Freakscene: The Story of Dinosaur Jr.

Dinosaur Jr.? Didn’t they do that song in the late 1980s? What was it called again? How did it go again?

We only have to wait until just after the opening credits before we see the band playing That song – which of course is called Freak Scene and sounds just as fresh and basic as ever. Is it really over 30 years since it was released? Oh dear. The song appears twice more in the 80 minute film, once in more concert footage, and played acoustically by singer J Mascis over the end credits.

Freakscene, the film, may find it hard to appeal to the hardcore fans (are they still out there? I was surprized to see that Dinosaur Jr. are still performing live). Unless there is a great revival that passed me by, I’m not sure that anyone under 40 will have even heard of the band, let alone wanting to see a documentary about them. So, they’ll have to appeal to people who grew up with the band, maybe bought the odd album, but never followed them ardently.

People like me, in fact. I get the fact that talking heads like Henry Rollins, Bob Mould, Kevin Shields and Kim Gordon aren’t just supposed to be some big deal, I’m genuinely excited to hear what they have to say. Will this feeling be shared by your average music fan in their mid-20s? Maybe it will. I’m more than happy to admit that I’ve lost touch with what The Kids are listening to today.

Let’s start with the good bits. Although, apart from Freak Scene and a couple of covers of songs by Neil Young and the Cure, I didn’t recognise any of the songs. But they did seem pretty good – although probably better experienced live than on record (or indeed film). There’s a liveliness and vitality that was typical of bands of their era. Dinosaur Jr. lasted long enough to be viewed by the press at different times as both the precursors to Nirvana and their natural successors.

But the problem with US American guitar music of the late 1980s and 1990s – music which I listened to avidly, and still do from time to time – is that it was pretty much interchangeable. I’m pretty sure that the reason that I didn’t recognise most of the songs isn’t that I’ve never heard them, but there was so much out there sounding pretty much the same.

Similarly, the history the band will surely be interesting to people who have something invested in them, but to an outsider it doesn’t seem too different to the experiences of many similar bands. There’s the members who met at school where they decided to form a band, the early EP, the big breakthrough, the endless touring and consequent split, the solo album and the reunion. Towards the end we see the band playing with several contemporaries in their 30th anniversary concert.

Maybe I’ve seen too many music documentaries, but there wasn’t much new here. I’ve heard the same stories told about other bands. Henry Robbins seems to take great delight that they when they found another band with the name Dinosaur (their original name), they added a Jr. to their name. It’s interesting to a degree but its hardly anecdote of the year.

Then there are the band members themselves, who are laid back to the extent that they seem painfully shy. There’s a moment before a concert when they’re due to do an onstage interview with Henry Rollins and look petrified. They’re fine on stage playing their instruments, but when they have to talk about themselves, they’d rather be anywhere else.

This is a bit of a problem for a documentary. We hear of fallings out, but everyone is much too polite to say what exactly happens. Instead they say, they were probably being a bit of a dick at at time but they’ve grown up since. This says a lot about them as people, but doesn’t really help us learn anything about the band.

Dinosaur Jr. is one of those bands that I respect rather than love, and I certainly won’t turn the radio off when they come on – but nor will I vigorously search for them. I feel something similar about this documentary. Its a simple story about some of the good guys, who don’t seem to have let Show Business turn them into anything monstrous. Which makes you respect them more, but is this what we really want to watch?

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