Given that the blog has been going for over 10 years it’s something of a surprise that, in that time, I’ve not had to document the loss of one of my musical heroes. Until today.
A quick nip online with my morning cuppa brought the sad news that Grant Hart, best known for his time in Hüsker Dü, had passed away last night aged just 56.
Regrettably this wasn’t a surprise. A tribute concert had been hastily arranged for Grant in July and, although he subsequently played two support shows for Tobin Sprout, the rumours suggested that Grant’s time amongst us would be short. Sadly that turned out to be the case.
Of course, Grant first came to prominence as the singing drummer in Hüsker Dü but it’s always worth pointing out that he wrote his share of that band’s classics. And it’s his songs that he should be best remembered for. He had a rare melodic flair (still so evident on his most recent solo LP ‘The Argument’), a desire to explore new musical areas and, of course, that voice to deliver his tunes.
Hüsker Dü burned brightly for 9 years leaving behind a staggering output which features an astonishing rate of musical development. It was only late on in the band’s career that I cottoned on to them and it was the two Grant penned singles from ‘Candy Apple Grey’ (‘Don’t Want To Know If You’re Lonely’ and ‘Sorry Somehow’) that hooked me in. Yet by that stage the band had almost run its course and, as Grant and Bob Mould grew steadily apart, there was only one further (double) album left in them.
After an acrimonious split in 1988, Grant initially moved far away from the Hüskers sound with his debut solo album the classic ‘Intolerance’ (1989). But he returned to something not a million miles away from the Dü with his new band Nova Mob
His burst of post Hüskers activity continued with the Mob debut ‘The Last Days of Pompeii’ (1991 but reissued in remixed form in 2010) but it was a level of momentum that he failed to maintain. Nova Mob were derailed firstly by a car crash (in Germany, IIRC) and then by the collapse of label Rough Trade just as their self-titled second LP was released in 1994.
Thereafter Grant’s music was focussed on a solo career but his releases were far more sporadic than previously. Music wasn’t everything for Grant and part of his musical inactivity was also down to his other artistic endeavours. He put out just three further solo LPs – ‘Good News For Modern Man’ (1999), Hot Wax’ (2009) and the double ‘The Argument’ (2013) – but despite limited quantity there was never any problem with quality.
All these records are worthy of your attention, as indeed are the live solo LP ‘Ecce Homo’ (1995) and the rarities compilation ‘Oeuvre Revue’ (2010). Whilst the standard of his songwriting never dropped it’s not hard to imagine that at least some of the records could have sounded a bit better.
I only had the pleasure of seeing Grant live on two occasions – and they were both very different affairs.
The first in 1990 (during the Italia World Cup) was at the Calton Studios in Edinburgh with Nova Mob. The material they played was almost entirely new (the bulk of what would subsequently make up ‘Last Days of Pompeii) with only a couple of solo cuts at the encore. It wasn’t the most accessible of shows but it was impressive.
Grant at Mono in 2011
Then in 2011 he arrived on Scottish shores for the first time in 20 years to play a solo date at Mono in Glasgow. He cut an almost unrecognisable figure even from the 1990s but played a lengthy, energised set which took in many of his standards as well as a few numbers from ‘The Argument’ (which, true to form, wouldn’t see the light of day for a couple of years).
My one and only interaction with the great man was to deliver a request that night (‘Evergreen Memorial Drive’). He nodded approvingly at the suggestion before playing the song. I’m proud of that.
Remarkably Grant was back in Scotland a couple of years later but the Glasgow and Edinburgh dates coincided with work I just couldn’t get out of so I never did get the chance to see him again.
The word ‘underappreciated’ has been bandied around a lot today and there’s no doubt that that’s true. Nevertheless, he leaves behind a body of work that most folk would kill for. (See below for some examples).
Perhaps, for various reasons, Grant wasn’t so great at creating a legacy for himself beyond a hardcore of fans. But for those in the know that legacy will always burn brightly. The world is diminished this evening because of his loss.