BY JAMES MOORE
Okay, so it wasn’t really my summer vacation. So far,the president and his Republican vanguard have not passed legislation banningpoetic license, so listen with open earballs as I tell you the tale of thereemergence of dinosaurs roaming freely on the face of God’s green earth!
Granted, talk of dinosaurs may shake the raptors of those who believe theuniverse is only 10,000 years old, but hey, I’m just reporting what Isaw. Recently, our commander-in-chief encouraged creationism—packagedthese days as the more innocuous-sounding “intelligent design”—tobe taught in public schools as an alternative to the icky, oozy, earthly Darwiniantheory of evolution. (Maybe I.D. could be taught in civics class along witha discussion on separation of church and state, eh, Pastor Bush?)
Believe it or not, Ripley, the Kansas public school system has decided to addI.D. to their curriculum, scientific consensus notwithstanding. Also currentlyunder consideration: teaching the Ten Commandments in math class, recitingthe Lord’s Prayer for speech class, and rebuilding Noah’s Ark forshop class. But seriously, folks …
Our dinosaur adventure begins when I am asked to play bass for a localgroup called the Reaction, helmed by space-age iconoclast Scott Pufferand guitar aficionado Joe Seiter. David Murphy is the designated drummer.
A crack musical unit is being assembled to open for a show in the TwinCities featuring the original lineup of Dinosaur Jr., on tour for thefirst time in 15 years. As it turns out, Puffer and Seiter are acquaintancesof Dino wunderkind/mastermind J Mascis and have opened for him before.
RULE #1: When it comes to opening slots for plum shows, it’s whoyou know, baby. Call it the Haliburton Principle.
(For those who don’t know who Dino Jr. is, suffice it to say, theAmherst, Mass uber-power trio emerged from the Paleolithic grunge eracirca mid-80s earning a hallowed perch in the gazoober-metal-pedal-post-punkpantheon.)
Some years back, Puffer and I played together with the late Lance Morrisonin a post-postmodern three-legged noise band called OUThAUS. We managedonly one gig, ferreted away deep in the cement bowels of a local undergroundbar. Wah-wah fuzz bass. Screaming guitar. Surreal effects. Whirly strobelights. Occasional trombones. Earplugs dispensed at the door. Runningthe gauntlet from junkyard clamor to bitch’s brouhaha to groove-monkeymagic to flat-out meltdowns to eel-like wangling from the sludge to shock-and-awebombast.
To say this cacophonous din was not for everyone is obvious. Even DonaldRumsfeld and his pre-war special Iraqi intelligence group (OSP) couldn’tmiss that.
What has this got to do with Dinosaur Jr., you ask?
It’s what we call a non sequitur, y’all.
non se·qui·tur (n) 1. a statement that appears unrelatedto a statement that it follows. 2.. a conclusion that does not followfrom its premises.
We live in non sequiturial times, to paraphrase rightwing “anatheme” MichaelMoore. Non sequiturs certainly led us to war: 9/11 and Iraq. Saddam andOsama. Bush doctrine and last resort. WMDs and preemptive invasion. Nonsequiturs abound: Mission accomplished. Media is the problem. War on terroris making the world safer. Things will be better when a a) coalition,b) provisional, c) interim, d) constitutional government is installed.
“Non sequitur” is the perfect word for America’s currentapproach to foreign policy. Setting aside presidential chief strategistKarl Rove’s troubling grand jury and dishonesty issues, as I writethis, two out of three Americans think Bush is not doing a good job inIraq. Ouch. Especially for a so-called war president. Especially withmidterm elections around the corner.
At the moment, a soldier’s mother who lost her son in Iraq is encampedoutside Bush’s Crawford, Texas, vacation residence. She wants toknow what the “noble cause” is the president says soldiersare dying for in Iraq. There’s a growing sense across the countrythat the grave situation there is becoming a stone, not around the president’sneck, but America’s.
Speaking of Stones, the bad boys of rock ’n’ roll have a newCD, A Bigger Bang, coming out, their first studio album in six years,and a tour as well. From their song “Sweet Neo-Con”: “Youcall yourself a Christian, I call you a hypocrite. You call yourself apatriot, I say you’re full of s—.”
Street fighting words, but for some reason it makes me wonder what itmust’ve been like to be young and Republican during the tumultuous,psychedelic 60s. Watching the whole youth revolution, peace movement,and free love generation go by from the sidelines must have been a rub.Can you picture Karl Rove as a flower-power hippie-chick magnet?
But now the tables have turned.
Nerds have ascended. People are embracing their inner Kramer. It’sactually the new cool. Call it neo-hip. Napoleon Dynamite is a god. TopherGrace. Computer geeks. Braces. Brainiacs and career paths. Jesus as CEO,head of the Global Church of Perpetual Free Markets. Virginity is thehaps. Meanwhile, the drugs of choice are pilfered parental pharmaceuticals,downers such as Oxycontin (we put the “rush” in Rush Limbaugh)and speed like amphetamines (mother’s little helpers) and home-brewedmeth. Mind-altering substances are so yesterday. Now it’s drugsfor science and industry. [Cue: Raphael Palmeiro singing Led Zeppelin’s “Steroidsto Heaven.”]All I know is my better whole wants me to get her a T-shirt that reads:TALK NERDY TO ME. She is absolutely the cat’s meow, btw, but herfather does have a Ph.D. in physics. [Cue: Steve Miller Band’s “My Dork Hour.”]
Which brings us back to Dinosaur Jr.
When I meet J Mascis at the Quest Club in Minneapolis, he offers thequickest of handshakes, a flicker of eye contact, the briefest of acknowledgements.His speaking voice is an anomaly. It’s like a dispossessed electromagnet,introverted, nasal-y, barely audible. He has long gray stringy hair,a pear-shaped belly, a self-possessed, totally who-gives-a-s— air.Maybe his song titles give a clue: “Freak Scene,” “Pointless,” “Repulsion,” “SeveredLips,” “Kracked,” “Sludgefeast,” “Gargoyle,” and “DoesIt Float.”
We do a sound-check. Ten Clear Channel and Ten Quest Club security peoplewatch over things, including our very own dressing room and cooler. (Aw,yeah.) After weeks of preparation, our 25-minute set is over in a flash.Puffer rocks the vocals. His sartorial splendor is replete. I am squishedinto my “nerd”-friend’s tight-black dress plants (thankGod she has long legs).
When Dino finally comes out and opens up the throttle, I am blown away.Literally. A full house sways to the jet propulsion of the anvil-poundedcarnage with a collective smile of satisfaction. Mascis has this sortof wheezy cross between the Cure and Neil Young lazy-Quaalude kind ofvoice. But it’s also manly and artistic the way it lays atop thescreaming, throbbing, giant, effortless, killer guitarasmic sonics,pure slacktown genius.
Four cranked Marshal amps, stacked two by two, make Mascis, who startedoff as a drummer, the loudest guitarist at almost every venue he plays,ripping kingdom come leads from a still core. He himself wears earplugs,as I do standing and watching out front. Even so, it’s beyond deafening.By show’s end, my chest cavity is ringing.
All I can say is, it definitely floats, man.