Patching it up and hitting the road
By Sara Bir
Breaking up is hard to do. Reuniting, apparently, is easy. Recently, the three original members of Dinosaur Jr.--J Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph--announced their plans to tour this summer in support of the re-release of the band's first three albums.
This is big news, in a way. A big chunk of early Dinosaur Jr.'s youthfully uneven genius was the hate/love creative dynamic between Lou, Murph and J. There's the classic story, for example, about the band going on tour in 1987, and J catching Lou in the van sucking on the eyeball of his new Cookie Monster doll. That's only mildly creepy, but incidents like that--little things, tensions piling up--are the stuff that band breakup legends are made of.
Fans relish these stories and weave them into a fetishistic mythology where a defunct but once-promising band's untimely implosion only adds to the greatness of the works they created, as if it's nobler to plummet dramatically off a cliff than to soldier on into mediocrity. One special thing about loving Dinosaur Jr. was knowing that the original trio were gone forever, like an ancient civilization who left naught but a trail of wild stories and a few relics of vinyl.
Until now. You know you're an aging hipster when your favorite long-obliterated bands reunite. The air has been dripping with reunion fertility the past several years. Most notably, the Pixies made enough peace with their mutual disgust with each other to tour the whole dang world, a feat they'll be repeating this summer. Mission of Burma, Gang of Four, the Sex Pistols, Tears for Fears, Slint, Mötley Cruë and even Sen. John Kerry's old band the Electras (sans John Kerry) have all gone to band therapy and emerged whole once more, ready to placate devoted fans and revisit the cigarette- and booze-tainted days of yore.
The triumphant return of a band is a complex thing. It takes time--years, even--to adjust when a band breaks up, so there's a flood of confused emotions (shock, denial, anger, acceptance, joy) to navigate if they reunite. Part of this has to do with divining the band's intentions, which might variously be any or all of the following: (1) they really miss performing with each other; (2) it's all to make the fans happy; (3) baby wants a new Jaguar; (4) plans for a supergroup with Scott Weiland, P-Diddy and Rob Halford fell through.
Just as bands break up for many reasons, there are many reasons for them to get back together--some pure, some not. Try to put it in a romantic context. Say you once had a stormy relationship with someone really hot, and the sex was great but everything else sucked. Now think of running into that person years after feelings have mellowed, and you can't help but connect again on that one functioning level (pure animal lust!) just for old time's sake. Perhaps creative onstage chemistry between formerly chummy musicians can flare up in the same manner; after years pass, experiencing that sensation again proves to be too much to resist.
We all probably have positive defining moments of our lives, glimmers of exceptionality in a formless string of days. Most of us experience this in our own microcosms, virtually anonymous to the rest of humanity, and yet we still spend our lives reaching to recapture slivers of that completeness. Think of Uncle Rico in Napoleon Dynamite hurling his football into those golden, vacant Idaho hills.
Imagine, then, belonging to a beloved band and living out those defining moments in front of thousands of adoring fans. Albums and songs and snippets of footage exist as artifacts, complete and eternally unchanging, but people continue to grow. They lose their hair and thicken in once-svelte regions and have kids and pay mortgages, and the crystalline lilt of green voices grows a patina of world-weariness. But throughout life, artists remain artists. No one turns a skeptical eye on civil engineers or electricians or manicurists who come out of retirement. Then again, civil engineers and electricians and manicurists are generally not mouthpieces articulating the collective feelings of their generation. Being a musician is a tough job.
Even dinky bands reunite. They have no promise of roaring stadiums or fat ticket fees, no exorbitantly priced comeback-tour T-shirts or profiles in Blender or Spin. Someone, outside of a scattered handful of fans, cares--and that's the band themselves. I still haven't decided if I'll see Dinosaur Jr. yet. I'm excited but conflicted. There's something consoling in the thought that older, wiser, less up-tight versions of J, Lou and Murph are into sharing a stage again, breathing vital life into cherished nostalgia.
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From the April 27-May 4, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.