Last week’s rather non-story post (but one that touches a nerve in a lot of you, it seems) belied the fact that millions of others never met John either, and so befriended him via the radio. It was like listening to a benevolent older brother (or uncle, depending on your age) that regaled you with his favourite LPs: “Hey listen to this one, you’ll like this. No? Try this one then. Oh come on, you must like that bit at the start/in the middle/ at the end”, and so on. Of course, within a two or three-hour show, a lot of stuff would go unappreciated or edited off the “illegal” tapes we were making (I now have 46 DVDs worth of such). It didn’t matter: he had ‘young ears’, as John Walters put it on ‘This Is Your Life’, and was trying to persuade us to cultivate similar sensibilities. After all, what are millions of bloggers doing right now?
I didn’t discover Hüsker Dü through him, but he played them all right. Hailing from St. Paul, Minnesota, they started out life as a four-piece with keyboardist Charlie Pine, but he soon got the boot when they realised they sounded better without him. And so Bob Mould, Grant Hart and Greg Norton, like Peel, foisted their love of the Ramones on a public unprepared for their ferocious speed and vitriolic lyrics, but with support from like-minded citizens Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys, SST released Land Speed Record in 1981. A live recording heard courtesy of my old friend Paul (an inveterate vinyl junkie), the blinding and overwhelming power of the band’s sound overcame the harsh and primitive two-track recording, with ‘Bricklayer’ remaining one of the fastest songs I’ve heard to date.
Some wonder, then, that Zen Arcade performed an amazing volte-face and saw the boys in search of melody and, as Bob Mould put it to Steve Albini, ‘something bigger than anything like rock’n’roll and the whole puny touring band idea’. Other musical elements and lyrical idea took precedence over the thrash aesthetic, in particular the concept of being a story about a boy leaving home to face a harsh and unforgiving world. This trail led to more sophistication, less thrash and a major label. Some may feel nostalgic for the punk hardcore that gave us such ferocious energy, but when faced with a melodic gem like Makes No Sense At All (FF 1985 #46), from the SST swansong Flip Your Wig, the nostalgia quickly evaporates. Allmusic praised it as ‘making the most of the band’s psychedelic undertow’: personally, I find it hard to detect any links with psychedelia on this particular track, and just prefer to wallow in two minutes and forty-three seconds of something more akin to power pop, with a message to stop living in dreams. Ain’t nothing wrong in that.
P.S. Apologies to those who have been trying to download this only to find it password protected. This has been fixed. Sorry.
Hüsker Dü, Makes No Sense At All