A recent concert had a star studded band, including Dave Grohl, backing Bob Mould in a celebration of the music of Hüsker Dü. On Twitter Matt Stevens questioned how Grant Hart might feel about this event, and it got me thinking about how some significant members of bands can get forgotten as we celebrate the legacies of others.
There is no denying that Grant Hart was a big part of the Hüsker Dü sound, with his distinctive drumming as well as writing and singing many of the bands best songs. Mould would probably get more tracks on a best of collection but some of their finest moments, especially on their masterpiece Zen Arcade, come from the pen of the singing drummer. And yet it seems pretty unlikely that a star studded cast is lining up to play a similar concert to celebrate the music of Hüsker Dü with Hart.
Post-Hüsker Dü things have been kinder to Mould and his musical output has been better received, especially his debut album as Sugar, Copper Blue. However, take a listen to Hart’s career retrospective Oeuvrevue and you’ll hear plenty of excellent songs that have been largely overlooked, and this is a compilation that ignores his best singles ‘2541’ and ‘Admiral of the Sea’, one of the standout tracks from Hart’s post-Hüsker Du band Nova Mob. For me a celebration of Hüsker Dü would have Hart involved as well as moustachioed bass player Greg Norton who still plays in bands when he isn’t running restaurants.
Despite not getting the respect I think he deserves Grant Hart is hardly forgotten, something you can’t say about former Lemonhead Ben Deily. When I first heard the Lemonheads they were a band with two front-men, Deilly and Evan Dando. Each contributed songs, guitar, vocals (and often bass and drums) to the band’s first three albums Hate Your Friends, Creator and Lick. I loved Dando’s songs, and he had the sweeter voice, but Deily was an excellent songwriter and the balance between the different song writing styles was what made the albums so enjoyable. After Deilly left the next Lemonheads album, Lovey, sounded a little flat and was a bit of a disappointment.
It is true that It’s A Shame About Ray is a brilliant record, close to faultless from start to finish, but I find it hard to see it as a Lemonheads record with only Dando present from the original line-up. For me the magic of many bands is the collection of component parts as much as it is the skills of individuals.
It is pretty common for the songwriters and singers of bands to forget the importance of their other band members, and the crucial part they have to play in creating a band’s sound and identity. Morrissey and Paul Weller have both been guilty of downplaying the importance of their respective rhythm sections and arrogantly assuming it was their individual genius that lead to their success. They must both know that if they reformed The Smiths and The Jam they would sell more tickets and sell more records than they ever will as solo artists.
Their is something about the magical make-up of a great band that fans understand in a way that band members often forget. Blur were lost when Graham Coxon left, REM never really recovered from the loss of Bill Berry and I can never warm to The Undertones or the Stranglers with their substitute singers.
The tension, personality and style that a band produces is a magic that can’t be replicated with musical talent alone. Take the career of Stephen Malkmus for example. His latest band the Jicks are clearly a better band technically than Pavement,and Malknus is still writing great songs, but I’ll never be as excited about seeing him play live with the Jicks as I was when I saw the reformed Pavement. I have mixed feelings about bands reforming, it can often destroy the old magic, but when it does happen it is often a success just because people want to see something back that they had lost.
The Clash were a great band, and had a gang identity like no other, but the writing was on the wall when they released Combat Rock. Look at the video for ‘Rock The Casbah’, Topper Headon replaced on drums by Terry Chimes despite having written some of the music for the song (and playing bass, drums and piano on the record). His drug problems had forced the band to replace him, but seeing the gang broken up in this way was disappointing. Although not as disappointing as the risible Clash mark 2 featured on Cut The Crap, a sad way for a once great band to bow out.
Some of music’s most changeable acts seem to survive despite rotating line-ups. Guided By Voices and The Fall had such unstable line-ups from day one that it didn’t seem so important when band members changed. Even so it is notable how much attention has been devoted to the GBV “classic line-up” in a year when Bob Pollard’s ‘Boston Spaceships’ knocked out one of the albums ofn his career to little fanfare. And you can only imagine the rise in ticket sales if The Fall announced a tour with the same line-up that recorded Hex Education Hour.
Nostalgia is a dangerous thing in music, and can get in the way of new acts breaking through, something so important to keeping the music industry alive. But the singers and song writers from those new acts want to remember that the magic of the band is an important thing before they decide to sack their band members or go solo.
By Dorian Rogers