The Date: December, 1989
The Event: Dinosaur Jr frontman J Mascis kicks Lou Barlow out of Dinosaur Jr in weird, underhand fashion
The Result: Many spiteful Sebadoh songs, and, eventually, an utterly unexpected reunion
Maybe Lou Barlow should've seen the writing on the wall. When alternative-rock giants Dinosaur Jr played their first-ever show, in 1984, they weren't called Dinosaur, their original name, but Mogo. And their vocalist wasn't guitar-solo-rippin' frontman J Mascis, but a chap named Charlie Nakajima.
Nakajima lasted one show, but Mascis didn't kick him out. Instead, he asked Barlow and drummer Emmett 'Murph' Murphy, the other members of Mogo, to form Dinosaur, a band that resembled Mogo in every way, just with Nakajima not in it. "I was kind of too wimpy to kick him out, exactly," Mascis later admitted.
By 1989, Dinosaur had released three incredibly loud, distorted, sludgy records; alt-music milestones that'd influence Nirvana and countless other grunge combos. But the band was in a bad way. Barlow once said, in referring to Dinosaur Jr: "rock'n'roll is about a bunch of ambivalent people getting together, hating each other, and playing nasty, hateful music."
And, sure enough, there was plenty of hate in the band. Mascis's control-freak nature and complete lack of communication, Barlow's brashness and provocation, and Murphy's free-spirit ways were a bad mix. In the subsequent years, Barlow and Murphy would call Mascis, amongst other things, an "a**hole," a "dick," and a "Nazi."
"Things just got weird," Barlow recalled. "J and I just didn't talk. J was getting more and more lethargic in general. It started to get really uninspired. They reacted to that by kicking me out."
Well, sort of. Mascis and Murphy sat down and told Barlow that the band had broken up. When, actually, they'd already lined up his replacement, and had an Australian tour booked. "Within two or three weeks, they were playing a show in Australia," Barlow told the Sydney Morning Herald. "I found out fairly quickly that they hadn't broken up."
Somewhere between heartbroken and incensed, Barlow turned to his lo-fi projects Sebadoh and Sentridoh, using his home-recording outings to sing about his post-Dinosaur Jr blues. On the Sebadoh song "The Freed Pig," Barlow laid it all out there for listeners: "Now you will be free/With no sick people tugging on your sleeve/Your big head has that 'more room to grow'/A glory I will never know."
"I carried that grudge for a long time and resorted to small-minded revenge tactics," Barlow would later recall, in hindsight. "I sued J, wrote songs about him, sh*t-talked him any opportunity I got."
Thereby, Barlow getting kicked out of Dinosaur Jr became an ongoing, messy, public divorce; cementing its place in indie music lore. Yet, the story got even more strange, more mythical, when, in 2005, the unthinkable happened: the original Dinosaur lineup got back together. First to tour, then to record new material.
"To everyone else it seems weird, and, well, yeah, maybe it is weird," Barlow told me, in a 2005 interview. “But there was never any point where I said anything bad about Dinosaur’s music, which was always great, and continues to be great. I mean, I made a huge stink about things, and complained about J, but that was all personal."
When it comes to being 'sort of' kicked out of a band, it often is personal.