Hüsker Dü Cofounder Dies at 56

September 14, 2017

I will keep this brief because, in the wake of the news, while it was not unexpected, I’m left a bit numb and fuzzy and unsure what to say.

Grant V. Hart, the drummer, co-founder and co-vocalist of the Minneapolis trio Hüsker Dü, died on September 14th from kidney 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 (topped only by Pat Fish, if you’re asking). 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 the drummer, after all, 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. Both were brilliant. But when I flip through the Hüsker canon, 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 over the last couple of years. Always gregarious and accommodating, he was kind enough to lend quotes to some of my posts — most memorably here — and he’s thanked on the acknowledgments page of my book. 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 today, 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 these ten songs, in order:

1. “It’s Not Funny Anymore” (Metal Circus)
2. “Pink Turns to Blue” (Zen Arcade)
3. “The Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill” (New Day Rising)
4. “Terms of Psychic Warfare” (New Day Rising)
5. “Books About UFOs” (New Day Rising)
6. “Diane” (Metal Circus)
7. “The Main” (“All of My Senses” B-side version)
8. “The Last Days of Pompeii” (from Nova Mob album of same name)
9. “Keep Hanging On” (Flip Your Wig)
10. “She’s a Woman (and Now He Is a Man)” (Warehouse: Songs and Stories)

You may substitute one of “Somewhere,” “Turn on the News,” “Standing by the Sea,” or “Never Talking to You Again,” all from Zen Arcade, 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 the 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. He sang a delicate acoustic version, a recording of which (thank you Paul Hilcoff) is one of my most treasured possessions, the last time I saw him, here in Boston around six years ago.

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

And it was big, I thought, of Bob Mould to post this kind and respectful statement on his Facebook page. The longstanding animosity between the two musicians is well documented.

I remember one night, 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 at a time, and the dog would have to keep jumping, higher and higher.

For some reason that memory has always stuck with me.

We’ll finish this now with the lyrics from the song “Grant Hart,” by the Posies:

I can’t cry, I can’t apply a word to sum it up
Under stress I can’t repress the moment it erupts.
Hear the sound of paper drums and shredded paper voice
Got to turn up ‘Keep Hanging On’ as if I had a choice.

Prairie fires and pitchfork choirs inspire as they create
Turn it up, It’s too far down, until we can relate.
Minnesota New Day Rising first day in the store
Take the couch at someone’s house and wait around to score.

Nervous children making millions: you owe it all to them
Power trios with big-ass deals: you opened for it then.
I can see, I can see, I can see it all with my one good eye
For a start take two Grant Harts, and call me when you die.

 

Greg Norton, Grant Hart, Bob Mould.  SST Records promo, 1984.

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3 Responses to “Hüsker Dü Cofounder Dies at 56”
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  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.”