I am a fan of Minnesota. I am sure it is the same with those who hold their home states in a place of pride and reverence (but do you have the outline of the state tattooed on your calf, hunh?). There are not many things I do not like about Minnesota … except if you count when, in 1944, the Minnesota DFL (Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party) joined forces with the national DNC party. Not a big fan of that.
Amongst other things – including my sometimes-misguided devotion to the Vikings – is my love for Minnesota music. The scene, particularly from the 1970s to the mid-1990s, was epic, and the ripples of that moment are still felt throughout the industry, performers, and fans today. Today – Thursday, Sept. .14, at 1 about a.m., we lost one of our own. Grant Hart, founding member of Husker Du (one of the greatest second-wave punk bands period) and staple of the Minnesota music and art scene lost his fight with cancer.
I am writing this today as both a fan and a cultural critic. Here is what I am thinking about:
As a fan, I am crushed. I never was able to see them live, getting into their music on the tail end of the band’s life cycle. There had been rumors of a reunion – but it never happened. Regardless, their music helped shape who I was when I was searching out my identity. When you are in 8th, 9th, or 10th grade, and something comes across your ears that makes you stop – that was my response to “Warehouse”: Songs and Stories,” Husker Du’s final album.
Their music was paradoxical – punk yet melodic, stripped down and yet incredibly complex, serious yet at times hilarious. It represented an aspect of the Minnesota music scene – Prince, Soul Asylum, Semisonic, Babes in Toyland, The Replacements, and too many others to count or name (including two or three “bands” I played in … I think we gigged once for each of them). This massive diaspora of styles, voices, and faces – which often considered First Avenue its own personal church – makes me smile whenever I think about it.
My two years as an engineer for live bands at Radio K (KUOM) from the University of Minnesota, my drunken nights at Grumpy’s over chili fries while Dave Pirner sat down the bar from me, the hundreds of shows in clubs, garages, basements, and alleyways, sneaking into ID shows so I could say “I was there,” going to after-after parties at Paisley Park, flooding the streets in downtown Minneapolis during a show at First because the Twins won the World Series (both times) – they are all coming back to me.
Back to Grant’s passing: the music scene in Minnesota has lost a few big ones recently, most notably Prince. For us – the music fans – each loss of one of these artists feels like we (or I) lose a piece of the self – a piece of what makes me who I am. Yes, his music (BTW – Nova Mob – Look up now, Thank me later) and artwork will continue to exist, but we don’t get any more. I don’t get any more. The catalog is complete. The name – the signifier – changes its construction and moves into “legend” or “memory” or “nostalgia,” but never again can be used in the present tense – only as a referent to the past. Bowie, Prince, now Grant Hart. This makes me sad. This makes me reflective – which makes me smile – then makes me sad again.
Perhaps that is what happens when our influences, our heroes, and those that left a mark on us are no longer in our present space. The sign becomes a locked referent – a sign that becomes fixed … so long as the memory stays present. Is this the parasocial interaction we have studied? Is this how a specific discourse becomes permanently part of our articulated or performed identity? I think about this as I read posts on Facebook via one of my FB friends who is a music DJ and Minnesota music staple (Brian Oake – check his stuff out – so good!), stare at my collection of concert ticket stubs, and remember chili fries and Primos in a frosty mug.
This is a little rambly, and I apologize for that. This became as much about catharsis as it was about critique. Sometimes, the two work well together. Fair skies and tailwinds, Grant.
And now, please enjoy seeing Grant perform “She’s a Woman (and now he is a man).”