Favorites: Zen Arcade


I knew of Husker Du long before I actually ever heard them. Before the days of high-speed internet, and culturally landlocked in a town where finding decent music to purchase was usually a non-starter, I was cut-off from hearing a lot of the things that I read about. So while I poured myself into the music of contemporaries The Replacements, Sonic Youth, and The Meat Puppets (albums of whom I felt especially lucky to acquire), I essentially settled for imagining what Husker Du’s albums sounded like.

Anyway, spurred on further by the work of writer Dennis Cooper, I finally got around to buying “New Day Rising”, which was a more concise statement than “Zen Arcade“, but it’s the sprawl and barbed wire thrash which makes the latter so enthralling. They were one of the first hardcore bands to expand beyond the tight restraints of that genre, and on this album they laced their loud sound with a psychedelic pop whir that would go on to inform an entire generation of alternative rock. While I certainly have an appreciation for the hardcore movement of the early ’80s (and I would never deny the greatness of Black Flag, D.O.A., Bad Brains, The Circle Jerks, The Germs, The Dead Kennedys, or Minor Threat), it was the groups who took the hardcore ethos and expanded its’ musical palate (The Minutemen, Husker Du, and The Replacements being perhaps the greatest) who I enjoy the most. While hardcore had started out as an exciting west coast intensification of the first wave of New York and London punk, it quickly became every bit as narrow-minded and conformist as the mainstream they were railing against (see: the backlash against Henry Rollins for growing his hair out and against Bad Brains for incorporating reggae into their sound), coupled with an increasingly homophobic, racist, and fascist fanbase. Fortunately, a few bands like Husker Du were able to rise above the meathead attitude of hardcore, taking its intensity but blending it with more interesting and wider-reaching craftsmanship.


2 responses to “Favorites: Zen Arcade

  1. I would add Fugazi to that list of bands who expanded the hardcore formula in successful ways. Minor Threat didn’t help discourage the boneheads with songs like “Guilty of Being White,” but I still think they were a great band.

    And, of course, big ups for Husker Du.

  2. silenceinarchitecture

    Yeah, Fugazi definitely fits that designation for me as well.

    I think there was a certain sense of naive idealism at work with “Guilty of Being White”, at least after hearing Ian’s explanation in “American Hardcore”. What he didn’t realize is that not everyone in his audience was as adept at sociological minutiae as he was. Ha.

    But yeah, I have nothing but respect for the way that Fugazi operated…and hope that they end their recording hiatus at some point.

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