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Spiral Scratch Hüsker retrospective, 1990

Spiral Scratch was a UK fanzine published in Cambridge. The retrospective article below appeared in the Nov 1990 issue; judging by its style, there must have been a comma famine raging in England at the time. The piece offers an admiring, if factually dubious, look back at the Hüskers career, and is liberally laced with the personal opinions of the unidentified author.

[Note: The original article was laid out with some columns broken and/or angled; no effort has been made to reproduce that effect. The one-page discography at the end of the spread, though slightly less error-ridden than the article itself, has been omitted altogether.]

      In January 1987 came the sad and altogether surprising news: Husker Du, one of the American underground's top bands through out the mid-eighties had come to an acrimonious and sudden end. To describe Husker Du's demise as creatively premature does not tackle the sheer disappointment many felt when their legacy came to completion following their happy sad statement Warehouse: Songs And Stories. It seemed tht nothing was impossible and then it was all abruptly and shockingly over.
      Husker Du originated from Minneapolis in Minnesota, a State of freezing cold winters and steaming hot summers. The band's nucleus was formed when Grant Hart and Bob Mould found they had much in common musically while working at a local record store1. Bob had spent his youth indiscriminately collecting singles and was a self-confessed Byrds and Beatles fanatic. With musical common ground established they endeavoured to start a band and recruited Greg Norton on bass to complete their classic three piece line-up in late 1979.
      At the time Minneapolis was a cultural dead zone whose only previous homegrown talent had been Prince and the Paisley Park
label. Consequently Husker Du had trouble getting shows and progress was slow. However, they did achieve some kind of status and packed houses would come to see Husker Du and the Replacements play their own brand of drunken roll at clubs like the 7th Entry on Friday and Saturday nights. Gradually enough money was saved to finance a tour of the West Coast and in 1981 they were able to play shows in Los Angeles and San Francisco alongside bands like the Minutemen. Later Mould explained that they'd never considered themselves Punk but just played hard and fast, and it was only after the response to their first tour that they began to describe themselves as Hard-core. Their association with the Minutemen led to the formation of their own New Alliance2 label and the release of their first LP Land Speed Record in 1981.
      The record is a document of their live show as it stood at the time and is of bootleg quality only. Many of the tracks just disintegrate into a disjointed mess and the band were naturally sloppy and haphazard on stage. Only the menacing Data Control really hints at their potential. Land Speed Record is definitely one for the completists only. The LP was given a UK release on Alternative Tentacles and was
re-released on SST in the US in 1988.

      The period between '82 and '83 led to the release of three singles and a mini LP. These records are extremely rare and sought after and were only available as imports in the UK. First came the two singles Statues and Amusement released by Reflex, a local Minnesota independent. Then the band released an almost unheard of 7" called In A Free Land on their own New Alliance2 label. Finally came Everything Falls Apart once again on Reflex. The mini LP showed something of the possibilities the Huskers would later offer despite the fact that they had yet to master the studio. Songs like Erase Today3 and Bricklayer are tightly played with harmony vocals augmenting the sparse and minimal production.
      Following the success of Everything Falls Apart Husker Du were given the opportunity to be produced by Spot of Black Flag fame at the Redondo Beach Studios, just outside LA. This resulted in the groundbreaking Metal Circus EP. Here the Huskers live attack was finally transferred to vinyl. Tracks like Real World and Lifeline overflowing with energy and aggression. Best cut goes to Diane, a tale of rape and murder whose repeated chorus transforms from 'Diane' to 'dying' as the true nature of the lyric unfolds. This 12" EP was originally released on Reflex4 but was later licensed to SST for national distribution. Interestingly, the covers of the cassette and vinyl releases are mirror images of each other.5
      Cover versions of classic songs by Punk bands are often a disappointment but Husker Du's 1984 single 8 Miles High took the laid back melodies of the Byrds original and added vitriolic guitar plus eighties paranoia to create a Psychedelic masterpiece. The result was included in the Top 10 singles of 1984 by the New York Times and the 7" was heralded universally
Continued >>

1. Bob was a customer, not an employee.
2. New Alliance was the Minutemen's label, not the Huskers'. The author has evidently confused it with Reflex.
3. "Erase Today" was a New Day Rising outtake and did not appear on any of the records discussed in this paragraph.
4. False. This description applies to Land Speed Record.
5. Though it's possible that the author is in possession of a misprinted cover, I don't believe this statement is true.

as an excellent interpretation. Even former Byrds member Roger McGuinn described it as "interesting" in an interview with Bucketful of Brains fanzine.

      8 Miles High was taken from the 72 hour session that led to the release of Zen Arcade, the Huskers' first double LP. Once again produced by Spot it tells the story of a young man's journey through his early twenties and his attempts to find himself. The LP was a reaction to the increasing pretension in the US Hard-core scene and it's 72 hour recording time was designed to create a fresh and effervescent music. The result is inconsistent and flawed but songs such as Pink Turns To Blue, Newest Industry and Somewhere are uplifting. The hard rocking Turn On The News deserves to become a classic and the ten minute jam of Recurring Dreams is an acid daze unique in Hard-core music. Zen Arcade was released in September 19846 to a favourable critical response.
      Husker Du never had any difficulty writing songs and soon found they had enough material for a further LP. The resulting New Day Rising was heralded by many as their finest moment. Songs like I Apologise, The Girl Who Lives On A Heaven Hill, and Celebrated Summer exhibited an increasing pop sensibility and the ability to communicate lyrically the most subtle of emotions and anxieties. The record is marred by weak production and only the sheer strength of songwriting overcomes this. The LP was released on SST in February 19857 and was definitely their most accomplished yet.
      This period in Husker Du's career was probably their happiest. The friendships between the band members were very strong and tours alongside friends like Black Flag and the Minutemen were typical of the normal day to day grind of the road. Grant Hart later described the time preceding the recording of Flip Your Wig (their final SST release) as the most enjoyable in the band's history. This sense of fun is reflected in the whole atmosphere of Flip Your Wig. Recorded in mid 1985 at Nicollet Studios in Minneapolis with the help of Harold Fjalstad8 of R.E.M. fame, the album is a pure pop record if ever there was. Throwaway numbers like Every Everything and Hate Paper Doll are intermingled with the thought provoking Games and the practical observation of Makes No Sense At All whose Top 40 friendly tones were released as a single on SST. Equally enjoyable was the B-side Love Is All Around,
the theme from the Mary Tyler Moore Show which finished their live show until their demise.9 Flip your Wig was released to tremendous critical acclaim in October 1985.7

      The major labels had apparently been chasing the Huskers as early as the release of Zen Arcade but the band had seen no particular reason to move from SST and were wary of the majors' motives. In late 1985 Warner Bros finally got them to sign. Husker Du had insisted they didn't want to be hyped or marketed as as the next big thing, when Warners agreed, the accompanying distribution muscle was too inviting. There were no bad feelings between the band and SST (who hung on to the back catalogue) and worries that the Minneapolis trio may have sold out were laid to rest.
      Candy Apple Grey was released by Warner Bros in March 1986 and to the relief of the music press and their following it was a logical extension of their work on SST, even the art work was similar. The album was very much more downbeat than Flip your Wig and even the singles Don't Want To Know If You Are Lonely and Sorry Somehow told of broken hearts and
ending relationships. Saddest of all are the acoustic tracks Too Far Down and Hardly Getting Over It which describe Mould's unexplainable depressions and his obsession with the future death of his parents. The LP is continually moving and finishes with All This I've Done For You in which Mould questions the relationship between Husker Du and their audience.
      Husker Du's increasingly public profile led to continuous tours, TV appearances and radio interviews. It was time to take a break. After the recording of Flip Your Wig Mould had looked at his schedule and found there was no gap in the band's calendar for over a year. The endless pressure of promoting Husker Du was taking it's toll and the friendships that had once been so strong were becoming strained. An infamous example is the band's appearance on the Joan Rivers Show, after performing their single Could You Be The One the band refused to talk to Rivers or each other despite being on prime time TV.10 The band took a much needed rest and to their surprise produced a massive amount of very personal material that was to become their final statement Warehouse Songs And Stories.

6. Zen Arcade was released in July 1984 in the US.
7. Eh. Close enough.
8. The engineer's name is Steve Fjelstad, who did in fact do some work remixing REM material.
9. Sometimes.
10. This "example" is preposterous, as well as chronologically challenged. All three Hüskers were cordial to one another and to Joan Rivers,
and answered all her questions— some of which were rather naive— without irony. To this day, Bob Mould speaks glowingly of the experience,
emphasizing the professionalism and accommodating nature of the "Late Show" staff. The TV appearance in question occurred in April 1987,
well after the release of Warehouse. The program, moreover, typically aired during the wee hours in the US, not usually considered "prime time."

      Candy Apple Grey, despite being an emotive and enthralling album, was a relative failure. Warner Bros were dismayed when the Huskers explained that they had enough material for a double LP but eventually they gave in with some compromise and agreed to the format. For example, the band had originally wanted a gatefold sleeve, but their label said no. Once again recorded in Nicollet Studios, Minneapolis with Harold Fjalstad,11 Warehouse is a masterpiece. Mould and Hart's appreciation of studio dynamics led to music with an ice-like intensity which coupled Mould's Psychedelic razor-sharp lead guitar with sweet vocal harmonies and the driving rhythm section of Norton's bass and Hart's precision drumming. The songwriting is by far the band's strongest and many of the songs show a mature and wise understanding of the politics of youth. Could You Be The One, She's A Woman, Turn It Around and Standing In The Rain are great love songs whilst These Important Years and Tell You Why Tomorrow deal with themes we all understand but few have communicated so well. Sadly the album also predicts the band's end with the songs Friend You've Gotta Fall and Too Much Spice. The first, written by Mould describes the alienation he began to feel as Hart's life became increasingly hedonistic, "and if you're guilty, you'll have to serve your sentence, but you're already doing time." The second is Hart's autobiographical track describing his fascination with experience, "you don't see anything, your eyes are so revealing, they're sharply focussed upon looking for a thrill." The LP was universally acclaimed as their finest moment, "an absolute masterpiece" said NME and critics queued to give their praises. Husker Du toured extensively to promote the LP but things were getting out of hand and the problems within the band were
becoming irreconcileable.
      The circumstances surrounding the band's final weeks are confused and only those closely involved know the exact events which led up to the split. A triggering factor was the suicide of the band's friend and manager David Savoy Jnr. on the eve of their final American tour.12 To try to create some excitement the band decided to play old songs they'd previously vowed never to play again and consequently revised their whole set.13 Mould was drinking heavily14 and Hart began pushing his heroin addiction to alarming levels. As Christmas drew near and the tour was coming to an end the band were due to play some home town gigs in Minneapolis. Just before they were about to go on Hart was told the gig was off and the band was on hold until his heroin problem was sorted out.15 Hart felt betrayed and set off for a charity commitment he'd made on the West Coast with William Burroughs.16 Later he explained that his relationship with the other members had deteriorated considerably: "Things were a lot different when I was 18 than when I was 26," he explained. He also described the power play for leadership of the band fought between Mould and himself. For example he was told by Mould that nine of the twenty songs on Warehouse would be his, "Why nine?" he asked. Hart returned to Minneapolis amidst rumors he'd been kicked out of the band in January. He met up with Mould and Norton to iron out their differences, but there was nothing left to say and the band had officially split up.

      After Husker Du split things were quiet for about a year. In the interim Hart played drums with some friends on a New Alliance released LP and then set up a band called the Swallows. His first release was the 12" single 2541 on SST in January '89, a song about a couple's first home he'd written several years earlier.17 The single was voted 'Single of the week' in Sounds and was generally well received. After the electric intensity of Husker Du, Hart had decided on a more acoustic sound and the hook of the chorus was as strong as anything he'd previously written.
      Meanwhile Mould was signed to Virgin America and moved to a farm in Ontario18 to access his priorities and find a new direction. He emerged from his seclusion with the awe-inspiring Workbook recorded and mixed at Paisley Park19 and released in July 1989.20 Working with three session musicians, including Anton Frier from the Golden Palominos, Mould created a record of incredible emotional honesty. The

acoustically engineered tracks coupled gentle steel stringed folk guitar with jagged edged lead and layer upon layer of harmony vocals sung with passion. Songs like Wishing Well, Brazilia Crossed With Trenton, and Whichever Way The Wind Blows simply surge with feeling and pathos while See A Little Light is a perfect radio friendly pop song. The most important song is Poison Years where Mould purges himself of his Husker Du past.
      Following the release of Workbook Mould toured as a solo artist and also supported the Pixies in the Californian leg of their national tour. Meanwhile Hart was completing his solo SST LP Intolerance. Despite being released in November to universal acclaim I personally find it a disappointing record. Hart plays all the instruments on all the tracks and despite being a great songwriter he is not a great arranger and the song structures are unimaginative. However, the record includes the excellent All Of My Senses describing Hart's escape from heroin and You're The Victim concerning his friendship with Mould.

      To promote their respective LPs both Hart and Mould played gigs in the UK in November. When Hart was questioned on his future with Mould he explained that they both intimidated each other too much to ever work together again, but he added that he wouldn't be adverse to a quiet meal together for old times sake.
      As for the future Mould is working on a new LP21 and will be touring the UK sometime in 1990. He has also set up his own singles only label,22 releasing songs by bands like House Of Freaks in the US. Hart is working on a rock opera to be staged in Minneapolis with a sound track release on SST.23 However, I think the real victim of Husker Du's demise is bass player Greg Norton who is now working in a Minnesota restaurant as a waiter.

11. See note 8.
12. Actually, the suicide occurred just before the second-last American tour, which was to promote Warehouse and was postponed about a month because of the tragedy.
13. This statement is essentially correct, but refers to what really was their final US tour, in the fall of 1987.
14. Mould had quit drinking the previous year.
15. The Minneapolis gigs took place on schedule at the Entry a couple of weeks earlier.
16. East Coast (NYC).
17. The context here is a little misleading: 2541 was a Hart solo effort; the Swallows were a short-lived project that played a few gigs around town.
18. Bob's farm was in Minnesota, upstate from the Twin Cities.
19. Recorded at Paisley Park but mixed at Blue Jay in Carlisle MA.
20. Workbook street date in the US was 02 May 1989.
21. Black Sheets Of Rain, released August 1990.
22. Called, appropriately enough, SOL— Singles Only Label, now defunct.
23. No sign of this yet, as the 90s draw to a close.

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