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New Musical Express, 15 Sep 1984

This NME article appeared around the time Zen Arcade was released.

Transcriber's note: The September 15, 1984, issue of NME was devoted to 'hardcore', though the concept was very broadly defined in the lead article (by Biba Kopf), and included not only American punk but also European artists and writers, who had nothing to do with punk (imho). [Transcribed by Zvia Admon.]

NME 15 Sep 1984 Hüsker article
Image courtesy of Kevin Whitehead.


Busting the sound barrier in a flight from hardcore hysteria to metallic mysticism, Hüsker Dü take David Ayers along for the ride....

They wanted to go faster. They did. 'Land Speed Record', a chattering, hellish, 24 1/2 minute dish of noise is the proof. Some 20 months after the gun went off in their heads, the three young men of Hüsker Dü had won their little race. Chalk a triumph of the will, of physics and of artificial stimulants.

Now, three years later, we have 'Zen Arcade', not at all a speed trip but clearly an endurance test. A full-blown, four-sided, careful-we-don't-step-in-it concept album, 'Zen' howls and quakes just like old times, but it also pauses to shimmer, even glides now and then. This record is much closer to the trio itself: varied, ambitious, thoughtful. Hardcore? not exactly.

In a way, 'Zen Arcade' is Hüsker Dü's final rejection of the thrash crown they seized with 'Land Speed'. They'd rather not be bothered with the responsibility, and, truth be told, they're not too wild about the company. Apart from the harsh metallic racket they can create on a stage, they don't have a lot in common with the spike'n'leather dogmatists who dominate the HC scene. The old rock'n'roll values - power, passion and the beat - just happen to interest them more than nihilism.

"You look at the word 'hardcore'," says drummer Grant Hart, "and what it really means is hard at the centre. I don't know what's happened to those people to make them feel so cold inside, but I think it's really a very sad thing."

"We don't buy the No Trend concept," adds guitarist Bob Mould. "I mean, if everything's so bad, you might as well go off and die somewhere. We're not interested in that kind of pessimism. We're just interested in reality."

Reality for the Hüskers is the middle-American working class. It's the struggle to reconcile the grand, glowing American dream with the limiting economic truth of working class life. It's the fight to come to grips with the basic things like one's own hopes, responsibilities, sexuality. It's not so much a political approach as it is a moral, philosophical one.

"I write about what I know," says Mould, "and I'm not all that interested in politics. The things I talk about in my songs are probably the same things someone tells their best friend if they're lucky enough to have one. I think most people feel all the emotions we put on an album in a span of 48 hours. People have misconstrued the pessimism and anger in our songs. We're really the opposite of all that; we're not callous, insensitive people. But we're frustrated by the fact that most people seem to end up that way - hopeless, defeated. We're afraid of ending up that way ourselves, and that fear comes out in our songs."

Mould, 23, moved to Minneapolis to attend college after growing up in a small New York state farming town. He met Hart in a record store, and along with Greg Norton, they formed Hüsker Dü in March of 1979. Onstage, Mould's a hulking, disquieting blur, red-faced from shrieking, sweat-soaked from sawing lethal jagged shards of steel with hs Flying V. Offstage, across the living room, he's soft-spoken and almost motionless, eyes trained downward, hands folded in his lap. He doesn't go out much, preferring to stay holed-up in his apartment with his roommate, watching television and writing.

Hart, 25, grew up in a blue collar suburb of Minneapolis - St. Paul. He's more outwardly engaging than Mould, but also more inclined towards hyperbole. Away from his kit he's considerably gentler than the man with the hiccupping bass drum and skin-thrashing fists, but no less driven. He wears his hair to his shoulders, cooks a lot, smokes pot even more, writes more still. His songs stand out as the prettier ones, and the reasons are plain: he's stuck on pop and he writes mostly on piano.

Bassist Norton, 25, writes little of the group's material, but it's impossible to imagine the group without him; he provides the melodic, eighth-note link between Hart's bashing and Mould's shreddding. He's the most reserved of the three, likely to pass up an interview to play poker or go fishing. He has, for some time, worn a handlebar moustache.

Together, the three Hüskers look very little like a rock'n'roll band. A rugby team, maybe, but a hardcore outfit, never. And they don't mind if they alienate the hardcore set with their appearance or message. They've levelled songs at the groupthink mentality, and they don't believe they nor the rest of the cream of the once hardfast set - Big Boys, Minutemen, Butthole Surfers, Meat Puppets - need the adoration of some narrowminded cult to survive.

"I don't think that crowd really liked us in the first place," says Mould. "I think they were only interested in us because The Dead Kennedys kept talking about us. I hope we're drawing some people away from hardcore now. You see, it used to be okay to like the Sex Pistols and The Ramones, but it was okay to like The dB's, too. That's all changed now. To those people, hardcore is all that matters - nless of course it's heavy metal - so there's a whole new set of rules, a whole new etiquette to live by. It's really hypocrisy."

Hart: "Anarchy, man: look like me.". "The easiest thing to do," Mould continues, "is to play up to that. So kids, just get your name in Thrasher and Maximum Rock'n'Roll, record your album in a trashcan and you'll sell 10,000 records in three months."

'Zen Arcade' will, of course, sell far beyond that number. Sales and critical accolades have increased with each of the Hüskers' major releases; last year's 'Metal Circus' EP landed on mny year-end best lists on both sides of the Atlantic and their 45 cover of 'Eight Miles High' recently cracked the British indie charts. Still, the band isn't much fazed by all that, sees no need to cash in quick. They turned down a European trip last spring in order to headline their own overseas tour in early '85. With the follow-up to 'Zen Arcade', ('New Day Rising') already in the can awaiting an SST release after Christmas, Hüsker Dü is taking the summer off to barbecue, watch TV, fish and write. Pretty dull stuff for rock stars.

"That frantic, over-the-edge rock'n'roll lifestyle is a myth that a lot of people out there are wasting a lot of energy trying to live up to," Hart muses. "We've never felt like we had to stop eating or take strange drugs to be creative. We don't feel like we have to die tragic, early deaths to be considered important. I'm a musician, not a fuckin' stock car racer."

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