So there’s never going to be a Hüsker Dü reunion after all. Grant Hart is dead.
Hart was a drummer for the ’80s Minneapolis trio that was the Our Band Could Be Your Life band to beat all other Our Band Could Be Your Life bands’ asses. Their meld of pop melody and punk guitar thrash with angry vocals got lots of angsty males to clench their fists. Hart shared songwriting and shrieking duties with guitarist Bob Mould, with Greg Norton the steady but largely ignored bassist completing the lineup. Hart, who took awful care of himself for decades and looked like it, died last night of cancer. He was 56.
Hüsker Dü never got big commercially—they never charted an album or released anything close to a radio hit, despite peeving the punks by taking a major label record deal with Warner Brothers and guesting on The Joan Rivers Show in early 1987. But a massive percentage of folks who knew of ’em loved ’em. Hart got less attention than Mould, surely in part because at the live shows, Hart had to scream from behind a drum kit while Mould was up front, stomping around with his Ibanez Flying V copy (not a Gibson!) slung low. The rivalry between Hart and Mould, which by the end had them alternating songs on album track listings and concert setlists in an obvious “one-for-me, one-for-you” scheme, was likely key to the band’s prolificness and greatness. And though Hüsker Dü’s fans were too enamored with both Hart and Mould to choose sides, the breach surely caused the combo’s collapse at the end of 1987. Their divide only deepened as Mould, now recognized—as he should be—as the godfather of grunge guitar sounds, went on to a fine solo career, while Hart, despite some fantastic post-Hüsker tunes of his own (“2541” and “Evergreen Memorial Drive” to name two), pretty much disappeared.
“There will be a Hüsker Dü reunion,” Hart said some years ago. “It’ll be in federal court.”
But, much to the amazement and bliss of the band’s fans, the squabbling members’ camps got together enough to have the first-ever Hüsker Dü box set put together. The collection, Savage Young Du, will feature early demos and remixes from the band’s early output, and is scheduled to be released in November. News of the first official Hüsker Dü release in 30 years got nostalgic dreamers wondering if a band reunion might follow. Chances of that went from unlikely to zero in the middle of last night.
Back to me: I’ve been in a really bad band for a long time with my friends. Well, we hardly ever actually play, but we talk about being in a bad band all the time, which is really fun, and we take rock and roll trips together and occasionally even hassle our rock and roll idols into hanging out with us, which has been indescribably great. In 2008, we took our roving fantasy band camp to Minneapolis and asked Grant Hart if he’d play with us. Hüsker Dü meant more to me than any other ’80s band by miles, and I spent the second half of the decade listening to them for hours a day and seeing them for several D.C. shows. All these years later, there are very few people with whom I can talk about all the chills and thrills the band gave me without getting weird stares.
Speaking of weird: Grant Hart said sure, he’d play with me and my buddies.
And more. He took us all over Minneapolis and St. Paul, pointing out rock landmarks (“That’s the Metal Circus cover window,” “There’s the Let It Be house,” etc ...), brought us to his friends’ restaurants—he knew everybody in town and vice versa—and gave lectures on the dark side of local hero Henry Ford, who, along with building big automotive plants in the Twin Cities in the early 20th century, was, we learned from Grant, a dedicated anti-Semite. Hart also told rock and roll tales, like learning from Hüsker Dü tours which neighborhoods had the best drugs in every city. And, probably to humor his starstruck guests, he spoke of Mould the way an angry divorcee would speak to the children about their other parent. (We learned, among other things, that Hart was still peeved about that time he drove by the Hüsker Dü studio in the wee hours and caught Mould leaving the building with his guitar, clearly having just violated the band’s pact not to add overdubs to recent recordings.)
Hart looked like crap, but was in a great mood when we got to the studio, even after we proved that all our warnings of utter talentlessness were true. He drummed hard as hell, shrieked that same amazing shriek that had awed me for decades, and even played piano in a sweet but failed attempt to save one of our songs from awfulness. He’d told us he’d been clean narcotically for years, but everybody took a break during the session to help Hart out when he confessed he’d hidden a cube of hash somewhere in the studio and forgotten where but really wanted it. (We found it, and he smoked.) When it was over, he wouldn’t accept any apologies from us for the sounds. “They can’t all be Zen Arcade,” he told us.
No, they can’t. I’m going to go listen to Zen Arcade now. I doubt I’ll clench my fists as tightly as I once did, but I bet I cry. RIP, Grant.