Grant Hart, the frenetic drummer and songwriter for Hüsker Dü, one of the greatest and most important bands of the American indie underground, has died at age 56. The news broke overnight via Hüsker Dü’s Facebook page. Hart, who battled drug problems and health issues throughout his life, had been living with cancer, though he continued to play shows, including a recent gig in July opening up for Tobin Sprout at the 7th Street Entry in Minneapolis, the venerated downtown venue where Hüsker Dü had played many historic gigs early on in its career.
Hart’s passing is tragic for any number of reasons, least of all is his relatively young age. But the sadness is compounded by the sense that Hüsker Dü seems to be on the verge of a much-needed revival. Just last week, the excellent Chicago reissue label Numero Group announced a new three-disc set, Savage Young Du, collecting previously unreleased tracks from 1979 through 1983, the period immediately preceding Hüsker Dü’s breakthrough release, 1984’s Zen Arcade, a landmark double-album in which Bob Mould’s buzzsaw guitar duels with Hart’s energetic drum fills for 70 thrilling minutes.
Even among Hüsker Dü fanatics, the band’s pre-fame years remain somewhat of a mystery, given the scarcity and muddy fidelity of the early recordings. But Savage Young Du sounds amazing, portraying the young Hüsker Dü as a positively feral outfit whose youthful rambunctiousness was goosed by already-potent instrumental dexterity. From the beginning, it seems, this band could really cook.
Hüsker Dü wasn’t the first band to meld ear-splitting volume with impeccable pop hooks, but few bands ever did it as well, and given that “melodic noise” is basically the blueprint for the most popular forms of indie and alternative rock in the past 40 years, the influence of Hüsker Dü on modern American music can’t be overstated. Even now, Hüsker Dü remains one of the most unique rock groups of its ilk, a power trio from the Twin Cities — considered a rock ‘n’ roll backwater until Hüsker Dü (in tandem with The Replacements and, of course, Prince) put it on the map in the ’80s — that was also among the first queer-punk bands ever.
While Hart and Bob Mould never dated, no matter rumors to the contrary, their creative partnership was intense and tumultuous, eventually turning to outright acrimony in the wake of Hüsker Dü’s breakup in 1988. Hart’s heroin addiction was subsequently blamed for inflaming tensions in the band, though it seems unlikely that two such talented and strong-willed individuals could’ve stayed together for long. Hüsker Dü’s debut album title was prescient: Everything Falls Apart. At its best, Hüsker Dü rocked with a reckless verve that lingered on the precipice of outright self-destruction, and yet somehow Hüsker Dü would keep it together just long enough to make it through to the final verse.