Certain Songs #664: Hüsker Dü – “Up in The Air”

husker-du-warehouse Album: Warehouse: Songs and Stories
Year: 1987


With the happy exception of Drive-by Truckers (who have a new album coming out tomorrow!) (that I’m not going to get to buy for a week cos I’m on vacation in Maui) (yeah, I know, poor me), bands with multiple front men tend to dissolve into acrimonious competition.

And so, as it went with The Beatles and The Eagles before them, and Uncle Tupelo and Pixies after them, the competition between Bob Mould and Grant Hart proved too much, and Warehouse: Songs and Stories — the only album of theirs that I think had a clear winner — proved to be the final Hüsker Dü record.

Which was a shock to me: like an idiot, I’d fully expected the Hüskers to last forever, despite the fact that in retrospect they were clearly on the better to burn out than it is to rust end of the spectrum.

But 25-year-old Jim couldn’t see that. I was firmly convinced that out of all of my favorite 1980s bands, — R.E.M., The Replacements, U2 & The Smiths — Hüsker Dü was going to be the ones that lasted the longest.

Or at least long enough for me to see them in concert, a thing which time and money and living in Fresno had conspired to keep from happening. I mean, R.E.M. made it to Fresno twice! And The Replacements three times! And X and Dead Kennedys and Meat Puppets and Ramones and so on and so forth.

So why not Hüsker Dü?

Of course, I know the answer: just plain dumb luck, that’s all. There wasn’t ever the right combination of a promoter — they were too punk for the mainstream promoters, etc, and not punk enough for the Fresno hardcore people.

So in my list of favorite artists I’ve never seen in concert, Hüsker Dü is #1, just edging out Led Zeppelin and Bob Marley, who at least I had good excuses for not seeing.

Anyways, with its ringing guitars, loud quiet loud dynamics, and typically depressing lyrics, Mould’s “Up In The Air” is a damn fine way with which to end Hüsker Dü month at Certain Songs.

Poor bird flies up in the air
(Up in the airrrrrr)
Never getting anywhere
And how much misery can one soul take?
(Up in the airrrrrr)
Trying to fly away
Might have been your first mistake
Poor bird flies up in the air
(Up in the airrrrrr)
Never getting anywhere
(Up in the airrrrrr)

With Grant Hart providing the haunting, layered “up in the aiiirrrrr” backing vocals, “Up in The Air” could as easily be about the band breaking up as it was about anything else, especially in the elegiac third verse:

Picking petals off a flower
Loves me, loves me not
Is love another way to count
The things you haven’t got?
We wish the best to all our friends,
Young and old alike
When the dust has settled in the sky
Well, you can have anything you like

Out of all my favorite bands, Hüsker Dü seems to be the one with the most shattered legacy. Their sound has been imitated to the point where the original power might seem diluted, their songwriters resolute in never working together again, their records scattered across labels without even a proper set of remasters to set things right, and even their fanbase never really coalescing online the way — say, The Replacements fanbase did over the long years.

But we have our memories. And we have the music. And while the former surely fades, the latter never will.

P.S. I’m taking a week off from posting (even though I’m writing this on Sept. 19), but I’ll be back with more exciting Certain Songs posts, starting with the first 2016 song I’m writing about, from the latest release by one of my all-time favorites.

“Up in the Air”

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2 Responses to “Certain Songs #664: Hüsker Dü – “Up in The Air””

  1. Mike B. says:

    I was fortunate to see Husker Du on the Flip Your Wig tour, at Mississippi Nights in St. Louis. They were scorching hot. I think the reason their fan base didn’t coalesce as compared to The Replacements is that the Mats were romanticized as loveable fuck ups and their music was a lot closer to the mainstream than Husker Du. At their peak, The Replacements would headline the 5,000 capacity Aragon in Chicago — the Huskers never played a venue that big here (although Sugar ultimately did). It’s a shame — the Huskers were one of the most influential bands of their era.

  2. Jim Connelly says:

    One more thing about why the Husker’s fanbase never quite coalesced: it was harder to see yourself in their songs and their personas, and while the ‘mats were clearly making it up as they were going along, Husker Du always seemed to be in control of their art.

    Whether or not that was true, of course, is up for debate, but there was always one degree of separation between the art and the artists, which wasn’t nearly as appealing on a personal level as the “this is who we are” songs Westerberg was cranking out.