I have to admit, I hated how much I loved Hüsker Dü. I spent my whole late adolescence put off by and hooked on their melodies, sour-and-sweet, the trebly, overwhelming wash of Bob Mould’s guitar. Zen Arcade—their double-LP hardcore-and-more concept record—jumped out to me between Human League and Janice Ian CDs at the satellite branch of the Everett Library, scuffed but still playable, when I was fourteen. Who was that music librarian? “Something I learned today, black and white is always gray.”
I took Zen Arcade home and listened to it on a C90 cassette, with their cover of “Eight Miles High” appended to fill the tape’s last minutes, every day for about four years. The music felt like me and it felt like my hometown: Zen Arcade’s screaming and the compression and chiming guitar, the spasms of psychedelia and the long acid jam at the end of Side 4, the gorgeous melodies, felt as big to me as my teenage emotional life, when getting off the local bus I’d get overwhelmed—by nothing, by a pine tree or knocked-over mailbox—you know that teenage time when people slipped notes in lockers, smoked out behind their jobs, and handwrote letters.
“Spilled my guts, you just threw them away.” If home had been Brooklyn or Arcata it might have been different, but Everett, where I lived from eight to eighteen, was teeming around the edges, gray and hollowed-out-feeling in the middle. Punk rock, especially the sheet-metal noisemakers, seemed to fit our county: noise stripmall-white, rolling out of my ears over the hills and sagging tract houses and strawberry farms near Highway 2 and rising up to the overcast. There were times I couldn’t stand it: “Somewhere satisfaction has no name.” Even the gray- and crayon-colors of Zen Arcade‘s cover felt like me and the land. Now, ten years after I moved away, I only listen to Hüsker Dü when a similar big-self mood fills my heart and I feel like nothing but that wash will match me, or meet me. It’s not often.
(And, just for the record, I only listen to them on record: never remastered and never really mastered all that well to begin with, the album sound compressed and remote anywhere but on LP through a good, dirty set of speakers. Never decide anything in good taste, only in good appetite. Over and out!)