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RIP Grant Hart: Gentle, Brilliant, Impossible
Brian Coney , September 14th, 2017 11:07

Remembering the Hüsker Dü founding member, who has died aged 56

“I was born Grantzberg Vernon Hart, you know? This whole crazy ride was never going to be a bore.”

It’s June 2013 and I’ve just dropped a musical hero of mine off at an unassuming, four-star hotel just outside Belfast. Clutching a brown, leather holdall and little else, he turns to me and beams like an old friend. “See you at six hundred hours!” With the flick of a wave, he all but struts towards the reception and disappears.

52-year-old Grant Hart had just released his fourth studio album, The Argument, a critically acclaimed, wonderfully singleminded concept album based on Milton's Paradise Lost and inspired by Hart's friendship with William S Burroughs. Released almost 30 years to the month from his old band Hüsker Dü's blitzing debut album Everything Falls Apart, it was – and remains – a strong statement of intent that caught many old fans and even more newcomers unawares. Over the course of 20 tracks, Hart spelled out one very clear message: I have survived.

Earlier that year, the full implausible story of Hart's life was strung together via Gorman Bechard's Every Everything: The Music, Life & Times of Grant Hart. Told in the style of the Errol Morris film The Fog of War, it’s an extremely personal portrait that doesn’t brighten the darker corners of Hart’s world. From the combustion of Hüsker Dü in 1988 following the suicide of manager David Savoy, Hart's heroin addiction and Bob Mould's struggles with alcoholism to a devastating house fire in 2011 that left Hart stranded and with few personal possessions, he emerges exactly as he is: an opinionated, hugely intelligent, sincere and wildly funny man, and an artist seemingly oblivious to the considerable impact that he's had on modern alternative music and beyond.

Hüsker Dü formed in the Mississippi-flanking city of Saint Paul in Minnesota in 1979 and steadily established themselves as trailblazers in the 1980s, wrangling hardcore, noise and pop over the course of six full-length studio albums. As well as vigorously flying the flag for American DIY-era rock (before yielding to Warner Music Group for their final two records) Bob Mould, Greg Norton and Grant Hart were a power trio who stretched the parameters of hardcore punk, imbuing their craft with unabashed introspection and a strong pop sensibility at odds with the vogue. Despite being in the shadow of Mould for much of the band’s nine-year tenure, once he got a break, drummer, singer and songwriter Hart took it. From ‘Don't Want To Know If You’re Lonely' and ‘Sorry Somehow’ to 'Girls Who Lives On Heaven Hill', ‘Green Eyes’ and the crushing ‘Diane’, he proved that, as Michael Azerrad put it in his seminal Our Band Could Be Your Life, “melody and punk rock weren't antithetical." At the heart of that implicit mantra, Mould, Norton and, most imposingly, Hart all but singlehandedly tore up the rulebook and paved the way for 90s alternative rock.

With the fallout of Hüsker Dü’s demise, resulting in some kneejerk and venomous words from Mould and Hart over the years, the latter would spend the next few years fending off demons while putting his art and expression at the top of his list of priorities. From his debut solo album Intolerance in 1989 and his work with Nova Mob to his graphic design work and release of The Argument via Domino four years ago, the fire and passion that helped Hüsker Dü transcend the limitations of the genre they started out on would time and again resurface, revealing Hart to be an artist who, against the odds, embodied the spirit of the music that meant – and still means – much to so many.

A few hours after dropping him off at that Belfast hotel back in mid 2013, myself and a good friend returned more nervous than before. Hart had requested a wake-up call from the reception (lest we forget, ageing rock stars must nap, too). After a while, he appeared on the stairs, politely talking to the odd passing guest. He was either high or still sleeping or both, clutching a ceramic mug of cold black coffee from his room before climbing into the taxi and riffing on everything from Tesla, Minnesota and how he took offence to Dave Grohl offering him money following his house fire. Barely 25 people would come to the show that night, but in the way that it often goes down, it was nothing short of a mildly transformative, “Where the fuck is everyone?” kind of experience. Hopping into another cab later, clasping a plastic bag of leftover Tesco cheese and crackers from the rider, Hart disappeared into the Belfast night, a gentle, brilliant, impossible soul. I still envy the driver for the conversation they surely had.

As news breaks about his death from cancer at the age of 56, a few words echo in my inner ear. For better or worse, in the good times and the bad, through the years of innovation and those periods of stagnation, Grant Hart was right all along: the whole crazy ride was never going to be a bore.

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