Ryan Adams: Husker Du left a map for me

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Ryan Adams and Bob Mould outside PAX-AM Studios
Ryan Adams and Bob Mould outside Adams' PAX-AM Studios in March of 2016. (Debi Del Grande)

Around the launch of "Do You Remember?" our podcast about Husker Du, we asked several artists to contribute their stories, memories or feelings about the band. Here's Ryan Adams' essay.

I left home with a pair of jeans, a few shirts, some underwear and socks and 3 cassettes. One of them I had made painstakingly on my double cassette boombox: my own best of Hüsker Dü compilation.

Hüskers left a map for me. Musically and personally. Their broken mirrors reflecting my fractured expectations, every record an antidote to some poison unavoidable to a teenager in trouble.

I remember seeing Amy Ray of Indigo Girls wearing their Warehouse tour shirt and would see the band's named mentioned by Sonic Youth and fIREHOSE. I even knew the singer's picture graced the cover of their album If'n, a record beyond crucial to my life. Back in the '80s, when phone numbers were memorized and vinyl and cassettes listened to like a ritual, none of us really KNEW who they were—only the broken crack through the letters of their logo, their stories and the fire in their souls burning through the speakers, pressing each bruise, healing it at the same time.

It felt different to listen to Hüsker Dü than to other bands I loved so much and fetishized. The Dead Kennedys, for example, filled your headphones with the pulse of a planet on the brink of nuclear war, chemical food additives and oppressive religious groups breathing down your neck. Hüsker Dü was a band who talked about not feeling safe, who asked why things hurt, who raged against the wounds of the lives happening in those generic suburban houses on all the xeroxed punk rock flyers. They were were looking for somewhere that wasn't broken, a world that likely didn't exist. Not for them. Not for me. I could—and still can—taste the smoke and ash rising from those tracks as they burned helplessly into my mind.

As I went from dishwashing job to plumbing job to construction work, ever sneaking in the odd album I could afford or borrow, I heard traces of their mark everywhere: the bravery of their words wearing off on others, the sonic blast of chords and melodic hurricane riffs coming and going in other bands. By that time I had Bob Mould's Workbook and Black Sheets of Rain and Grant Hart had gone on to other bands and solo albums... But there remained a thread for me, album to album, tracing their original rage.

As I made my way towards the later albums I began to hear one classic song after another, songs I couldn't comprehend not being on the radio. "Could You Be the One?," "Hardly Getting Over It"... These songs played out like the soundtrack to the most accurate movie of being my age, lost and helpless in a world meaner than I could have imagined, broke and broken, no home to go to, no one to trust. They KNEW. They were aleady there.

Now I am 42 and have been writing music of my own since I was 15, since the months I waited for Zen Arcade and New Day Rising to arrive through mail order. I write this remembering the day I put their "Eight Miles High" 7-inch on the turntable. I must have sat there an entire lifetime. Now, I am backstage about to play a show. My entire life, my openness to tell a truth that might burn me over and over, to play with fury and passion that dignifies the pain... These are the roads in that map left for me by those records. They were my best friends. Those songs. That band. And they saved my life. Every single listen. Even now as they carry on in my own work propelling me forward with hope.

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"Do You Remember?" is a podcast that explores Husker Du's formative years and legacy through rare exclusive interviews with the band, as well as those who were around in the beginning. We also dive into recordings from Numero Group's new remastered box set of the band's early releases, demos and live recordings.



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1 Photos

  • fIREHOSE - if'n
    fIREHOSE's 1987 album 'If'n' prominently features a promotional photo of Husker Du. (Courtesy SST Records)