husker du

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AN INTRODUCTION, PART 1: MYSELF

Hi all — Kat here. Really stoked to be a part of OWOB this week. Special thanks to Hendrik to getting this wonderful project together and for allowing me to take the week to geek out over one of my favorite bands, Hüsker Dü. 

Before I delve into the seedy underbelly of early 1980s American post-punk, it’s probably best to give a quick rundown on who I am first. By day, I earn a living doing things concerning journalism and “the Internet”; the rest of the time, I’m a combination writer/journalist/musician/label guru living in Los Angeles’ very beautiful, very wonderful Silver Lake neighborhood.

Along with the incomparable Chris Jahnle, I helped start KILL/HURT, a tiny cassette label run out of our apartments. We’ve been extremely lucky enough to be featured on NPR and in the Los Angeles Times, and have had the pleasure of working with some very awesome bands. (You can hear tracks from the tapes on our site, if you’re interested.) KILL/HURT can be followed here and friended here.

I have a BFA from the University of Southern California, and am currently back on campus working towards my MA in Journalism with an emphasis in arts criticism. My primary areas of research and focus involve DIY/independent music communities (with a slight emphasis on the Los Angeles musical underground from the 1980s - present) and independently-minded genres with a scuzzy edge (punk, hardcore, post-punk, lo-fi, noise pop, garage, etc.)

For quasi music-related ranting, you can follow me on Twitter. For quasi music-related content, but usually a lot of cat pictures and politics, you can follow me at 2 COOL 4 GRAD SCHOOL; I also run a Los Angeles history Tumblr at 10>110>101.

All this, I’m sure, is very boring — so let’s get to the good stuff…

AN INTRODUCTION, PART 2: HOW I FOUND HÜSKER DÜ

Although I pride myself on being an ultra-savvy ‘musicologist’ of sorts – especially where all things related to the wonderful world of post-punk are concerned – I readily admit I was not always the hip music nerd I am today. We all (I hope) have dark, unspeakable sections of our musical pasts we prefer to keep hidden away from public view – those bands that we once loved and worshipped and cared so much about that now bring unbearable embarrassment at the mere thought or mention of them. (“You used to listen to that band? Really? You must be joking, right?”)

For me, that band was Green Day.

(Yes, yes. Ha ha. Mass corporatization of punk rock, a band that existed far too long past its prime, a myriad of albums that should have never seen the light of day – and so on and so forth. Moving on.)

It’s hard not to laugh when reflecting upon my time as a Green Day fangirl – but for all of the band’s loathsome qualities, I cannot help but give them credit for being the catalyst for the musical obsessions I developed later on in life. Listening to Green Day sparked my interest in all things loud, angry and disillusioned. It was through that cheesy band from Berkeley that I ultimately found Hüsker Dü.

And thus, our story begins.

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, my exposure to Green Day was a natural, if not expected occurrence. I had just graduated, so to speak, from the world of late 90s tween pop (‘Nsync being my group of choice) and while a majority of my middle school classmates were also abandoning the TRL set, they all instantly migrated towards the groovy vibes of early 00s R&B and hip hop. (Think KC and JoJo, Destiny’s Child, etc.)

I, on the other hand, had spent the last several years of my musical explorations tied to soulless Top 40 music and had no desire to continue my cultural journey down those pathways; I began searching for something, anything that spoke to the burgeoning teen angst building up inside my awkward, pimply teenage body. (Because, after all, how can a song that preaches “[leaving] your man at home” and letting loose in a club that’s “jumpin’, jumpin’” really offer any emotional resonance for a nerdy 13 year-old girl?)

Thanks to the self-described, equally-awkward “punk” boys in my 8th grade class, I was introduced to Green Day, and I instantly connected with their brand of whiny white boy Bay Area teenage rebellion. Here were the things I had been searching for all along, but never even knew existed – distortion, songs peppered with countless “fuck you’s,” inexplicable apathy…

I had to find more.

These were the nascent days of the Internet where people still relied on Netscape and Yahoo! for all their web browsing needs; without the contemporary aids of a Wikipedia or what.CD to guide me along my musical journey, I was left to the devices of Angelfire-esque fan sites with tiled bitmap backgrounds and superfluously irrelevant decorative GIFs. (All very reputable sources, I’m sure.)

My mission was clear: what bands influenced Green Day? (Because, for reasons that now escape me, I thought starting from the roots was the most logical way to begin my research. I need to give 13 year-old me a lot more credit, I think.)

Hüsker Dü stood out to me immediately, primarily because my childhood best friend and I had spent many summers playing the eponymous Danish board game. As file sharing was a still-developing sector of the online world – and, also because my mother forbid me from using Napster – I was forced to download an awkward collection of Hüsker Dü songs spanning their entire catalogue from whatever sources I could find. (I’m quite certain that this early collection was comprised entirely of RealAudio and WAV files…)

My knowledge of the band at that time was minimal; I knew Hüsker Dü had formed almost ten years before I was born, that they were considered the forefathers of “pop punk,” and nothing more. Honestly, I think it was best I knew so little; it kept my reception and understanding of the band pure, untainted.

I persuaded my older cousin, who had a Napster account, to download a Hüsker Dü album and burn it onto a CD for me.

“What album?” he asked.

“I dunno, whichever one you see first. Doesn’t matter.”

A week later, when I saw him again, he handed me the CD; it was New Day Rising. (I’ll revisit my connection to New Day Rising at the end of my blogging stint; there’s a second anecdotal diversion from the Hüsker Dü canon that ties this all together. Promise.)

Everything about it was so rapturously perfect to my virgin ears – the palpable rage of the guitar, the guttural bellowing of Bob Mould, the unrestrained and unrefined glory of it all. I felt I had discovered some sort of precious jewel that no one else in the world could know about; I hid it under my mattress so my mom wouldn’t discover it and listened to it in bed at night.

The next time I saw my cousin, I handed him $5.00 and asked for another album.

“Last one, promise.” (That was a lie.)

It was then, slowly but surely, I began shedding my radio-friendly tastes and transforming into the noise-loving geek I am today – one Hüsker Dü track at a time.

Track

In a Free Land

Artist

Hüsker Dü

In a Free Land – Hüsker Dü

Although the members of Hüsker Dü never implicitly branded themselves as members of the hardcore punk movement – something that would become strikingly apparent in their later, more melodically-driven albums – their early recordings are near-perfect examples of the genre: blazingly fast, slightly salacious and unrefined beasts of songs. 

What’s somewhat surprising about the songs Hüsker Dü produced during this period (1980-1983) is the musicality; while most hardcore musicians operated primarily on having little to no musical prowess – or, consciously repressing any technical ability on their instruments of choice – Hüsker Dü seems to shrug off this unstated methodology. 

Yes, the songs are dissonant an unabashedly raucous – but listen to them play! This is the stuff of pure, controlled chaos. (An example of this phenomenon is particularly evident on my personal favorite early track, “In a Free Land,” released as a single on the Minutemen’s New Alliance imprint in 1982.)

While the band’s early catalogue breaks the most notable convention of the hardcore movement, it holds true to the genre’s most captivating, endearing qualities – most notably the shout-along hooks – those verbal calls-to-arms that made hardcore so wholly unifying to the disillusioned teens in Reagan’s Cold War America. (“Everything falls apart” and “Blah! Blah! Blah!” on the tracks of the same name, “Not for me!” on “Afraid of Being Wrong,” “Don’t mean a thing” on “In a Free Land” and so on.)

Recommended listening: Everything Falls Apart (1982, Reflex Records)