(Re)Collection #29: Husker Du Pt. 1
Updated: Mar 31
Most punk music is anyone's music, but it belongs to a very specific anyone-one who wants to do a little work. One who wants to invest themselves in something. While the angsty and aggressive storytelling of groups like Black Flag immediately appealed to me and many, many others with its mouth-breathing simplicity and musical brutality, the turbulent guitars and scorching, wounded vocals of Bob Mould and Grant Hart of Husker Du were not so easy to apprehend. They were a sharp-needled, impressionistic ball of rage and self-loathing. The emotional assault was troubling and confusing.
A Black Flag tattoo said something. You looked tough and macho sporting it. The world is hate, and I can hate harder than you. A Husker Du tattoo? What does it really say? I don't understand myself, my anger and my place in the world. I hide myself in this cocoon of sonic broken glass and shout at the world to stay away. Husker Du, despite the masculine, abrasive sound, wasn't a macho band. The emotions were too soft.
Black Flag is clearly the hooligan's choice. Fists and fury. Punch first, ask questions later. Husker Du is for the sensitive, tormented soul. Attack with passive aggression, disorient with emotional overload, induce vertigo with hurricanes of pink distortion and sonically bludgeon the uncaring and indifferent world into submission.
In July of 1984, on the verge of 18, I was primed and ready for what the Huskers were poised to deliver to me. They did so in the form of Zen Arcade. My friend Dave Nolan, in his infinite wisdom, gave me the freshly released gatefold, double vinyl LP for my 18th birthday. It could not have been more perfect and perfectly terrifying.
Sometimes music is so well matched to my mindset and emotional state that it is scary that it finds me. Incredible now as I think about it. I understand the narrative of the LP, however loose it may be, like this: A child grows up in an abusive home, takes off, meanders around in a menacing and cruel world, adrift with no moorings. The memories never fade away.
It is for my sister and me. It is our allegory. From the opener, Something I Learned Today, to the closer, Reoccurring Dreams, Bob and Grant touch upon all the topics I didn't have the ability to articulate at 17 or 18. Physical, emotional and sexual abuse at the hands of those who are supposed to protect you. What that does to person, how awful it is, how it slowly reveals its corrosive nature and threatens to consume its host before the host even identifies what it is.
This record traces the contours of that oblivion, tunnels into the pain and attempts to exorcise the shape-shifting demons--those created and conjured by others and those engendered by one's self. A demon's a demon though. And it is fucking hard to get rid of once it materializes and manifests itself in self-destructive and self-reductive behavior.
I encourage you to listen to Zen Arcade from front to back. Maybe you will hear your story shouted in your face. Maybe you won't hear anything at all. Music is like that.
PS: I was thinking about the colossal emotional impact this multi-faceted record had on me. This song in particular. It is over the fucking top. It makes me cry every time I listen to it.