Saturday, December 8, 2007

Husker Du's "In a Free Land"/Punk Against Punk

YouTube is officially dangerous; for one thing, I find myself waxing nostalgic as I watch college-aged versions of my favorite bands that I never got to see live--the Clash, the Minutemen, Husker Du, etc. Husker Du was one of those bands who made me feel as if it were okay that I, a rather typical 20-year-old, was feeling lonely and fucked up inside--and that that feeling actually could be a song. It would be hyperbole to say that Bob Mould saved my life; but I remember reveling in those feedback-drenched harmonies in ways that made even my confusion beautiful. (I dare anyone to listen to the apogee of Husker Du's catharsis, their B-side cover of "Eight Miles High," and be unmoved).

The politics of Husker Du seemed rather aptly stated in the manifesto that accompanied "Warehouse: Songs and Stories"--"revolution begins at home, preferably in the bathroom mirror," if I recall correctly. Husker Du came out of the ashes of punk and was almost immediately post-punk, insofar as its songs seemed to critique punk culture's fundamentalisms and self-righteousness. In the words of Jim Doppke, Bob Mould was expert at dodging punk's dogma:

[he wrote] several very unpunk punk songs, especially "Real World," which is practically Republican compared to Minor Threat or lesser anarchy-centric bands. Or "Gravity," whose "This impulsive world / the crimes we all commit" dismisses in two lines the dogmatism and finger-pointing that, say, NYC hardcore never managed to escape.

Or "In a Free Land" -- "Why bother spending time reading up on things / Everybody's an authority in a free land." Sarcastic where "Gravity" was mournful, he was making the same point: punks don't know things, they can't lead you out of political ignorance, all are humans and therefore broken. He really took as much from the Buzzcocks as Minor Threat did from Wire; where MT wanted to be the clear-eyed, artistically innovative foresight-punks, Mould sung melodically of confused hearts. But he also loved insane volume and whackadoo guitar, things I find rather lacking in his more recent foursquare material.

Not saying he was full-on right in his punk vision either. MT knew what they were doing, and even at 19, drunk with anger and obsessed with his scene, MacKaye had viable ideals that nobody, then or now, should dismiss out of hand. As a fan, though, I have no problem listening to/synthesizing both approaches.

Here's Husker Du playing "In a Free Land," one of those early political diatribes against diatribes:

Here are the lyrics:

Government authorize education
(Don't mean a thing)
They'll teach you what they want you to think
(Don't mean a thing)
Saturation of stars and stripes
(Don't mean a thing)
The only freedom worth fighting for is for what you think

Why bother spending time
Reading up on things
Everybody's an authority
In a free land
In a free land
In a free land


Chaerephon said...

"Cheeseburger-fueled" was intemperate, sorry. Mould is a) buff and b) awesome and as a 20-year fan of his I meant no disrespect. I only meant to comment on his skinny, nay gangly, appearance in the 1980 footage of Husker playing "Gravity." I also think his recent work is good on its own terms, just different from the odder rhythms and nervous distortion waves of the Husker era. --JADjr

Philip Metres said...

That portion of your initial off-the-cuff gladly deleted by me. Bob's emotional messiness was always totally endearing, as was his largesse in figure. Cheers, Jimmy. BTW, teach me a Grifters song like Corolla Hoist, so that I can torment others with it.

Chaerephon said...

She's so undressed, can't right herself...

RazRocks said...

Hey Dr. Metres,

I thought id take a break from studying, and post a comment. "Im a Free Land" is without a doubt one of my favorite Husker Du songs. Along with "Terms of Psychic Warfare" and "No Sense at All", this is one of their best songs. You know that both Bob Mould, and Grant Hart were both gay, but numerous people believed it was Greg Norton (because of his handlebar moustache). Husker Du is a great band with a lot of great songs.


Philip Metres said...

Greg Norton, at last google search, was a chef. How about that? Does he jump around while making omelettes?