Grant Hart didn’t behave as if he owed the world anything. He thought nothing of letting a decade pass between his solo albums. He performed sporadically and toured even more sporadically. He barely had a presence online—he didn’t even send his first email until 2009, and didn’t tour with a cellphone until 2010. Although anyone who saw him recently could tell he was in dire health, he didn’t share what was going on—even when all of his friends staged a surprise tribute concert for him this summer.
And Grant Hart left the world in the same uncompromising way this week, his concept album about Ted Kaczynski presumably unfinished because Hart didn’t rush, even when he sick. “I took a year to come up with what I thought was an appropriate third verse [to “You’re The Reflection Of The Moon On The Water”],” Hart told us in 2010. “That’s a long time to hold back on a song that you’re excited about in order to make it more of a fulfilling experience.”
That’s all Hart seemed to want the past 20 years or so, maybe even since Hüsker Dü imploded in January of 1988. The trio—rounded out by guitarist-vocalist Bob Mould and bassist Greg Norton—was famously intense, and its dissolution infamously bitter: that the group managed to get it together enough to open an online store and, just recently announced, assemble a box set of early material is major progress. “There’s ongoing communication between the three of us now,” Norton said when the store opened. “Ongoing communication” among the members of Hüsker Dü, separated from their breakup by three decades, qualified as news.
Toward the end of his life, Hart had little interest in perpetuating the fractious legend of Hüsker Dü, built as it is on stories of his acrimonious relationship with Mould. “I think more difficulty exists between Bob and me as the result of people’s speculation than it is a result of any direct contact between the two of us,” he said while touring behind The Argument, his 2013 concept album inspired by Paradise Lost.
And while the pair’s competitiveness may have helped drive Hüsker Dü to greatness and likely pushed their early solo careers a bit, by the time Hart released The Argument, no one was keeping score anymore. Mould found greater acclaim and success, but he also struggled more with Hüsker Dü and the effect its legacy had on his music. He openly rebelled against it a couple of times, first on 1989's quiet Workbook and then on the electro-rock of 2002's Modulate, but Hart seemed comfortable going wherever his interest took him.
Maybe that hurt him in the end, but Hart also didn’t seem like he thought about it much. And when many of Hüsker Dü’s contemporaries (and acolytes) caught reunion fever, Hart was typically nonplussed. “I think a lot of people are having their midlife crisis in public,” he said in that 2010 interview. “I think if you left something unfinished, go ahead and do it. But I guess I can’t really answer that question in respect to my own music, because it’s inconceivable.”
I wondered about a reunion when I saw Hart perform solo in the summer of 2002. Mould had performed to 900 people two months prior, and Hart was playing to a couple dozen people at a tiny club best known for its “bacon night” and its policy of deep-frying anything customers requested. He looked rough—rumpled shirt and cargo shorts, sandals wrapped around an uncomfortable-looking bunion on one foot, and a gray stripe in his hair best described by Dan Aykroyd in The Great Outdoors as “a neo-skunk thing.”
Hart played by himself with his guitar, and the intimacy of the club made it feel like he was performing in someone’s living room. He played Hüsker Dü favorites like “Flexible Flyer” and chatted casually with the crowd between songs. When I sheepishly asked him to sign my Land Speed Record poster, he happily obliged and talked with me for a few minutes. If he felt the show was beneath his station as a member of a seismically important band like Hüsker Dü, it certainly didn’t show. And with Mould openly rebelling against guitar rock and Norton working as a chef in Red Wing, Minnesota, I knew a reunion wasn’t imminent.
Even if Hart had lived another 40 years, Hüsker Dü probably wouldn’t have reunited. To use his words, they didn’t leave anything unfinished. Hart undoubtedly had plenty left to accomplish personally, and the sadness of losing an artist before their time is knowing they won’t have more to share. With Hart, it was never clear where he was headed, but it was never dull once he arrived.
It’s also fitting that he’s leaving his fans hanging. As he sang in “My Regrets,” Grant Hart owes us nothing.
“Apologies, I don’t make too many of these / One place you won’t find me is down low on one knee / I do not make apologies.”