their home town of Amherst was the kind of mecca of 70s and 80s progressive parenting, encouraging expression and rebellion. This wasn't disenfranchised kids screaming because they had no guidance or because they were being suppressed. What do you do when your parents want to rebel?
Grow your hair as far as it will go and basically become a pain in the ass to everyone around you by doing... nothing. According to the book, J Mascis's main hobby in college was cranking his amp as loud as he possibly could simply because he wanted to use distortion and feedback to loosen the fillings of his dorm mates and maybe even knock their Jeff Beck records into a million pieces onto the floor.
To get down to it, this is an essential read for fans of the Dinosaur and it's fairly compelling for rock fans who want to learn more about one of the cornerstone bands of the 1980s American rock underground. It's also great if you appreciate the irony of someone writing an in-depth analysis of a band whose leader would probably just shrug and deny it all. Not due to it being factually incorrect, just because it's the J thing to do.
I mean, this is the same guy who shrugged when asked to identify the lyrics to the opening song to his band's most famous album. The guy who had offers to join both Nirvana and Built to Spill but didn't because... well, basically because he just didn't get around to it.
Here's 30 minutes of modern-day Dino slaying in New Zealand:
PROS & CONS
+ Dinosaur Jr. is the greatest.
+ J Mascis is hilarious in his own, insane way.
+ Plenty of fun inter-band passive-aggression between Lou Barlow and J Mascis to be found.
- It's like it was written by Charles Dickens after he ate a thesaurus and spent an afternoon on Pitchfork.
- If you're a Sonic Youth fan and for some reason you haven't figured out that Thurston Moore is hopelessly pretentious and irritating, this book will drive that into you like a railroad spike.