Alt-Rock Royalty Dinosaur Jr Refuses to Go Extinct
By Jaime Lees
Mon, Mar 13, 2017
Though Dinosaur Jr is hailed by fans as one of the all-time greatest acts tied to the “alternative rock” movement, it never achieved proper mainstream success. Founded in Amherst, Massachusetts, in decidedly pre-grunge 1984, Dinosaur Jr toiled for years on the edges of the local punk scene: too out there for most people to comprehend and too weird to really fit in anywhere else.
Over time this independence has worked to the band’s favor. By not being pigeonholed into any specific scene or claimed by any one genre, it had the freedom to grow organically. Because Dinosaur Jr was the band for nobody in particular, it was eventually able to become the band for everybody. In 1990, the group went from releasing records on tastemaker labels such as SST to signing a deal with major label Sire Records. But despite minor achievements and enormous accolades, by the mid-1990s, the band had fallen apart and scattered. Singer and guitarist J Mascis continued with the band name for a couple of years, while bassist Lou Barlow went to steer Sebadoh and the Folk Implosion, and drummer Emmett Murphy (who goes by the singular “Murph” in all credits and press) started drumming in the Lemonheads.
A reunion was deemed unlikely — the members of Dinosaur Jr seemed to actively dislike each other and were notoriously unable to communicate about even basic things with any success. But Murph tells RFT that he still supported a reunion long before it actually happened — and he even had a certain notable drummer-turned-guitarist in his corner.
“I was doing the Lemonheads and I remember we played at a festival that the Foo Fighters were on,” Murph recalls. “We were hanging out with Dave Grohl and he came up to me, and he’s like, ‘Dude, you gotta get Dino back together! C’mon, dude, you gotta call those guys up!’ And I would just be like, ‘I don’t know, man, I just don’t think J is into it.’ And I would ask J every few years. I’d see him on the street and I’d be like, ‘C’mon, dude. Dino reunion.’ And he’d be kind of like Lurch from The Addams Family — he’d just kind of go, ‘Uhhh, I don’t think so.’”
By the time the original three finally reunited to tour on the reissues of their old albums in 2005, interest in the band was at an all-time high. Then the group released Beyond in 2007, its first album as a reformed unit, and the new music was brilliant. The stellar songs were classic Dinosaur Jr, in the best way — a relief to long-time fans who feared that the band might have lost its magic over the years or might screw up its legacy with attempts at a new sound.
Murph himself acknowledges the hit-or-miss aspect of reunited bands with new music. “Most bands I’ve seen get back together, they have some new direction and you’re like, ‘Oh, man, this is painful. This is bad. Like, what are you guys doing?’’ he says. “That happens all of the time.”
Many fans thought some of the Pixies reunion shows, in particular, felt like taking a knee to the family jewels. Murph is candid on the subject. “They might’ve had Kim Shattuck [of the Muffs] on bass, because I saw them a couple of times with her and it was horrible. It was so bad,” he says. “Then they got this LA woman [Paz Lenchantin] who’s this slick, like, gun-for-hire, and then it sounded so much better. I was living in LA like four summers ago, and so much music goes through there. I got to see the Breeders one weekend and Pixies the next. And the Breeders were just, head and shoulders, so much better than the Pixies. Like, I couldn’t believe how much better the Breeders were. It was such a good show. It was amazing.”
Murph likes to take in many different bands, and fans of all different types of music love his band, too: Dinosaur Jr’s brutally loud and heavy — yet frequently sweepingly melodic — music is beloved by fans of rock, psychedelic, alternative, punk, pop, prog, noise, classic rock and jam bands. But even though that’s been the case for 30 years, the band’s members are only just starting process the scope of their popularity. Murph says that he was delighted when he recently learned that Dinosaur Jr is frequently discussed online in chat rooms by fans of the band Phish.
“I was, like, totally blown away,” Murph says. “Really? We were mentioned in a Phish chat room? Because we’re kind of, like, from the punk, and that’s like the opposite. Most of the hippie jammy band kids just are not into noise or punk at all — they’re into bluegrass and folk and all that stuff. So I thought that was really funny.” Still, Murph concedes that the band has done some jam band “noodling.”
“I mean, I’m into that stuff, personally. I grew up listening to like Frank Zappa and Mahavishnu Orchestra, so I can relate,” he says. “But as a band we’ve always come from — and J and Lou are definitely from — like, thrash and oi! roots, so it always surprises me when we get crossover fans. I’m always kind of shocked.” Dinosaur Jr is currently on a tour of high-end mid-sized venues and will spend the summer playing at major festivals. Murph seems almost bashful about his group’s success, even though he remains hopeful about the future.
The band’s interpersonal relationships must be better, too. Murph explains that while touring life is often seen by outsiders as glamorous, it’s really just eight to ten people crammed onto one bus, day in and day out. In that way, he says, it’s similar to sailing, where everybody is stuck in one little area.
But what if they managed to get more buses? “If we were like Bon Jovi or something that would be great,” Murph says with a laugh. “I don’t think we’re at that level yet.”
8 p.m. Sunday, March 19. Delmar Hall, 6133 Delmar Boulevard. $25 to $28. 314-726-6161.
link: Riverfront Times
Bruce Springsteen Is Full of Shit (But He’s Still the Greatest)
By Jaime Lees
March 02, 2016
Bruce Springsteen is one of America’s finest exports. He’s the embodiment of the blue-collar dream: a man who worked hard and didn’t give up until he built something massively successful out of nothing. He is talented. He is attractive. He is charisma personified. He is also, however, full of shit.
Springsteen is the most impressive actor that you’ve ever seen. His whole persona is based off of being a rock & roll everyman. The story is simple: He came from meager beginnings in Nowheresville, New Jersey. His parents sacrificed and saved to buy his first electric guitar. Young Bruce learned to play, stayed invisible in school, narrowly escaped a stint in the army and then took every shitty gig possible until he was finally saved by musical superstardom.
That’s some fine myth-making right there. Because while the whole story might be true, it leaves out some important parts.
Springsteen, after all, was fairly successful pretty early into his career. He built a cult following in his region just a few years after he started playing under his own name — and talent scouts and managers took notice. In fact, one of the few hardships he’s faced professionally came about because he found management almost immediately. That management wasn’t the best, and for a while Springsteen didn’t own the rights to his own music. But this was remedied with a legal battle almost 40 years ago.
He still sings many of the songs that he wrote back in the beginning. And he still sings about union cards and hungry hearts and glory days and the demise of the Chicken Man. He still sings about being lonesome and driving in cars late at night and the feeling of suffocating small-town doom. His heartbreak still sounds fresh and real — not contrived or inauthentic at all.
But he hasn’t been a scruffy little underdog for decades; that is just a pose. Consider this: He’s touring now to promote a box set version of The River, an album that he released in 1980. Many of the songs from The River were leftovers from a previous album. Meaning this: The man is so successful that his re-released leftovers still get fanfare almost three and a half decades later. Springsteen is not a tramp like us and he hasn’t been for a long, long time.
He might remember what it feels like to be a working-class bumpkin, but he couldn’t possibly relate to it anymore. It’s difficult to reconcile Springsteen’s finely crafted down-on-their-luck characters with his undisputed international success. He used to sing longingly about the unattainable mansion on the hill, but now he can buy many mansions on many hills. He might have gotten his start playing gritty seaside hellholes, but now he buys houses in Beverly Hills and earns $100 million record deals and $10 million book advances.
You’d have to be shockingly uninformed to believe that Springsteen still lives the life that he sings about or that he’s anything like the personalities in his classic songs. But does any of this weird dissonance matter when you watch him on stage? Nope. Not one bit.
It doesn’t matter if you know his history. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know all of his songs. It doesn’t even matter if you like his music. When he stands behind a microphone, Springsteen will own you. You will believe him and his stories. You’ll think that his concert only ended so that he could get to work on time for the graveyard shift at his factory job.
At this point, Springsteen could totally phone it in. He’s been at it for so long that he could just set his stage to cruise control and still sell out every show. At age 66, with nearly 50 years of performing publicly under his belt, he wouldn’t even be faulted for not producing a multi-hour extravaganza. He could just show up in a pair of khaki shorts and still get paid royally — but that slacker blood, it never burned in his veins.
When Springsteen commits to playing a concert, he commits to bringing his all while dropping both sweat and panties. He has a reputation to uphold. His shows are athletic, energetic and appear to be exhausting. Some of his records may be earnest and restrained, but in a live setting his focus and energy can’t be beat. No single man has worked so hard onstage since James Brown. Others in his age group still do stadium shows and do them well, but it takes four whole Rolling Stones to pull off the prowess of just one Bruce Springsteen.
With Springsteen, you know what you’re going to get. He’ll take the stage in painted-on jeans. He’ll be all rippling tendons, like a panther on the hunt. He’ll tell stories between songs that sound like he’s reading poetry. His leathery face will fluctuate between beaming and grimace. He’ll grunt and growl and howl and then whisper like he’s telling you a secret. He’ll take charge of your emotions and crush you, but then he’ll lift you up so high that you’ll feel like you’re flying. He’ll skip taking an encore break and just continue to breeze across the stage like it ain’t no thing. He will finally exit in a graceful blaze of glory.
His marathon show will clock in at around three and a half hours. You will leave completely spent and feeling extra tired for him. More importantly, you will leave thinking that somehow, some way, he still fully believes every damn word that he sang.
So when you’re having a debate over who is the best actor ever, forget Marlon Brando or Meryl Streep or Daniel Day-Lewis. The only real answer is also the greatest living performer of our time: Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen. Catch his live show if you can; it’s unbeatable. He’s a man with nothing to prove who still goes out and proves it every night of his tour. Springsteen will take you and make you his bitch. They don’t call him “The Boss” for nothing.
7:30 p.m. Sunday, March 6. Chaifetz Arena, 1 South Compton Avenue. $58 to $153. 314-977-5000.
– link: Riverfront Times
Acclaimed ‘Our Band Could Be Your Life’ Author Michael Azerrad Discusses His New Endeavor, the Talkhouse
Acclaimed Our Band Could Be Your Life Author Michael Azerrad Discusses His New Endeavor, the Talkhouse
By Jaime Lees
Mon., Nov. 11 2013
Michael Azerrad is one of the most respected and acclaimed music journalists in the business. Known for books like Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana (the only essential Nirvana book in the great big sea of Nirvana books) and the definitive Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground, 1981-1991, Azerrad has also had high-profile writing gigs at Rolling Stone, Spin and the New York Times.
His newest role is that of editor-in-chief at the Talkhouse, a music website that offers something more than the regular album reviews and rating systems. At the Talkhouse, Azerrad provides a place for musicians to write about other musicians. All of the pieces are quality, smart adventures and the writer/artist combinations are frequently mind-blowing. (Lou Reed reviewed Kanye West’s Yeezus, for example.)
We contacted Azerrad and he was kind enough to answer a few questions for us about the website and to give us some insider information about how the artists are paired and processed.
Jaime Lees: Explain how the Talkhouse functions. Do you contact the writer or do they propose ideas to you?
Michael Azerrad: I reach out to the smartest, most notable musicians I can think of and ask them if they’d like to write for the Talkhouse. And more often than not, they’re into it. But they’re not professional music critics and they can’t be expected to write about whatever album I throw at them. So they look through a listing of upcoming releases and find something they’re excited to write about, positively or negatively. Sometimes there are albums I know they’d be into, and I suggest those. A good example is that I knew Ezra Koenig from Vampire Weekend is very knowledgeable about hip-hop, so I asked him if he’d like to write about the Drake album. And he wrote a brilliant, hilarious piece of satire about it.
The interesting thing about this process is that the Talkhouse winds up being a very reliable index of the music that musicians are actually interested in — as opposed to the music that the industry is hyping. So we’ll get Luke Temple from the excellent Here We Go Magic writing about a real songwriter’s songwriter, Cass McCombs, who isn’t really a super-buzzy artist but is very respected by his peers. And that’s one of the things that makes the Talkhouse special.
You’re known for your books, but the Talkhouse is a frequently updated website. Which of the two formats do you enjoy more and how are they different for you as the person in charge?
It’s apples and oranges. A long-term project like a book has its charms and a daily updated website is also really fun. Obviously, there’s a lot of glory to be had by getting your byline on an acclaimed book. But writing is really, really difficult, and with the Talkhouse, I get to delegate that laborious and heartbreaking task to other people. With writing a book, you don’t really have to depend on anyone but yourself to get the job done, which can be great; on the other hand, editing a website means you depend on other people to be diligent, and that can be great too — when someone turns in a piece, it always makes me so happy that someone went through all the trouble of writing this thing, really putting themselves on the line because they’re passionate about the music. So writing a book is about outdoing yourself, and editing is about helping other people outdo themselves. I love doing both.
How do you deal with the issues of quality control? Are you wary of writers who might just want to praise their friends? More to the point, have you ever had any writing turned in that you didn’t want to publish?
We’re really strict about avoiding conflict of interest — when I start talking with our writers about assignments, I make it clear that they can’t write about people they know or are professionally connected to. That’s essential to the credibility of the site. As far as quality control, the beauty of the Talkhouse is, nobody offers to write for us if they’re not confident about their writing skills, so in that way our contributors are self-selecting. Sometimes, our writers turn in pieces that are pretty much perfect; other times, I work with them and go back and forth on edits until the piece is really strong, and they’re always really pleased with the end result. That’s one of the most satisfying parts of the job. That’s worked out incredibly well — the literary quality of the site is, if I do say so myself, outstanding. The Talkhouse is one of the best-written music sites on the web.
The Talkhouse piece where Lou Reed reviewed Kanye West was absolutely brilliant, and just last week Annie Clark‘s review of the new Arcade Fire album was linked everywhere. Do you know in advance what pieces will be popular with readers?
It’s a pretty safe bet that the more famous writers will draw a lot of page-views, but often, lesser-known musicians will write a really strong piece that gets passed around a lot too, like Carey Mercer from Frog Eyes’ incredibly moving essay about his battle with cancer. It’s been really gratifying to see that quality writing really does get a lot of attention.
The current trend of open letters and public eulogizing would seem to indicate that many musicians are seeking for a proper outlet to express themselves. Do you think that we, as readers, find ideas to be more profound or worthy if when a musician writes about another musician? And do we like to read these reviews because they offer special insight, or is it because we can feel like we’re getting a glimpse inside the writer’s head?
I think the recent trend of open letters and things from musicians is due to the fact that lines of communication between musicians and their audience have opened up dramatically with the rise of the internet. In the old days, musicians could only make their feelings known either from the stage or in interviews. Now, they don’t have to wait for a show or for someone to stick a microphone in their face — they can just write something and put it up on the web. Musicians have this wonderful new(ish) platform, and they take advantage of it.
I would never say that musicians make better music critics. But they do make different music critics. Musicians provide a unique perspective on music, since they know how the sausage is made, so to speak. And that’s a highly valuable thing, especially in an environment where music commentary has exploded — everyone is writing about music and it’s hard to know who’s going to say interesting, illuminating things. But if you see someone like Laurie Anderson or Ezra Koenig from Vampire Weekend or Rosanne Cash or Annie Clark or Duff McKagan writing in the Talkhouse, you just know it’s going to be a great read. The other thing about musicians writing about music is that the pieces, more often than not, say a great deal about the writer’s own creative viewpoint. So you’re getting a really cool “twofer” with each piece. In his Talkhouse piece about Yeezus, Lou Reed had some fascinating things to say about his own music when he related his own experience to what Kanye West is doing. One way or another, that happens in virtually every piece in the Talkhouse.
Cementland: Future Music Venue?
By Jaime Lees
Mon., Jul. 15 2013
I have a proposal: Let’s turn Cementland into a music venue, St. Louis.
Because it would be fitting. And perfect. And because, well, I want everywhere to be a music venue.
Maybe it’s a symptom of Midwest ingenuity, but we like alternative performance spaces. Many of my favorite concert memories involve inventive and/or illegal locations, and this summer it seems like more and more events are taking place outside of the regular music venues. Stag Nite in the Woods is coming up this weekend. Local punks are hosting BYOB generator-powered shows on the riverbank. Just last weekend there was a huge house show off of Cherokee Street. And a few weeks ago I was lucky to catch a performance in a modern plaza outside the Old Post Office downtown.
My raver friends have been doing this for decades now, hosting parties in vacated warehouses, abandoned railroad stations and other places that are otherwise unoccupied. And though there’s an occasional rave in a cave or a park or a barn or a skate rink, historically these parties have been hosted in the industrial area of north city, not far from the Cementland location.
Illegal parties thrive here partially because it’s kind of a lawless land. With little or inefficient police presence, sometimes there is no one around for miles to either protect or harass these party pirates. But north city is experiencing a resurgence of sorts, led by urban pioneers seeking cheap land, organizations interested in preserving the beautiful old buildings and people looking to open businesses in cool locations. These groups are hellbent on resurrecting the once-thriving neighborhoods, now crumbling because of crime, neglect and brick theft.
I can appreciate that, but I don’t roll much to the north side, preferring, instead, to let others fix ‘er up before I partake. A pioneer, I am not. While I’ll admit to a vague passing curiosity for what lies in the darkness on the edge of town, I’m a cautious person. I see the beauty in decay, but I also see the danger that could result from this particular style of voyeurism. Most of the architecture up there is beyond beautiful, but the places that look like they’ve been bombed and then rained on with syringes are not for me.
But I have curiosity and a sturdy pair of boots and a deep interest in all things Bob Cassilly-related, so I found myself at Cementland over the weekend, checking for any changes at the location and thinking, again, that this place could be the coolest music venue ever.
Cassilly’s work is well-documented, and so was his recent death on location at Cementland and the issues with his estate. The loss of his life was not just a loss for his family and friends, but also to the local arts community and to people interested in a better (and greener) St. Louis. As the designer, visionary and proprietor of the City Museum, Cassilly’s memory looms large. In a city that is notoriously adverse to change, Cassilly was a badass who pushed boundaries with a combination of childlike hopefulness and adult stubbornness.
He was prolific, especially in town, and he’s left his mark all over the city. Those turtles at Turtle Park? The apple chairs in Webster Groves? The sea-lion sculptures at the zoo? That giant butterfly outside the Butterfly House in Chesterfield? All Cassilly’s. Though his time was cut short, it he still accomplished a nearly inconceivable amount of work during his life.
Cassilly’s unique artistic marriage of architecture, sculpture, industry and business caused a cross-pollination effect, encouraging all sides in a parallel way. He remains one of the main figures in the revitalization of Washington Avenue and, in effect, all of downtown St. Louis. And it’s hard to imagine newer free public art projects like the Citygarden being welcomed or completed in a pre-Cassilly downtown. His work sparked a renaissance.
I have a bit of a bias here because I have a special interest in Cassilly’s life and work.
Some years back, I was almost his personal assistant. We had friends in common, and I was recommended to his family as someone who was artistically minded, patient and bullshit allergic. After passing some sort of prescreening, we started digging into what my daily duties would include. I’d have to keep his life organized, schedule meetings, endure his moods, indulge his whims and be able to politely tell people to fuck off. None of that was any problem. But when it became clear that the job also entailed a fair amount of nannying for his two young children (including driving them to soccer practice), I declined the position. I can tell people to fuck off all day, but I don’t do juice boxes.
Anyway, I’d always held a fondness for the man’s work in my heart, but after an insider glimpse into his busy, crazy life including constantly trying to keep up with family, projects, lawyers, red tape and city officials, I had a new respect for Bob, personally.
And his vision was always strong, even at the incomplete Cementland. I’m sure his plan for the area was greater and grander than any of us suspect, but the site already contains some of Cassilly’s signature style. Brightly painted concrete bits and bent iron sculptures stand proudly near what would’ve been the entrance, poking out through fields of overgrown weeds.
My Cementland exploring partner and I were in awe the sheer scale of the project. When Bob did anything, he did it big. And there is plenty of space to work with here, especially when you think of it as a potential performance venue.
The already-present bowl shape of the land is all set up to be an outdoor amphitheater. The numerous buildings, trailers, sheds and shacks on site could be easily converted into mini-venues, bars, concessions, lounges, backstage areas and storage space. In addition, the on-site silos could serve as natural echo chambers and sound enhancers. The area has very few neighbors (therefore very few potentials for sound complaints), and the parking options are endless.
The inside of the property had minimal graffiti damage, and it didn’t appear as vandalized as I’d feared, but maybe it was Cassilly, himself, who did some of the spray paint jobs. Who knows? And while there are piles of metal and concrete everywhere (which were probably intended for use as building materials), it all seemed to be in decent shape. It wouldn’t take much effort to clean out the debris and change the property into something else. In fact, doing this would be keeping with Cassilly’s legacy of using spaces that were set up for one thing and presenting them in a new, entirely different context. After all, this is the same guy who turned the mostly abandoned International Shoe building into a world-class tourist destination in fewer than three years.
If he’d been able to finish the project, the potential for the surrounding area would’ve been endless. Would people have tried to build lofts near the confluence? Would there be food trucks on Chain of Rocks Bridge? Could I finally rent one of those mini-mansions built on the water pumps in the river?
Cassilly was magic, and it would be shame to see his vision to go waste. Somebody needs continue on in his honor. Assuming that the property eventually goes up for sale, I hope the proper entrepreneur steps up. Let’s do what we do best and drop some music on it.
— pictures here
link: Riverfront Times
Friday, July 19, 9 p.m.
w/ Shovels and Rope
@ Off Broadway – $20-$23
By Jaime Lees
Dawes makes rock for grown-ups. It’s similar in style to Wilco, but with more drive and less confusion. It’s Americana with an edge — the songs are emotional and they always tell a story, but they’re not overwrought. After a high-profile appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman, Dawes is riding high on the success of the single “Most People.” The rest of the band’s third album, Stories Don’t End, follows the smart formula of taking something that’s been done a million times before and making it just a little bit better.
link: Riverfront Times
8:00 p.m. June 29 @ The Pageant
w/ The Finns – Before he became the guitarist for a little-known band called Guns N’ Roses, hometown rock god Richard Fortus had a series of other bands and gigs. He’s done it all, from playing in Thin Lizzy and the Psychedelic Furs to founding Love Spit Love, but Fortus first found success with St. Louis rockers Pale Divine (née the Eyes). Pale Divine was well-loved in town and there have long been tales of mini-skirt mamas chasing after the band members like some kind of late ’80s version of A Hard Day’s Night. Opening up for Pale Divine is the Finns, another beloved local band of yesteryear, whose delicious power-pop jams haven’t been played live since the band called it quits in the mid ’90s.
— By Jaime Lees
link: Riverfront Times
Subversive Photographer Richard Kern Comes to White Flag to Sign Copies of New Book, Shot By Kern
By Jaime Lees
Fri., Jun. 14 2013
Richard Kern is one of the most celebrated photographers of the past 50 years. Along with his peers Annie Leibovitz, Bob Gruen and Mick Rock, Kern shot iconic images that helped to shape the way that we perceive rock stars and celebrity culture.
His work is not all music based, but that’s where he got his start, working with and shooting the underground stars of the No Wave art and music scene in the East Village in the early 1980s. Kern’s varied and prolific career has involved publishing, filmmaking, writing and shooting in all styles including portraits, high fashion and Playboy.
Kern always stood out for being a little naughtier than his contemporaries and he has a sort-of street credit that comes from years of dabbling in the subversive. When not shooting naked women, the subjects he always seems to photograph are revolutionaries or fringe heroes: people like Crispin Glover, Nick Cave, Vincent Gallo, Marilyn Manson, Asia Argentino and Sonic Youth. And there’s a boldness to his work, and not just in subject. His photos are usually bright and provocative, frequently pornographic and always seem to capture the naughty twinkle in the subjects eye.
He visits St. Louis tomorrow for an event at White Flag. He will be signing copies of his latest book, Shot By Kern, at 8 p.m. And the venue will host an outdoor screening of his film work at 9 p.m.
link: Riverfront Times