Forgotten series: Husker Du/Bob Mould

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by Nick DeRiso

Start with Husker Du’s “Everything Falls Apart,” a 1982 release that was a little more cohesive than the live debut. They chew UP Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman.”

Eleven years later, “Everything Falls Apart” was released again on CD (and this is funny) with some extras as “Everything Falls Apart … and More.” More than — everything? Cool. (P.S.: Included was a new basement tape called “Do You Remember?,” the translation of “husker du” in Norwegian.)

Only after properly absorbing that, should you move on to the more mainstream “Zen Arcade,” a triple-album smart bomb from ’84 that led directly to post-hardcore. You need to hear them grinding before you hear them easing off.

Still, it is here that we stumble upon the beginnings of that so-called “alternative rock” movement. I was right there with them.

Husker’s guitarist, singer-songwriter Bob Mould, seemed to be pre-supposing so many of my moods for a time — Mould and Paul Westerberg from the Replacements, both.

In the early- to mid-1980s, it was powerful noise (again, from both); by the decade’s end, there were more nuances.

I followed Mould into oblivion — just loving those first solo albums, too.

“Workbook” fit the more elegiac mood I was by 1988; that dern thing had strings even. But by the time he put out “Black Sheets” in 1990, I was ready to grit my teeth again … and so was Bob. “It’s Too Late” is just a terrific song.

There was, also in the early 1990s, another new wrinkle from Mould — even though he shouldn’t have much of a voice, or much of his hearing, left after his stint as guitarist and vocalist in Husker. He was also the man-behind-the-curtain in the band Sugar.

If you were thinking your copy of “Zen Arcade” could use a rest, the news was good: Sugar’s ’92 debut “Copper Blue” contained a flinty mix of acoustic hard-core, backward tape loops and, of course, the crash-and-ebb guitar musings of Mould.

In fact, to my ear, “Zen” — moreso than, say, Husker’s initial 1981 trash-rock classic “Land Speed Record,” which was pure, angry adrenaline — was the template for this release.

Mould is back in the trio setting here — Sugar also included former Mercyland bassist David Barbe and former Zulu member Malcolm Travis on drums — and better for it. Still, from a punk-lover’s standpoint, he hasn’t gotten away from those familiar ringing guitars — and that’s ringing of the eardrum sort.

Taken in total, there’s a refreshing first-take brilliance to all of Mould’s stuff that powerfully recalls the jazz innovations of an earlier time. It’s music from the heart, and for the heart. And I don’t mean that in a soft way.

Maybe those days are gone. Maybe being thoughtful, even while playing fast, is over.

That’s a shame.

I think of this Husker song, just 1:21 long, from the “Everything Falls Apart” CD, that’s called “Afraid of Being Wrong.”

In the end, Mould and the rest of the Huskers weren’t. They didn’t look the part, yet they played with all of the emotional heft of, say, Bird. It was doomed be-bop for the next generation.

You’re just as moved, and as darkly intrigued, with each viciously melodious strum.


Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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