Kurt Cobain asked Dinosaur Jr’s J. Mascis to join Nirvana on guitar – and on drums. “I didn’t think much about it,” says Mascis. “I think we were much bigger than them at the time, so…”
It’s one of several revelations in Freakscene: The Story Of Dinosaur Jr, a new documentary about one of alt.rock’s most influential and dysfunctional bands. Directed by Philipp Reichenheim, a German filmmaker (and Mascis’ brother-in-law), Freakscene features exclusive interviews with members of Sonic Youth, Husker Du, My Bloody Valentine and the Pixies, as well as the members of Dinosaur Jr themselves.
It catalogues their rise from hardcore punk to misfit obsessives who reinvented hard rock in the late 1980s in all of its long-haired, psychedelic, wah-wah pedalled glory, with actual footage of onstage punch-ups along the way.
At a time when indie was in thrall to the Byrds and Love, Dinosaur Jr took the wasted country rock of Neil Young and the Stones, bolted a 500cc punk rock engine on to it and filled the tank with heavy metal gasoline.
As journalist Everett True once wrote, “Suddenly it was hip to like Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers again: something Seattle bands like Mudhoney doubtless appreciated a few years later… [Dinosaur Jr were] the band who inspired Teenage Fanclub, Nirvana, Buffalo Tom, Lemonheads and… thousands.”
Their influence on Nirvana almost became professional. In Freakscene, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore recalls witnessing a conversation between Cobain and Mascis. Mascis was looking for a new bass player after the acrimonious split from Lou Barlow.
“Bleach wasn’t out yet,” says Thurston Moore, “it was just the single [Love Buzz]. And I remember Kurt saying [to Mascis]: ‘Why don’t you join us?’”
“I didn’t think much about it,” says Mascis. “I think we were much bigger than them at the time, so…”
Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon adds: “It made me realise maybe how much they’d influenced Nirvana too. Dinosaur had this other dissonant quality that I think Kurt really liked.”
Mascis has spoken about this offer before, telling Spin magazine in 2012: “I think [Kurt] was sick of the guy Jason [Everman] who was in the band at the time, and thought I should play guitar. I didn’t think much about it. Later, there was also talk of playing drums on a single [1990’s Sliver] they were doing, but it ended up being [Mudhoney drummer] Dan Peters.”
Freakscene: The Story Of Dinosaur Jr is on digital release now, available to stream via Amazon Prime (opens in new tab), Google Play (opens in new tab) and more.