In November the Numero Group will release Savage Young Dü, a box set of early music—much of it previously unissued—by the great Minneapolis trio Hüsker Dü, one of the bands that helped redefine the sound of American hardcore in the mid- to late 80s. The promotional campaign for the set is already under way, so I didn’t take any special notice at first when I saw an early photo of the band in my Instagram feed this morning—but then I got a lump in my gut when I realized it was there to honor the passing of the band’s shaggy drummer, singer, and ebullient songwriter, Grant Hart, who died from kidney cancer last night. He was 56.
Hüsker Dü—Hart, singer and guitarist Bob Mould, and bassist Greg Norton—were among a small, adventurous coterie of rock bands that formed after the explosive birth of America’s hardcore scene and helped raise its mutant children, treating the style as a license to experiment and explore more than as a template to follow. Many of those bands made records for Los Angeles label SST (including the Minutemen, Meat Puppets, and Black Flag), and Hüsker Dü eventually would too. Their earliest output was fast and loud as fuck—their debut full-length, after all, was a live recording called Land Speed Record. But by the time they dropped their first studio album, Everything Falls Apart, it was clear that Mould’s roaring buzz-saw guitar and Hart’s whiplash drumming were wedded to a deep love for songs—and it got stronger with each subsequent record.
As I was pulled in by the epic 1984 double album Zen Arcade and its blistering follow-up, New Day Rising (both on SST), I started to pick up on Hart’s abiding affection for pop music, and as time passed, more and more of his songs deployed massive hooks. He was also a wonderfully scrappy singer, whether soulfully screaming his lungs out on “Standing by the Sea” or opting for a more artful, sophisticated approach on “Pink Turns to Blue,” which included lovely harmony singing echoing his lead. You can hear it below.
Hüsker Dü split acrimoniously in 1988. Mould described his subsequent relationship with Hart in a Facebook post this morning: “We stayed in contact over the next 29 years—sometimes peaceful, sometimes difficult, sometimes through go-betweens. For better or worse, that’s how it was, and occasionally that’s what it is when two people care deeply about everything they built together.” I always feel a little hollow when it’s a musician’s death that reminds me of what I loved about his work—as though I needed that tragic loss to push me to dig out those old records, put them on, and feel the decades since I last listened to them suddenly fall away. But I suppose this is the kind of thing that proves the enduring value of the best art. This morning, it’s been proved.
Goldsmiths, Goldsmiths (Another Timbre)
Jimmy Hamilton & His Orchestra, Swing Low Sweet Clarinet (Fresh Sound/Everest)
Sarah & Deborah Nemtanu and Orchestre de Chambre de Paris, Bach/Schnittke (Naïve)
Sory Bamba, Sory Bamba du Mali (Africa Seven/Sonafric)
Ralph Peterson Trio, Triangular III (Onyx/Truth Revolution)