Hüsker Dü Database
Magazine articles & interviews

City Pages, 1981

The article below appeared in the Minneapolis City Pages sometime during the fall of 1981. It offers yet another variant of the "first gig" story, as well as a dead-on evaluation of the beauties of Land Speed Record — a "repository of strength and horror" indeed!

Hüsker Dü & Punk Rock II

By Mike Hoeger
    BOB MOULD stands on stage at 7th St. Entry, preparing his Ibanez Flying V. Turning from his Yamaha amp, he slowly lowers the neck end of his guitar toward the microphone, as cautiously as one would adjust a log in a fireplace barehanded, until the silver tuning knobs touch the metal. Feeling no shock, he adjusts the controls and repeats. He lifts up one finger, signaling to the DJ at the back for one more song. Greg Norton and Grant Hart slip into position as Mould glances, routinely, into the crowd. Norton drops his cigarette, steps on it.
    Then, with a one, two, one-two-three-four, the calm gives way to a storm as the band crashes out a wall of sound. A wall of sound quite unlike Spector's, quite unlike the Ramones'—but a sound that never has a top, is never hermetically sealed. In 10 minutes, they will be halfway through a 16-song set; Norton will have let go a few scissor-step jumps; Mould will have leaned toward the microphone, growled consonants and vowels into it, some intelligible words; Hart will have his modest drum kit shaking, like an old washing machine near the end of its cycle.
As many as five or six fans will be wrestling on the stage. Hüsker Dü (Hoosker Doo), seemingly oblivious, plays on. Some of the crowd will be laughing hard, some, horrified and confused, will leave, and others will be awe-struck by the sight of two incredibly intense sports—wrestling and rock 'n' roll—in a juxtaposition onstage.
Hüsker Dü is a punk rock band that does not shy away from the term the way many bands and fans do now. In the last six months, they have become one if the Twin Cities' most traveled bands. Last summer, their Canada and West Coast "Children's Crusade '81" tour took them to Calgary, Vancouver, Victoria, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Sacramento, Chicago and Madison.
        Their homecoming gig on August 15 at the Entry was recorded for an album that will be in the stores by Christmas. Originally planned to go on their own Reflex Record label, Hüsker Dü has now joined forces with Black Flag's L.A.-based SST label. The record, entitled Land Speed Record, will be a 12" 33-speed LP on SST's subsidiary, New Alliance Records. It will document H¨sker Dü's "fast set"—15 songs, six of which clock in at under a minute.
Far from laughable, Land Speed Record is a repository of strength and horror. When Hart yells out "IT'S ALL LIES ANYWAY!" in the song "I'm Not Interested," you may not know what he's referring to, but you believe him. The record makes demands even on the avid rock 'n' roll listener. Only with repeated listenings do the songs allow what initial common sense rarely forecasts: amid the thrashing of instruments swirl hooks and fragments of melody—however undeveloped (maligned?)—that wedge into your memory. Local critic Terry Katzman may have described Hüsker Dü's sound best: "A familiar guitar hook or riff occasionally surfaces, but before you place it, it disappears. The band exists on the sheer strength of its music, nothing else."
Still, some will find Land Speed Record affected and unlistenable, dismissing it as poorly mixed white noise. But Hüsker Dü is satisfied.
    "It's the way it should sound. It's distorted, there's no overdubs, no studio trickery," says Mould.
    "There's plenty of mistakes, but it was also a good set. I'm happy with it," adds Hart.
    "I'd rather have a constant white-noise sound," continues Mould, who shares most of the songwriting chores with Hart (Norton writes some; all three sing). "I use the Flying V partly because I don't want an angular sound. I just go for a real flat signal. Greg's bass is the same way; it's a real antagonizing sound. We could sound slick and have no feedback and be pleasant, but our lyric matter is not; therefore, why should we sound like the dBs? We are not singing about JoAnn and Shirley and Sally, we're singing about starving people, military-industrial complexes and messed-up city transit."
    Hüsker Dü (which is Swedish for "Do You Remember?" [actually Norwegian and Danish—PLH]) formed nearly three years ago when Mould was a freshman at Macalester. Mould moved here from New York, took a couple of guitar lessons from Chris Osgood, who said something to the effect of "I think you've got it, Bob."
    Hart was, likewise, just out of high school (South St. Paul) and working at Cheapo's record store, one block from the campus. He recruited Norton (from rival Sibley High) to play bass. The band played its first gig in February '79 at the Randolph Inn with a fourth member on keyboards. "He didn't fit in," says Hart. "We kicked him out one week later, on stage, before the encore."
    On July 7, they played their first big gig, at the Longhorn. "We did all right," remembers Mould. "Quite a few Mac friends came and cheered us on."
    But the next 18 months were hardly good times. "We just didn't fit in. The Commandos had broken up. People said, 'We've seen it all, blah, blah, blah.' We weren't cool, because we were the only punk band around, and punk was going out (of style). But we stuck to our guns."
    At that time, the band mixed in poppier songs such as "I Can't See You Any More," "Gotta Have A Picture Of You" and "Sexual Economics" with their speedrock standards "Do The Bee" and "Push The Button," not to mention the apocalyptic "Data Control," all three of which are on the live LP.
    The Hüskers soon had some rabid admirers. The Veggies, a small but loyal punk fan club, never missed a show. (With the help of Hüsker Dü, they have since formed their own band, Man-Sized Action, an outfit definitely worth seeing.) Twin/Tone Records expressed interest in signing the Hüskers, but things never fell into place. "They (the three owners) each liked a different one of the three songs I presented (for a possible single)," recalls Mould. "I guess our expectations were a little high and theirs might have been in a different place. So we just said, 'Why don't we do it ourselves?'"
    In November of 1980, they cut the "Statues/Amusement" single, which was lauded by New York Rocker, Boston's Take It, and City Pages, among others. "Probably our worst time was when we recorded 'Statues,'" says Mould. "I mean, worst emotionally for the band, because we were really confused. We were getting shit from all sides." The single was picked up by Rough Trade, who distributed it in Europe, while Systematic dealt it to the West Coast.
    During the winter and spring of '81, punk took on a threatening adjective: hardcore. Speedrock—desperate and unalloyed—became the rage for many across the nation. The Hüskers were inexorably sucked in, ennobled as hardcores and presented as the new punk laureates.
    L.A.'s Circle Jerks and England's Discharge shattered the limits of "old punk" with their left-wing thrashing, while right-wing "Oi" bands (some fascists) in England verged on a heavy-metal sound.
Slam dancing made way for "skanking," an all-elbows-and-knees, dance-on-treadmill challenge that chops up the brave like a combine. Punky haircuts gave way to no-nonsense army shaves. Leather jackets and spiked bracelets became the order of the day. At 7th St. Entry, the T.V. Personalities' cartoonish song, "Part Time Punks"—with the lines "They pogo in their bedrooms/They dance in the mirror/ But only when their mum's gone out"—became a dance-floor rallying song for real punks to romp around and mimic the new-wave kids, the New Romantics and the part-time punks.
    In a way, hardcore punk is more authentic as a true underground rebellion than punk rock was in 1977 because it's ignored by the press; Rolling Stone, Village Voice et al are more concerned with the sprightly, partially commercial offshoots of punk. Today's wave of criticism condemns the new punk bands for "catching on so late."
    "That sucks," steams Mould. "There's always been the argument: Where did punk rock start? Who cares? It's not where did it start, it's why did it start?"
    The Hüskers contend that critics haven't taken note of the one big difference between the worthy punk bands of today and yesterday's punks. "Four years ago or so, it was something to do because there was nothing else to do. But today it's more like, something to do lest there not be anything ever to do again," says Hart.
    As a consequence of critics' negligence, hardcore punk has become the punk-rock phoenix, followed by closely knit fan clusters that correspond with those on the scene in other cities by letters, tapes, fanzines and word-of-mouth.
    Hardcore punk is essentially a broken-winged phoenix, though, since only two bands, Dead Kennedys from San Francisco and Black Flag from L.A., have the funds and support to record and tour extensively. Both bands have been instrumental in passing the word about good local bands across the country. Therefore, in the summer of '81, many scenes had heard of Youth Brigade and Minor Threat from D.C., Strike Under and the Effigies from Chicago, Idiot Culture from Seattle, Flipper from San Francisco and Hüsker Dü from St. Paul before recorded material was available. People knew of the skateboard punks in Madison, the Foartz followers in Seattle and the Veggies. At the same time, the Meat Puppets from Phoenix and TSOL from L.A. came out of nowhere with impressive variants on the hardcore formula.
    Mould's own compositions eschew prototypical chord progressions yet are still more complicated than most straight ahead rock 'n' roll songs.
    "Contrary to popular belief, today's punk bands don't sound all alike—there are a lot of experimental bands that are hardcore just because they are so experimental," says Mould.
    When the Hüskers undertook their West Coast tour, they survived by turning rumor into reality. An underground Seattle paper, Desperate Times, said: "Wow. I had heard that this was a great band, but of course that can never prepare one when a band is this great...only idiots would want to sit down during their sets."
    No word of mouth had reached Calgary, though, for the first leg of the tour. "They didn't know what to do with us, because they hadn't heard anything that fast," Mould says.
    "It was a bizarre mix of cowboys and Indians and punks," adds Hart.
    But a break came for the band when Seattle concert promoter, Dennis White, having been won over by the band, slipped them on the ensuing Dead Kennedys bill. The Kennedys, led by the notorious soothsayer Jello Biafra, had garnered headlines in the Seattle Times. This enabled Hüsker Dü to play in front of 900 people—their biggest crowd ever. More important, the Kennedys were over-awed, and Biafra insisted that they stay at his house for their San Francisco dates.
    In San Francisco, Dirk Dirksen of the Mabuhay Club wanted a new press kit and more general info before booking the Hüskers. But with one phone call, Biafra cleared the way for four gigs at the club, culminating in the July 31 "Kennedys Return Home" show.
    The Hüskers regaled the 650 onlookers (jammed into a 400-maximum hall) with their 20-minute "fast" set. The 'Cisco kids responded with state-of-the-art thrashing.
    "It was really cool at first. The kids were having fun diving off the stage. Then they started thrashing into us," recalls Mould. "There were people who started getting real belligerent. It was so packed, the bouncers couldn't get them out the back, so they had to drag them across the stage during our songs. We didn't stop, and the tension just kept on building.
    "People out here, they read about it and they just don't realize how serious it gets—they do beat the hell out of each other a lot of the time and they think it's really funny, which is the worst part of it. I think the people out there just get so strung out on speed and downers at the same time, they just don't know what they're doing.
    "Minnesota's a little more sedate, which is just fine. Our shows are wild enough," continues Mould. There's no violence (at a Hüsker Dü concert) at all. Most everyone knows each other, so the pushing and shoving is done because it's fun—good, sweaty fun. People who want to just watch can stand back and watch. It's that simple."
    Despite Hüsker Dü's feverish visuals, for many people the appeal of the show, not unlike the appeal of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, is the audience participation. This is a compliment to the band's ability to ignite a crowd, but Mould is concerned that the distractions take away from what the band is trying to get across to the people—to the punks, especially.
        "Think back to the '60s, with the antidraft and peace movement," he says. "It's the same thing punks should be doing, but they're so concerned with what brand of spikes or boots they're going to be wearing next weekend that they don't even think that there can be political implications in music. On the other hand, you see people wearing a swastika on one shoulder and an anarchy symbol on the other, and they don't realize the two contradict one another.
    "We're doing the same thing that the peace movement did in the '60s, but the way they did it didn't work. They sat in the park and sang with folk guitars. We take electric guitars and blast the shit out of them over and over again until the message sinks in. We're saying the same thing they did, that you're not going to screw us around, you're not sending me to war to fight for Dow Chemical, or some outrageous reason. We're not going to be passive. We'll fight back our own way. We don't want to preach, we just want to pose questions and get people to think for themselves by reading and not watching the tube."
    "Are you the fastest band in the world?" I finally ask Mould.
    "Well, I've got the fastest-looking guitar in the world. Oh, I don't know...who knows? Fastest in town, maybe. Probably in the top 10 in the world."

Back to Hüsker Dü magazine articles page
Back to Hüsker Dü database main page