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He Floated Away – Grant Hart Remembered

Grant Hart has been taking up quite a bit of my psychic space since his death last week. Hüsker Dü ’s sonic assaults were the only thing that made my life bearable during the mid-1980s. The band sounded like they were comprehensively wired straight from their hearts to the brains to their instruments. Their music was honest and bigger than life, rather roaring or moping. They had a classic sense of melody that underpinned their punk anger, giving you righteous anthems to scream along with and tunes that would keep you coming back for more. Hart was the hippie of the band, who played barefoot, lived for the moment, and wrote songs about girls who loved UFO books. He had too much talent to be ignored and Bob Mould had too much ego to execute another musician’s vision. That friction exploded into decades long bad vibes and the magic ended with the 1987 “Warehouse: Songs and Stories” album.

Bob Mould went on to reinvent himself several times, as a successful solo artist and with his 1990’s trio Sugar. Too determined to do anything but rage against the dying of his artistic light, he’s experienced a hard earned career renaissance during the past several years. Whether he was in the right or wrong during the Husker Du era, it’s hard to feel anything but happiness to an aging punk rock ‘n’ roll survivor. Long may he thrash.

Grant Hart had a lovable, mischievous puppy dog personality during the Hüsker Dü years, even if/when he was battling a heroin addiction. He returned to Minneapolis and lived in his childhood home, but never could shake the shadow of his former success. In one sense, it was as though he had lived his dreams in his early twenties, his life had peaked, and he could never reclaim that momentum. He worked with the band Nova Mob and released solo albums, but despite positive reviews, he never established a significant second career. He toured small clubs in the United States and Europe during his later years, often performing for audiences who were still emotionally invested in the work he had done decades before. He never successfully competed with his own past.

The 2013 documentary “Every Everything: The Music, Life & Times of Grant Hart” reveals very little about the man. We learn that he was estranged from his son, estranged from the mother of his child, and estranged from his family. He wasn’t making any dentists wealthy. He seemed determined to live on his own terms, no matter what impact his decisions would have. At the beginning of the documentary, he makes a simple interlaced collage as an example of his artwork. When asked what title he would give the piece, his response was “$250.” Although remarkably articulate, he seemed somewhat of a shell of the boisterous, outgoing musician he had been in his youth. His most popular song as a solo artist, “Twenty-Five Forty-One,” was written during his Husker Du years and rejected by his friend and nemesis Bob Mould.

Ken Shipley from the record label Numero Group wrote a moving tribute to Grant after his death, remembering him as someone who loved creating chaos and who would order enough food for several meals when he wasn’t picking up the restaurant tab. Shipley mentioned that Hart was “tortured” with the matter of fact tone you might use to describe someone as left handed.

I’m in no place to judge Hart’s decisions or lifestyle and who knows how long he was dealing with physical illness, which can completely change someone’s personality and perspective. In a more perfect world, we’d have a nice bow to wrap up his life and call it a happy ending. In one sense, Hart was a man who lived his dreams in his youth and never had the discipline or wherewithal to recapture that magic. In another sense, think about how few people can be defined in this way, “A man who lived his dreams.” I wish I could have personally thanked him for the life affirming sonic chaos of his music and I would have been more than happy to buy him three days worth of pizza.

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