Thursday, September 14, 2017

Grant Hart 1961 2017

Grant Hart's death comes as a shock to me because I did not know he was sick. I did not know he was suffering from a debilitating illness and I did not know that he was trying to get as much living in before he died. It is fitting that he went to be with the angels, launching himself without a care as to where he might land. 

He was brilliant.

He was tortured.

He was a home town hero, never leaving the people who loved him.

He will always be a mad hippie on the drums, barefoot and loose, a performer who helped kick the 1980s in the ass. It's hard to explain to people, but Minneapolis saved music, it really did.

If you want to know what saved music, look at the murderer's row of incredible bands that came out of the scene.

In the '80s, there was Prince, who was briefly the greatest of them all. He checked his crown, said Nah, and went on to be an interesting artist who cared nothing for popularity. Prince left the Earth like a space alien, forever entwined with David Bowie. Both were gone too soon.

Grant is gone too soon. 

There was the Replacements, the sad, drunken poets of chaos and confusion, and they're all with us, save Bob Stinson. They reunited for as long as they could, and that's probably the end of that. Did the ghosts of old punk rock clubs spook Westerberg in those shiny new theaters? What would a Husker Du reunion tour have looked like, with everyone in clean denim, buttoned-down shirts, and loafers, drinks on the tables and dinner cleared away for the start of the show? How can you have a mosh pit when everyone's waving a phone at the stage?

There was Soul Asylum, but Karl Mueller is gone now and it was his battle against cancer that reunited Grant with Bob Mould for a noble cause, helping a man cover the costs of his cancer treatment so that others wouldn't have to carry the burden. When someone was fighting, Grant picked up a guitar and did his part. You can say whatever you want about his relationship with Bob, but the only thing that could get them to play together again was a good cause full of integrity and support for a fellow musician. That's all the reunion we'll ever have. It is enough. Why be greedy? Husker Du left a lot of music. They have a catalog that most bands would kill for. 

You can extend all of that to the modern day. Minneapolis-St. Paul is an incubator of terrific bands, too numerous to mention.

We'll be getting Husker Du reissues, I would imagine, and this is where you will see only part of Grant's legacy. The music he made after leaving the band should not be ignored. They should reissue all of it, all the stuff he did. Marvelous things, marvelous art, too.

The acrimony of Husker Du's split should be forgotten. I refuse to condemn Hart, Mould or Greg Norton because I Wasn't There. I've heard different accounts, but it's all water under the bridge. You can love someone and still be angry at them, disappointed in them, and feel like everything is over. You can love someone and still be proud of what you accomplished and not want to every do anything with that person again. This was not the first band to break up because of--choose your reason. It doesn't matter. Celebrate the catalog. Celebrate what you can hold in your hands and hear and look at. It was a marvel unto itself. There is a wealth of material in the pipeline. When they get it all out there, you'll forget who said what and why that happened and we'll get past the hurt and the sorrow. Turn that shit up, son, and let the walls shake.

You used to hear gossip about things like drugs and homosexuality and this was supposed to "scare" you off liking them. Fuck that shit. The things they had to go through is what has always bothered me. Reading Mould's book about the extraneous bullshit associated with Hart and Mould having to keep their lifestyle a secret is a crime against common sense. If you can't like someone's music because they may or may not be gay, what does that say about your empty soul? You're hung up sartorial choices, on long hair, a buzzcut, floppy ears, ratty jeans, tight t-shirts, parachute pants, and whatever else? Really? 

To have that be the thing that derails you is sad, it really is. It says you're carrying around something horrible. Get rid of it. Get it out of you. Free yourself from these things. Grant was a man who lived his life for art. His special talent was letting pain inform beauty as to where it could go. He exorcised demons because they were with him, always. 

You know, a guy who has lived in the shadows probably has an amazing take on what it's like to be in the light of day. A wonderful, fucked-up romantic who knew what he was found a way to turn it all loose and come up great tunes, great imagery, and transmit amazing ideas. That was the music scene in Minneapolis. This is the world, this is what we sound like, hang on, fuckers. When Midnight Oil used to play, they had to drive long nails into the gear to keep it from flying into the air. When Husker Du used to play, nails were never enough. That shit could not be contained. 

Turn the lights out and listen to Admiral of the Sea (79 AD Version). If you're not spooked, play it again. 

Grant has left his burdens on Earth, and gone off somewhere else. He leaves behind family and friends and a catalog of songs that should have rightfully given him the sort of comfortable life you want your favorite artiste to have. The music business has always been cruel. God bless the punks, for they made it better with their integrity.

In the world of punk and independent rock, there are scores of great songwriters still with us who are living with the meager remnants of whatever came of their works. It's one of the great crimes of the modern era--the people who made a terrible time bearable are living their lives as best they can and their genius was never translated into comfortable situations or the respect they earned. Punks were never in it for the cash. But punks deserved better than what they got.

How many half-starved, neglected, broken teenagers got through the Reagan years because of Grant and Bob's songs? How many people survived it and can now remember with crystal clear clarity what Husker Du stood for and are at a loss for words?  I'm flailing around, making nervous edits. I have nothing but good memories of tremendous songs. Nothing seems right anymore. 

Grant Hart was approachable. I asked him for his autograph while I was in the Garage D'or record store in South Minneapolis in March of 1989. Grant was animated, and talked about having the French musket commands for ready, aim, fire embedded in a song he was recording across the street. He indulged me, he signed this thing I handed him, and he went about his day, an artist and a creator.

His songs mean more with every passing day. If you're going to read anything, you have to go to the hometown newspaper, the Star-Tribune. I'm out of things to say. It's all too much, it's all too sad. Goddamn.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

U2's Forgotten Masterpiece


Are there any "forgotten" songs by U2?

It has taken me several weeks to write about what I believe to be one of the greatest songs of the 1990s and what is easily U2's own forgotten masterpiece.

I'm speaking of the song So Cruel from Achtung Baby, which is an album millions of people own. How can it be forgotten if it is in so many hands? Untold millions stream their work on Spotify and whatnot. I think there is no chance that So Cruel has been forgotten but, perhaps, a little misplaced in relation to the band's output. 

If you're going to select something from that era, One is probably the song. I think there are sentimentalists who would say that Mysterious Ways was more revolutionary and Even Better Than the Real Thing had more punch than anything else on the album. The nihilism of The Fly is ever present. Was it acknowledgement that a decade spent in Christian and political repose had to come to a crashing end? There are so many great songs on Achtung Baby that it took six CDs to properly honor the album when the deluxe reissue came out a few years ago. I called it the greatest comeback album ever, and now I would like to drill down into what makes the album as grounded and as relevant as ever.

Did you know that So Cruel has its own massive Wikipedia page:

"So Cruel" is a song by rock band U2. It is the sixth track on their 1991 album Achtung Baby, concluding side one of the album. The song was written at Elsinore in Dalkey. While audio engineer Flood changed reels to listen to a demo of another song, lead singer Bono began to improvise a song on guitar. The rest of the band quickly joined in, creating the first take of the song. It was developed as an acoustic track, with Flood adding overdubs and additional elements later. Bassist Adam Clayton and Flood noted that the technology in the studio was crucial in transforming the acoustic song into the final mix.

There's this myth that the album was crafted entirely in Berlin amidst the decadence of modern history and between the shattered remnants of the Wall. Much of the album came together at home with the lads sleeping in their own beds, or in borrowed beds, depending on their personal situations. I was always led to believe that it was written and recorded entirely in Hansa studios, but the majority of the output from those sessions ended up being shelved in favor of the work done in Ireland.

So Cruel is the sound of Dave "The Edge" Evans' marriage crumbling. You can be a successful musician with millions in the bank and your whole world can unravel just the same as anyone else. A miserable heart doesn't care what's in your accounts when it shatters all over the place. Capturing it in a song, well, leave that to your lifelong songwriting partner.

I think there is a companion piece to it that should not be ignored. What created the need for a comeback was the disastrous Rattle & Hum album, which was so poorly received in America, U2 chucked the idea of touring it in the states. They went everywhere else, most notably Australia and New Zealand, and it was received with rapture and praise from audiences used to being neglected by superstar acts. I think you can draw a straight line from All I Want is You to So Cruel, and you can see that they are linked by a common desire to understand love, longing and loss in a way that the superficial music of the era couldn't fully compete with. Listen to them both, side by side, and you can see that there is a mash-up out there waiting to happen. 

It's easy to dismiss an album track, but there's no reason why it couldn't have been a single. I don't know what the thinking was in 1991-92 as far as the marketing of the singles and the strategy for getting the album into the hands of people who weren't already fans.

How does this change the way that Achtung Baby is regarded as an album? My guess is that it doesn't change a thing. You could make the argument that making So Cruel the sixth (!) single would have been overkill if Island Records already believed it had run its course and was not going to do well; I don't know. It's hard to make the case that it was a criminal act not to release it as a single since the band has only played it live a handful of times. But it is my belief that it is easily the strongest "album" track ever.

Most bands would kill to have a song like So Cruel; for many, it would be their defining single and a permanent fixture of their live shows. For U2, it's just one of many.