The Unsung Offer: When Kurt Cobain Invited J Mascis to Join Nirvana

Kurt Cobain Invited J Mascis to Join Nirvana

The frontman of stoner grunge pioneers Dinosaur Jr is often a man of few words. But that didn’t stop him from confirming a long-believed rumor: Kurt Cobain once asked him to join Nirvana as their second guitarist after a show at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1989.

Mascis declined. Instead, Nirvana went on to find Dave Grohl and the rest is rock history.

Dinosaur Jr.

Dinosaur Jr’s music is loved by heshers and gear freaks alike, but it’s the guitar-playing that makes them stand out. Mascis’ six-string reveries are monoliths of pure feeling, a way for the band to say more than their yawn-y singer could with words. It’s no wonder musicians as diverse as Billy Corgan, My Bloody Valentine, Ride, Swervedriver, and Arab Strap have cited them as an influence.

In a recent interview, J Mascis confirmed long-circulating rumors that Kurt Cobain asked him to join Nirvana as their second guitarist. But he turned Cobain down, deciding that his commitment to his own band was more important.

Following the release of Bleach, Dinosaur Jr’s 1992 album Where You Been boosted the group to a certain degree of commercial success (thanks largely to MTV and the modern rock hit “Start Choppin”). After that, Murph left the band and went on to form Sebadoh. The rest of the group continued with 1994’s Without a Sound and a few other albums.

Unknown Instructors

J Mascis hasn’t been a very chatty interview subject for the past couple of decades, but this time around, he does divulge a fascinating tidbit. During a recent conversation, he casually mentioned that Kurt Cobain once invited him to join Nirvana.

Featuring the erstwhile rhythm section of Minutemen and fIREHOSE (George Hurley and Mike Watt) along with Ohio poet Dan McGuire and Saccharine Trust/Universal Congress Of Man guitarist Joe Baiza, Unknown Instructors are all-star improv ensemble that effortlessly blends elements of punk rock, jazz, spoken word, noise, and art rock for an unforgettable listening experience. The band’s fourth effort, Unwilling To Explain, is the group’s first album that was not completely improvised, but even with this small addition, the album still retains a raw urgency and immediacy that captivates. Mastered by Dave Gardner at Infrasonic Mastering and pressed on vinyl at Pallas Group, this LP is one of the year’s best releases.

Sweep It Into Space

J Mascis looks like a long-haired Saruman, which is pretty appropriate for a fretboard wizard whose melodies meet volume approach to guitar playing was a huge influence on both grunge and the wider alternative music scene. He and Dinosaur Jr’s brand of ‘ear bleeding country’ blended simple song structures with crushing volume, jagged feedback and those instantly recognisable leads.

Lou Barlow is still serving as his token co-writer for Mascis but his contributions are more in service of variety than a power-pop foil, and on the tender, wistful “Garden” and the angsty You Wonder, they broaden the album’s emotional range.

The breeziest, melodically generous of Dinosaur Jr’s reunion albums, Sweep It Into Space is a reminder of how effortless – and good – they sound now that they are back together. They may not be the blockbuster band they once were but they are an indispensable unit, now well into their fourth decade.

Tied to a Star

After forming the short-lived hardcore punk band Deep Wound in the early 1980s, J Mascis went on to found Dinosaur Jr with Lou Barlow and Murph. The Amherst, Massachusetts native became famous for his blisteringly untrained guitar solos and defiantly fuzzy riffs.

The rock virtuoso has spent the last three decades churning out his signature sound, both with classic Dinosaur Jr lineups and in a succession of solo efforts and doom metal side projects. His fractured falsetto voice carries equal parts pathos and statelessness, whether he’s playing the brisk instrumental Drifter or the country-folk sway of Heal the Star.

He also happens to be the most famous Nirvana fan of all; Cobain invited Mascis to join his band, but he politely turned him down. That story was chronicled in 2021’s Freakscene: The Story Of Dinosaur Jr, which was directed by Philipp Reichenheim. The film also features interviews with members of Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine, Husker Du, and more.

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