You’re Living All Over Me is Dinosaur’s second album and one that some claim to be the best guitar record ever waxed. Listening to it a few times in a row, as I’ve just done, one begins to appreciate how goddamn right that sounds.
Although Dinosaur’s eponymous debut LP didn’t exactly set the world on fire commercially, the music’s sheer power and brutally strange style fusion (new wave meets hardcore meets rock meets metal meets goth and so on) made an impact on everyone who did notice it. The trio were all still based in Massachusetts’ “Happy Valley” when it came out on the Homestead label, and the forays the trio made to various East Coast clubs in ‘85/86 were met with undisguised disdain. The unprecedented volume that marked their live shows obliterated everything else for undiscerning soundmen and clubgoers. But for a few people, it was obvious that there were some amazing things being done by Dinosaur inside the orgone cloud of noise-terror in which they were so often hidden.
With the release of that first album, it became possible to understand that there were songs lurking underneath the metallic haze, and what’s more, they were great songs. Songs loaded with left-field pop hooks and the kind of true emotional content that was then lacking from a scene that often seemed frozen into one of two textual poses: the archly ironic or the preposterously aggressive. But even a song like the album’s opener, “Little Fury Things,” with its seemingly impenetrable lyrics about a rabbit that might be a girl (or a rare oi! single or a bulldog or a rabbit) (or might not), has a depth of feeling that touches the listener on a subconscious level. Its very inarticulation of specific textual content makes is an open template for each listener to impose a personal narrative upon it, to personalize it. The meat is there on one level, on another you must supply your own. And this grants a special collaborative power to each person who spins the disk. Which is a pretty spectacular move when you think about it. And in the almost two years between the release of Dinosaur and You’re Living All Over Me, the underground vox pop began to think about it a lot.
Touring with Sonic Youth and on their own, Dinosaur slowly found an audience willing and able to penetrate their curtain. The band’s presence mixed savagery with lethargy in a wickedly captivating way. And Mascis’ effects-laden guitarwork was something of a revelation to a generation that had forsaken solos as old hat. The Sonic Youth connection is actually quite heavy on You’re Living, too. Lee Ranaldo sings back-up, the bulk of the sessions were done with Sonic soundman Wharton Tiers, and, to cap it off, the tape of the finished album made its way to Sonic Youth’s then-label, SST. Gerard Cosloy has always felt that this was a personal kick in the teeth, but it made sense in the greater scheme of things. SST was as hot as tar right then, with Black Flag, the Minutemen, Meat Puppets, Husker Du, Sonic Youth and more.
Mike Watt (of the Minutemen, Stooges, firehose, et al.) laughs, “Greg Ginn must’ve liked their long hair or the guitar jams. I know the Dino guys told me their whole goal in life was to make an SST record. They just loved that label. SST was such a collection of weird individuals and Dinosaur fit right into that. You could never tell what an SST band was going to sound like. There were no clones, no rubber stamps. Being an SST band had nothing to do with the sound, it just meant you knew there were going to be some weirdos involved. I thought Dino, even though they were years down the road, were totally in that tradition.
“That first album had been real interesting. I remember D. Boon got a test pressing somehow, and he said, ‘It’s the East Coast version of the Meat Puppets!’ When I told J that, he said that’s what they were trying to do. Both those bands were like stepchildren of Neil Young. And of course, J was way into the Birthday Party then. Just look at that back cover with the hair and the pendant! But D. Boon really dug that album.
“The other way I heard about them was through the Sonics. Lee sang on the second record, and Kim used to get these cassettes from Lou, with songs like ‘Poledo.’ And the first time I saw them was playing in Western Mass with the Sonics at Hampshire College. I really liked that one. And I really like the way You’re Living All Over Me is recorded. It’s so weird. The guitar jumps out so big. It’s almost like Raw Power. There’s that song, ‘Sludgefeast,’ where it goes between a 12 string sound and RAWWWR. J told me he went to guitar because he didn’t like the way anyone else was doing it, and I can believe it. The gtr sound is massive massive massive on the record.
“Also, I really like the bass sound, especially on “In a Jar” with its melodic lines. By that time I’d stopped using a pick and I could tell Lou was using one. It almost made me want to go back to it, because of the chords he’d use and all that stuff. Lou’s bass also reminded me of Lemmy, which I found out was J’s whole idea. When I played with the fog, J had me play with a pick for the first time in 17 years, and he made me go through Marshalls!
“But Dino were part of this thing I saw with the later punks and hardcores — these guys who were too young to react against rock and roll. Where a lot of the ‘70s punks were in reaction to that, and trying to be ironic and satirical about the whole paradigm of rock and roll, by the time it got to hardcore, they didn’t really have an old music they were fighting against. For them, punk was a kind of pre -school so they could learn to be rock and rollers. It was the training wheels, so they could learn how to be heavy metal guitarists. I was into a kind of ideological war, but for these hardcore guys it wasn’t that much of an issue, especially for hard rock or heavy metal. We were all, fuck this stuff, we went through that.! For the hardcores, it wasn’t so much against rock and roll as against their parents. I’d talk to J about old stuff and none of it turned his stomach. At rehearsal he’d say, ‘Let’s do a Dio song!’
“One time I was telling him about how great I thought the production on You’re Living was, and he was saying it was inept and incompetent and fucked up. Well, I thought it really had its own sound for the time. To me the crux of the punk ethos was to find yr own voice, and the record does that.”
This is certainly true. The sound on You’re Living All Over Me is mesmerizing, both distant and close at the same time. And the guitar playing is fucking unearthly. The Ron Asheton cops on Dinosaur had given way to a much broader palette. On a song like ‘”Sludgefeast” the model seems to me something more along the lines of Sonic’s Rendezvous Band, and everyone should be able to admit – that’s a pretty nice line. The album also features Barlow’s songwriting swansongs. And listening to “Poledo” it’s easy to understand why he devoted all of his songwriting focus to Sebadoh from this point on. But playing the album it is also easy to understand why it’s considered such a fucking monument. It is just about a perfect wobble into the hot ring of the o-mind, and you can’t ask for much more than that.
–Byron Coley Deerfield ma 2004