New Day Rising

Sometimes with a blog post the music comes first and the picture second and sometimes the picture comes first and the music follows.When I found this picture, about to appear in a new book about women in punk from Sam Knee called Untypical Girls; Styles And Sounds Of The Transatlantic Indie Revolution, I had to post it.

New Day Rising

New Day Rising from 1984, the same year the picture was taken, is the first song on the album of the same name and is a righteous blast of fast, melodic punk rock from three men playing as if their lives depended on it.

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Grant Hart

I was deeply saddened yesterday by the news that Grant Hart had died aged 56. It seems a bit silly to be actually saddened by the death of a musician you’ve never even met but there you go. Husker Du are a band whose songs and albums hold a place close to heart. Someone once said that Bob Mould’s songs in Husker Du were more consistently excellent but Grant’s peaks were peakier and it’s easy to roll off a list of Grant Hart songs that completely hit the spot- The Girl Who Lives On Heaven Hill, Books About UFOs, Green Eyes, Keep Hanging On, Don’t Want To Know If You Are Lonely, Pink Turns To Blue, Turn On The News, She’s A Woman (And Now He Is A Man), Sorry Somehow, Never Talking To You Again, Flexible Flyer, She Floated Away…

Grant Hart was the hippie in a hardcore band- long hair, love beads, drumming with bare feet- who realised early on that drumming in a hardcore band could end up being pretty boring if that was all he did. So they became much more than a hardcore band, spearheading indie-punk through the 80s, paving the way for others to follow. Grant Hart was a drummer who knew how to write melodies and a songwriter who mainly dealt with the heavy stuff, but could cover it with shards of light. He took much of the blame for the break up of the band but he seemed to be the easy one to blame- he didn’t hide his problems with drugs. His first solo album Intolerance is open about it. His post-Husker Du albums are full of great songs too- 2541, You’re The Reflection Of The Moon On The Water, She Can See The Angels Coming, The Main, My Regrets, Admiral Of The Sea- all come close to his Husker songs and pack an emotional punch. Grant and Bob were estranged for much of the rest of Grant’s life, appearing together only once to play two Du songs. They seem to have become more reconciled recently, communication opening up with a band agreed website to sell merchandise and a box set of their early works coming out in November. Their SST recordings still belong to SST who don’t seem to want to sell. And they should, so something right and proper can be done with the back catalogue.

Last year I wrote a Husker Du ICA for The Vinyl Villain- you can read it here. I named my 10 track compilation after one of Grant’s songs, Keep Hanging On (a song from Flip Your Wig) and used it to close my imaginary record. This is what I said about Keep Hanging On and I stand by every word even more now…

Keep Hanging On- there are so many songs I could or maybe should have closed this album with but this one always hits me right there. From Flip You Wig, buried away towards the end of side 2, the guitars are deliciously distorted, Greg’s bass builds, the drums thump and Grant sings his heart out. His voice sounds like he is just about hanging on but ultimately this is uplifting, life affirming stuff.

Only angels have wings, girl
And poets have all the words
The earth belongs to the two of us
And the sky belongs to the birds

You’ve given me so much happiness
That I’ll wrap up and give you this song
You gotta grab it with both hands
You gotta keep hanging on’

Thank you for all the songs Grant. They mean so much.

Bob Mould put this tribute on his Facebook page yesterday morning-

‘It was the Fall of 1978. I was attending Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. One block from my dormitory was a tiny store called Cheapo Records. There was a PA system set up near the front door blaring punk rock. I went inside and ended up hanging out with the only person in the shop. His name was Grant Hart.

The next nine years of my life was spent side-by-side with Grant. We made amazing music together. We (almost) always agreed on how to present our collective work to the world. When we fought about the details, it was because we both cared. The band was our life. It was an amazing decade.

We stopped working together in January 1988. We went on to solo careers, fronting our own bands, finding different ways to tell our individual stories. 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.
The tragic news of Grant’s passing was not unexpected to me. My deepest condolences and thoughts to Grant’s family, friends, and fans around the world.
Grant Hart was a gifted visual artist, a wonderful story teller, and a frighteningly talented musician. Everyone touched by his spirit will always remember.
Godspeed, Grant. I miss you. Be with the angels.’

Do The Du

Slipping back to 1985 today after I came across this twenty five minute clip yesterday. Husker Du live at The Stone in San Francisco on March 1st. The film starts towards the end of the set with Diane, Hate Paper Doll and Divide And Conquer (both from then recent release Flip Your Wig) and into an encore of Eight Miles High and Makes No Sense At All. For the final song, a romp through Louie Louie, the Huskers are joined by members of all four support bands- SWA, Saccharine Trust, Minutemen and Meat Puppets. Seeing Husker Du, Minutemen and Meat Puppets on the same bill seems extraordinary now but was standard for the time.

What seems funny about this video now is that it was professionally filmed but is so shonky. The sound is pretty hit and miss, Bob Mould’s guitar inaudible in places against Greg Norton’s bass. Whether that’s the sound at the gig or just what the cameras are picking up is I don’t know.

The group also show how different things were in 1985. Touring without much in the way of label support- SST had never had any money- they more or less just booked some dates, got in a van and off they went. Minutemen’s creed famously was ‘we jam econo’, in other words they cut their costs as far as they could, packed and unpacked their own gear, slept in the van or on fans’ floors, touring as cheaply as possible. Touring connected with them fans and promoted records (which could be bought if SST had got them into the record shops in the town they were playing). These bands have not been anywhere near a stylist or a focus group, there’s no lightshow, no backdrop, no projections, no gap between band and audience- all the things that modern signed bands take for granted. Different times.

This is also a new discovery for me, an unreleased outtake from 1984’s New Day Rising album. Corruscating independent punk from Reagan’s America.

Come Around

I wrote a piece for The Vinyl Villain’s Imaginary Compilation album series, ten Husker Du songs to brighten up your life. It’s here. I also found this, a remastered version of Zen Arcade’s opening song. The Youtube poster who put it up had done the new version himself, brought the bass up and balanced out Spot’s trebly mix. A very good job done.

Something I Learned Today

At around the same time a friend reminded me of Bob’s 90s band Sugar and their 1993 ep Beaster. Having signed to Creation and got some genuine success with Copper Blue they put out Beaster as a follow up The six songs on Beaster were recorded at the same time as Copper Blue but stand out as distinctively different- the guitars are heavier and denser. Very dense. Like other Bob Mould records (like Zen Arcade) Beaster was a kind of concept record and had a lot of religious imagery. Opener Come Around comes around slowly with bright acoustic guitar but then the Les Paul and Marshall stack kicks in, along with Bob’s deliberately difficult to make out vocals.

Come Around

Celebrated Summer

The action and success at the velodrome in Rio over the last few days has been unmissable, edge of the seat stuff. Laura Trott, Becky James, Katy Marchant, Jason Kenny, Bradley Wiggins, Owain Doull, Ed Clancy, Steven Burke, Katie Archibald, Joanna Rowsell Shand, Elinor Barker, Callum Skinner, Mark Cavendish- all truly something else.

Husker Du’s Celebrated Summer, fifth track on 1985’s New Day Rising, is a peak by a band with many, many peaks. The opening burst of guitar followed by thumping drums and bass raise the hairs on the back of the neck and the 12 string acoustic guitar breakdown in the middle and at the end show Bob Mould wasn’t going to be hemmed in by hardcore’s rules. Breaking out and breaking through. Melody combined with their ferocious energy. The lyrics, as so often with the Huskers, suggest something gone, something lost, the summers of youth- was that your celebrated summer?

A Level results today for my students. More tension and hopefully more celebrations.

Celebrated Summer

It’s Not Peculiar

I was involved in an online discussion a few days back about Husker Du- a friend put forward the suggestion that their cover of The Byrds’ Eight Miles High was their best song. Debate ensued with some agreement but also a reluctance to say that their best song as a cover, especially with a pair of songwriters as gifted as Bob Mould and Grant Hart.

Their last album, Warehouse: Songs And Stories (from 1987), also caused some discussion. Made as the band were getting fully on each other’s nerves (they split shortly after), Grant and Bob’s songs alternate across the four sides of vinyl, with Bob getting the upper hand numerically (deliberately according to both Bob and Grant). Grant was in the grips of heroin and his drumming is a little untogether on the record while at the same time Bob has audibly stepped up his song writing. The guitar playing is a blitz throughout, jagged shards and buzzes of feedback, the melodies chiming through. The dynamics of the songs are intense too- slow build ups, faster tempo choruses, fade ins and outs, clanging chords after the song has finished. I could pick any of Bob’s songs off Warehouse to illustrate the strength and depth of his talents. This one will do nicely.

It’s Not Peculiar

And just in case you were wondering whether he still has it, he does. This is from his newest solo album Patch The Sky- less angry maybe, more at peace with himself, but no less contrary.

Private Plane

Husker Du have reunited- well, sort of. The three members have launched a new website that sells t-shirts and have been in agreement to do so. So there are whispers. I don’t know if this would be a good thing or not. Drew always takes the line that he doesn’t go to reformations and the purist in me admires that. On the other hand, I’ve seen several favourite bands play after reforming and don’t regret it. It’s probably irrelevant anyway- going from they have spoken about selling merchandise and set up a website to Husker Du playing Manchester is several pretty big jumps. Judging by what other US bands do, they’d play three nights in London and then fly out again.

Flip Your Wig was my first Husker Du album, their last for SST before leaving for Warners. It is wall to wall intense US punk spliced with 60s psychedelia (apart from The Baby Song which I always skip). Both Grant Hart and Bob Mould were at the very top of their game and the production is full on as well. It may not be their best album (Zen Arcade probably, or New Day Rising) but it was my first and you never forget the first.

Private Plane