There's a lot of purple in here
Amherst, Massachusetts, is pronounced ‘AM-erst’, giving rise to the local saying “only the ‘h’ is silent.” When I ask J Mascis what his hometown is like, after a customary slightly-too-long pause, he says: “it’s pretty quiet.” Still, it’s a slogan that looks good on a tea towel, in a small town known for its three colleges, poet Emily Dickinson (“Nick Cave tried to visit her house last week but it was closed,” J tells me) and Dinosaur Jr.
Mascis was born here, stayed for college because he didn’t try getting in anywhere else and lives here once again following an extended time spend in New York to make it with the band. “New York was the first place where Dinosaur were accepted,” he says. “We couldn’t catch a break around here. We met Sonic Youth and other people who seemed to like us.”
He now lives in a large, understated house that has been his home for the last twelve years, shared with his wife and their son. It was previously owned by Uma Thurman’s father, a professor of religion, and is one of those white-slatted, detached properties with a yard that wraps around its four sides.
Mascis welcomed us in and showed us around, failing to disappoint with his collections of skateboards, Big Muff pedals, vintage figurines and an abundance of the colour purple – all the things you’ve always hoped that J Mascis surrounds himself with.
Here in the dining room I have Grover [from Sesame Street]. I got this puppet recently but I had the same one when I was a child and it was the most memorable present I ever got. I looked to see if I could find one on eBay since I still remember that it was the most satisfying gift I ever received, somehow. This one doesn’t have the same vibe, but I was 7 or 8 when I got the first one, one Easter.
Before the Internet, someone stole my Big Muff pedal when I was playing with GG Allin. I then realised that I really needed it when I tried to do a show without it at CBGB’s and everyone was like, ‘you just don’t sound like yourself – something’s weird.’ I realised that I had to get another one so when I’d see them on tour I get them because that was my sound. It was before the Internet when you could just buy anything, so I’d buy them whenever I saw them. It turned out that some of them are rare, so instead of china in the china cabinet I set up my Big Muff museum. I don’t use any of them – I just have the same one that I bought as a replacement and I just use that.
I bought some old Fisher Price Sesame Street things for my kid but he started abusing them, so I thought I’d just put them in here and he won’t even realise they’ve gone, because I thought they were cool.
The Lego is supposed to be me. I played at the Lego factory near here and they gave me that as a present. It was pretty amazing at Lego – there are these guys there who just build these crazy things. One of them was building a life size model of the Liberty Bell – that’s all he was doing all day! What an amazing job.
Then I played there for everyone who worked at the factory, although I think only the one guy that booked me was a fan. Everyone else was talking while I played.
Tony Bennett gave this painting to me when I played with him once – there’s a signed note on there too. He painted it – it’s a Tony Bennett original. I played with him when he did an unplugged thing for MTV. That was both the high and the low of my career. I was really psyched to play with him, and so were all of my Italian relatives and then they cut me out when it came out, so that was the low point. I even saw a picture of us together in something like People magazine when they were advertising it, and then they cut me. The track I was on was ‘St. James Infirmary’ [by Louis Armstrong].
These are from Neil Blender. He was a big skateboarder and he did the art on his boards. He gave me one of the boards and I became friendly with him in the late ’80s. He was a great skater back then. The middle one is the only one I’ve skated on, but it had rails to protect the art. Neil later did some artwork for me, too [for J Mascis + The Fog].
There are a few more, but this is most of my records. I don’t have a one-in-one-out policy with my records yet, but I do have that with my bikes and a little bit with guitars. I’ve got six or seven bikes because I cycle a lot. There’s a big bike path that connects the town, so I’ll go to the Whole Foods on the bike path every day, or I’ll go to the next town, where there are more shows. I wish they’d had the path when I was a kid because it would have been easier to buy records. These days I stream music if I’m in the car, but if I like something I want it on record. I can’t get into it otherwise.
I met Tony Alva a few years ago, which was exciting. He was the biggest skateboarder in the ’70s. He was the man. There’s a movie about him and he’s in that Dogtown and Z-Boys documentary – he was in the Zephyr skateboarding team. This is the kind of board that I used to ride. I’d ride a lot of ramp and half pipes and quarter pipes.
I did see Tony Hawk once, at six in the morning at my local airport, which was strange. Walking out of the airport, he was like, ‘J Mascis?’ I’m like, ‘Tony Hawk? What the fuck are you doing here!?’ He’s very tall.
I ski on these all the time. They’re probably quite rare, but then again who wants them, too? I got them from a college ski sale and they’re pretty good skis so I use them a lot.
I’ve tried to get Dinosaur skis made, but there isn’t much of a demand for them. It’s easier to get skateboards made. The most extravagant piece of merch that we’ve got made before is probably a turntable.
Motorhead has some skis, too, and we’re not talking about in the ’80s – this is ten years ago or something. But skis have gotten hip again, because kids don’t want to snowboard with their snowboarding parents.
In this picture it’s me and Matt Dillon and the director Allison Anders. We were on a movie together – Grace of My Heart . It was fun seeing how a movie is done, except Matt Dillon was supposed to be like Brian Wilson and I was his engineer, and then he tried to start talking to me in character when the scene was over – y’know, method acting – and I couldn’t do that. I had to walk away from him. I just put my hands up and was like, ‘I can’t do that.’
I’ve done a few films with Allison Anders, and I was in The Double, by Richard Ayoade. I like acting. I don’t think I’m very good at it, but I like checking it all out.
The bottom photo on the far right is me and Richard Thompson [of Fairport Convention]. I interviewed him for Interview magazine because he liked a cover I did for a covers album of his songs. He is someone that I go to see live a lot still.
I was a big Velvets fan when I was young. I got to meet Lou Reed once, and it was pretty awesome. I’d seen him around a lot in New York, but he always looked in a pretty bad mood, y’know, and you’ve heard a lot of stories… But I played with Pete Townsend at this show, and then he played some Velvet Underground songs with Pete Townsend and he was in a really good mood afterwards, so I’m glad I waited until then to meet him.
Another hero of mine that I had the chance to meet but didn’t is Jimmy Page. I felt bad for him. He played on Saturday Night Live with Puff Daddy and afterwards I saw him in the hall and he was all sweaty. It seemed like a sad moment so I didn’t want to talk to him. Because at first I thought it was a joke. I was out on the floor when they were playing, and I was like, ‘he’s playing with Puff Daddy?’ So I was laughing at first, but then I got really sad after about a minute of watching it.