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.