The first thing you hear is Grant Hart’s drums, running for their lives down the center of a dark, lonely street, followed closely by Greg Norton’s bass and then, Bob Mould’s guitar roars in, as either their savior, their destroyer, or possibly both. Then Mould start screaming: “Something I learned today / black and white is always gray,” and the world explodes.
That’s the opening to “Something I Learned Today,” which kicks off Zen Arcade, the messy, ambitious, sprawling landmark of an album that Hüsker Dü dropped like a fucking bomb into the middle of the punk rock landscape in 1984.
Back then, it was hard to wrap my head around Zen Arcade, as it seemed so improbable that something like this — and its lover, The Minutemen’s equally ambitious though somewhat less messy Double Nickles on The Dime — could come from ever-so-rigid hardcore scene, but there it was, with it jazz improvs, backwards guitars, piano interludes, acoustic singalongs, and pop masterpieces.
Like its spiritual predecessor, London Calling, Zen Arcade was the type of record that reminded people that if someone listens to a song that’s completely unconventional and totally D.I.Y and starts saying “that’s not pu–” you should punch them in the face before they finish the sentence and never take seriously anything they ever have to say again.
And “Something I Learned Today,” — with Mould’s guitar continually racing out ahead of the rest of the song and ending a harmonized sing-along of the title repeated over and over again — is an utterly auspicious way to begin it.
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“Something I Learned Today”
“Something I Learned Today performed live in Philly, 1983