Cover Story: Cash Heals All Wounds

The most unexpected bands are patching things up and getting back together; who's next?

Jun 1, 2005 at 2:06 pm
Jens Jurgensen

Dinosaur Jr. then (1987)

As recently as the April edition of British Rock magazine Mojo, singer/guitarist/cult icon J Mascis didn't sound much like a man ready to jump back in the van with the original members of the band that gave him an opportunity to have a long career in the music biz — Dinosaur Jr.

"It was generally the most miserable time in my life," Mascis said. "Equal to going to college."

College enrollment officials, be on the lookout for a guitar hero looking to sign up for classes soon. Upon the re-issue of several of Dinosaur Jr.'s albums, it was announced that Mascis would rejoin original Dinos Lou Barlow and Emmett Jefferson Murphy III (better known as "Murph") for a tour that includes a stop at the Madison Theater July 21.

This from a band who were infamous for their violent on-stage dust-ups and contentious interband relationships as well as a stubbornness from all sides that seemed to make the mere notion of a Dinosaur Jr. reunion about as likely as a Beatles one. The trio's return is just one of the latest reunion projects that have stunned music fans worldwide.

Last year, The Pixies — whose past was never as violent as Dinosaur's but whose unwillingness to even allow the possibility of getting back together was just as airtight — began an enormous world tour to cash in on the posthumous legend that had built since their break-up in 1993.

Unexpected reunions haven't been uncommon over the years, but The Pixies' momentous, sold-out run seems to have spurned a new era of "patch it up, get back out and rake it in." Don't think Mascis wasn't keeping tabs on how much Frank Black & Co. were taking in at the turnstiles.

You can never go back?

More like "never say never." Especially if a huge — or at least a respectable — pay day is in the offing.

To the Pixies' credit, they sound excellent and their live shows have been almost universally praised. But that's an exception.

When most groups jump on the reunion train, the moment has passed, the musicians usually have lost a step and their physical appearances often are a far cry from the faces that glared out of glossy magazines during their heydays. Seeing a bad reunion by one of your favorite bands is kind of like when your favorite singer sells his greatest hits to a beer company. Your love for the artist makes you happy they won't be starving to death in their twilight years, but your memories of their brilliance and what they meant to you are tainted, if not crushed.

So who's next? Is there any great band from the past with all of their original members still living that wouldn't consider giving it another go?

Here are a few prospective reuniters that, two years ago, we would have lumped with The Pixies and Dinosaur Jr. in the "ain't ever going to happen" pile. Place your bets!

The Smiths
What they were then: The soundtrack to many an adolescent's sorrow in the '80s, the Manchester, U.K., group forged a highly unique sound that influenced countless BritPop and Indie bands. Johnny Marr's original guitar approach made him an unlikely guitar god, while Morrissey's morose whine became the group's polarizing factor. Many can't stand his mopey croon, but to millions he was singing just to them.

What they are now: Morrissey has maintained a successful solo career, building on the cult that formed around him at the height of The Smiths' power, while Marr has spent the intervening years guesting on other people's albums (from The The to Talking Heads), forming Electronic with New Order's Bernard Sumner and most recently his own band, The Healers. Bassist Andy Rourke ultimately quit music. Drummer Mike Joyce has played with the Buzzcocks, P.I.L. and an all-star band called Aziz with The Jam honcho Paul Weller.

Why they split: Morrissey was reportedly frustrated with Marr's moonlighting, while Marr was interested in going in a more adventurous direction. Marr officially left in 1987.

Why they won't get back together: Like the neglected stepchildren to Morrissey and Marr's ma and pa, Joyce and Rourke sued the other two members, claiming they were due more than their 10 percent share of the band's revenue. Rourke settled out of court, and Joyce won his case. Nothing squashes future relations like a legal battle. Ask Jello Biafra.

Why they will: Money.

Who will care: The Smiths' legacy is similar to The Pixies, with new generations being allured all the time. Morrissey has as many obsessive teenage fans now as he did in '87. So you'd see lots of kids who weren't even a twinkle in their parents' eyes when the band formed.

Who won't: People who'd rather listen to William Hung on a loop 24 hours a day than hear Morrissey moan one syllable.

Vegas odds: 100 to 1.

Guns N' Roses
What they were then: Well before Kurt Cobain put the final nail in the coffin of Hair Metal, Guns N' Roses was hammering in the other ones, stripping Hard Rock of its more outlandish aspects and taking it back to the raw, bad-boy days of early Aerosmith. Their debut, Appetite for Destruction, remains one of the greatest Rock albums ever made.

What they are now: A joke. Fans have mostly given up on a new GNR album, which has been on and off release schedules for years. Singer Axl Rose has a totally new lineup and a very bad sense of style (blonde braids and botox, last we saw). Slash and some of the other members (including original bassist Duff McKagan) formed the soulless supergroup Velvet Revolver with Scott Weiland, a slick cash-cow that's a mere shadow of GNR in its Appetite days. Guitarist Izzy Stradlin has put out solo albums but remains largely hidden from the public eye. And drummer Steven Adler, fired from the group for drug abuse (you know you're in bad shape when you get booted from GNR for drugs), battled health problems resulting from his bad habits. He currently has his own band, Adler's Appetite.

Why they split: Rose seemed to be hiring and firing band members gradually over several years, but the story goes that, while recording a cover of "Sympathy for the Devil," Rose had other musicians go back and re-record over the real Gunners' parts after they left the studio. Legend has it that Rose got the rights to the band's name by refusing to go on stage before a concert until band members signed the rights over to him. These and similar incidents proved too much for the other members.

Why they won't get back together: Axl Rose is a dick. And Velvet Revolver is huge. (For the record, Adler is all for a reunion!)

Why they will: Money.

Who will care: Adler's accountant.

Who won't: Fans whose brains already hurt trying to follow the ongoing soap opera.

Vegas odds: 200-1.

The Police

What they were then: From the late '70s to the mid-'80s, The Police went from Reggae/Punk upstarts to one of the biggest bands of all time. Singer/bassist Sting, drummer Stewart Copeland and guitarist Andy Summers were independently inventive players and writers; together, their sound has yet to be adequately replicated. Their final album, Synchronicity, spent 17 weeks at No. 1 in the U.S.

What they are now: Sting has remained high profile with solo albums, Tantric sex talk and car commercials. Copeland got into film scoring and World music. Summers is into Jazz and Fusion projects.

Why they split: Creative and personal tensions — which were evidently present during the bulk of their rise to the top — simply came to a head, and Sting was eager to pursue acting and a solo career. The trio has toyed with getting back together (they played Sting's wedding in 1996 and did three songs at their Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony) but reports of a potential full-on reunion have been dismissed as rumors.

Why they won't get back together: On his current tour, Sting is playing some old Police tracks that haven't been performed since they were first released, suggesting that maybe he's rediscovering the old PoPo magic. But thanks to his successful, money-raking solo career, he doesn't have any more room in his mansion for more piles of cash.

Why they will: Money (maybe you never can have enough).

Who will care: Couples who played "Every Breath You Take" at their weddings (despite its more devilish meaning). And Mrs. Summers and Mrs. Copeland.

Who won't: Those who thought they peaked with Reggatta De Blanc, this writer included.

Vegas odds: 50-1.

Pink Floyd
What they were then: Like Fleetwood Mac, the Floyd really has had three different acts in its career. The psychedelic Rock legends initially boasted the eccentric Syd Barrett as a frontman, but he melted into drugs and became a bigger recluse than Greta Garbo and Howard Hughes combined. Barrett's slanted Pop songs were replaced by a spacier trip when Dave Gilmour — brought in originally as a fifth member — took on a bigger role and bassist Roger Waters took over the bulk of writing and singing. The Floyd story is truly remarkable. They have to be the only band in history to lose their lead singer/main songwriter and start making grandiose experimental Rock music only to become one of the biggest selling artists of all time.

What they are now: Waters, Gilmour, keyboardist Rick Wright and drummer Nick Mason obviously had a successful run. But Waters' desire to have more and more control over the band's music caused friction. He sued the other members to get out of the partnership and lost, leading Gilmour to front what turned out to be yet another successful new Pink Floyd (successful at least on a commercial level, though their non-Waters albums were almost as bad as Waters' own solo efforts). Waters still tours playing Floyd songs.

Why they split: Barrett's mental instability made live shows — where the singer would play different songs or just stand there and not play or sing anything — all but impossible. Oddly, Floyd's management decided to manage Barrett when he left for a solo career, missing out on that bottomless well of Dark Side money. Brilliant!

Why they won't get back together: Syd Barrett hasn't been spotted in years, and the accepted wisdom is that his mental deterioration has made him practically incapacitated. At the very least, a world tour would probably not be the best thing for old Syd.

Why they will: Money.

Who will care: Psychiatrists and movie script writers, as Syd Barrett returning to his Rock star status in this millennium would be a helluva case study and film.

Who won't: Anyone who says, "Who's Syd Barrett?" Which is most people.

Vegas odds: With Barrett? You'll see George Bush and Kim Jong-il making out in the stands during a Reds/Royals World Series before that happens: 1,000,000-1. ©