Maybe you’ve heard this one already: A friend of a friend is hanging out at a sloshy corner bar. Nearing last call, a Fugazi song clicks over on the jukebox. By the third line, nearly the entire room is singing along, like it’s “Sweet Home Alabama” or “American Pie.”
Now that’s diversifying the definition of “classic rock.”
If it happened for Fugazi, why not for Dinosaur Jr’s “Feel the Pain.” That anthem may never reach the scope of sing-along influence Lynyrd Skynyrd had on the post-boomers and beyond. But for an indeterminate number of now-grown-up slacker-somethings, the Dino “classic” fits snuggly in the back pocket of that favorite pair of faded Swiss-cheese jeans tucked lovingly in the corner of the closet. And while J Mascis (of course) didn’t know it at the time, his laconic “ear-bleeding country” crooning over murky ’n’ melodic distortion has left countless heavy-catchy-self-deprecatory bands in its wake.
“It’s hard to really conceive of, I guess,” Mascis says of his former band’s influence, in a quiet and gravelly voice. A little under the weather, he was just settling in back at his house/recording studio after performing with Sonic Youth in New York and his home state, Massachusetts. “I just went to the doctor and got antibiotics. I’d been sick for a month.”
From an outsider perspective, however, it’s not hard to conceive his influence, especially now, after Michael Azerrad featured the band in a group of 12 of the most influential bands of the American indie underground from 1981 to 1991 in his latest book, Our Band Could Be Your Life. Plus Rhino/Warner Archives has just released Ear Bleeding Country: The Best of Dinosaur Jr. And the increasingly popular punk-rock aerobics class, which features workouts to Dino Jr tunes among others, has been featured in Rolling Stone, Blender and Alternative Press.
The band’s name itself positioned them as heirs to classic “dinosaur rock.” Mascis has been credited for bringing the guitar solo with monstrous swirling pedal effects back to indie rock. And for his characteristic sound, he fused Beach Boys’ melodicism, Neil Young’s folky guitar gnarls, goth’s mopiness and hardcore’s heaviness.
Dubbed “second-generation indie” by Azerrad, Mascis isn’t sure what generation we’re in now. “Jesus, I don’t know. I’d say we’re way past the third. It’s probably like the 17th or something,” he says.
His current work, under the name J Mascis and the Fog, has a more mature resignation to it. The delivery is just as gritty, but the composition is cleaner, with delicate piano parts and even a little subdued brush drumming. His says his performance this weekend will be solo, amplified acoustic; “I’m playing alone.” But he’s been known to rock out some Stooges songs with his friend Ron Asheton from time to time. And he will be in Asheton’s town. “I don’t know” is J’s answer to whether Asheton will join him on stage.
But playing the Blind Pig is not his only reason for making the trip, one of only a few dates on this tour stretch.
“I’m coming to Ann Arbor also, because this Indian lady, Ammachi, is gonna be there next week. I’m going for that. You could tell people to check that out,” he says. (Ammachi, whom followers compare to Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama, will be at the Sheraton Hotel, 3200 Boardwalk, in Ann Arbor, 734-996-0600, Tuesday, Nov. 27, to Thursday, Nov. 29.)
“I’ve been following her since ’95. She’s gonna be there. She hugs people. Everybody who comes, you can get in line and get a hug from her. It doesn’t cost anything.”
But right now, his mind is on his next Fog record and Bob’s Place, his home studio that he named after his dog.
“I have drums in my living room right now,” he says. “It’s kind of annoying everyone ’cause it’s in the middle of the house. You have to walk around them and stuff. Most of it’s downstairs, but there are instruments everywhere.”
He hasn’t decided if the lineup of the mysterious Fog will ever solidify.
“I haven’t gotten that far yet. I just wanna make another record. I’ve already started it. I’m recording right now. Well, in a few minutes, I guess,” he mumbles.
Maybe J needs a hug.