It's 1988, or maybe1989. J Mascis is in a van, driving cross-country on tour with Lou Barlow and Murph, the drummer. As Dinosaur Jr., they haven't quite yet become the stuff of indie-rock legend. In a few months, they'll score an underground hit with a cover of the Cure's "Just Like Heaven," and they'll be embraced by alternative-rock overlords Sonic Youth, and Barlow will either be fired or choose to leave the band (depending on who's telling the story).
But right now, Murph is obsessed with two albums—and one of them is Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars by Edie Brickell. When it's his turn to drive, and he's not playing Frank Zappa, he's playing Edie Brickell.
Twenty years later, a cover of Brickell's song "Circle," the most heartfelt song from one of the '80s most earnest albums, will find a place in Mascis' live set as he tours for his 2011 release, a collection of acoustic songs called Several Shades of Why.
"Megan, who runs Sub Pop, wanted me to do it. She was our Dinosaur T-shirt person for the tour where Murph was playing that Edie Brickell album all the time, so we kind of got into it, just because we heard it so much," says Mascis on the phone from his home in Amherst, Mass. "I kind of hated it at first, but started liking it. At least it was a change from Zappa."
On the surface, the cover might seem like a shock from Mascis, a gray-haired Rip Van Winkle-type reclusive figure who speaks like he's just woken from a hundred-year nap. But Brickell's song about the joy of being alone actually fits well with the pensive songs on Several Shades of Why, a big departure from Mascis' usual blisteringly loud guitar dynamics.
Mascis says while the tone of his solo effort may be sweetly aching, this is not a break-up album, though songs like "Is It Done" might come across that way. "It's just kind of about general depression. Trying to deal with other people," he says. "It's not all autobiographical. "
The tour for the album takes Mascis across the country, including a stop at Gundlach Bundschu winery's Huichica Festival on June 4. While playing acoustic live and alone is "nerve-wracking," he says, one thing keeps him going.
"The thought of having to go back to a band and dealing with other people helps me," says Mascis. "Because then I think about, 'Oh man, dealing with all these other people,' and then it's just like, well, maybe this isn't so bad."
Yes, in J Mascis' world, being alone really is the best existence.
J Mascis plays on Saturday, June 4, at Gundlach Bundschu Winery along with Fruit Bats, Sonny and the Sunsets and more. 2000 Denmark St., Sonoma. 2-11pm. $55. 707.938.5277.