On September 14, musician Grant Hart passed away from liver cancer. The former drummer and singer was a vital part of the punk rock band Hüsker Dü, which helped revolutionize alternative and rock and roll music. Hart left the group in 1989, subsequently creating another band, Nova Mob, before pursuing a solo career.
Hart released his last completed solo album, The Argument, in 2013. The Argument is a concept album based on John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, which depicts the Biblical stories of the rebellion of Satan and the fall of man in twelve books of blank verse. Hart’s take on this iconic epic was inspired by an unfinished stage play called “Lost Paradise” written by Hart’s friend, the late American writer William S. Burroughs. From 2008 to 2013, Hart developed his double LP, The Argument. “From the outset, knowing it was a mighty piece of work made it more challenging,” Hart said in a 2013 interview with Clash Music.
With 20 tracks and 74 minutes of heavy guitar and drum, mixed with electronic riffs, beeps and even xylophone, The Argument breathes new life into Milton’s centuries-old poem. The second track, “Morningstar,” is a favorite of critics. Ryan Bray for Consequence of Sound aptly describes the “essential track” as “flower child ruminations,” while AV Club points out that it “frames Satan as, alternately, a hypnotic Pied Piper of chantlike hooks and a sly, Rudy Vallée-esque crooner.” “Run For the Wilderness” is an especially upbeat, lyrical track, one I could see being performed in a Rent-style Broadway setting. Opening with the literal roar of a motorcycle, and the rapid drumbeat conjuring images of a hurried escape, Hart sings, “We kissed the fruit forbidden / we smelled and tasted it / no difficult conditions / he gave us open wide / we disobeyed now we got to run / for the wilderness / well it’s the only place we can escape to now.”
The first notes of the final song on the album, “For Those Too High Aspiring,” recall the 1998 hit “Closing Time” by Semisonic. Hart’s punk ballad features a sentimental harmonica layered over guitar and prominent drum as his lyrics depict the exile of Adam and Eve from Eden and of Satan from Heaven: “For those too high aspiring / here’s to you / you bit off more than you could chew / now you know / sadly how far you could go.” The last 30 seconds fade off with a high-pitched whirring noise, like a motor slowly failing into empty silence, as the album—which is more of an aesthetic experience than anything—winds down to an end.
Hart’s talent and originality is a loss not only to the music industry, but also to the literature community. His former Hüsker Dü bandmate, Bob Mould, put it best: “Grant Hart was a gifted visual artist, a wonderful story teller, and a frighteningly talented musician. Everyone touched by his spirit will always remember.”
To listen to The Argument click here!
By Jennifer Rohrbach
Image courtest of: The Current (MPR/Nate Ryan)