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Getting Re-acquainted: Dinosaur Jr – Freak Scene (1988)


Until this point, noise-mongers Dinosaur Jr had never sounded so upbeat. Indeed, this seemed to be the moment that the entire American indie underground came out of its shell and decided to have some fun. But little did anyone know, this upbeat ode to joy was soon to become a fond farewell to the idealism and camaraderie of a scene that had fundamentally altered the lives of many. Goodbye indie charm, hello corporate clout.

By 1988, Dinosaur Jr had silenced most of the doubters. The somnambulistic three piece had originally been the butt of many a joke, with their sloppy, disinterested post-hardcore musings missing the target by a country mile. But second album You’re Living All Over Me, and the follow up, Bug, had proved that behind the monosyllabic interviews and the carefully cultivated attitude of nonchalance lay a band of considerable talent, both as performers and writers.

Bug was a harsher listen than its predecessor, but coasted by on the success – both artistic and commercial – of leadoff single, ‘Freak Scene’. Riding past on a suitably infectious guitar figure, J Mascis once again proved his knack for crafting deceptively ‘light’ guitar riffs, tunes that were nimble and spry, despite the crippling amount of distortion that was layered upon them. The drum whirlwinds of Murph and the melodic shunt of Lou Barlow’s bass proved beyond all doubt that these three sleepy young men from Amherst, Massachusetts were now functioning as a tightly honed rock and roll three piece, a power trio right up there with the greats.

“Seen enough to eye you, but I’ve seen too much to try you,” sings Mascis over the most deliciously sweet pop confectionery the band had thus far concocted, an irresistible sound that seemed to capture the optimism and sense of creativity that had swept over the indie rock scene of ’88. “Sometimes I don’t thrill you, sometimes I think I’ll kill you, just don’t let me fuck up will you, ’cause when I need a friend it’s still you.” With these words, Mascis skewered the bonds that brought the scene together, as well as pointing to the excitement of the future, whether he meant to or not.

Little did he know that this would be both the swansong to his own band, and the scene that generated them. By 1988, Husker Du had split, breaking under the pressure of signing to a major record label. D. Boon of the Minutemen was dead. R.E.M had made the leap to the big league, whilst the Meat Puppets and The Replacements floundered. The ‘scene’ was splintering, and Dinosaur Jr were splintering with it.

After the release of Bug, Lou Barlow was ousted from the band, with Murph taking a determinedly ‘secondary’ role to Mascis’ frontman. Within few years, Murph was out too. After celebrating the bonds of friendship, whilst staring directly into the ‘weirdness’ that seemed to be all around them, Dinosaur Jr lost their way. And within three years, Nirvana had rocketed to the forefront of music, riding a wave of corporate endorsement. The Freak Scene was dead, replaced by the branding of ALTERNATIVE ROCK ™, and the most creative period of underground music in America was a distant memory.

“Freak scene just can’t believe us, why can’t it just be cool and free us?” Steven Rainey

is a writer and broadcaster who has spent his entire life being an elderly version of himself. He believes in the power of True Rock, and discovered heavy metal at the age of 30. He has never married, but has been divorced twice.