Taking Dinosaur Jr. Camping
I put on Green Mind today, playing it on my phone while driving. Listening to it instantly transported me back to 1991. I could feel the cheap foam headphone covers sitting on my ears as I folded and unfolded the tiny liner notes from the cassette. I would stare at the cover photo during the solos and guitar noodling, and read and reread the text inside. When I picture it I am sitting at a campsite in Yosemite, the tall evergreens providing a shade from the blue sky summer heat and J Mascis’s raspy yelp providing a voice to my teenage insecurities. I can hear the cl-clack of the Walkman reversing the head to play side two and that when I take the headphones off, there are serene whispers from the river and wind and squirrels and birds. Listening to the album over and over again, as is the capability of a teenager, it feels as peaceful to me as the woods I am witnessing.
This Yosemite campsite has been a part of my life as few other places have. I was first brought there as a baby before my memories begin, and I now bring my children there every other year. It is one of the few places on the earth that I don’t need a media distraction to survive. I can sit on the bank of the river, or better yet, float in it, and be enveloped by nature. I have never meditated in my house for more than a few minutes, but I can settle into a relaxed reverie among the leaves and needles there and let the world outside the park disappear. I couldn’t tell you what was on the walls of my bedroom until I was twelve, but I can visualize for my kids the fourteen foot long boulder that was destroyed in the high waters and rolling rocks after 1997–98’s monstrous snowfall melt pushed the detritus downstream.
J Mascis seemed like an artist I could relate to, even if the irony was that if I ever had the chance to meet him, I wouldn’t bother him and he would probably be happy about that. I liked that he didn’t bother putting his picture on the covers. I enjoy singers who didn’t seem beholden to vocal consistency. I love the ragged nature of the sound of the voices of Dylan and Neil Young, Laura Jane Grace and Kathleen Hanna. I think it’s partly because I can relate to how they made those sounds; I could maybe, on a good day, create a warble that could sound like that, whereas I could never make a sound like Roy Orbison or Chris Isaak or Frank Sinatra. I can’t follow the sound of an orchestra, but guitar, bass and drums is within my grasp. J Mascis has a voice that I love singing along with.
This was my first Dinosaur Jr. album and I could see control issues. Guitar, J Mascis. Bass, J Mascis. Most drums, J Mascis. Produced by J Mascis. DIY with a boldfaced, capitalized, underlined “Yourself.” When you’re a teenager that can mostly see evidence of no one to relate to, that solitude is welcoming.
I’ve always been happiest when asking questions. Answers leave little mystery to uncover, and seldom satisfy, but questions are eternal. Any answer can be followed with a question. The first chorus on Green Mind is a question, and goddammit if that didn’t resonate with me.
We’re all nuts, so who helps who?
Some help when no one’s got a clue
Baby, why don’t we?