Grant Hart, a drummer and songwriter best-known as a member of Minneapolis' widely influential punk trio, Hüsker Dü, died Wednesday night at the University of Minnesota Medical Center of complications from liver cancer and hepatitis, his wife, Brigid McGough, confirmed to NPR. He was 56 years old.
The seed of Hüsker Dü — named after a phonetic game its members played with the Talking Heads song "Psycho Killer" — germinated in 1978, when the band's eventual guitarist and singer Bob Mould met Hart while the latter was working at a record store called Cheapo near Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., where Mould was in school. As Mould described in his memoir, See A Little Light, Hart closed the store after Mould mentioned he played guitar: "I'm gonna close the store and I wanna go see you play right now."
That pairing, with the addition of bassist Greg Norton, began 10 years of collaboration that saw Hüsker Dü transition from speed-obsessed hardcore punks to the architects of the melodic, high-concept double album Zen Arcade. The trio's final album, Warehouse: Songs & Stories, was a relatively bright and melodic piece that would help define the sound of alternative and college rock for nearly a decade after.
The health of Hart and Mould's relationship as co-songwriters was inversely proportional to Hüsker Dü's success. Healthy competition was a principal driving force of the band, but as Mould became the group's manager following the suicide of David Savoy, the acrimony between them increased. Hart slipped into heavier drug use around 1986, particularly heroin (amphetamines were openly shared among the group's members, according to Mould in his book). In 1988, the group split following an attempted intervention at the house of Hart's parents. "We're lucky we got out of it with our lives," Hart told the filmmaker Gorman Bechard for Every Everything, a documentary on Hart's life.
In contrast to the fierce salt of Mould, Hart's songwriting often looked skyward, melodic and heady, typified in "Turn on the News." His solo work would showcase the same reflective, tender sensibilities.