I used to have this DVD collection of Spike Jonze’s music videos that I watched constantly. My teenage dream was to direct videos and his were my favorite: weird, innovative, and silly. Dinosaur Jr.’s “Feel the Pain” was one of the best in the collection.
I came late to the band’s body of work, but this –one of their most commercially popular songs, from an album many rank as their worst –was a song I’d always loved. Recently I heard it again, but felt like I’d really heardit; sometimes it takes years to have a song come on organically in the exact right moment. For me and this song, it was during a frustrating stretch of standstill highway traffic due to a left lane closing, when there’s nothing to do but think about all the stuff you don’t want to think about and pray someone will let you edge into their lane.
I went home and re-watched the video with commentary. J Mascis notes the clip was supposed to be much more violent but was edited to be MTV-friendly. In it, Mascis and Mike Johnson play golf in congested Manhattan, wildly weaving their golf cart through traffic. The camera tracks the ball soaring over buildings, breaking a man’s glasses and knocking him out. After, it’s picked up by a group of confused businessmen, so Mascis and Johnson club them until they’re subdued (and then some). The band members are numb to the pain they inflict as they continue their impossible game. Do they only succeed because they’re able to ignore the pain they cause, as well as everything else surrounding them, all the suffering, the crowds, the humans living their lives?
The video doesn’t have it, but the song opens with a cork pop, releasing the driving riff and hypnotic rhythm. Two parts repeat, the first gentle and the next chugging, deeper, mimicking the lyrics: “I feel the pain of everyone/Then I feel nothing.” The interpretation seems to fracture: the speaker as extreme empath to the point of obliterating his own senses, or the speaker feeling the pain, but simply not giving a shit. The enormity overwhelms; maybe we should stop trying altogether. Mascis passes another version of himself in the video, forlornly playing guitar on the corner. Could this be a glimmer of self-reflection, of guilt we can’t escape?
The song finishes with an insane guitar performance, everything controlled chaos, overwhelming you, and then it ends — bam bam. Then it’s nothing, just a buzz in your ears.
(Song recommendation by Emily Costa)