A study in Dinosaur Jr.'s longevity
Because I don't know what I'm going to do with my life when I'm sure that life no longer contains basketball, and because the timing was right, I took the GRE last week. For the uninitiated, the GRE is to graduate school what the SAT and ACT are to the undergrad level. Or, to put it in test terms:
GRE : graduate school ::
(A) Automobile : Driver's ed
(B) Ear wax : Q-tip
(C) SAT : College
(D) Mellifluous : Vapid
(E) Masochism : Studying for the GRE
Correct answer is C. While E does appear to be nearly correct, and while a healthy dose of masochism would aid one's efforts to study for the GRE, it is by no means a requirement.
In an homage to the GRE, I'm going to create my own issue statement and then take a stand on it. Think of it as a postmodern version of the test.
At first examination, the position taken seems to be a valid one. When we think of rock musicians, we naturally think of hard-partying, authority-challenging youths. We envision a young Axl Rose -- of Guns 'N' Roses fame -- sprinting across the stage. We picture the baby-faced Beatles making their American debut. We imagine a muscular Henry Rollins diving off a stage. But, while the association with youth is a valid one, the assumption that purveyors of rock and roll are required to be young by the nature of their music is a false one.
As an example, consider Dinosaur Jr. Conceived in Amherst, Mass., in the mid-1980s, Dinosaur Jr. released critically acclaimed albums through that decade and into the next before breaking up in the late '90s. The band reunited in 2005, releasing "Beyond" when lead singer J Mascis was 41 years old. Many critics agree the album is among the band's best work.
This year, the band proved that the revival was no fluke with "Farm," another album that -- in its faithful execution of Mascis' vision of music -- was a welcome addition to the year's soundscape. One listener, a writer for ESPN.com named Paul Shirley, lauded "Farm" as "sounding like the welcome return of a musically gifted older brother." Shirley goes on to say that, while he was too young to appreciate Dinosaur Jr. in its first incarnation, he's pleased that Mascis and bandmates Lou Barlow and Murph were able to smooth out their differences because he's fascinated by Mascis' laconic drawl, the omnipresent guitar solos, and the band's ability to "play rock music like it should be played."
Dinosaur Jr.'s successful return counters what could be a worthwhile argument against aged musicians. It could easily be postulated that the best way for a musician to stay relevant would be to mellow with age. Or, at least, for the musician's recordings to mellow. John Fogerty, lead singer of Creedence Clearwater Revival, exemplifies this approach. In his youthful days, Fogerty was a firebrand, singing of war protests and the road life of a rock band. As he's aged, his music has taken on a more contemplative tone. If he were classified today, he would be marked a singer-songwriter. Mascis and his band have rejected the Fogerty Model; "Farm" is just as heavy, distorted, and riff-laden as much of Dinosaur Jr.'s early work.
Dinosaur Jr. is not the first act to have successfully maintained its initial approach. Bruce Springsteen -- while somewhat less cantankerous than his younger self -- has arrived in his 50s with his musical style largely intact. The same could be said about Trent Reznor, who at 44 continues to produce "aggressive" music. Springsteen and Reznor provide counterpoints to the U2 phenomenon, which is marked by early risk-taking and the promise of a long, relevant career, followed by a steep descent into suckitudery that has mistakenly led citizens of the world to believe that bands must get worse with age.
While it is tempting to assume that musicians will inevitably become less relevant as they age, bands such as Dinosaur Jr. and artists such as Bruce Springsteen and Trent Reznor demonstrate that the assumption is not always a valid one.
Upon my return from Lollapalooza, I started completing my collection of 'Palooza bands that I'd seen but whose work I didn't own. So far I've been pleasantly surprised by White Lies' album "To Lose My Life" and disappointed by Atmosphere; the recorded music of the latter hasn't lived up to the expectations I had after seeing them live.
Most of my excitement, though, has been reserved for Miike Snow, which is a band, not a person, and which does, in fact, have two I's in the name. Miike Snow is a Swedish group made up of lead singer Andrew Wyatt and the production team of Bloodshy and Avant. The music they make (try "Burial" here) is unapologetic alt-pop on a level that approaches the Scissor Sisters' lofty standards for happy-go-lucky. Since buying their debut album, I've listened to it, on average, once a day.
Which is all well and good. Fun band, highly listenable music. They're even Swedish, which makes me like them more. Everything checks out until one realizes that the production duo that constitutes two-thirds of the band is the same one responsible for writing and producing the Britney Spears song "Toxic." They've also worked with Christina Milian, Jennifer Lopez and Madonna.
Normally, such a curriculum vitae would be enough to make me permanently banish a musician's recordings from my house. But, because I didn't know of the band's ties to mainstream pop until after my first listens, and because the music is that catchy and entertaining, any transgressions have been forgiven.
The only lingering worry is that I'm being manipulated by geniuses. If humans can create "Toxic" -- a song that, whether you like it or not, is inarguably infectious -- and Miike Snow ... let's just hope no one elects Bloodshy and Avant to a shared secretary generalship of the United Nations. Before we know it, we'll be speaking Swedish, having a higher quality of life, and being better-looking than average.
On second thought: Bloodshy and Avant for worldwide co-dictators.
Paul Shirley has played for 13 pro basketball teams, including three NBA teams: the Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks and Phoenix Suns. His book "Can I Keep My Jersey?" -- which is available in paperback -- can be found here. He can be found at Twitter (Twitter.com/paulthenshirley) and you can e-mail him here.