The Minneapolis band, which Hart formed with fellow singer-songwriter Bob Mould and bassist Greg Norton in 1979, was one of the leading lights of the American independent-rock movement of the 1980s. While strongly influenced by punk and the then-burgeoning West Coast hardcore scene, the band’s melodic leanings increasingly came to the fore on its later releases. As part of an unexpectedly strong local rock scene that also included the Replacements and Soul Asylum, the group had signed with Warner Bros. and were at the peak of their popularity when they split acrimoniously in early 1988. Mould went on to a successful solo career that included solo albums, a stint leading the band Sugar and even as a creative consultant for World Championship Wrestling; Hart released several albums and EPs over the years both solo and as leader of the band Nova Mob.
While the Huskers’ split was so bitter that the bandmembers only recently began communicating regularly again — around the forthcoming release of “Savage Young Du,” a sprawling three-disc compilation of much of the band’s earliest material. Yet the prolific and hard-touring Huskers cast a wide shadow over American rock of the ’80s and ’90s and beyond, influencing untold thousands of fans and musicians, not least Foo Fighters frontman and former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl.
The group worked as hard as they played, touring relentlessly between 1982-87 and releasing some seven albums — two of them double discs — in those five years. Their early recordings, released on their own Reflex Records, were marred by poor sound (which is dramatically improved on “Savage Young Du”), but the band’s greatness truly began to emerge when they joined the orbit of SST Records, the massively influential independent label run founded by Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn. The Huskers toured with that band and adapted their Spartan work ethic as well, cris-crossing the country playing nearly every night for months on end. Aided by the burgeoning American indie-rock network of venues, fanzines, record stores and college radio stations, the band inspired and helped to build scenes and bands all across the country.
The band began to rise above the hardcore scene with a 1984 single that found the band delivering a roaring cover of The Byrds’ psychedelic 1967 hit “Eight Miles High.” The comic contrast between the band’s high-speed, searing assault and the hazy original caught the attention of the influential British music press, and the band was soon receiving higher-profile publicity in England than it was at home. Later that year the band released its opus, “Zen Arcade,” a sprawling double album that found both its psychedelic and melodic influences coming to the fore. In 1985 it released the equally strong “New Day Rising” and arguably its most popular song, “Makes No Sense at All,” followed later that year by the “Flip Your Wig” album.
Frustrated with the limitations of the indie world, the group signed with the famously artist-friendly Warner Bros. in 1986. The group’s move into more melodic territory continued with its debut for the label, “Candy Apple Grey,” which featured its first ballad and cleaner sound that still retained their furious rock energy. Another double, “Warehouse,” followed in 1987, but the band splintered on the tour that followed. Their young manager, David Savoy, committed suicide and Mould took on many of his duties; the ensuing strain was exacerbated by Hart’s heroin addiction and the built-up tension from spending five years in a van with the same people. The group split bitterly in January 1988 and only recently began communicating again regularly.
Thursday morning, Mould posted two photos of himself and Hart, one from early in the band’s career and and a more recent one, and wrote the following post:
“It was the Fall of 1978. I was attending Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. One block from my dormitory was a tiny store called Cheapo Records. There was a PA system set up near the front door blaring punk rock. I went inside and ended up hanging out with the only person in the shop. His name was Grant Hart.
“The next nine years of my life was spent side-by-side with Grant. We made amazing music together. We (almost) always agreed on how to present our collective work to the world. When we fought about the details, it was because we both cared. The band was our life. It was an amazing decade.
“We stopped working together in January 1988. We went on to solo careers, fronting our own bands, finding different ways to tell our individual stories. We stayed in contact over the next 29 years — sometimes peaceful, sometimes difficult, sometimes through go-betweens. For better or worse, that’s how it was, and occasionally that’s what it is when two people care deeply about everything they built together.
“The tragic news of Grant’s passing was not unexpected to me. My deepest condolences and thoughts to Grant’s family, friends, and fans around the world. Grant Hart was a gifted visual artist, a wonderful story teller, and a frighteningly talented musician. Everyone touched by his spirit will always remember.
Godspeed, Grant. I miss you. Be with the angels.”
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