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Remembering Hüsker Dü

Posted on March 6, 2012 by peter bell

Remarkable music scenes don’t happen every day, and they don’t pop out of the void spontaneously.  It takes the hard work of dedicated individuals to produce the type of culture that fosters great music.  Behind every individual that reaps the financial rewards of a successfully commoditized music scene, there is a network of unsung heroes that provided venues, record stores, ‘zines, practice spaces, demo recordings and simply attended shows to support bands in their community.

Hüsker Dü was one of the bands that came out of the Twin Cities punk scene (a.k.a Minneapolis hardcore) of the 80’s: on the music-geography timeline, that’s the music scene that came after Athens, GA and before Seattle, WA.  Hüsker Dü distinguished themselves from other bands of the era (The Suicide Commandos, The Replacements, and later Soul Asylum) by their sheer velocity of sound, and later their introduction of melody into hardcore.  Hüsker Dü became the prototype for alternative and college rock and influenced countless other bands.  When Frank Black posted the want ad for a Pixies bass player, he asked for somebody into Peter, Paul & Mary and Hüsker Dü.

Husker Du? board game

The name Hüsker Dü is drawn from a popular 70’s board game and translates to “Do you remember?” in Danish and Norwegian (specifically, this is true without the umlats, which were added for metal effect).  The group formed in St. Paul in 1979, when Bob Mould (vocals/guitar) met Grant Hart (vocals/drums) at Cheapo Records near the Macalester College campus.  Grant Hart had brought a P.A. into the shop and put a speaker outside on the sidewalk to blast the Ramones.  Bob Mould was also a Ramones fan, and the two bonded quickly over musical tastes.

Hart had met Greg Norton (bass) a short time earlier when they were both applying for the same record store job.  Hart had gotten the Cheapo Records job, and Norton went on to get a job at Northern Lights Records.  Although they started as a four-piece (with a keyboardist), the group had morphed into a three-piece by March of 1979.  They practiced every night for the first year in the Northern Lights basement, and played their first public show at Ron’s Randolph Inn in St. Paul in March 1979.

Hüsker Dü took a D.I.Y. approach to their music.  They recorded a number of demos, and one of the earliest was done at the Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center on the Macalester campus.  The band’s attempts to get on the local indie record label, Twin/Tone Records, failed.  In response, they set up their own record label (Reflex Records) and put the contact address as Greg Norton’s mother’s home.

You can see Bob Mould with his flying-v guitar on this shirt.

Hüsker Dü was able to develop their sound because there were venues that allowed them to perform live consistently.  Punk rock was very much a niche crowd then, and the number of places that catered to that specific taste is surprisingly numerous in retrospect.  Places like Duffy’s, Goofy’s Upper Deck, and Jay’s Longhorn Bar have long since closed, but the 7th Street Entry is still going strong.  Record stores were also an important component of the burgeoning music scene, such as the previously mentioned Cheapo Records, Northern Lights Records, and also Oar Folkjokeopus.

By 1981, the band was releasing a number of singles on Reflex Records.  Their first album, Land Speed Record, is a live recording from an August 15, 1981 performance at the 7th Street Entry.  Released in January of 1982, the album is a hardcore workout (17 songs in 26 ½ minutes) and a better demonstration of their purported fondness for amphetamine pills than the melodic style they would later be associated with.  But Mike Watt of the Minutemen liked it well enough to release it on their New Alliance Records label, which led to a multi-album relationship with SST records (Black Flag, the Minutemen).

Hüsker Dü’s next album, Everything Falls Apart, was released in January of 1983 on Reflex Records.  It was their first studio album, and has since been rereleased as Everything Falls Apart and More.  While that album was coming out, the band was already at Total Access Recording in Redondo Beach, CA recording their follow-up EP, Metal Circus.  The cover of Metal Circus features a photo that was taken looking out the first floor office window of the Milton Building in St. Paul, MN.

The desanctified church where Zen Arcade was conceived

In the summer of 1983, Hüsker Dü began writing songs for their next album (the epic double album, Zen Arcade) in a desanctified church turned punker squat in St. Paul.  Grant Hart was living there at the time with other musicians, drifters and runaways.   The band would practice for hours at time, and everybody seemed to be enjoying the particularly good LSD that was available.

When it came time to record Zen Arcade, the band returned to Total Access.  This time they were very prepared: 23 of the 25 songs were recorded on the first take.  The entire album took 85 hours to record and produce and was done for $3,200.  The cover art of the album features a hand-colored photo taken at a scrap yard in St. Paul.

Hüsker Dü did two more records with SST Records (New Day Rising and Flip Your Wig, both in 1985) before being signed with Warner Bros.  They put out two albums for Warner Bros- Candy Apple Grey in 1986, and Warehouse: Songs and Stories in 1987.  After Warehouse, the band practiced for a short time in the Rossmoor Building of St. Paul.  Several bootlegs and demos have surfaced from this time, but it marked the end of Hüsker Dü as a band.  The in-fighting between the group had reached unsustainable proportions.

After their breakup in 1987, Bob Mould went on to release solo material and form the band Sugar.  Grant Hart went on to form the band Nova Mob, and Greg Norton became involved in the restaurant industry.  The scene that produced them began to evolve into something quite different after Hüsker Dü and the Replacements broke up.  Scenes change, people and businesses go away, and nothing stays the same.  If you’re asking me “Do I remember?”- the answer is no.  But I’m beginning to understand.

Twin Cities, MN

Minneapolis

St. Paul

Mendota Heights

Southern California

Redondo Beach

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One Response to Remembering Hüsker Dü

  1. matt says:

    Here’s a video of Greg Norton playing with the Hüsker Dü tribute band Hüsker Düdes.

    slicingupeyeballs.com/2012/03/14/video-husker-dus-greg-norton-jams-with-tribute-band-husker-dudes-in-chicago/

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