I obviously didn’t plan on writing about this song today.
I was going to do it whenever I got to The Posies — let’s say 2019 — but given that Grant Hart has died, and I’m kinda reeling from the news, I figured that I could let Ken Stringfellow do some of the heavy lifting, as this song from 1996’s great Amazing Disgrace now plays as a prescient obituary.
I can’t cry, I can’t apply a word to sum it up
Under stress I can’t repress the moment it erupts
Hear the sound of paper drums
And shredded paper voice
Got to turn up “Keep Hanging On” as if I had a choice
Hey Ken, me too, man. Me too. Which is trite, but it’s hard for me to come up with anything new to say. Last year I wrote nearly three dozen posts about how Grant Hart’s drumming, his singing and his songwriting made me sing, made me laugh, made me think, made me cry.
But overall, made me happy. The music that Grant Hart made with Hüsker Dü, but even some solo jams like “2541,” was my platonic ideal of punk rock. Noisy as fuck, angry as hell, smarter than shit and effortlessly tuneful. And holy hell, what an unique drummer he was — his kickdrum a living breathing pulsebeat driving songs like “New Day Rising” or “All Work And No Play” ever forward, eternally moving, mowing down everything in their path.
I mean, if he had just been the drummer in Hüsker Dü, it would have been enough, you know?
But no. He was also a songwriter and was blessed with an even better voice than Mould, which instantly put the Hüskers into that rarified bandspace where two guys made each other — and their band — even better. The Beatles. XTC. Drive-by Truckers. Uncle Tupelo. The Clash.
And so, during that historical run from September 1984 to January 1987 where they kicked out 7 albums worth of material, Grant Hart matched Bob Mould in quality, if not quantity: “Pink Turns to Blue,” “Turn on The News,” “Books About UFOs,” “Green Eyes,” “Keep Hanging On,” “Dead Set on Destruction,” “Actual Condition,” “She’s A Woman (And Now He Is a Man).” And after the breakup, the sublime original version of “2541.”
These are more than just songs to me, they’re mile markers in my development as a human being. They’re essential parts of who I am, both reflections and building blocks of my soul. That’s what the music that Grant Hart created meant to me.
Prairie fires and pitchfork choirs inspire as they create
Turn it up, It’s too far down, until we can relate
Minnesota New Day Rising first day in the store
Take the couch at someone’s house
And wait around to score
To me, the obvious antecedent for “Grant Hart” is The Replacements’ classic “Alex Chilton,” — Stringfellow even uses “childrenbut there is one key difference: whereas Paul Westerberg wrote a song about Alex Chilton that sounded nothing like a Big Star song, Ken Stringfellow wrote a song about Grant Hart that very consciously sounded like a Hüsker Dü song, right down to the three verses with Jon Auer’s guitar shredding between each one.
Having “Grant Hart” sound like Hüsker Dü wasn’t a failure of imagination, rather it was the point of the song.
Nervous children making millions
You owe it all to them
Power trios with big-ass deals: you opened for it then
I can see I can see I can see it all with my one good eye
For a start take two Grant Harts
And call me when you die
In 1996, Hüsker Dü were prophets with no honor, except to those of us who still worshiped them, and wish that their CDs didn’t sound like crap as SST and WB equally fucked their legacy over. Amazingly, 20 years later, it’s still completely fucked up, and young people must wonder what all the fuss is about.
Well, fuck that. The reissues have started, finally, and maybe the one good thing that will come from Hart’s death is that we’ll finally have movement on digital reissues of the SST and WB years.
But I’d rather have him alive, making new music.
“Grant Hart” performed live in 1996
“Grant Hart” performed live in 2011
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