For those who don’t recognise the name, Grant Hart, who has died of cancer aged 56, was the drummer and one of two singers and songwriters in Husker Du, the Minneapolis-based trio who were so amazingly influential on the punk/indie rock scene of the Eighties. If you’ve never heard of them, you’re in a sizeable majority, but without Husker Du, there would not have been a creative space for bands like The Pixies and Nirvana to develop, and turn into fame and success.
I came to the Huskers late. A giveaway 7″ vinyl EP in the New Musical Express included their version of ‘Ticket to Ride’, but it was 1987’s release as a single of Hart’s ‘Don’t Want To Know If You Are Lonely’, combining raw power, speed and a grabbingly glorious chorus line, that inspired me to try the current album, Candy Apple Grey.
One of the great things about Husker Du was that, for an ultra-basic three-piece, they had two great songwriters. Bassist Greg Norton kept out of it, which was probably just as well, because guitarist and singer Bob Mould saw the band as his band, and was insistent on being the primary writer, always having more of his own songs on an album than Hart.
On the one hand, this kind of creative tension can be fantastic for a band, with the two writers trying to outdo each other, and for all that Bob Mould emerged from the ashes of Husker Du with the higher profile, and more conspicuous success in a solo career, Hart was no slouch, as a consideration of some of the songs he contributed to the band demonstrates.
But rivalry only goes so far. Husker’s next, and last album, in 1988, was the double LP Warehouse: Songs and Stories. It held twenty tracks, enough for any writer, but Mould insisted that Hart would never get equal credits, so the album was almost mechanically broken down as to eleven songs for Mould, and nine for Hart.
That was what basically broke things up, though Mould alibied a lot of it to Hart’s struggle with heroin addiction. He went onto popular success with both solo albums and as the band Sugar, a couple of which I used to have. Hart seemed to disappear, and it’s only from his obituary that I’ve now learned he had an extensive post-Husker Du career, both solo and with a band called The Nova Mob. I shall have to go in search.
When all’s said and done, I came to Husker Du late, and at the end of their career when they’d signed for a major label, were slowing down (literally) the speed of their songs, becoming a more orthodox and less raw band. I worked slowly backwards, only this year coming to their other double album, Zen Arcade, seeing the band become more primitive.
But in that rawness there were always songs displaying melody, an unexpected ear for a cracker of a tune. No, Husker Du don’t rank in the front line of my personal tastes, but I’m not parting with the CDs.
In away, I’m writing this out of a sense of wrongness. I’m beginning to get inured to the deaths that keep coming. There’s no other way to handle it: age is surrounding so many long term heroes, anyone who had any kind of success in the Sixties and the early Seventies, and painful though their departure might be, they don’t get to live forever.
But Grant Hart was of the Eighties. He was a part of the musical warp and weft that saw me from my mid-twenties to my mid-thirties. To lose someone from that era is wring, fundamentally wrong. He was five years younger than me, he should have had another twenty years in him, it’s too bloody soon for that generation of favourites to start leaving us.
I’m going to steal a comment from BTL on the Guardian Obituary. Rest in Peace? No, set the room alight and drum the fuck out of that ever-growing jamming band up there! And sing your songs free and clear and urgent. Songs like this…