Certain Songs #653: Hüsker Dü – “Keep Hanging On”

Husker Du - Flip Your Wig Album: Flip Your Wig
Year: 1985


My favorite Hüsker Dü song.

It was pretty close to 15 years ago today, and I’m driving up to Fresno from Los Angeles, where I’d been sleeping on Tim’s couch and housesitting at Andrea & Luke’s while working a temporary job at Paramount doing some stuff for the Star Trek website and trying to secure a more permanent job at IndyMac Bank.

I hadn’t actually had a permanent job in six months — the (hopefully) longest period of unemployment I’ll ever go through — and I hadn’t seen Rox in a couple of weeks, to boot, as she was holding down the fort in Oakland, from where we would have to move (and didn’t want to move) if I actually got the IndyMac job.

Oh, and 9/11 had happened the week before.

“Keep Hanging On” starts with a crash, and Grant Hart’s kick and Greg Norton’s bass building out of that crash until Hart just launches into the most heartfelt of all of his heartfelt love songs.

Only angels have wings, girl
And poets have all the words
The earth belongs to the two of us
And the sky belongs to the birds

Bob Mould’s guitar isn’t so much in stun mode during the verses, but rather in sustain mode: he’s almost underplaying, the more so to put the focus on the beautiful desperate energy that Grant Hart is pouring into his vocals.

You’ve given me so much happiness
That I’ll wrap up and give you this song
You gotta grab it with both hands
You gotta keep hanging on
Gotta keep hanging on
You gotta keep hanging on
You gotta keep, you gotta keep hanging on

Now, as I’m driving up to Fresno to meet Rox for a short weekend interlude in the middle of our freaked out lives, I decided that the drive would be best served by my Hüsker Dü best of compilation: 47 songs a pair of CDs I called A Snowball’s Chance.

A pair of CDs that ended with “Keep Hanging On,” because my best-ofs always ended with my favorite song by that artist.

The cat walks to the window
And I hear the key turn in the door
No one knows and anything goes
And everything falls on the floor

After the second chorus of “Keep Hanging On” Bob Mould uncorks a angry, shredding guitar solo that bursts through the floorboards and exits through the ceiling with a loud screech, which sets up the final verse.

Laying in each other’s arms
We’re sleepy, we begin to nod
And we start to dream of grandiose things
Oh God, oh God, oh God

You gotta keep hanging on
You gotta keep hanging on
You gotta keep hanging on

Now, quite naturally, I’d been playing the Hüsker Dü best-of at very loud volumes and singing along. But as I was singing along to “Keep Hanging On,” everything that I’d been keeping bottled up hit me. All of the pain and fear I’d felt about being unemployed; my love for this band that had meant so much to me so long ago; the fact I wasn’t with Rox during this awful time in our history, all of it.

As as I got to the “Oh God, Oh God, Oh God” part, I burst into tears while continuing to sing at the top of my lungs.

Keep hanging on
Keep hanging on
Keep hanging on
Keep hanging on
Keep hanging on
Keep hanging on
Keep hanging on
Keep hanging on
Keep hanging on

Because what else can you do?

That’s how “Keep Hanging On” ends, of course. Grant Hart’s voice getting ever more desperate and ever more wild singing the title while an angelic choir of Bob Mould and Greg Norton chant the same words over and over again in counterpoint.

“Keep Hanging On” is pure catharsis wrapped in equal parts fear, anger and beauty. It isn’t just their greatest song; it’s one of the greatest songs in rock ‘n’ roll history.

Oh. I got the job at IndyMac. And ended up hating it. And moved to L.A., and ended up loving it.

“Keep Hanging On”

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