From 1985 to 1990, Maura Jasper was the go-to artist for “ear-bleeding country” trio Dinosaur Jr. From “Repulsion” to their self-titled debut LP, from You’re Living All Over Me to “Freak Scene,” from Bug to “Just Like Heaven,” and on posters, videos, and t-shirts, the Dinosaur Jr. look was born of Jasper’s love for Norwegian expressionist Edvard Munch and English anarchist Gee Vaucher. Collected inside are Dinosaur Jr.’s first four singles, a bonus fifth 7" pairing “Show Me The Way” with a cover of the Byrds’ “Feel A Whole Lot Better,” plus a Jasper-penned essay on her creative process and a book of unused work from the period.
In the summer of 1983, I moved from my parents’ home in Worcester, the self-proclaimed “armpit of Massachusetts,” to attend college in Amherst, an idyllic college town to the west. I was 17 years old, and I was a punk rock kid. Back then, being punk or new wave put you in a strange minority, one part outcast freak and one part cultural elite. The scenes were small but active, and people found each other fast. At the time, I had a late-night radio show with my sister and a friend on Worcester’s WICN. One night, I asked people to call the station if they had any connections to the Western Mass punk scene. Instantly, calls came in about The Outpatients and All White Jury. Then a caller went into great detail in describing “J,” the drummer for hardcore trio Deep Wound, which also featured Lou Barlow and Scott Helland.
Just before school started up, the Misfits played an all-ages show at the Channel in Boston. Sunday afternoon shows at the Channel were notorious for the hanging out that took place in the parking lot outside the club. Huge groups of kids gathered around cars and skateboards, smoking, selling zines, and just having fun. This is where I first met J Mascis. He was just about the messiest looking person I had ever seen. Not dirty or smelly, exactly—just a jumbled disaster of wrinkled everything. His short hair looked like a sticky, tangled bird’s nest, and he wore a belt with at least a foot of extra leather strap dangling from its buckle. The hyperactive cartoon rabbit on his t-shirt read “Trix are for kids”—which was about as much as J ever said. When he did speak, it was with a long, slow, drawn-out drawl.
I’d encounter J again the first week of school. We were living in the same dormitory; his room was three floors below mine. For a quiet person, J was really loud. He was also really funny. In the cafeteria, he’d fill his tray with mounds of food, eat one bite of everything, and then dump the rest. When some hippie kid screamed at him for wasting the world’s natural resources, J said nothing and simply walked away. I’d pass him in the halls when he emerged from his room on his way to the bathroom, always carrying his own roll of personal toilet paper because he didn’t like the cheap University stuff. He spent hours in his room listening to music in the dark, and you could hear his stereo from the building’s front door. Once, he knocked on my dorm room door and asked me if I had any nail polish remover. I gave him a bottle, and he poured it in a small circle on the floor and dropped a match. The perfect ring of fire lasted about 10 seconds, then J walked away. He had my full attention, and he quickly became one of my closest friends.
Over the next year, we spent a lot of time, apparently wasted time, doing the insignificant dumb shit that looks stupid to adults but turns out to actually help you understand yourself in relation to everything around you. We people-watched in the cafeteria, wandered the mall, hung out at the record store, and watched a lot of TV. We prolonged adolescence for as long as possible.
On my own, I spent hours drawing, writing, reading, and trying to make sense of the space between not wanting to be a kid and not being ready for adulthood. I took painting and printmaking classes, but as a 19-year-old artist, I was still struggling to find my own voice. My world was steeped in punk imagery: skulls, gargoyles, surrealism....But I was also seeing a lot of Edvard Munch, Gustave Klimt, and Egon Schiele. I was fascinated by 19th-century poet and printmaker William Blake. A Maxfield Parish print hung on the wall; next to that was the poster from Christ - The Album by Crass.
J Mascis was learning to play guitar and eventually, Deep Wound gave way to Dinosaur. During the spring of ’85, J asked me to come up with cover art for the first Dinosaur record. What I did for Dinosaur didn’t really resemble any of my drawings at that time. It was “made to order” for J and the band, and when I look at it now it strikes me as a strange collaboration. J had very specific ideas, including his request that I put the face of our friend Arty somewhere in the image, which explains the “Head by Arty” note on the back cover. We chose the font for the cover at the University Bookstore—they sold these “stick on” letters meant for graphic design work. I gravitated to the Arnold Boecklin font because it had that lost, 1960s feel to it. It reminded me of the first Black Sabbath record.
From that point on, I went with my own instincts. All of my art for Dinosaur would be an extension of my own work, made in response to the music. J gave me demos on cassette, and I’d listen and draw. I started working with pastels and making lots of colorful figurative prints and drawings on paper. I didn’t have much money, so I often used newsprint because I wasn’t afraid to ruin it. Many of my sketches made it onto flyers for shows and would later evolve into more formal prints. This is the period of work that people most associate with the early Dinosaur Jr. images. They were just intuitive responses to the music, sometimes inspired by my life, sometimes by my imagination.
I drew the work for the “Repulsion” 7" at the kitchen table in my parents’ apartment. There was a Dinosaur gig that night somewhere in Boston, and the band stopped by to pick me up on their way into town. The first album hadn’t been released yet, but the live shows were already great. They played in basements and at parties, really any place they could get a gig. On New Year’s Eve of 1984, they played a crazy party in Mission Hill, a Boston neighborhood known for low rents and high crime rates, complete with the oddest mix of Boston hipsters, punk rock scenesters, and heroin addicts getting high in the bathroom. J was driving a giant white-and-wood-paneled Ford Country Squire station wagon. At my parents’ house that day, he had worn a pair of enormous ski gloves indoors, which infuriated my mother, as if she had some sort of strict anti-glove policy. Lou didn’t talk much, which also annoyed my parents. I just remember handing J the images, wiping the kitchen table clean of all the purple and green pastel dust, and squeezing into the station wagon. In July, “Repulsion” was released, and in October, J’s mother passed away unexpectedly. Nothing was really going to be the same for any of us.
Suddenly everything became much more serious. Dinosaur was getting attention and playing more shows. I threw myself into my work and spent long hours in the printmaking studios at school. For months, I struggled with bouts of depression, and it was during this time that my figurative work became more narrative and personal. I made intaglio prints, which involves etching into flat copper plates with a sharp point. No two prints were alike, but they all had a primitive, scratchy look to them. Between 1985 and 1987, I made many images using the intaglio technique and generated a lot of sketched studies. Figures with bulbous, branch-like hands and gigantic heads were inspired by real people and events in my life, but tinged with emotion and somewhat surreal. From these prints and studies, I developed the images used for SST’s You’re Living All Over Me and the “Freak Scene” 7".
The cover image for You’re Living All Over Me was made while I listened over and over to another demo tape from J. My studio at the time was in an old barn. There was no heat in the winter, but there was a crate full of mixed tapes. I’d work until my hands got cold, and then pop in a tape and keep my hands in my pockets. I’d flip through books and other album art. I spent a lot of time listening to The Fall and became a huge fan of Claus Castenskiold’s cover art for The Wonderful and Frightening World of the Fall. It’s strange to me that I can remember what I was listening to on a cold and otherwise insignificant day almost 30 years ago, but I was so gobsmacked by J’s demo tape that everything seemed to stop.
I had gone to art school because I could draw, and at the time I believed that drawings should depict something from life. In fact, I rejected most modern and contemporary art until I learned about Marcel Duchamp, whose Fountain (1917) was simply a urinal turned upside down and exhibited as art. That 70-year-old piece was more punk to me than any mohawked skull or Margaret Thatcher with her eyes scratched out. Fountain was about ideas and attitude. For me, it was proof positive that good art didn’t need to depict anything, that ideas were the most important element of any work. I couldn’t look back, and I didn’t want to. I would never be able to make those figural drawings again.
In the fall of ’87, I left U. Mass. for a more experimental program, the Studio for Interrelated Media at MassArt in Boston. J also left U. Mass. that year and moved to New York City to attend Hunter College. It seemed like a limitless period of people, ideas, shows, fun, and access. The students at MassArt were a lot more sophisticated, the parties were better, and classes were more challenging, and the Boston scene was full of great bands. By the time J asked me to do something for Bug, my ideas about art were changing rapidly and I wanted to make something that could think as well as feel. The Bug cover was the hardest to make—and ultimately my least favorite of all the covers I did for Dinosaur. I had plenty of drawings that made abstract attempts at expressing something personal—images of X-rays, fossils, and tree stumps. They all looked like what became the Bug cover but with lots of scribbles and writing—and no bug. I was also painting and drawing with thick, clumpy paint and plaster, and embedding objects into the materials. I had a handful of toys, rocks, doll parts, and gummy candy that I was moving around and considering. Some of those gummy worms and a huge gummy fly ultimately made the back cover. For the front, I ended up using an extreme close-up of a mosquito’s head, blown-up into something really grotesque. I vaguely recall wanting to build the mosquito out of gummy candy—but losing interest. The original piece included lots of metallic paint, and it looked completely different from what’s now known as the Bug cover. Amazingly, I gave no thought at all about how the original might reproduce. J tipped me off as to how crummy the test pressings looked—basically four shades of poopy, mud-colored sludge caked in around the mosquito head. There have been better looking versions than that first pressing, but unless someone decides to do it in gold ink, it will never look quite right.
“Just Like Heaven,” on the other hand, turned into one of my favorites. Everything in my process as an artist and the production of image making for the band seemed completely in sync with this project. I pulled material from all of my contemporary sketches and writing. I was very interested in ideas about consumption, looking at loads of medical books and food imagery, especially nutritionally empty foods like Rice Krispie treats and marshmallow fluff. It didn’t matter to me if the work made complete sense—if someone spent time trying to figure it out, that was good enough for me.
Later that spring, J asked me if I wanted to make a video for “Just Like Heaven.” I had only been working with video for about three months, and I had video artist Tony Oursler as an instructor. As students, we were taught never to let technical ineptitude get in the way of a good idea. I decided to dress Sesame Street dolls as punks and have them mosh around inside a scaled-down version of J’s childhood bedroom. Ernie wore leather and shades; Oscar the Grouch was in a Deep Wound T-shirt. The video appeared on MTV, back when it actually ran music videos. Soon enough, I got a call from a Sesame Street lawyer who threatened to sue. I consider this to be an excellent accomplishment.
The 1980s were ending. I was finally graduating from college. J had dropped out and was touring like crazy. To be honest, I have no idea how he managed it as long as he did. The Seattle scene was blowing up, and it seemed like that was the place to be. My younger sister Megan, who graduated from college a year ahead of me, had been selling T-shirts for Dinosaur Jr. on tour. She got a job answering phones at Sub Pop and decided to stay on. Sub Pop’s Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman had asked Dinosaur Jr. to record two songs for the label’s Singles Club, and I was asked to do the artwork for 1990’s “The Wagon” b/w “Better Than Gone” 7" (SP68). J had recently stopped working with Lou Barlow, and Dinosaur Jr. was about to sign with Sire. I wanted J to like the work, but I was over the sort of illustrations that Dinosaur Jr. had become associated with. I wanted to try something different. I was making a lot of work with representations of family and childhood. I knew that the art for “The Wagon” would reference pop culture and evoke childhood in collision with adult awareness. I was responding to the kitschy 1960s landscape reproductions I found in thrift stores, and I could imagine those as the backdrop for a child’s toy, a bashed up stuffed bear or a doll of some kind. The “Just Like Heaven” video had used similar images, so it seemed like a strong transition. From some early sketches, I came up with a forest scene and doll, fashioned from a bizarre toilet paper holder I found at Goodwill. I didn’t have a decent camera, so I asked Sub Pop photographer Charles Peterson to snap the shot. The back cover was a painting/collage featuring a photograph of my father as a child, sitting in a chair and staring at the camera. I wanted the front and back covers to blend together into something dreamlike, one side inspired by fantasy and one side inspired by life. Both Sub Pop and J signed off on the images, but when “The Wagon” went to press, J had a change of heart and decided he didn’t want Sub Pop to press any more with this cover. He said he found something about it to be evil. With the cover already in production, it was a bit of a fiasco for Sub Pop. And it opened a rift between J and myself.
Afterwards, I pretty much stopped making work for Dinosaur Jr. J Mascis and I remained good friends then, and we’re still friends to this day. Everything I made for the band’s records, I made for J. Even when I didn’t care, I cared. The songs and the images always felt so personal to me. Sometimes they still do. This music was the soundtrack that defined an important chapter in my life and, ultimately, my experience of growing up.—Maura Jasper, December 2013