Dinosaurs once ruled the earth. These massive creatures walked the surface, leaving ripples of devastation in their respective wakes. They were loud, ferocious, dominating and majestic. They were, as their name is interpreted, `fearfully great.’ The last vestiges of the dinsoaurs are all but extinct, a few creatures here and there showing obvious evolutionary adaptations from the originals, the last few signs of a remarkable age. One can learn quite a lot studying the Dinosaurs, and one would have thought, considering their unique abilities, that they would have roamed the earth forever, but as Yeats said, Things fall apart; the center cannot hold. And thus, Bug came to be the Dinosaur’s last album from the original trio. Well, what did you think I was talking about?
Picture it if you will, the year is 1988, and the world is growing weary of its alternative idols. The British pop music scene was on the decline, seeing the loss of Echo & the Bunnymen, Duran Duran was all but passé, and the keyboard was losing favor. Music listeners were eager to accept something new, something which spoke to their feelings of alienation from a world of glam and selfishness, which is why the explosion of rap music touched some and why albums like Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation, My Bloody Valentine’s Isn’t Anything and the Pixies’ Surfer Rosa had such an impact.
Right alongside those albums can be placed Dinosaur Jr.’s Bug, the third album from the band, and the last to feature the original trio of J. Mascis, Lou Barlow, and Murph. The band never got as big as their local peers the Pixies, but their music was just as influential. Take the fact that “Freak Scene,” easily the best, and definitely the most talked about song on the third record, came three years before another song of alienation, Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, broke big. The former song, just as the latter, is now called one of the best indie rock songs ever written. Bug as a whole is an incredible guitar record, just as guitar rock was becoming popular once again.
I remember going to one of my brother’s band’s shows early and watching the sound check. It was at a popular Seattle venue and the sound guy was old and grizzled, as if he had been touring with the Stones or the Dead forever. My brother played the guitar as he always has, loud and brash. He asked if it was `too’ loud. The sound man replied, “Hey, I’ve done sound for J. Mascis, don’t worry about it.” Bug is J. Mascis through and through, although more polished and accessible than the previous guitar-heavy albums. Mascis wrote every song, to the point of telling Lou and Murph exactly how he wanted them to sound. Funnily enough, he even wrote the song “Don’t,” featuring Lou Barlow screaming repeatedly, “Why don’t you like me?” The irony was not lost.
While the band did not sell millions of records, their influence was widely felt. It is rumored that upon the subsequent tour for Bug, hordes of British bands were influenced into creating a new verison of pop music, and the idea of `shoegazing.’ Whether that’s true or not, I do not know, but the fact that Dinosaur Jr. is often mentioned in the same breath as Nirvana, My Bloody Valentine, the Pixies, and Pearl Jam is a testament to their legacy. That it was the last album with all three original members puts the record in a bittersweet light, the epitome of a band dissolving at the top of their game, and the cliché of personal friction feeding great music. Barlow and Mascis, who were once best friends, could not continue. They both went on to become successful solo artists and have other important collaborations, of course. You, after all, don’t live in a hole in the ground. But to many, Bug is a defining moment in their memory, remind them of their high school days, and how once, Dinosaurs once ruled the earth.
Sonic Youth- Daydream Nation
Screaming Trees- Uncle Anesthesia
The Pixies- Surfer Rosa