You're Living All Over Me
Me, the pills I found in your mom's '86 Buick Skylark, and Dinosaur Jr
by Andrew Earles
My first life-changing musical experience came courtesy of MTV. Not the radio, not a stereo spinning an album, not a concert: MTV.
I navigated my nascent developmental phase armed with blank tapes, planted in front of the Kevin Seal-powered 120 Minutes. For months, there was no solid aim to my quest; I was seduced by everything.
The Church, the Lime Spiders, the Cure, INXS, Living Colour, Information Society, R.E.M I kept it light to be sure, but was aware and curious about this devil over the hill. I had, up to this point, purchased or shoplifted cassettes of the first Replacements album, a mid-period Agent Orange album, the last Husker Dü album, and The Story of the Clash. Mine was an amateurish patronization of loud, fast and heavy, but wasn't the estranging obsession it would become.
I had yet to be plagued by the problem that follows many pop culture geeks throughout life: not knowing what you like, but knowing exactly what you dislike. Here's to turning that page.
To ensure that my nose would be in a catalog (catalogs were another childhood/teen fixation), the opening riffs and visuals of Dinosaur Jr.'s "Little Fury Things" were hilariously programmed to follow the closing notes of a Michelle Shocked video.
But they really weren't riffs at all. This was an abducted child inside a discarded fridge, screaming on top of guitar distortion that was not only new to my ears, but to the world at large. Safety pin etchings on the film animated the sort of nightmares born of a window unit air conditioner that's caused a somnolent fever.
The screams lasted for half-minute before segueing into My First Pop Hook Preoccupation, and I was fucked forever. Who were these freaks? From what was on the screen, one could only gather that they lived in abandoned houses and got their kicks from rolling appliances down hills into illegal dumps. They drove monstrous Ford LTD station wagons and performed their magical music in basements to a handful of girls wearing boxer shorts on the outside of their jeans.
Whenever I was alone in the house, the tape would go in the slot. I would run around the living room in a fit of imagined self-brilliance until drawn to the rewind button again and again. This video is included as a bonus on the reissue of You're Living All Over Me. I encourage you to become intimate.
Understand that now, almost seventeen years later*, a youngster at the close of 1988 would have no real understanding of "Little Fury Things", making the love a product of primal purity, the Thing music is supposed to do to us all.
Looking back, I had no knowledge of the financial shortcomings that spawn cheap videos. A video was a video, record labels were record labels, SST had has much money as Warners I didn't understand. It was the band's choice to make a deliberately creepy video with tattooed gypsy ladies and longhaired hoods bouncing up and down on a twin mattress. In my mind, this very same thing could be happening around the corner, in my neighbor's bedroom, the neighbor that tried to turn me on to Testament and Death Angel, who walked around in calf-high, frayed leather boots, perpetually lost in whatever world his waterproof sports walkman could offer. Crossover thrash, prescient indie rock, underground metal, and even Black Sabbath were worlds away.
I did not have punk rock friends I was too "normal looking" to penetrate the blinders worn around those parts. My core of friends - whom I would spend much of my high school years gradually alienating - were drug using, proto-jam band folk. In fact, drugs - especially acid and painkillers filched from my parents' hiding places - served as one of the only mental meeting grounds between many contemporaries and myself.
I was fairly preppy, in a poor sense, but with a ravenous musical appetite that stayed in the closet for a while. My closest friend had both a car and a curiosity that kept him in the room whenever I played Soul Asylum's Hang Time. I had christened my first automobile privileges with a DUI, so this guy was the ride to a music outlet called Gophers, or Peaknuckles, or Giggles, where I bought Dinosaur Jr's You're Living All Over Me on factory cassette.
Largely unheard, I deemed it worth the $9.98. This fell just over two years after first viewing the "Little Fury Things" video. MTV did it again.
We're jumping ahead, and the details of those two years will have to languish unwritten - maybe forever - but the point and truth of the matter is: I purchased two Dinosaur Jr. cassettes that day. Blown across the room by the video premiere of "The Wagon" by the song more than the wild clay-mation video I went forward, buying Green Mind, but went backwards. I skipped what had happened in those years, as we were without cable television for a spell; I didn't have that guiding light of 120 Minutes, which by this point was hosted by Dave Kendall. I missed videos for "Freak Scene" and "Just Like Heaven," and I missed much of that important time in rock. Soon, it would be part of an archival education, but in 1991, I was all about real time noise.
A show of hands: who remembers the time between having a record player attached to the balsa-wood stereo you got at age eight, and actually purchasing the record player that would, in turn, signify the beginning of the period where you never get laid? Ok, same page - we stand proud.
So, factory cassette it had to be. Though Green Mind held a special place, You're Living All Over Me was in danger of being worn down to sub-aquatic fidelity. I carried it with me to afternoon pot-smoking sessions, where it painfully clawed its way out of shitty jam box speakers, filling friends' apartments (roommates: usually a registered nurse mom, little sister, dog, cable TV, dog-shit) with aggravated, outsider metal-bubblegum-pop bombshell brilliance.
These apartments stayed hidden in complexes unwisely built around man-made ponds and canal systems, for that unique Venice meets Divorced Death Metal Daddy Club feel. They had their perks, these rows upon rows of pregnancy scares and Memorial Day Top 500 Classic Rock Countdown Cookouts. The landlord fishes the unwanted pets out of the swimming pool before you sign the lease, and maybe the resident dealer comes over on a paddle-boat with some stepped-on Ecstasy. Your toddler - Gavin or Gabe or whatever you named him - will be able to identify wildlife and expand its vocabulary at an early age: "Nutria," "Cottonmouth," "Silverfish."
It was in this environment that I enjoyed my honeymoon with You're Living All Over Me. I'm going to venture a guess that some readers had similar experiences. I would never lay claim to an original "coming up," and only use it as a backdrop to explain how You're Living All Over Me could speak - although what Mascis was actually saying was sometimes anyone's guess - directly to a kid living in a scorched earth proto-sprawl maze of highly-flammable townhouses and bullshit zero-lot-line ghettos-in-the-making.
When a random mom a woman that could be nicknamed "The Percocet Fairy" - would bust into one of those cramped bedrooms - the kind with the sliding window way high up on the wall and exclaim, "They make music like that?!?" then amble off to go about her day of not really giving a shit, it wasn't so much a feeling of rebellion, but of rudderless confusion. Initially, I never went to shows, afraid of going alone.
There was a scene, somewhere in that nebulous era, in which ranks comprised of all stripes of loon - punk rockers, dirtbags, losers, music nerds gathered, and I wasn't a part of it. You're Living All Over Me encouraged isolation. It sang the anger and joy of not being understood. It was one of the first times that paint-peeling volume would be vehicle for simple but effective feeling. That was a world-altering new invention to my ears. It was friendly-but-not-so-friendly and my personal existence was the same. I didn't get the lyrics to "Little Fury Things," but they still hung the moon over my head.
What does "Rabbit falls away from me/ Faster than I crawl" mean? Is that even right? Am I allowed to change "red" to "the sunlight brings the red out in your eyes" to "meds"? I didn't get that right either, did I? The words to most of the other tracks made sense, albeit a stuffed-animal** sort of sense, yelled by a kid separated from his mom in the aisles of a Jitney Jungle. Everything after "Little Fury Things", in perfectly sequenced order, would be my Favorite Song during various points in an otherwise blurry year of my life.
That's exactly how I progressed through the album, inspecting one track, ad infinitum, at a time. I wasn't into any of the Blacks (Sabbath, Flag, or Oak Arkansas) yet, so much of the sonic reference points were lost on me until later - Neil Young was just some guy with a funny video. Other Dinosaur albums failed to fall under this degree of scrutiny, but were no less important during my predictably fucked-up teen years. Yeah, the world really needs more regressive shame-sploitation, but to touch on the remaining two Dinosaur Jr. albums in this reissue series contextually:
I bought the self-titled debut (also on cassette) the day after I was both released from rehab and given the news that my father had surprisingly passed in his sleep (not to burden readers with another dead-parent story you can't move your eyes to the side without reading that crap these days. The debut did become a solid favorite, and ignoring my situation, it is a markedly more naked and emotional album than its successor.
Bug, sure, also big deal for me, regardless of my amnesia as to when I first bought it. It was the fourth Dino album to enter my loser lexicon, and by then, I was hooked into a life that was starting to take shape. I may have even acquired a like-minded friend by that juncture, but You're Living All Over Me is the sole reason I would curate a money-sucking record collection. It might be the root of many problems, loves, frustrations, and golden moments that marked the past fifteen-plus years...I mean, my favorite album before I lost my virginity is my favorite album today. That's something, right?
* The "Little Fury Things" video was sporadically running over 1988/1989, usually in the second hour of 120 Minutes. The album, You're Living All Over Me, was released in 1987.
** Dinosaur Jr. popularized the assignment of cuddly-toy/cartoon imagery to music that was anything but. Melvins would pick it up next. It was not a forced artistic statement, like Sonic Youth's Dirty, but closer to the language of genuine loners.
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