Grant Hart, drummer, singer, and songwriter for the Minneapolis–St. Paul rock trio Hüsker Dü, has died at the age of 56, as confirmed by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and his former bandmate, Bob Mould. The cause was kidney cancer, with which Hart was diagnosed last year.
Although he was recruited into Hüsker Dü simply because he owned a set of drums, Hart gradually became a writer and singer to rival Mould’s ostensible lead, creating an inspiring if not always friendly artistic rivalry. By the time of their final double album, Warehouse: Songs and Stories, Mould’s and Hart’s songs occupied their own universes, diverging on different but equally fruitful paths from the hardcore that had been the band’s starting point. Even from the beginning, songs like “Statues,” an early Hart lead vocal, challenged the restrictions of hardcore with their melodicism and length, and their sexuality—Mould was gay, Hart bisexual—represented another challenge to the scene’s strictures.
In July, a scheduled Hart solo gig at Minneapolis’ Hook and Ladder was converted into a impromptu tribute, with fellow Twin Cities musicians like Soul Asylum’s Dave Pirner and Babes in Toyland’s Kat Bjelland, and even Hüsker Dü bassist Greg Norton surprising Hart with performances of his songs. Although Hart’s cancer was apparently an open secret in the city’s music scene, local publications were circumspect about the reasons for the “Grant Signal” that gathered longtime friends to the show. But the reports of copious tears shed and a physically weak Hart struggling to remember the words to some of his songs sent a strong suggestion that he was not well.
The relationship between Hart and Mould was an artistically productive but legendarily combative one, and though the two joined each other onstage in 2004, the band never reunited after breaking up in 1989. Working on Savage Young Dü, a forthcoming boxed set of early and unreleased recordings, reportedly thawed things between the pair, at least on the business side, but Norton dismissed any talk of a reunion, and the Numero Group release will now serve as a posthumous memorial.
Numero’s Ken Shipley released a statement on Hart’s death, reading in part:
To know him was to ... I’m not sure “love him” is the right choice of words. I had a ton of respect for the guy. I enjoyed his company. I certainly liked him. Is there a word to describe that region between love and like? It’s impossible not to love/like a guy who sends you a Bob Mould diss Some ecard at 2:47am. How can you not love/like someone who insists on a high end sushi restaurant for your first meal together and then promptly orders enough food to cover his next two meals. Grant was tortured for sure, but he had a hell of a lot of fun bringing you in on the joke, even if you were part of the punchline.
In a note posted on Facebook this morning, Mould wrote:
It was the Fall of 1978. I was attending Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. One block from my dormitory was a tiny store called Cheapo Records. There was a PA system set up near the front door blaring punk rock. I went inside and ended up hanging out with the only person in the shop. His name was Grant Hart.
The next nine years of my life was spent side-by-side with Grant. We made amazing music together. We (almost) always agreed on how to present our collective work to the world. When we fought about the details, it was because we both cared. The band was our life. It was an amazing decade.
We stopped working together in January 1988. We went on to solo careers, fronting our own bands, finding different ways to tell our individual stories. We stayed in contact over the next 29 years — sometimes peaceful, sometimes difficult, sometimes through go-betweens. For better or worse, that’s how it was, and occasionally that’s what it is when two people care deeply about everything they built together.
The tragic news of Grant’s passing was not unexpected to me. My deepest condolences and thoughts to Grant’s family, friends, and fans around the world.
Grant Hart was a gifted visual artist, a wonderful story teller, and a frighteningly talented musician. Everyone touched by his spirit will always remember.
Godspeed, Grant. I miss you. Be with the angels.
Tributes to Hart, both his work with Hüsker Dü and subsequent solo career, flooded social media on Thursday.
RIP Grant Hart— Ryan Adams (@TheRyanAdams) September 14, 2017
Your music saved my life.
It was with me the day I left home.
It's with me now.
Travel safely to the summerlands. pic.twitter.com/B8JfIdp57H
Oh man, super-bummed about Grant Hart. He was like royalty to me, such an amazing songwriter and imposing personage in my early music days.— Dan Wilson (@DanWilsonMusic) September 14, 2017
RIP Grant Hart, a cyclonic drummer, soulful singer, epochal songwriter and inspiring autodidact. I hope he has found peace at last.— Michael Azerrad (@michaelazerrad) September 14, 2017
Incredibly sad waking up to this news of Grant Hart -- RIP amazing musician/songwriter 💔Turn On The News - Hüsker Dü https://t.co/Ell5ZLhXHf— Tanya Donelly (@TanyaDonelly) September 14, 2017
Well, Grant Hart is the first member of Hüsker Dü to go down. That's a hard one for this Gen Xer. Wrote my fave: https://t.co/gvhduh6Bj1— James Urbaniak (@JamesUrbaniak) September 14, 2017
RIP Grant Hart..super nice guy who used to let us stay at his house when we were in Minneapolis. Great, great songwriter pic.twitter.com/V0399rQUc6— mark lanegan (@marklanegan) September 14, 2017