September 13, 2017 – Grant Vernon Hart (Hüsker Dü) was born in St. Paul, MN on March 18, 1961 and at the age of 10, he inherited his older brother’s drum set and records, after he was killed by a drunk driver. Hart described his family as a “typical American dysfunctional family. Not very abusive, though. Nothing really to complain about.” He soon began playing in a number of makeshift bands throughout high school.
Hart met Bob Mould while working at a record store. Mould, then a college freshman, would buy marijuana from Hart. At first Hart dismissed Mould as “an upstater pretending to be a Manhattanite,” but the two soon became friends and brought in Greg Norton and keyboard player Charlie Pine to start a new band. Pine did not last and the three moved forward under the name Hüsker Dü.
Their first single, “Statuses”, was a self produced affair and released on Reflex Records in 1981. Their touring brought them to the attention of such punk artists as Jello Biafra and Black Flagg’s Greg Ginn who spread the word about the new band. The band’s early material had them lumped in with the hardcore movement of the early 1980s. The band members received help from their parents in their early days. In Hart’s case, his mother let him use the copier machine at the credit union where she worked to make show flyers and the band added $2,000 to an existing loan at the credit union to release the band’s first single, “Statues,” on their own label Reflex Records in 1981. Success existed on a small scale for the band; by 1982 however Hart was unemployed and relied on support from friends and family.
Hüsker Dü’s music became more accomplished and melodic over time. By late 1982, Hart’s drumming “rushed the music along more precisely than ever” and he and Mould, who traded vocal duties, were singing more tunefully. While Mould was the band’s primary songwriter, Hart began writing more songs. Hart wrote two songs for 1983’s Metal Circus EP, the “perversely sing-along” “Diane” and the “impassioned speed-pop gem” “It’s Not Funny Anymore.” Hüsker Dü’s more melodic take on hardcore struck a chord with college students, and various tracks from Metal Circus, particularly Hart’s “Diane,” were put into rotation by dozens of campus radio stations across the US. Hart was tagged by observers as the “hippie” of the group due to his long hair and his propensity to drum with bare feet; biographer Michael Azerrad additionally noted that “the wide-eyed sincerity of his songs was far more San Francisco ’67 than New York City ’77,” which contrasted with Mould’s “incisively bitter” songs.
As Hart and Mould developed as musicians and songwriters, an unspoken tension and competition arose in the band between them. Tensions were heightened when Mould demanded that starting with 1984’s Zen Arcade that the band’s records contain individual songwriter credits. In spite of the creative tensions, Hüsker Dü garnered critical acclaim with the release of Zen Arcade and subsequent albums. Michael Azerrad stated that by 1985’s Flip Your Wig “the two songwriters were trying their level best to outdo each other, and with spectacular results”. Hüsker Dü had left the hardcore genre behind, which caused some discomfort with their label at the time, SST Records. In one interview, Hart hinted that SST thought Hüsker Dü were “soft” because they stayed in motels while touring and occasionally wrote happy songs. Hart elaborated, “We don’t have to convince the world that we’re suffering to convince them that we’re artists… There’s nothing wrong with being happy.” Hart designed most of Hüsker Dü’s album covers.
In 1986 Hüsker Dü became the first key band from the American indie scene to sign with a major label, inking a deal with Warner Bros. Records. However, tensions within the band worsened after signing with Warner Bros. Hart became addicted to heroin following the band’s tour behind their major label debut Candy Apple Grey in 1986, with Hart also being incorrectly diagnosed as HIV-positive in the middle of that year. Mould and Hart were feuding openly about Hart’s drug use and creative conflicts, with Hart accusing Mould of ensuring he could not have more than 45 percent of the songs on each of the band’s albums.
The band dissolved after a show in Columbia, Missouri, in 1987. Hart was trying to quit heroin using a supply of methadone, but the bottle had leaked. Hart played the show, but Mould and Norton were concerned Hart would soon be suffering from withdrawal and thus would be unable to play the next few shows. While Hart insisted he could perform, Mould had already canceled the dates. Hart quit the band four days later. Hart has said his drug use was not the reason for the band’s demise, rather, it was the tensions between the band members. Hart said, “It just became that it was easier to be around Bob if you were playing a part of Bob’s game,” and also said he felt Mould’s songs had become increasingly “square.”
Though it was often rumored during his Hüsker Dü days that he and bandmate Mould were an item (Hart was openly bisexual, Mould is openly gay, and both acknowledge taking partners on tour), both have flatly denied ever having been romantically involved.
In 1988, Hart released his solo debut, the EP 2541 and followed with the album Intolerance (1989) and the EP All of My Senses (1990) before forming the band Nova Mob. The band released two LPs and an EP before breaking up.
Hart would go on to release three more solo studio albums including 2013’s The Argument. He and Mould reunited in 2005 for a benefit for Karl Mueller of Soul Asylum. Grant was also the subject of the 2013 documentary Every Everything: The Music, Life & Times of Grant Hart.
Grant made his last appearance in July 2017 at an all-star concert in his honor in Minneapolis.
Grant died battling cancer on September 14, 2017 at the age of 56.
Founding band member Bob Mould wrote:
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.