REWIND: A letter from Lou Barlow, Dinosaur Jr/Sebadoh, 1993

I first met Lou Barlow, bassist/singer with seminal indie rockers (and owners of part of this website’s tagline) Dinosaur Jr/Sebadoh/Folk Implosion/Deluxx Folk Implosion/The New Foke Implojun/Lou Barlow/Lou Barlow & the Missingmen etc, in August 1993. I showed up at a Sebadoh gig in Vancouver thinking nobody had heard of the band.

The Town Pump (I miss you) gig was sold out. I did not have a ticket. PANIC STATIONS!

Letter from Lou Barlow, Sebadoh/Dinosaur Jr, 1993
Letter from Lou Barlow, Sebadoh/Dinosaur Jr, 1993

I was starting to commence Warp Factor Fretting when I overheard a voice: “You’re on at midnight”, it said to a bespectacled dude. Holy crap! Four eyes was Lou Barlow! So I sidled up, explained I was from Toronto but visiting, had got my very first tattoo that day, didn’t have a ticket. Lou, being awesome, walked me in. We all hung out in the basement of the Town Pump, got a bit squiffy and have been friends ever since. Through solo, band, Sebadoh and Dino shows in Vancouver, Toronto, London, England and now Vancouver again.

Dinosaur Jr
Dinosaur Jr were back in Vancouver on November 10 and Lou was on astoundingly good form. He was doing double duty in the musical sense. Playing solo – just him and a very quiet acoustic guitar – opening for the eardrum-shattering Dino, the band he’d rejoined a few years back. But the solo pretty stuff didn’t exactly fly over the din of the crowd. It’s not his favourite thing to do – playing solo softly-softly – and he carped about it on Twitter afterwards (@LouBarlow). He woulda had his band with him, but apparently Dino’s J. Mascis and Murph were just a wee bit concerned that his new band, the Missingmen, would maybe steal their (12 Marshall amp stack) headlining thunder. Still, the devoted craned to listen as he made it through a few tracks from his latest, Goodnight Unknown and half of one of my fave songs (and requests) “Legendary” from last album Emoh.

On Elliott Smith
Afterwards, he chatted with a fan about Elliott Smith, a mate of his who died a few years ago under mysterious circumstances and was a known heavy drug user. “He could be really nice when he was…you know, okay…”, said Lou. “But sometimes he was also an asshole.” The kid had an Elliott Smith swooshy tattoo, the same colours from the Figure 8 album. He was rapt with Lou and wanted to know what Lou would recommend he get as an homage tattoo to him. “Umm, I don’t ever recommend people to get tattoos,” he said “but maybe that animal thing on the Dare to be Surprised EP,” he suggested. Lou was cheerful.

After the Dino show, and after I bought Dino’s drum-basher Murph a whiskey shot, I taught Barlow how to reply to people on Twitter. And showed him where Kelowna was on Google Maps. (A colleague had come in from Kelowna to see the show.) I scolded Barlow for not conversing with his fans on Twitter. “Nobody taught me this shit,” he said laughing. He’s since replied to a few people, bless.

Letter from Mikala’s Mailbag
Such a great night got me thinking about an old letter I recently dug up that Lou sent me in 1993 after that first gig. I had this silly habit of sending notes to bands back in the day (now it’s emails). Lou replied. Sent me a cassette of some solo demos he’d done with a photocopied sleeve. There was a Bryan Adams cover on it. (Not as good as his latest cover, of La Roux’s Bulletproof but still lo-fi amazingness). I’d apparently asked him about why some of my favourite songs on the Sebadoh albums (circa Bubble & Scrape) sounded so lonely. Here’s what he said:

“the ‘loneliness’ you hear on Seba-records, at least my contributions, is based on my break-up with my long-time love Kathleen about, lesser, 2 years (2 years!!) ago…she almost married someone else but somehow we hooked up again and now live happily here in Boston…the whole lag-time of conception to reception of an albums content can give a skewed time frame on my life…alot of people seem to think I’ve been through the relationship wringer many times based on lyrics but in fact other than our big breakup Kath & I have been steady for most of my adult life (I’m 27)…I’m actually very into my little home and a sort of stable life…I guests I jsut think alot and that’s what comes out in the lyrics.”

He ended the 2-page letter:

“there’s a waitress at our favourite restaurant who reminds me a bit of you, so don’t think you were forgotten”.

So if you like things quiet-ish, check out Barlow’s solo stuff. Want your ears to bleed? Go Dinosaur Jr. Want to be a totally superior indie record store clerk? Go Sebadoh. If you’re like me, and like all three, get the entire discography. Like, stat. There’s some great guitar – both loud and soft – and tremendous songwriting on all three.

Want to be nice? Congratulate Lou and Kath on the birth of their second child, a son, Hendrix Wexford Barlow, who was born in late November. Go to and tell them the Backstage Rider sent you. To long-time loves, long letters and longevity. \m/

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