Considering Hüsker Dü’s massive influence and unimpeachable discography, it’s shocking that no book in the two decades since the band’s breakup has tackled its full story. Hard feelings linger all this time later, which helps explain biographers’ hesitation, and why Hüsker Dü’s landmark albums have yet to receive the deluxe-reissue treatment.
Writer (and former A.V. Club contributor) Andrew Earles had his work cut out for him with Hüsker Dü: The Story Of The Noise-Pop Pioneers Who Launched Modern Rock. Bob Mould (guitar/vocals), Grant Hart (drums/vocals), and Greg Norton (bass/vocals) have barely spoken since their 1988 breakup, and Hart and Mould have often traded barbs in the press, enabled by the biggest object of Earles’ scorn, music journalists. “There are more people carrying around salacious untruths about Hüsker Dü… than there are people who have heard Hüsker Dü,” he writes. That overstates the case, but speaks to Earles’ admirable vigilance in focusing on facts and avoiding drama. Unfortunately, he has a major handicap: no access to Mould. The most successful Hüsker Dü alumnus declined to participate, likely because his autobiography is due out next summer.
Biographies live and die via their participating sources, and Hüsker Dü is also missing Spot (who produced almost all of HD’s best albums) and Greg Ginn of SST Records. Even though Norton did participate, he barely appears in the first half of the book. By a huge margin, the biggest source is longtime Hüsker Dü associate Terry Katzman. He’s great, but Hüsker Dü is light on quotes from the major players.
That would be less of an issue if the book weren’t so frustratingly repetitive, and consequently tedious. Early in a chapter about the album Everything Falls Apart, Earles quotes an interview where Mould discusses the album’s lyrics, then ends the chapter with the exact same quote. He makes the same points repeatedly, either in his own narrative, or via quotes that restate the narrative. Earles also confuses thoroughness with intrigue; chapter five offers a track-by-track analysis of Everything Falls Apart, though several songs don’t warrant it. Hüsker Dü has a staggering 14 appendices, several of which simply restate parts of the book.
At other points, interesting stories go unexplored; Earles says the hiring of David Savoy as the band’s manager “would prove a major factor in the band’s eventual undoing,” then doesn’t mention him again until his death 20 pages later. Other anecdotes go nowhere, or are awkwardly placed.
In spite of Earles’ determination to be fair, his occasional editorializing dips into wrong-headed potshots (at Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life, and kids today) or silly generalizations. (Apparently every article written about Hüsker Dü’s breakup spends “an inordinate amount of wordage” perpetuating bad blood.) Earles also contradicts himself; in chapter 13, he says “[HD’s final album] Warehouse: Songs And Stories is the low point of an extraordinary discography,” then describes it as “largely underrated” in the second appendix. One of the main thrusts of Earles’ book is that Hüsker Dü suffered from a series of missed opportunities. Unfortunately, his own book is one of them.