Hüsker Dü laid the groundwork for the '90s alternative-rock boom when it became one of the first DIY-era American indie bands to land a major-label deal. The Minnesota-based power trio's influential sound expanded the parameters of punk by incorporating hummable pop melodies and introspective lyrics into a thick hardcore foundation.
Bob Mould was born to mom-and-pop grocery store owners in an upstate New York farming town near Lake Placid. In 1978 he moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, to attend Macalester College, where he took urban studies and worked part-time at a record store. It was there that he met Grant Hart, a local drummer who shared his love of punk rock, and Greg Norton, who played bass and listened to jazz. The three began rehearsing together in Norton's basement, naming themselves Hüsker Dü (Swedish for "do you remember?") after a 1950s board-game.
In the early '80s the trio signed to SST and released Land Speed Record, a milestone of hardcore whose 17 songs clocked in at just over a meteoric 26 minutes. For the next five years, Hüsker Dü —along with Black Flag, Minutemen, R.E.M., and Twin City peers the Replacements —toured almost constantly and released some of the most important albums of the postpunk era. Hüsker Dü hit its artistic peak with 1984's Zen Arcade, one of punk's few double-disc classics, and one of even fewer punk concept albums (it chronicled a boy's passing from adolescence into adulthood).
By 1986, the band was plagued by internal problems, including drug use and a power struggle between songwriters Mould and Hart. On its major-label debut, Candy Apple Grey, Mould's lyrics had become more inward-looking than ever, while the rage in Hart's angst-laden rockers had reached the boiling point. Over Warner Bros.' objections, the band followed up with a second double-disc LP, 1987's Warehouse: Songs and Stories, with the songwriting split down the middle. On the eve of the group's 1987 tour, Hüsker Dü's young manager, David Savoy, committed suicide. A recording from that tour was released as 1994's The Living End.
On January 25, 1988, Bob Mould, having put down drugs and drink, quit the band to pursue a solo career as a postpunk confessional singer/songwriter. Mould's first Virgin album, Workbook (#127, 1989), took up from where his more reflective material on Candy Apple Grey and Warehouse left off. After 1990's Black Sheets of Rain (#123), Mould was dropped by Virgin and cofounded a record company, SOL (Singles Only Label). By 1992, he formed a new band, Sugar, and signed to Rykodisc in the U.S. and Creation in the U.K., settling somewhere between the melodic roar of Hüsker Dü and his solo material. Sugar released Copper Blue that year and enjoyed the modern-rock hits "Helpless" (#5, 1992) and "If I Can't Change Your Mind." After 1995's Besides (#122), a collection of rarities and live cuts, Mould disbanded Sugar and resumed his solo career with the tortured Hubcap (#101, 1996), playing all the instruments himself and inscribing it with the words, "This one is for me." His 1998 album The Last Dog & Pony Show was named for what he promised would be his final high-decibel rock tour, to be followed thereafter by live acoustic performances.
Bassist Greg Norton left the music business altogether to become a chef when Hüsker Dü dissolved. But Grant Hart immediately returned to SST for the 2541 EP and a 1989 solo album, Intolerance, before forming Nova Mob. The new band released two albums, beginning in 1991 with a rock opera called The Last Days of Pompeii. Hart broke up Nova Mob three years later and continued his solo career with the live acoustic Ecce Homo in 1996 and Good News for Modern Man in 1999. He also played keyboards on a track on Patti Smith's Gung Ho in 2000.
This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).
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