By Jim Schutze
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During the late '80s, Nirvana was in flux too, and some Internet posts assert that Cobain and crew once asked Mascis to come aboard as a drummer. According to Mascis, the truth is more complicated. "I think it was more guitar than drums, but I wanted to play drums on a single—on the one they got Dan Peters to play on. It's called 'Sliver,'" he recalls. "This one time, I saw them play after we kicked out Lou and got this girl, Donna [Dresch, of Team Dresch], to play bass. Kurt, I guess he didn't like Donna. He was like, 'Don't get her. Why don't you just join our band?'"
Instead, Mascis continued on his idiosyncratic path, making four Dinosaur Jr. discs for Sire with a lineup that refused to stay set; 1994's Without a Sound was Murph-free, while 1997's Hand lacked contributions from Barlow's allegedly permanent replacement, Mike Johnson. Afterward, Mascis launched J Mascis + the Fog, which began as a solo project, more or less, but eventually encompassed contributions from a bassist of undeniable stature, Minutemen founder Mike Watt. Two little-heard albums followed, as did a series of tours—and when the pair decided to team up with Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton and, later, his drumming brother, Scott Asheton, they unwittingly laid the groundwork for the Ashetons to get back together with Iggy Pop. The Stooges reunion was formalized this year with the release of a new recording, The Weirdness.
Granted, The Weirdness, a thoroughly underwhelming CD, wasn't the best advertisement for Dinosaur Jr. redux. But Barlow and Murph had been lobbying for detente, and after Mascis saw a comeback show by another vintage alterna-band, Mission of Burma, he decided to give it a try. When the three began to play, Mascis says, the connection between them "was just there," as it had been during the Reagan administration.
The Beyond sessions were occasionally chippy. Mascis was disappointed that Barlow didn't bring more new material to the table. "It was a point of contention to get him to write anything," he says, grumbling. Moreover, he sees Barlow as emotionally unpredictable. "There are things he's said in certain moods that he regrets saying, I think," Mascis says. "One day, we were eating, and he was swearing at the waiter. And the next day, he was like, 'Did I say that?'" But musically, the Dinos could hardly be more compatible. "It's cool to play with them," Mascis admits in a tone that comes as close to approximating candor as any in his arsenal. "There's a certain energy, because we grew up and learned to play together."
Today, the fact that Dinosaur Jr. has defied fossilization is a triumph of sorts. Mascis never became an icon on the level of Cobain, his old touring partner, but he didn't have to deal with fame at its most dangerous. Considering his obvious discomfort with communication, is he happy not to have been forced to deal with such intense notoriety?
"I'm not dead," he replies with characteristic brevity. "I'm glad about that."