Last night I saw Grant Hard play in Loring Park, and it was really amazing. At the start of the show he kept on interrupting the Current DJ who was introducing him, being a punk, mocking the sponsor. He told the crowd that the popcorn was free — it wasn’t. He had a conversation with someone up the hill about rent in some building in Saint Paul. He sounded really good.
When I got home I was still having a lot of feelings, so I decided to start on the biography of Hüsker Dü that I’d picked up awhile ago. I got about three paragraphs into the introduction before I had to put it down in a rage. In Hüsker Dü: the Story of the Noise Pop Pioneers Who Launched Modern Rock Andrew Earles very straightforwardly explains what he’s trying to do, which is to cement Hüsker Dü’s importance. I’m there for this argument, I agree. But then he writes, “The fact is Hart’s and Mould’s sexuality has absolutely nothing to do with why this band is important.”
The fact that Bob Mound and Grant Hart were queer men in a punk band through the 80s is incredibly important. Their very presence in the macho hardcore scene is worth remarking on. While they weren’t loudly out during this time, they weren’t deeply closeted either, it wasn’t a secret. Throughout the 80s queer people became increasingly visible, but often as stereotypes. Hart and Mould are a reminder that queer people look all sorts of different ways and act all sorts of different ways. Some of them like disco, some of them create revolutionary punk bands.
Hüsker Dü were revolutionary. There is an argument to be made for their importance that looks at the music and nothing else. Adding the songwriters’ sexuality to the mix is just another layer to their importance and their legacy.
Earles argument seems to be that Hüsker Dü’s influence needs to be recognised (though he may be headed somewhere else, I only got three paragraphs in). He cares about their legacy, and the people they inspired. To say Hart and Mould’s sexuality doesn’t matter is disregarding a huge part of their legacy.
I love Hüsker Dü for their music. And I love that they’re from my cities. And I love that they’re queer.
It is incredibly important to me, and a lot of other queer people, to see queer singers in a punk rock band. If they were straight I wouldn’t love them as much. Sexuality isn’t a huge part of their music, but it’s a part of how their audience engages with them. Maybe not as much when they were an active band, but today their sexuality is an important part of their legacy, and to write it off is near sighted and near insensitive.
Hüsker Dü didn’t really make music about being queer, but they were. “Whatever” is embedded in the concept of Zen Arcade, but it feels like a song about being a queer kid talking to their parents. There’s a queer reading present in their music, which I am not interested in ignoring.
I understand the point Earles was trying to make. He was explaining that it wasn’t going to be full of juicy gossip or speculation of whether anyone slept together. He was explaining that he was going to stick to the music, not the interpersonal drama, which apparently sexuality is to him.
I don’t know, but I bet Earles is straight. Sexuality doesn’t seem important when yours is never remarked upon. Sexuality doesn’t seem important when you can assume all the singers in your favorite bands have the same orientation as you.
Grant Hart was in a revolutionary punk band, and has a fascinating solo career — his most recent release was a long concept album about Paradise Lost, which sounds like a terrible idea, but is actually fantastic. Last night he played some old Hüsker’s songs, and stuff from different eras of his solo career, and it was all great, and it would have been a fun night of music no matter much. But it meant more to me because Grant Hart is queer like me. His legacy isn’t just about punk rock, not just about the Minneapolis music scene, it’s about his queerness.
Watching Grant Hart play in Loring Park last night was an incredible experience, in part because Loring Park is a queer space. I was sitting on a hill, watching my idols play music, in the same park that hosts Pride. It meant a lot to me as a queer young person to sit on a hill listen to an older queer person play music. That there is a history to Loring Park, a legacy of queerness that Hart is a part of, and so am I. That is so incredibly important. More than importance, it makes me feel better about the world.
I’m going to read the rest of the book, eventually. I’ve heard good things about it, and I really do love the band, and want to learn more about them. There’s a fair chance I stop being mad at the author. But wow, that was not a good note to start on.