Something to Hüsker
Savage Young Dü
Growing up in the sticks of northwestern Illinois, as I did, finding good records was no small feat. In the mid 1980s, there were plenty of Aha, Hooters, and Madonna cassettes to be had and equal parts Mötley Crüe, Poison and Cinderella. The real shit though, that was a little harder to come by. Chain stores like Musicland and Sam Goody did not sell underground music from DIY labels and even getting to those outlets required a trip across the Mississippi from Illinois to Dubuque, IA. Sometimes, you could maybe catch the college radio station out of Iowa City broadcasting over the cornfields to your car radio. With that rare occurrence, you might be able to hear a snippet of an R.E.M. or Hüsker Dü song before the reception went out.
The door into that world cracked ever so slightly with magazines like Cream, which you could find at the drugstore in downtown Galena, IL (where I worked for two years in high school). By the mid 80s Cream was well past its prime and Circus and Hit Parader—metal rags of dubious quality—sold better. Even so, in the back of an issue of Cream small businesses could take out smaller display ads. That's where I saw an ad for an independent mail order company from Pomona, CA which invited me to send fifty cents for one their catalogs. So I did.
The cheaply printed newsprint catalog from Toxic Shock was a completely cut and pasted affair. It was only a catalog, sure, but it offered more information than any magazine I'd ever read. Those brief band and album descriptions and bad album art reproductions were burned into my brain. The Replacements was "Loud, sloppy, fun, drunk, unpretentious rock and roll from Minneapolis." Hüsker Dü was "Shimmering rock and roll brilliance from Minneapolis." Soul Asylum, from Minneapolis, was "high energy rock without the rules." What was going on up there in Minnesota? I picked three records, listing alternates in the event anything was out of stock.
"If the Ramones played buzzsaw guitars, what the hell was this?"
Getting records in the mail was thrilling enough. The records that showed up were Hootenanny, Sorry Ma Forgot to Take out the Trash by the Replacements and Hüsker Dü's New Day Rising. Three great records by two great Twin City bands.
Even though I had worked my way up to college rock by this point with bands like Psychedelic Furs, Smiths, REM and B52s, punk rock was a completely new world to me. It hadn't been that long since I was listening to Queen and Simon & Garfunkel exclusively. New Day Rising by contrast was something else entirely. If the Ramones played buzzsaw guitars, what the hell was this? So angry, so fast, so noisey yet there was melody buried in that distortion and feeback. I tracked down Zen Arcade next, probably on a trip to the record stores on State Street in Madison, WI. For me, and so many other young people at the time, this double album became a soundtrack for my not-particularly-joyous late teenage years. I cannot listen to that record now and not be taken back to those days of adolescent angst. Charles Forsman perfectly captures this Hüsker Dü-triggered nostalgic feeling, without even mentioning the band by name, in his graphic novel Celebrated Summer.
Flash forward several decades to 2017 and, thanks to Numero Group, we get to reach back to the Twin Cities of the late 70s and early 80s—the origin of the this odd-looking, fast and furious St. Paul trio. Savage Young Dü is a box set that documents the live shows, basement rehearsals and early efforts of one of the hardest working indie bands ever. It is the result of seven years of negotiations with notoriously prickly Greg Ginn who's SST label released the majority of the Hüsker's catalog in the 80s. These remastered and previously unreleased recordings showcase the raw and already brilliant sounding band as they cranked out their songs at high speed and volume and toured relentlessly.
Minneapolis/St. Paul celebrated and supported their hometown heroes but the Hüskers needed to break out of the local scene. They played around the Midwest, including legendary shows in Chicago, eventually making it to the West Coast and falling into the good graces of the SST crew which would define the next phase of their career. On this box set, however, Grant, Bob and Greg are cutting their teeth, finding their groove, inventing their sound and having drunken, speed-fueled fun being in a band where every direction was an option and anything was possible.
Savage Young Dü is essential for die-hard Hüsker Dü fans, but it's important source material for anyone interested in the history of underground music from the Midwest during the 1980s. Released in both a four-record box set plus book and three-CD plus book, it features 69 songs remastered from the original analog tapes. Forty-seven of the tracks have never been released before. The hardcover book features previously unpublished photos and a early tour schedule complete with flyers. It's a fair bit of cash for a savage young fan to plunk down, or even an old fan with a mortgage payment dü, but it looks and sounds fantastic. And the only buyer's remorse I would worry about would be from not buying it.
BUY: Savage Young Dü
Husker Du: The Story of the Noise-Pop Pioneers Who Launched Modern Rock by Andrew Earles [Voyageur press]
Despite Bob Mould's lack of participation in this book (he was working on his autobiography at the time), Greg Norton and Grant Hart, plus many other participants and observers in the underground music scene, helped writer Andrew Earles tell the story of Hüsker Dü. From the band's inception in St. Paul and their rise in the underground to their transformation from hardcore speed freaks to pop-savvy-yet-heavy major label band. Their jump from the indies to the majors preceded the 90s hangwringing of indie bands by several years. Published in a text book-like format, this book should be required reading for those interested in underground music in the decade that set the world up for grunge.
Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991 by Michael Azerrad
Michael Azerrad's book is an exporation of the 80s underground scene and the bands, labels, producers and promoters who made it all work. Black Flag, Dinosaur Jr., The Minutmen, The Replacements, Sonic Youth, Fugazi, and yes, Hüsker Dü are given full chapter treatments. Many of these bands have numerous books written about them already but this is a concise, highly readable and enjoyable book that will make you want to listen to every record by every band in it, even the Butthole Surfers—no, especially the Butthole Surfers.