Remembering Grant Hart

Hüsker Dü

Reading the obituaries of Grant Hart, one detail kept leaping out at me: he was just 56.

I thought back to when I first saw him, playing with Hüsker Dü at Edinburgh University on March 14, 1986. Grant was about to turn 25. I, meanwhile, was three months into my 21st year. Time foreshortens as we get older, but I couldn’t then begin to rationalise our age-difference as ‘merely’ four and a bit years. Because Grant Hart had already done so much with his life. He seemed made of different stuff.

At that point in 1986, Hüsker Dü were redefining rock music. Seeing them that night was truly life-changing for me, and so much of that energy came from Grant, a gyroscopic force of limbs and air, with a giddy, open voice that surfed above the tumult created by the band. While Bob Mould resembled a tensed-up man on the brink and Greg Norton his leaping, smiley good-cop foil, Grant wore a kind of seraphic countenance. Watching them was draining, transcendent, and fun.

Afterwards, I saw Grant sitting on a stone bench beneath the student union’s domed roof, the same spot where I would often drink a mug of tea and read the week’s music papers. He was chatting to people, and I noticed that Hüsker Dü’s energy core had been playing drums barefoot. For some reason, I burst out laughing. He looked at me and laughed back. No other words were necessary.

I had the good fortune to meet and talk with Grant many times in subsequent years, thanks to writing assignments for Sounds, then NME and latterly MOJO. He was always charming and provocative, with a formidable polymath’s intellect and a waspish sense of humour, particularly with regard to Bob Mould, his erstwhile creative partner in Hüsker Dü. Shortly before the release of his debut solo album Intolerance in 1989, having just arrived in London after travelling from the US on the QE2, Grant met me at the bar of the Columbia Hotel in Bayswater. Announcing that this establishment served his own personal brand of Scotch, he pointed to a bottle of Grant’s whisky, then elbowed me in the ribs.

“That’s something Bob doesn’t have,” he winked. “You don’t see too many bottles of Bob’s!”

Several years later, he invited me to share a small joint outside a Chinese restaurant in Hamburg. It was a sunny afternoon, Grant was playing a show that night and then we were to do an interview. Believing I had survived the journalist’s cardinal error of partaking in psychoactive substances with an interviewee, I attempted to order from the menu – only to discover I had lost the power of speech. I looked up to see Grant in the grip of a giggling seizure. He couldn’t speak either.

As this episode proved, Grant Hart was a dangerous man, but one who gave his gifts freely, be they song or conversation or time. That night in Hamburg, after a glorious solo performance, we talked until the wee hours. He answered all my questions, and asked plenty more of his own.

I last saw him in London in 2013, on the street outside the small venue he’d just played. He looked gaunt compared to our previous meetings, and I knew had been through some tough times, but his voice was strong and that mind was as restless as ever. Earlier, I interviewed him for MOJO’s Rock’n’Roll Confidential feature. He was justifiably proud of his new album The Argument, inspired by an unpublished treatment of Milton’s Paradise Lost by William S Burroughs – a feat of artistic derring-do only Grant would dare attempt, let alone pull off – and during our typically wide-ranging conversation he recounted escaping from the fire which had destroyed his home in South Saint Paul, talked about his connoisseur’s love of vintage cars and planes, and reminisced about his friendship with Burroughs.

“He made the observation once: ‘How come you’re the only guy that comes around me and will tell me jokes?’ I’d notice that a lot of people put on their costume when they’re around certain great people. They don’t want to make a fool of themselves. But that was something I would gladly do! At all times of my life.”

He also talked happily about his often difficult relationship with Bob Mould, that was now entering a more conciliatory phase, leading ultimately to the long-overdue opening up of the Hüsker Dü archive.

“We’re going to undo this terrible knot,” he told me.

Tragically, Grant didn’t live to hold the first fruits of that endeavour, the Savage Young Dü box set that’s due for release in early November 2017. Nor indeed the new music he was working on until the end. If anything good comes from this sadness, it will be that more people can enjoy the music of this remarkable man.

The last question I ever asked Grant Hart was as per the format of MOJO’s Rock’n’Roll Confidential: “Tell us something you’ve never told an interviewer before.” To which he shot straight back with a smile: “Well, this has been a very satisfying experience!”

Thank you Grant. The pleasure was all mine.

About Keith Cameron

I am a journalist and author. View all posts by Keith Cameron

11 responses to “Remembering Grant Hart

  • Jake

    Nice one, Keith. A lovely set of memories. I saw him recently in NZ and had the chance to approach him for a chat but avoided it, partly not to risk the ‘never meet your idols’ situation, and partly not to chance coming off like a dizzy fan boy. The opportunity never taken.

  • Scrooby Du

    I saw Husker Du on that tour in Glasgow and like you it was life changing. Shared a cigarette and Spoke to him in Glasgow again 25 or so years later, and he was very humble.
    I felt he never got the recognition he deserved, his solo stuff was all gold.
    Very very sad indeed.
    The word iconic was made for people like him.

  • Grant Mercs

    Succint, and beautifully written, thank you for that glimpse of a truly remarkable creative force who’s influence will only loom larger in the coming years. The further away I get from Husker Du’s time the more amazing they get and the more interesting Grant’s later music gets.

  • Sean Martin

    Great piece! I first saw them on that same tour, at the Bierkeller in Bristol. It was like standing in front of a jet engine for an hour. A friend emerged from the mosh pit with a black eye. No doubt a fellow mosher’s elbow was responsible, but I like to think it might just have been the sheer wall of noise that caused the bruise. ‘Draining, transcendent and fun’ sums it up very well…

  • John scott

    A great and touching piece. I got to see him with nova mob and then a few years ago at hebden trades club. It was a surreal and fantastic gig seeing such a music legend play such a small venue. He was amazing play all the old and new songs. But in typical a grant way played an alternate version of 2541. I got to spend a few minutes with him after he was charming…i will cherish that meeting.

  • Gram Edgar

    Just came back to this article via a farcebook link. I saw Nova Mob at Princess Charlotte, was very enjoyable. I didn’t have the cojones to approach Grant who I saw sat cross legged behind the venue chatting away to a bunch of people.
    Fast forward a couple of decades and I was at Water Rats in London with my Turkish girlfriend seeing him again, solo this time, he played Flexible Flyer and Green Eyes after my shout out requests, but declined Reoccurring Dreams by saying dismissively ‘that’s 15 seconds of my life I’ll never get back’.

    I’d sworn on the way to the gig I wouldn’t miss an opportunity to talk to Grant if he was seen loitering this time, but when he was (upon our arrival) I bottled it. Luckily Elvan, my missus, saw him out on the street post-gig so I approached him and got to thank him for his great great music, and tell him that my life changed when I first heard New Day Rising. He was very generous with me and even posed with me arm in arm so Elvan could take a photo.
    I was buzzing and blissfully happy (drunk) as was Elvan, so drunk her camera hadn’t worked. Still, it was more important to just tell Grant what his music did to me.
    Loved that guy.

    Have always enjoyed your journalism too Keith, often pushing misfit bands who follow no given code, and I’ll be trawling this website now I’m onto it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: