“A blitzkrieg of stories, anecdotes and tips on life”—and a night made all the more poignant and memorable in the aftermath of the legendary drummer’s untimely recent passing.
BY DANNY R. PHILLIPS
I learned recently that one of my punk rock heroes is no longer of this world.
Grant Hart, the drummer and songwriting foil to Bob Mould in the now legendary Husker Du, has lost his battle with cancer. He was 56. I am saddened by this loss to the music world; a blow like this hit music nerds—like myself—hard. Hart is undoubtedly one of most influential drummers of alternative music and punk. He laid out a racket before him that has been copied many times over by countless bands, but no one got it quite as spot on as Hart.
He brought jazz precision and heavy metal aggression to the growing punk rock landscape and should be remembered as one of the Underground finest songsmiths. Whether it be with Husker Du (the band’s Zen Arcade is considered to be the greatest concept album punk has ever produced), as leader of Nova Mob, a solo performer, or as a well-respected artist, Hart has left his mark on the world, a mark that will never fade.
I’ll be honest: My job as a music journalist can be a pain in the ass at times. Labels, bands, publicists can be, shall we say, a sensitive lot. Don’t get me wrong; I love my job and have done it to the best of my abilities for the past twenty years. I’ve been to great shows and have seen wild things that have no place in print. Every once in awhile you meet someone, that changes your perception of music and life in general.
That hero for me was and is Grant Hart.
The first time I met Grant was at the Recordbar in Kansas City. He was opening for his former SST label mates The Meat Puppets; I had interviewed Kurt Kirkwood for a piece in The Pitch and was invited to the show. As I am standing at the merch table preparing to purchase yet another black t-shirt, this dude came up to me and commented about the Jack Kerouac button on my leather jacket. “You know, I’ve got William Burroughs’ copy of On the Road.” He said. My reply, in the horrible lighting of that small club? “Yeah? Good for you.” He laughed. After the show, he caught up with me at the bar. I apologized for my rudeness, to which he responded by buying me a beer. We talked about punk, guitars, the pros and cons of touring and whether or not there would be a Husker Du reunion. If there was hope for the reunion (he seemed to think it would happen) sadly, now that will never happen. After a half hour or so at the bar, he climbed into his goal minivan and drove to the next show like he had done a million times before in his 40+ career in music.
Fast forward six or seven years. I had met filmmaker Gorman Bechard after I had given a favorable praise to an exceptional documentary he had done on Minnesota groundbreakers The Replacements called Color Me Obsessed: A Film about the Replacements. When it came time for a follow-up, he aimed his lens on one of the most open characters in the history of punk and alternative music in general. When it was completed, Gorman sent me an early copy of Every Everything: The Music, Life and Times of Grant Hart. What I saw was one of the best rock docs I’d ever seen. Not only for the quality director’s eye of Bechard but for the raw openness that Hart brought to the process: no bullshit, let’s do this and do it right.
The review that I originally did for BLURT MAGAZINE later was selected for the anthology, That Devil Music.com: Best Rock Writing of 2014. Because of all this, something happened that I never, in all my days, thought would happen, I was invited to dinner with Grant Hart.
Gorman told me that he and Grant would be in Lawrence, KS, for a showing of Every Everything at The Free State Film Festival. Hart was scheduled to hold a Q&A accompanied by a performance and showing of the film. Gorman reached out to me and asked if I’d be interested in have dinner with he and Grant before the showing. Would I be interested? Are you fucking kidding me?? Of course I was interested.
It was not to be an interview; Grant liked my review and wanted to shoot the shit. No recording devices, no note pads, just food and conversation. After some fanboy awkwardness on my part, the talking began. Hart talked at a mile a minute, rambling on about music, his love of classic cars especially a 1955 Studebaker Champ, art, the film, his hopes for a Husker Du reunion, the man knew many things about many things. This went by as a four hour blur, a blitzkrieg of stories, anecdotes and tips on life.
As we walked down Massachusetts Street, beer in hand, heading to the premiere of Every Everything, he asked when I wanted to do the interview.
An interview is not needed; this was not about work; this night felt like two friends talking about life, music, and the joys of a well-made car.
From Phillips’ review of the documentary:
“Hart seems to be both at peace and at battle with his life. Nothing illustrates the point more than this sad tidbit from his childhood: Grant started drumming because, at 10 years old, he lost his brother Tom, who was a drummer, tragically in an accident. Grant inherited the drum set and started playing because a family member thought it would be a way “for Tom to live on.” Hart is a man constantly looking for something, looking for himself. To do so, he seems to be ready, willing and able to lay his demons in full view.
“Therein lays the beauty of Every Everything; where many iconic rock figures would most likely hide behind anecdotes from their career , vagaries, and a need to keep their legend intact, Grant throws everything on the table and starts chopping away.
“Hart is a man with a story to tell and Bechard’s film is a near perfect place to hear that story. All you have to do is sit down, watch and listen.”
A pull quote from that review appeared on the cover of the official Record Store Day vinyl release of the film’s soundtrack. Below: a photo of Hart and Mould that Mould posted at his Facebook page after Hart’s death.