Hart On His Sleeve

With Good News for Modern Man, Grant Hart pulls away from his past--while keeping an eye on the rear-view mirror

"When you're in your early twenties," he says, "you can leave home a lot easier without worrying about it. You can get robbed and cleaned out without losing much." In fact, Hart's apartment was completely cleaned out twice during his get-in-the-van years, when a well-publicized tour schedule made him an easy target.

Hart's friends tell me he's been sober for years, and Hart himself says he spends most of his time reading history when not in the studio, living primarily off Hüsker royalties. "I've supported myself off of music for 21 years," he says, with a hint of braggadocio. "But mind you, that's the road education of learning to get by on $3 a day. And there's a lot to be said for casting off an expensive addiction."

He still haunts tiny punk venues, and tells me about being blown away by a recent punk show headlined by the Pansies at the queer-friendly Minneapolis District 202. Though Hart is open about his bisexuality, he remains derisive of bands that fly the identity flag to gain niche points--and score with groupies. "That's just another kind of rock-star thing," he says, though he does concede to having had his Hüsker affairs. "I had sex on the road, and, of course, I met the people because I was in a band. Bob met a lover of five years on the road. Greg met the woman he ended up marrying the very first night we played. But there was never the cattle call outside the dressing room."

These days Hart's main vice is living out a high school gearhead obsession--he compares the 12/8 time signature to a four-cylinder engine--and says he owns two Studebakers. Automobile and travel imagery pop up frequently on Good News, where they are oddly intermingled with religious symbolism. On the likely single "Nobody Rides for Free," the chorus of the title came to Hart as an in-studio joke about the old "Ass, gas, or grass: Nobody rides for free" bumper sticker. Here the phrase hits the pavement alongside lines such as "We tore into the heart of a big teeth beast eating at the motor-mart."

"That could be demon or a '53 Buick at a gas station," Hart says of the apocalyptic imagery. "I think it's hilarious that very few people change their oil every 5,000 miles but they're willing to accept that 2000 is some new age just because the odometer has switched over to all zeros."

 

Even today the demon that haunts Hart most is Bob Mould, a figure apparently absent in the subject matter of Good News (which is good news) but very much present in Hart's conversations. On the afternoon before Labor Day, Mould played a solo acoustic set on the main stage at the Mill City Music Festival, where he threw in a few Hüsker staples. I happened to look behind me that day, and there was Hart in the audience, watching diffidently from across a sea of Mould fans.

"I've seen him maybe 15 times since the breakup," Hart says of that day. "And he has yet to see me perform. Why do I bring that up?" He seems to be asking himself the question, but I answer it with another: Does it hurt? "Well it kind of proves something about Bob," he says, deflecting the question. "I feel a certain kind of redemption in the last ten years, not so much that I've lived down any kind of reputation. Outside of protecting my health, I've shied away from 'the new clean Grant' because that's just another rock-star thing. My reputation was fairly ruined with the public opening-up of my most private shit. But the way Bob has handled business in the last ten years, people work with him, then come back to me and say, 'How did you do that for nine years?'"

There's unfinished business between the two, of course, professional as well as personal. None of Hüsker Dü's albums on the legendary indie label SST transferred well to compact disc--they were dumped clumsily off masters when the technology was young--and a revamped studio retrospective of any kind has been stalled by unproductive negotiations with the imprint's owner, Greg Ginn.

"Up to the time we signed to Warners, our deal with SST was a handshake," Hart says bitterly. "We let them bankroll all our earnings into the company after that because we wanted our records to stay in print. Now Greg won't return my calls."

Hart seems to enjoy unloading business frustrations, but he does so without overdue rancor. Still, an hour and a half pass as we sit in his beat-up old car, and he doesn't seem to tire of discussing the still-festering wound left by his longest, best songwriting partner. "That band lasted as long as the average marriage," Hart says, still defensive about a period that at the time of Hüsker Dü's split represented a full third of his life. "Bob is just another person in a group of people that have not succeeded in continuing to use me."

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