Friday, August 08, 2014

There's Only One Virgin and She Don't Fly

I've rather run through the autobiographical structure of my Band of the Month series - time to start looping back across the bands I skipped the first time through.... The essays might get shorter somewhere in here, though i guess not yet. This month, we go back to the middle of the 1980s, to ground I have been over before - in fact, I have always tended to lump Husker Du in with the Replacements. Two Minneapolis bands - though more to the point, I discovered them both at about the same time. I read about Husker Du sometime in the fall of 1985, more or less at the same time I first read about the Replacements (and the Minutemen, another band sure to appear here eventually), maybe even in the same article. Maybe this one in Rolling Stone? Quite possible. It was about the time Candy Apple Grey and Tim came out (and Three Way Tie for Last) - and I resolved to obtain those records when they did appear.

I did that: literally, I think. I think I went to Strawberry records in Kenmore Square and bought Tim and Candy Apple Grey, took them home and listened to them. Tim more or less immediately became a favorite; Candy Apple Grey though hit a snag - it skipped in the middle of Hardly Getting Over It (track one, side two). So I went back Strawberry's with a sad face, and changed it for another copy. Took it home - and it skipped in the same damned place! Well - I can take a hint. So I taped the rest of record and went back again, commiserating with the clerk about my bad luck (I think I might have said something like, "right in the middle of the best song!" - a remark I regretted as soon as I said it - not hearing the song all the way through must have made me think there'd be something like a guitar solo at the end, I don't know. I did know I didn't really mean it - Dead Set on Destruction, man!), and ultimately giving up on the new record, and switching it for a copy of Flip Your Wig. Took that home - and thought, hell, this is a way better record!

And so it went. They were great - and they were instrumental to this change of taste (or expansion of taste) in the mid-80s, when I started seeking out punk and underground rock, more experimental stuff, and also rootsier stuff - however that happened. Getting into Husker Du and the Mats got me into Hank Williams and reminded me of Johnny Cash, for some reason. For a while, though, The Mats and Husker Du ware just about my favorite bands - and then? The Mats stayed there - but Husker Du didn't, somehow. It's a marginal thing, but it's there. Some of it, I imagine, is the rootsier stuff I started listening to - it's not a great leap from Paul Westerburg to Hank Williams of Johnny Cash. Some if it I could probably see the first time I listened to Candy Apple Grey, and the reasons I liked Flip Your Wig better. The new one was good enough, but all Grant Hart's songs sounded like exactly the same song - and Bob Mould's songs sounded - how do you describe it? like he's trying too hard? While on Flip Your Wig - both are more varied, more musically interesting - I don't know. Once I got Zen Arcade, it was even more noticeable - they were more varied, more imaginative, more experimental when they were younger. That record has everything: punk, psychedelia, Beatles songs with hard guitars, different structures, different sounds - its a great record. But going in the other direction - Warehouse, Songs and Stories came out, and I was very annoyed. I think I have mentioned my reaction to the lyrics on the Joshua Tree - well - Warehouse, Songs and Stories had the same effect. I thought - if you were making fun of pretentious rock songs - you would write this. Especially Bob Mould's songs - yikes. And I thought he could write!

But that's all right. I saw them, right after it came out, playing the record in its entirety - and that was almost enough to overcome my resistance. That live sound - that wall of guitar, that always overcame a lot of sins - that carried everything before it. I didn't like that record much, but damn, that was a good concert! (Though the Feelies were better, opening; faster, harder. Not louder though.) And really - Husker Du always delivered, musically - they always could play, they were always intense. They made some outstanding records over the years, and some first rate songs. They were always a bit uneven - and they seemed to have been fading down the stretch; it makes you wonder whether putting out as much material as fast as they did just made them run out of songs. I don't know. I know that this mild disillusionment hit me about the time they broke up - 88 or so - but when they released their live album in the early 90s, it all disappeared in the rush of sound. The tight playing, the wall of guitar, the solos - tight and precise, packing more into 30 seconds than a lot of guitarists get into a whole set - they were just so good.

And so - 10 songs:

1. Keep Hanging On
2. It's Not Funny Anymore
3. Whatever
4. Dead Set on Destruction
5. Somewhere
6. What's Going On
7. Diane
8. She Floated Away
9. In a Free Land
10. Pink Turns to Blue

There is a definitely a bias toward Grant Hart there. From the start, I liked hiss songs more. Mould would talk about the Beatles' influence, but Hart wrote Beatles songs. He could sing a bit, too. Over time - his lyrics come out better as well, though there is irony in that - he was never as ambitious, maybe, as Mould - his songs stay closer to safe, rock and roll territory - so he never quite got lost. Though then again - I really liked his Paradise Lost record he made recently - so maybe that isn't it. What can I say? Bob probably is a better musician - but I much prefer Hart as a singer and songwriter. Anyway - let's get some video, shall we?

Here they are live in 1983 - It's not Funny Anymore leading off a series of songs:

From 85, Keep Hanging On live, just sound; it does sound good - and Bob rips it, just for that little bit, but damn:

Or real early - 1981 - Diane:

And here they are covering ELO - maybe not literally, but.... You can't quite tell in this, or the other live versions of the song, but Terms of Psychic Warfare has more than a hint of Do Ya. Husker Du made no secret of their love for Beatles and post-Beatles pop, and ELO is as post-Beatles-pop as it gets. You wonder a bit just how much ELO there is in Husker Du - look at those record titles: New World Record; Land Speed Record? Even if it's a coincidence, I imagine they were fans.

And out on their own - Grant Hart doing She Floated Away:

And the song I never quite got to finish, back in 1986 - Bob Mould doing Hardly Getting Over It, with Dave Grohl:

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