Rating:The niche coffee table book market has begun to creep into my generation’s indie rock world. Oversized books like these and the livelihood they represent seem to be exactly what members of Dinosaur Jr. railed against when they first took up instruments in their teens. But so it goes: the punks have 401Ks and a hybrid auto in the driveway. Why not slip a book about their favorite band onto a surface in the living room and prove that, hey man, they’re still cool.
That’s an admittedly cynical attitude to take toward something as warmly conceived and constructed as Dinosaur Jr.’s oral history. But it’s both fascinating and disheartening to witness the expense doled out to corner the aging hipster demographic, as seen in this deluxe tome and in the release of the deluxe box set version of Slint’s Spiderland (complete with a DVD documentary about the band that offers no new insight beyond rare rehearsal footage).
What Dinosaur Jr., the book, has going for it is aesthetic pleasure. It has a nice textured cover with a sleek embossed logo of the band and a coyly psychedelic picture on the front from regular Dino. Jr. collaborator Marq Spusta. The book’s contents are a fine complement, featuring a well-designed treasure trove of photos and memorabilia that is a treat to flip through. Watching J. Mascis, Lou Barlow, and Murph age as the book progresses is a small salve to the system of any reader who has similarly gone grey and paunchy.
Credit is also due to whoever conducted the interviews that generated Mascis’s quotes. This unsung journalist obviously found a level of comfort with the usually taciturn guitarist, who is far more forthcoming with information and personality here than in previous print interviews.
But the oral history format presented here loses a sense of context about the impact that Dinosaur Jr. had on the music world. There was ample room to include excerpts from reviews and articles about the band. Why not include them? And aside from short, large font quotes from folks like Bob Mould, Thurston Moore, and Kim Gordon, no one outside of the inner circle of the band was interviewed for the book.
Thankfully, everyone on record here is brutally honest about both their own shortcomings and their frustrations with one another. It gives the book a fine focus, but considering the people that worked with the band (Greg Ginn, Kevin Shields, Mac McCaughan, and Matt Dillon, among them), this history could have been so much deeper and richer.
Undoubtedly, not all of this writer’s concerns are shared by superfans of Dinosaur Jr., who have probably already snapped up a copy of this limited edition tome. For the newbies out there, I suggest pairing this book with the chapter on the band found in Our Band Could Be Your Life, Michael Azerrad’s still peerless look at the underground rock scene of the ‘80s. Otherwise, you’ll likely be left wondering what the fuss was all about.