The Death of Grant Hart, One Year On

September 14, 2018

TODAY MARKS THE FIRST ANNIVERSARY of the death of Grant Hart, the drummer, co-founder and co-vocalist of the Minneapolis trio Hüsker Dü. He died on September 14th, 2017, from liver cancer. He was 56.

Grant was the one of the most talented songwriter of the 1980s — and, in my own obsessive, not-at-all objective fan-boy opinion, of all time. It took me the better part of 30 years to realize that it was Grant, not Bob Mould, who was the more indispensable songwriter and who, both in the Hüsker canon and through his later solo work, leaves the richer legacy. And it was Grant who showed the world that the thing we once called punk rock could be sung not just with style, but soulfully at that — and “sprinkled with a bit of hippie sensibility,” as a critic once put it.

In the old days, in certain circles, it was trendy to claim that Grant was the real genius behind Hüsker Dü. You’d be at a party and some asshole would say, “Those guys would be nothing without that drummer.” I’d always scoff that off. The mechanics of the band, for one, made it difficult to accept: Grant was a co-singer and songwriter, sure, but he was the drummer, and drummers are never the stars. Meanwhile there was Bob, right at the front of the stage with that iconic Flying-V. But I think those assholes were on to something.

That shouldn’t be an insult to Mould. Not any more than saying John Lennon was a better songwriter than Paul McCartney (Or Jones better than Strummer). Both were brilliant. But when I flip through the Hüsker canon, retrospectively, I can’t help giving Grant Hart the edge.

And he always played the drums barefoot.

I was fortunate to meet Grant on several occasions, dating all the way back to 1983, and I corresponded with him occasionally. Always gregarious, kind and accommodating, he even lent quotes to a few of my posts — most memorably here. I was a co-executive producer of “Every Everything,” the Gorman Bechard documentary about Grant’s life and work, the existence of which, as of now, has never been more important.

He also was a aficionado of the early days of aviation, and owned a sizable collection of books on the topic — something I wasn’t aware of until fairly recently.

Your job as the reader, if you’re interested in paying some respects, is simple enough. Just go and listen to any, or all, of these ten songs. Put YouTube to some good use, for a change:

1. “It’s Not Funny Anymore”
2. “Pink Turns to Blue”
3. “The Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill”
4. “Terms of Psychic Warfare”
5. “Books About UFOs”
6. “Diane”
7. “The Main” (“All of My Senses” B-side version)
8. “The Last Days of Pompeii”
9. “Keep Hanging On”
10. “She’s a Woman (and Now He Is a Man)”

You may substitute “Somewhere,” “Turn on the News,” “Standing by the Sea,” or “Never Talking to You Again,” all from the Zen Arcade album, for any one of the above, at your choosing, with the exceptions of songs 1, 2, 4, 5 and 9, which are non-negotiable.

That final one on that list, I’ve always felt, rests as Grant’s most under-appreciated song. It’s also the last song I ever saw Hüsker Dü perform live, at a club called Toad’s, in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1987. Grant sang a delicate acoustic version (a recording of which is one of my most treasured possessions), the last time I saw him, in Boston around seven years ago.

I could go on. This and that. Grant’s backing vocals at the end of “Divide and Conquer” for example.

I remember one night, at a club in Rhode Island, in 1984: Grant feeding pieces of cheese to a stray dog outside of the nightclub. He’d hold out the pieces, one by one, raising his arm just a bit each time. And the dog would keep jumping, higher and higher, as everyone laughed.


Upper photo by Martyn Goodacre
Lower photo by David Brewster

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7 Responses to “The Death of Grant Hart, One Year On”
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  1. Scott Wilson says:

    Grant Hart was the group’s Paul McCartney, the real genius behind Hüsker Dü.

    • Patrick says:

      I always thought of him as the Lennon. A little dreamier, more hippy and more outspoken than Paul. Though, I don’t know…. McCartney’s songs tend to be the catchier ones, as were Grant’s.

      In the context of the Clash, he’s Mick Jones and Mould is Joe Strummer.

  2. Amy L Charles says:

    Thank you for giving us a glimpse of your Grant Hart. I need to go listen to The Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill now …

    Wishing peace, still.

    (Don’t Want to Know if You Are Lonely and Sorry Somehow are also standouts, for me.)

  3. Alan Dahl says:

    I lost my mother to liver cancer last September as well, sadly it takes no prisoners and often isn’t detected until it’s too late even if one is under a doctor’s care.

  4. Sandy Mackay says:

    “Keep Hanging On” and “You Can Live At Home” are easily my two favourite HD songs. I met Mr. Hart 5-6 years ago before his show at the Horseshoe Tavern. He had a beer with us – a lovely, kind man.

  5. Paul Feldman says:

    “I could go on. This and that. Grant’s backing vocals at the end of “Divide and Conquer” for example. ”

    This is so true. It’s an incredible song, and part of the joy of it is the anticipation of Hart’s vocals towards the end.

  6. Gary says:

    Not to be difficult, but I suspect Grant would prefer to be known as “co-founder and co-vocalist of the *St. Paul* trio Hüsker Dü.”