Despite the laurels bestowed upon them over the years, Hüsker Dü still remains an anomaly amongst the wave of American bands to follow in the wake of the punk explosion of the late ’70s. While their influence, now two or three generations removed, is forever sewn into the fabric of what is now commonly known as indie rock, the band remains under-recognized in comparison to their contemporaries, as well as the subsequent artists they directly influenced (the Pixies come to mind). With animosity still lingering between the band’s primary songwriters—guitarist Bob Mould and drummer Grant Hart—the band has never cashed in on their seminal status with a reunion, and most likely never will. And with its catalog having never received the deluxe reissue treatment, the five albums, two double-albums and one mini-album Hüsker Dü released during its eight years haven’t been reintroduced and re-appreciated for new ears. Hence, Hüsker Dü’s stature has become increasingly improportionate to its importance with each passing year. (And this from someone who admittedly never really got into the band while they were together.)
In his new book, Hüsker Dü: The Story of the Noise-Pop Pioneers Who Launched Modern Rock, Andrew Earles, previously best known for scribing the “Where’s the Street Team?” column for Magnet, attempts to right this wrong. As he states in the biography’s introduction, “Hüsker Dü’s body of work has not yet received its deserved exposure, not is its influence on the past twenty-five years understood in the same way that the influences of, say, Black Flag, Sonic Youth, or Slayer are understood.... If this book shifts that trend in the right direction, even by a tiny degree, I will consider it a personal success.”
Earles admits from the book’s onset that it is lacking in one important regard, that being that Mould, who is working on an autobiography with Our Band Could Be Your Life author Michael Azerrad, declined to participate. Yet, he manages to overcome this hurtle, with quotes from other sources filling in the blanks. Both Hart and bassist Greg Norton were interviewed for the book, and while Hart’s insecurity-fueled aspersions sometimes tilt the narrative against Mould, Norton’s opinions more often than not counterbalance them.
With contributions from former Replacements manager and Twin/Tone co-owner Peter Jesperson, associate Terry Katzman and countless other persons with close ties to Hüsker Dü, Earles recounting of the band’s history is meticulous, and the author is diligent in augmenting his narrative with colorful stories from those who were there. What Earles does best, though, is convey how briskly the band progressed as it generated more material than most bands would release in twice the time while constantly crisscrossing the country as a DIY touring trailblazer.
There is no shortage of information, and Earles is also thorough in detailing and dissecting each of Hüsker Dü’s releases as it related to where they were coming from and where they were going. As he said would be the case in his introduction, he doesn’t dwell too much on whether or not there was any romantic feelings between Mould and Hart or on the latter’s drug use. As he tells it, there are hundreds of bands breaking up for the same reasons Hüsker Dü did every day. His focus is on the music and the how and why of its creation.
Where Hüsker Dü suffers is in the need for a good editor. Besides some embarrassing typos (Nova Mob written as “Nove Mob” and Norton mistyped as “Horton,” among others), there is a good amount of information that is repeated, causing the writing to become redundant and at times to even result in deja vu. A quote from Jesperson concerning the Suicide Commandos that first appears on page 27 is repeated word-for-word on page 49. And once Tom Hazelmyer is introduced as being a member of Halo of Flies and running the Amphetamine Reptile label, it really is unnecessary to repeat those same credentials nearly ever other time he is mentioned. The criticism may seem nit-picky, but such poor editing really makes for some cumbersome passages.
Editorial quibbles aside, though, Earles has accomplished what he set out to do, which is to elicit a greater assessment of Hüsker Dü’s importance. Hell, the book certainly made me listen to New Day Rising and Flip Your Mag over the couple of weeks that I was reading it. The velocity and volume of hardcore weren’t completely isolated from pop hooks when Hüsker Dü started, but they had never been intertwined in the way that the band did, a way which now seems archetypal. Earles clearly makes this point while at the same time revealing more than just a studied appreciation, as his admiration for the band also stems from a visceral zone. And much like with his subject matter, that makes for something greater.