photo & text by nacrowe
i am fully aware that in the pantheon of great DINOSAUR JR albums, WITHOUT A SOUND (SIRE, 1994) is not considered one of them. earlier records with the classic lineup (MURPH, LOU BARLOW, J MASCIS) like YOU'RE LIVING ALL OVER ME (SST, 1988) and BUG (SST, 1988) are probably the better starting point for new iniates into the swirling, explosive and strangely nuanced INDIE ROCK of this classic WESTERN MASSACHUSETTS band.
but this was my introduction to the band as a 4th grader. the BILL CLINTON-trolling "FEEL THE PAIN" was all over the local ALTERNATIVE ROCK station 106.7FM KROQ in nearby LOS ANGELES. i didnt see the accompanying ingenious SPIKE JONZE-directed music video until well into my 20s and the advent of YOUTUBE since as a child in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA we didnt have cable and therein MTV.
but i did have the "FEEL THE PAIN" shirt! it was patently offensive with a dude being graphically chocked out. in fact i still have it somewhere in storage more than 25 years later. it was originally my father's and i believe he got it at BLACK HOLE RECORDS in FULLERTON (which amazingly is still around).
if i'm being honest the initial appeal of that album as a kid was J MASCIS' voice. he had this carefree, almost insouciant delivery that really appealed to me. of course now i am aware of the through-line that the band represents that connects everything from HARDCORE and INDIE ROCK to even BLACK METAL with their previous incarnation as DEEP WOUND. given that this record was essentially a glorified J MASCIS solo record, there are several tracks that showcase his predilection for COUNTRY-fied licks and guitar textures in service to his idiosyncratic and effectively off-kilter melodic sense. specifically tracks like "OUTTA HAND," "BLAH" and "I DON'T THINK SO" come to mind. years later i attended a private school in WESTERN MASSACHUSETTS and became intimately aware of record and used bookstores in towns like AMHERST, NORTHAMPTON and GREENFIELD. i listen to their records now and they seem very much a part of that weird social landscape of HIPPIES mixed with TRUCKER culture.
so in conclusion i still very much love WITHOUT A SOUND but i admit that there are other DINOSAUR JR efforts i turn to first, especially those i listed along with WHERE YOU BEEN (SIRE, 1993), but thats what happens when you have a deep catalogue of influential and ever-inspiring original material.
dedicated to his close friend since childhood, kindred spirit and deceased former bandmate D. BOON, WE JAM ECONO: THE STORY OF THE MINUTEMEN (ROCKET FUEL FILMS, 2005) is an intimate documentary largely narrated by MIKE WATT about his former band, the highly idiosyncratic and influential 1980s HARDCORE band THE MINUTEMEN.
hailing from SAN PEDRO just as the SOUTH BAY was taking over the LOS ANGELES music scene with a more volatile and aggressive wave of PUNK ROCK that included the likes of BLACK FLAG, CIRCLE JERKS and THE DESCENDENTS, THE MINUTEMEN represented the conceptual and artistic vanguard of the scene. their lyrics were opaque and their sound kinetic yet off-kilter, skittish and dare i say it, funky. in a scene where subtlety was not the norm, both sonically and in terms of lyrical content, THE MINUTEMEN effectively expanded the out realms of the genre in the same way HUSKER DU had done in their respective scene at the time.
the core of the band existed before HARDCORE emerged, but in that scene they saw a freedom and artistic opportunity. D. BOON was an accomplished visual artist and had a way with lyrics where he could evoke images with a minimum amount of words. this efficiency likewise found its way to his guitar playing, which borrowed from various genres and transcended the extreme buzzsaw tempos of his label-mate and fellow scene participants, BLACK FLAG. in essence they had a chemistry that came from years of camaraderie and basically exemplified the DIY ethos of PUNK ROCK. they were completely self-made and unique.
can't say the same for the construction of the documentary itself. it drags a bit and has a very uneven pacing throughout. it could use another edit, which is unfortunate as the band definitely deserves better. but where it lacks in professional sheen it makes up for in content. its rough appearance may even make the film a better conduit for information as it provides a sense of intimacy, especially with regards to its interview footage.
this film includes archival live performances and then-recent interviews with the likes of peers such as IAN MCKAYE (MINOR THREAT), JELLO BIAFRA (DEAD KENNEDYS), MILO AUKERMAN (THE DESCENDENTS), KEITH MORRIS (BLACK FLAG / CIRCLE JERKS), J MASCIS (DINOSAUR JR), MIKE MILLS (R.E.M.), DEZ CADENA, CHUCK DUKOWSKI & HENRY ROLLINS (BLACK FLAG), KURT KIRKWOOD (MEAT PUPPETS), JOHN DOE (X), FLEA (RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS / FEAR), THURSTON MOORE & LEE RANALDO (SONIC YOUTH), ROBERT HOLZMAN (SACCHARINE TRUST), RICHARD HELL (TELEVISION / THE VOIDOIDS) and COLIN NEWMAN (WIRE) among many others.
worth checking out only if you are a deep fan of the genre or the artist, but may be less interesting for those not familiar or eager to explore either. there are other documentaries that are arguably a better introduction to the scene in general like AMERICAN HARDCORE (AHC PRODUCTIONS, 2006) or PUNK: ATTITUDE (3DD PRODUCTIONS, 2005).
this legendary INDIE band that came together in the wake of another iconic proto-DEATH METAL band DEEP WOUND, definitely does not need any publicity or fanboy admiration from me, but that is exactly what I am going to give DINOSAUR JR.
in all honesty they came into my consciousness in the early 90s when i was in 4th grade, partly by their quasi-hit "Feel The Pain" that was on regular rotation on local station KROQ and partly by the accompanying grotesque shirt my dad got at BLACK HOLE RECORDS in nearby Fullerton that i still have. crazy.
but when i really got into them was later during my high school years when i was attending boarding school in WESTERN MASSACHUSETTS, only a few cities north of Amherst where they are from. much like any other place i landed in, i pretty much sought out the local culture and all points led to vocalist/songwriter/guitarist J MASCIS.
what i love about their sound is the understated ferocity of it all. you really get the sense of how much J MASCIS just adores swimming in glorious feedback and barely contained dissonance, yet the songs are delicate, whimsical and melodic. i very much appreciated that dynamism and it makes perfect sense how such influenced later ALTERNATIVE ROCK bands. seeing them live, as well as J MASCIS solo/THE FOG shows, it is almost absurd how loud it all is. the only other band i can recall off-hand that was that loud was the almighty MOTÖRHEAD. for me, the sound of J MASCIS playing guitar or hearing his voice reminds me of brutal WESTERN MASSACHUSETTS winters and surviving algebra half a world away from my family. when i hear their music it reminds me of isolation and oddly, comfort.
i cannot recommend their work highly enough. check out DINOSAUR JR.
as corporate propaganda goes, ERNIE BALL MUSIC MAN's online STRING THEORY video series on YOUTUBE is pretty effective. they basically created extended interviews with such notable players as JOHNNY MARR, DAVE NAVARRO, JERRY CANTRELL, KIRK HAMMETT, DARON MALAKIAN, JADE PUGET, TOM DELONGE and J MASCIS among many others, all explaining how they came to play guitar and what being a musician / songwriter means to them. somewhere, of course, they mention the strings.
there has definitely been a move towards these types of online cross-promotional infomercials (well-produced as they are) by various companies in the retail guitar space, each showcasing how their product in concert with products by other notable manufactures support recording and touring musicians and allow them to pursue their art. and just in terms of marketing i think that is a smart move since it equates your product with the quality of other well-known brands, in this case guitar manufacturers like FENDER, GIBSON, IBANEZ, G&L and PAUL REED SMITH and amp companies like MARSHALL, MESA-BOOGIE, FRIEDMAN, FENDER, DIEZEL, ORANGE and BOGNER among others.
in terms of each artist, hearing them talk about their influences and how they came about playing guitar as they strum off iconic riffs through their live rigs is just such a sweet spot to hit for any fan of guitar playing. i can never hear enough of "THIS CHARMING MAN" or the solo from "THREE DAYS" in its entirety, no matter the context.
kinda feel guilty for showcasing blantant, unapologetic corporate propaganda, but oh well. enjoy!