Mr. B’s Legendary Bands: Husker Du
Greetings! My name is Mr. B and “Culture Fusion” has asked me to do a series of music reviews focusing on “Music Legends.” I took this post with a great deal of excitement and concern. There are so many music legends from which to choose! I was worried my rambly nonsense may offend fans of the band or even the band themselves. Because if there’s one thing legendary bands do, it’s check out blog posts every day.
The basic format of this series will follow a three-pronged attack. The first article on a band will discuss the band and their legend. Legend’s can include the influence the band has had on others, the way their music touches people emotionally or even controversial aspects such as the personal lives of the band members. The legend will be delved into deeply and examined to see if the legend still holds up.
The second article will discuss more about the band’s music and lyrics, including strength and weakness in each aspect. Sometimes, the second and first articles will be combined for the sake of simplicity. It all depends on the depth I can delve into the band’s legend as well as the value of their music. Some bands will have a huge legend but not much musical merit *cough Kiss cough*.
The third aspect will be an examination of each of the band’s albums. Each album will take up an article of its own, unless two albums are related intractably, such as “Smile” by the Beach Boys and “Smiley Smile” or the “Use Your Illusion” albums (I doubt I’ll review those overblown pieces of cock rock, though). Each album will be reviewed on a 10 star scale because, hey, we all love star scales am I right?
The first band I’ve decided to take a look at is Husker Du. Husker Du formed in Minnesota (of all places) in 1979. The band centered around the guitar work of fat Bob Mould, the drumming of long haired, bare footed Grant Hart and the bass work of large mustached, future chef Greg Norton. They started out as one of Minnesota’s premiere hardcore punk groups. Their early days found them emphasizing pure speed and brevity over all else.
The band was quite a sight to see live in those days: huge Bob Mould leaned forward on one foot, inches from the microphone, playing a ridiculous flying V guitar faster than anybody else in the scene. He screamed impressively, if incomprehensibly. Nimble fingered Greg Norton played bass just as fast, often leaping into the air in celebration, locking into tight locked grooves with “faster-than-the-speed-of-light” Grant Hart on drums. Grant had long hair, anathema to the scene at the time and played without shoes, branding him to some as a hippie.
However, the scene of Husker Du, while impressive, wasn’t exactly unknown. The hardcore scene was filled with hundreds of bands that played a similar blur of tight, fast noise. Husker Du may have played faster than anybody else, but that was about it. Their debut live album, “Land Speed Record” shows an impressively tight, fast and exciting band that speeds through 17 songs in a ridiculous 26 minutes. Good luck humming the tunes or remembering the songs but hey: fast is fast and sometimes fast is a value in and of itself.
The impressive thing about Husker Du and the thing that helped make them a legend was that they actually made the huge leap from “fast is best” to actual musicality. It didn’t even take them very long: their debut studio album, “Everything Falls Apart” clocks in with 12 songs in a ridiculous 19 minutes. It may have seemed like generic if high quality hardcore but moments popped out that showed the band was a bit different: a few catchy refrains here and there, some memorable riffs and an odd cover of Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman.”
After an impressive, if equally short ep “Metal Circus” Husker Du earned their legendary status by releasing the monster “Zen Arcade.” The hardcore scene had never seen anything like this album: a double length, concept album that integrated different musical genres. Metal was introduced as was the idea of simply slowing down for a moment. Psychedelic tinges were brought out, acoustic guitars were utilized, the lyrics grew complex and psychological and the band ended the album with a 15 minute progressive/free jazz/acid rock/hardcore jam that was unprecedented at the time.
Husker Du’s legendary status was obtained by this album alone. However, their following albums “New Day Rising,” “Flip Your Wig,” “Candle Apple Grey” and “Warehouse: Songs and Stories” continued to experiment with non-hardcore sounds, including integrating pianos, organs, multiple guitar tracks and 60‘s vocal harmonies. They have been cited by hundreds of bands as a vital influence, being highlighted as the most influential underground band of the 80‘s alongside R.E.M.
At this point, the band has progressed from legendary to nearly mythical status. After their break up, Bob Mould began a solo career which included such impressive albums as “Workbook” and “Copper Blue” by his band “Sugar” while Grant Hart increased ignored, but impressive albums on his own. Greg Norton opened a still operating restaurant. And of course, the personal lives of the band members became essential knowledge.
The easiest way to describe the personal lives of Husker Du is to state two words: drugs and gay. Bob Mould and Grant Hart were active and open homosexuals, which lead many to believe the large mustached Greg Norton was also gay, which is not true. Naturally, Bob and Grant were rumored to have been involved with each other, even though both have denied this as being untrue to this day.
The homosexual aspect of the band’s career has gained an unfortunate focus for many people. Nobody acts with shock and awe when a straight man hooks up with a woman in a band. Or acts shocked when the two aren’t active together. But the homosexuality of two of the band’s members brought a lot of retroactive examinations and forced homoerotic ideals to the lyrics that blurred the line between reality and theorizing.
Drugs also took their toll on the band. Grant Hart was a heroin addict when the band broke up and many blamed him, solely, for the break up of the band. Greg and Bob seemed to state this was the case, although many confirmed reports have found that Bob was an out of control alcoholic early in the band’s career while Greg had experimented with acid, amongst other drugs, with Grant. The band was also known for “motorheading” it with speed: “Land Speed Record” is not simply a reference to the how fast the band played.
The band is also legendarily acrimonious towards each other. While low key Greg Norton seemed to stay out of band squabbling, Bob and Grant squabbled so heavily that they have yet to truly put aside their differences. Grant accuses Bob of being a petty control freak that stated “you will never have more than half the songs on an album in this band” to the equally gifted Hart. Bob accuses Grant of unprofessional behavior and of ruining the band through excessive drug use. These squabbles have caused the band to ignore all requests for reunions and to leave their albums hard to find and poorly mastered.
So, in 2011, does the legend of Husker Du still hold up? Is the music worth caring about or can they be tossed into the dust bin of history? Check back soon to find out!