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Friday cannon fodder: loss and meaning

Marshall Headphones Presents Jason Lee Parry's EXILE Gallery With Performances By J Mascis And The Family Rain Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Bollare

WARNING: This has zero to do with soccer. If you want to talk about something else, jump into the comments and start a thread!

No links today, just a question, based on a happening. Yesterday, news came of the passing of Grant Hart, drummer for Hüsker Dü, who passed away after a battle with cancer. For those of you who don’t know, Hüsker Dü was one of the seminal punk/hardcore/indie bands of the 1980’s, emerging from the same scene as the Replacements, Soul Asylum, and Prince. While they never attained the level of commercial success of those three, their music was every bit as influential and important.

I am a huge music fan - I seek out new music less passionately than I did 20 years ago, for sure, and I don’t go to nearly as many shows as I used to, but I still love music and it still means a lot to me. And honestly, I have Hüsker Dü to thank for that. In 1987, I was a senior in high school (I started my freshman year of college in the fall of that year), and I was listening mostly to mainstream metal, and was also just getting into punk rock.

Like most 18 year old males, what drew me to those two genres was its aggression. Both metal and punk (bands like DRI, The Accused, The Exploited, etc) offered me two things I loved: Volume and release. I could listen to an Exploited record and it would be a place where I could channel my teenage anger, which was anger at nothing in particular - I mean, I was a kid from a good home getting a good education with clean clothes and enough to eat, I had nothing on earth in the slightest to be angry at.

But when you’re 18, you’re just angry sometimes. And the yowling of a metal band like Iron Maiden or a punk band like DRI was a fantastic way to release some of that anger.

Then, a friend of mine played me a song by this band I’d never heard of, on a mixtape she gave me. It was this song:

This song got my attention. It had the requisite wall of sound - not the Phil Spector kind, but the mosh pit kind. And the lyrics, well, they were so simple. “New day rising”. Repeat a bunch. That was it. I thought “this is kinda cool, I should check out some more of their stuff”.

I found out that this album was, at the time, two years old, and also discovered that they had just put out a brand new album, called Warehouse: Songs and Stories. The record store where I made these discoveries (RIP, Orpheum on Broadway) was out of New Day Rising, so I bought Warehouse instead. This is the first track on that album:

I got back home, plunked this in my then-newfangled CD player (technology!), and honestly, my brain blew apart. This song, and this whole album, completely changed how I listened to music. Here was that same wall of sound I sought out everywhere, here were those same buzzsaw guitars, here was a drummer that destroyed all before him, and yet...those lyrics.

I was not prepared for the depth of feeling in this song - I was used to sort of glossing over lyrics, or just having them be something easily shoutable, and yet here was a song all about how it feels to be alive right now. By a punk band. A song about how it feels to feel. How it feels to know that life can actually be something bigger, better, different. I was not prepared for that, but I’m so grateful I found it.

Not every song had that same sort of message, but they all had themes or messages I could relate to, and they all had that intensity that I still love in a song to this day.

Grant Hart didn’t write a ton of Hüsker Dü material - bands are not a democracy, and this band was very much Bob Mould’s - but he was an integral part of what made Hüsker Dü such a ferocious presence on the music scene, and their breakup not long after I bought this album in 1987 was really depressing news. Hart at the time was in the throes of heroin addiction, which is one of the catalysts of the breakup, and while he got healthy and clean again, the bridges burnt in the last couple years of the band stayed burnt.

That’s why the news of Grant Hart’s death hit me so hard yesterday. I didn’t know him, but his band’s music played a big part in making me who I am today, and even though he, and now the surviving members, will never know it, I am eternally grateful to them for the role their music played in my life and in my development as a music fan and a person.

I will leave you with one of my favorite Hüsker Dü songs, which coincidentally is one that Grant Hart wrote. For all their intensity and passion, they could also be goofy sometimes, which is what this song pretty much is - and yet still, even in all the goofiness, there’s a strong undercurrent of longing and desire in there, and a tinge of sadness in it too. Thank you, Grant.

All of which leads me to my question: Do you have a Hüsker Dü? What is it? Is it a book, a band, a film?