Friday, June 26, 2015

Hippies vs. Punks: Hüsker Dü's Land Speed Record

Hüsker Dü's Land Speed Record was recorded live the summer of 1981 and originally released by New Alliance Records in January of 1982, about the same time that Sire Records released Tom Tom Club in the United States. In 1987 Mike Watt and Martin Tamburovich sold New Alliance Records to SST Records. Greg Ginn then promptly reissued Land Speed Record on SST. This is when I bought the album.

Nineteen-Eighty-Seven was generally a good year for me, a year I became a proto-burdened bachelor when my girlfriend, whom I would end up marrying a year later, moved out of the apartment in which we had lived together for five years. She would return six months later, but for the summer and fall I had the apartment to myself. 

Excepting the regular presence of buddies, who, like blackbirds swooping down on a morsel that had been dropped on the sidewalk, homed in once the girlfriend had vacated the premises, not to mention a cousin who split his time between Berkeley and Marin County, I felt freer than I had since my freshman year of 1982.

What I remember about Land Speed Record is side two. For some reason I was under the impression that "Data Control" spanned the entire second side of the album instead of the last five-and-a-half minutes. I liked the song. It was distinguishable, had a distinguishable beat, was slower than the rest of the material on the record; plus, it was menacing. After listening to side two I felt as if I had been through a trial by ordeal, made privy to secret information. For that reason, I mostly listened to Land Speed Record by myself in the sunny part of the day from 3 PM to 5 PM when the apartment building was largely abandoned.

By 1987 Hüsker Dü was in the process of falling apart. The band's time on a major label was modestly successful. The Hüskers were pioneers when they jumped the SST ship for Warner Bros. with the release of Candy Apple Grey in early 1986. The big migration of hardcore and No Wave independent label bands wouldn't happen for another couple of years. I had stopped buying Hüsker Dü records after New Day Rising (1985).

Until of course the reissue of Land Speed Record. (Then later during the zenith of Grunge I purchased a cassette of Metal Circus.)

Embarking on a work-week immersion of the album I was a little hesitant about making the commitment. I didn't know if I had the strength to absorb non-stop the sonic hydrochloric acid of early Hüsker Dü hardcore. At first, on Monday, after listening to the record on my iPod, I would intersperse a Nina Simone record or Frank Zappa's Sleep Dirt (1979) before repeating the process. But by Wednesday I was listening to Land Speed over and over on high volume to the point that Thursday morning I woke up with an earache.

I think Christgau gets it right when he says, 
Like a good Eno ambient, this raving nonstop live one provides just enough surface detail--recombinant noise guitar, voices tailing off like skyrockets, slogans such as "data control," "do the bee," and "ultracore"--to function as mood rather than trance music, though admittedly not for the same kind of mood. Guaranteed to assuage the nervous tension of co-op conversion, labor strife, bad orgasm, World War III, and other modern urban annoyances. In other words: aarrghhh! B+
What strikes me this morning is that by 1987 we were already vaguely aware that things had gone wrong, and we were looking backwards to the early '80s and the purity of hardcore.

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