To get a handle on the amorphous cultural blob that is the postpunk generation, one could do much worse than check out the band photo on the back of Dinosaur's 1985 self-titled debut. Singer-guitarist-songwriter J Mascis looks like a chipmunk-cheeked death rocker, bassist Lou Barlow a geeky punk with his buzz-cut growing out, and drummer Murph a zitty, Led Zep pothead. Appropriately, their music fused styles, and songs such as "Repulsion," "Forget the Swan," and "The Leper" were simultaneously savage, sweet, melancholic, jangly, rude, organic, and completely dysfunctional. Dinosaur combined the juice of hardcore singles with riffs and mellow melodies unearthed from some older sibling's rock collection. Mascis sounded like a wounded Neil Young, his guitar cut your gut, and when they screamed, it was like mastodons in a tar pit. But for all the ferocity, the attitude was all slack.
Hours late, Dinosaur Jr. mosey on into the Yale dining hall where they'll be playing later that night. J Mascis — singer, songwriter, guitarist — has considerably longer hair than anyone else present. Murph, the drummer, has a beard. Through a hidden door behind the ornate balcony that looms over the stage is a long red-carpeted room, lined with dusty tomes, where we go to talk. "Evil doings go on here," drawls Mascis as he drops into a red leather chair beneath gothic windows gouged out of pale stone. "I took a class on the human brain in here," I tell them. "The first day, the teacher plopped a brain right on the table, oozing with formaldehyde. To pick it up, you had to wear gloves to keep brain-worms from burrowing into you and making you psychotic. It was a lot smaller than I'd expected, kinda like a softball.