Skip

Turn on, turn on, turn on, turn on the news: Zen Arcade hits 30
August 21, 2014 3:24 PM   Subscribe

Hüsker Dü's landmark double LP hits its third decade this summer. "Nobody was prepared for Hüsker Dü‘s Zen Arcade. It didn’t sound like any other album slapped with the "punk" tag. It didn’t even sound like any other music being made in 1984. Zen Arcade was a double album released in an era when two-record sets were reserved for bloated and pointless live records or even more bloated and pointless “artistic statements” put out by artists with way too much creative freedom. Plus, it’s a concept album — the hoariest of ’70s music shackles. But Zen Arcade was different — a punk-based double album that wasn’t very punk at times. It wasn’t very focused either, moving from folk and pop to jazz and classic rock." - diffuser.fm

The sky's the limit on this chartered trip away.

1. Something I Learned Today
2. Broken Home, Broken Heart
3. Never Talking to You Again
4. Chartered Trips
5. Dreams Reoccurring
6. Indecision Time
7. Hare Krsna
8. Beyond the Threshold
9. Pride
10. I'll Never Forget You
11. The Biggest Lie
12. What's Going On
13. Masochism World
14. Standing by the Sea
15. Somewhere
16. One Step at a Time
17. Pink Turns to Blue
18. Newest Industry
19. Monday Will Never Be the Same
20. Whatever
21. The Tooth Fairy and the Princess
22. Turn on the News
23. Reoccurring Dreams

Now and Zen: The greatest album of them all, Hüsker Dü’s Zen Arcade, turns 30

"Suddenly there it was, on a rack up front. It was called Zen Arcade, whatever that heck that meant. I picked it up and, hey, what’s this, it’s a double album! As a teenage punk rocker weaned on Black Flag and Minor Threat, with a rather one-dimensional appreciation for music, the very weight of the thing, together with the heady title and the washed-over, almost Impressionist cover art was intimidating. It seemed so arty and grown-up. It also made me curious. What was this strange record?"

Previously, Salon's Patrick "Ask the Pilot" Smith's thoughts on the LP's 20th anniversary:

"Zen Arcade is best savored not as a CD but in the old, cardboard-and-vinyl format. Each of its four sides is a distinct chapter with its own temperature and architecture, and each flip of the licorice seems a perfectly placed respite. Even more than London Calling or Sandinista! — the Clash’s multiside megaprojects — Zen Arcade sets the mark for the most brilliantly arranged opus of all time. The scourge of most double LPs, back when there was such a thing, is they went on for too long — padded with live cuts, covers and extras. But here, each and every song belongs exactly in its place, a flawless complement to those on either side. Zen Arcade can haughtily claim par with the likes of London Calling in the pantheon of classic two-record sets that aren’t bogged down by their own overreaching ambition or conceit."
posted by porn in the woods (35 comments total) 52 users marked this as a favorite

 
The summer of 1985, I ended up sharing a house with a bunch of insufferable Deadheads. I used to blast this album at top volume to piss them off.
posted by matildaben at 3:32 PM on August 21, 2014 [5 favorites]


Zen Arcade is best savored not as a CD but in the old, cardboard-and-vinyl format.

Bought it on CD when it was first released in '87 and listened from start to finish many times. Not having to get up and flip LPs made it a more immersive experience, and I think it works just as well (maybe better) that way.
posted by ryanshepard at 3:33 PM on August 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


It's really almost impossible for me to chart the impact this album and the followup New Day Rising had on me. I still wake up with these songs in my head randomly.

The later years of acrimony between Grant Hart and Bob Mould made me really sad and it was a long time before I really dug back into this stuff. But at the time it seemed like they walked the perfect razor's edge between hard and soft, angry and sentimental, noisy and melodic.

Tonight I'm going home and breaking out my old vinyl.
posted by lumpenprole at 3:34 PM on August 21, 2014 [6 favorites]


For one album to have---for one band to have written!---Chartered Trip Away *and* Pink Turns To Blue *and* Hare Krishna *and* Never Talking To You Again is one hell of a thing.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 3:45 PM on August 21, 2014 [6 favorites]


Bob Mould was on Marc Maron's WTF just last week, for those who missed it.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:46 PM on August 21, 2014 [5 favorites]


In my snarky moments, I think that this was the album where Bob Mould's writing skills doubled and his self-importance quadrupled. It's hard to overstate how much praise was lavished on this album at the time. There is no way that couldn't have gone to their heads at least a little bit.

But it's weird to think of it as a timeless album. I'm a middle-aged guy and epic song cycles about being young and disaffected can only be experienced as a not-entirely-painless nostalgia trip. If you're in your twenties now and latching onto this, congratulations, it's a good'un. But I hope there's somebody your age covering the same territory in terms relevant to your generation.
posted by ardgedee at 3:47 PM on August 21, 2014 [3 favorites]


> Not having to get up and flip LPs made it a more immersive experience, and I think it works just as well (maybe better) that way.

I'm like you, have only had this particular album on CD, and so I've primarily experienced it in the way you have. But I respectfully disagree with you: The dead air while changing sides can become part of the listening experience, as a long breath between assaults, or a pause for reflection.

I've had Warehouse, the Hüskers' other double album, on both vinyl and CD. For that album, getting their music in 20-ish minute blasts always seemed more natural to me than an unrelenting hour-long torrent.
posted by ardgedee at 3:55 PM on August 21, 2014


I'll always have a soft spot for Flip Yr Wig because that was when I discovered them. And I think I have all the love in the world for the writer of this article because I agree that Grant Hart was the best songwriter of the two, by far.
posted by honestcoyote at 4:14 PM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


Ha! Grant slept on my floor a few months ago.
posted by pxe2000 at 4:36 PM on August 21, 2014 [3 favorites]


Was this the first Hüsker Dü album I bought? I can't even remember. But boy, did I play the hell out of those LPs. Which got ruined in a flood, and besides I haven't actually hooked up the record player since two moves ago, so I haven't heard this amazing music in years, and I'm really enjoying it. So, thanks!
posted by languagehat at 4:47 PM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


There are some things I'd like to say but I'm never talking to you again.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:50 PM on August 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


Also, The Minutemen made Double Nickels on the Dime a double album in response to Zen Arcade. They had a single album batch of songs written, saw Zen Arcade, said "eff those guys", and wrote another batch of songs to make it a double.

More here.
posted by billder at 4:50 PM on August 21, 2014 [10 favorites]


I ran out and got Double Nickels on the Dime the day it came out (if I remember correctly), and I played it even more than this one. God, I miss the Minutemen.
posted by languagehat at 4:56 PM on August 21, 2014 [11 favorites]


Came here to say what stavros noted - Mould was on Maron's WTF podcast this week and it's not to be missed. One of the best interviews Maron's ever done IMO. Not to mention you'll learn about Mould's past in pro wrestling!
posted by photoslob at 5:11 PM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


And I think I have all the love in the world for the writer of this article because I agree that Grant Hart was the best songwriter of the two, by far.

Yeah, I'm with you on this. It's a crying shame that Hart seemingly got stuck and Mould didn't because although I love Sugar fine, I think that 2541 and Intolerance are the best of the post-breakup records, but I have no patience for anything he's done since then.
posted by tftio at 5:12 PM on August 21, 2014


I also think that Zen Arcade is probably three sides too long. There's a load of filler in there.
posted by tftio at 5:13 PM on August 21, 2014


The Minneapolis band that really gets the short shrift is Soul Asylum, who really should have stayed quit after And The Horse They Rode In On. Not dissimilar to Metallica post-Cliff Burton, IMO.
posted by tftio at 5:15 PM on August 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


I think they recorded this without rehearsing and put it down for the record with just a couple of overdubs. Been a long time since I read the liner notes. I taped the vinyl on first play. Spin or Rolling Stone were comparing it to The White Album. Never understood the comparison. It was The Black Album. A swirling descent into darkness and rage and loss.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 5:26 PM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


Thanks for this post. I hadn't listened to it in years - listening now and it sounds so gloriously urgent.
posted by davebush at 5:42 PM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


"The band recorded 25 tracks, with all but two songs ("Something I Learned Today" and "Newest Industry") being first takes, in 40 hours. The entire album was then mixed in one 40-hour session; the entire album took 85 hours to record and produce and cost $3,200."

Yup. Damn.
posted by Kinbote at 6:06 PM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


One reason "Chartered Trips" is so awesome is that is was recorded near last, so Bob's voice is totally shredded.
posted by tftio at 6:17 PM on August 21, 2014 [3 favorites]


Packed up my belongings in a nylon carryall. Heard the porter call.

Can't say this about too much music, but this album changed the course of my life.
posted by tim_in_oz at 7:21 PM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


Hüsker Dü - Live in London 1985
Classic scorch.

Whoa, just noticed that Patrick Smith wrote both the Salon piece and the new piece on thecurrant.org. Looking forward to his 40th anniversary musings!
posted by porn in the woods at 7:39 PM on August 21, 2014 [3 favorites]


When I started exploring more music, I kept reading bands that I liked saying things like "yeah, we're okay, but I wish I could do anything as well as Hüsker Dü". When I finally did find some Hüsker Dü, I learned that they were right.
posted by msingle at 9:56 PM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


I've had Warehouse, the Hüskers' other double album, on both vinyl and CD. For that album, getting their music in 20-ish minute blasts always seemed more natural to me than an unrelenting hour-long torrent.

"Unrelenting torrent" was pretty much how they presented Warehouse live - the whole thing, start to finish, in order, little to no talking in between songs. They threw in a couple of old tunes in the middle and as encores.

It was a-fucking-mazing.
posted by soundguy99 at 11:13 PM on August 21, 2014


When I was a lot younger I got into Husker Du through New Day Rising which led to Zen Arcade, and I can say that on no level whatsoever can I objectively judge this massive slab of feedbacked drenched hardcore exploding emotional catharsis and distortion.
I am tired, I have had beer tonight, so perhaps this is the right frame of mind to reference just how important this record was to me.

This, this is what being young, fucked up, consumed with nihilistic rage, and absolutely brokenhearted feels like:
8. "Beyond the Threshold" Mould 1:35
9. "Pride" Mould 1:45
10. "I'll Never Forget You" Mould 2:06
11. "The Biggest Lie" Mould
because, sometimes, all you want to do is scream. But of course you can't, so you let the mighty behemoth roar of Zen Arcade do it for you instead.
And, a beautiful scream it was indeed.
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 11:48 PM on August 21, 2014 [4 favorites]


Concept of Zen Arcade.
Man is living at home with his parents, leaves home and becomes a Hare Krishna then has a girl friend that dies of a heroin overdose, loses all his money and then moves back home with his parents again.

I heard the band recorded this record with no rehearsals and no second takes, all done in one go.
posted by Narrative_Historian at 2:12 AM on August 22, 2014


"Unrelenting torrent" was pretty much how they presented Warehouse live

The first 3 times I saw them, they had severe technical problems and it was painful to watch. The Warehouse tour was amazing. The Feelies opened for them and The dB's no-showed on what was supposed to be a triple bill. Never, ever have I felt sound wrap around me and reach inside like that.

Lisner Auditorium, GWU, has some stunning acoustics.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 3:23 AM on August 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


> The Minneapolis band that really gets the short shrift is Soul Asylum

Yes, I remember them fondly. They opened for... was it the Pogues? Anyway, nobody'd ever heard of them at the time; after they burned up the stage (and the headliners had an off night, so the memory stayed with me) I ran right out and bought the only album available, which was Made to Be Broken, and played it a lot. I bought the next couple, but with diminishing returns. Great band while they were great!
posted by languagehat at 8:00 AM on August 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


Just showing up to favorite a bunch of comments and be counted as one whose life was changed.

Listening right now, and it's just as vital and compelling as it was to 16 year old me. FUCK YEA! Thanks for posting this!
posted by snsranch at 5:34 PM on August 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


1. Man, just seeing this makes me happy, even though I'm the weird Husker Du fan who prefers New Day Rising.

2. One more vote in favor of the Maron / Mould interview. It's the most open and relaxed I've ever heard Mould.

3. Soul Asylum. Man. There was a rumor around Mpls the other day that a tent being erected on Nicollet Island was for a Soul Asylum private corporate gig. At this point, Soul Asylum is just Dave Pirner and a bunch of ringers. I try not to have unrealistic expectations for bands in terms of Keeping It Real, but this current entity really ought not to be calling itself Soul Asylum.

4. In honor of Mould's revelation in the Maron interview that he's always been a Beatles guy, not a Stones guy (the 'Mats covered the Stones front), here are the Huskers (and Dave Pirner) slaughtering "Helter Skelter."
posted by COBRA! at 6:06 PM on August 22, 2014 [4 favorites]


Do you remember?
posted by WalkingAround at 3:38 AM on August 23, 2014


Thanks for posting this. I have nothing to say that isn't some combination of things other people have posted, which is to say they were a huge part of my early years.
posted by safetyfork at 1:38 PM on August 24, 2014


I think I like the idea of listening to Zen Arcade in its original 4-sided form; I've only ever heard it in CD/MP3 form and I can imagine that a break between sides would help. I missed Hüsker Dü when they were around; I was too young to discover them on my own and my older brother was more of a mainstream/prog rock guy... Sugar was where I got hooked on Bob Mould, and after I exhausted their stuff I worked my way backwards. I've never been able to really get deep into Zen Arcade, partly because the production bugs me but I think it's probably mostly timing - If I had discovered the album during my angsty/angry senior year of high school I would have been all over it. Instead most of my residual angst imprinted on Sugar's catalog a couple of years later. I'd have to say New Day Rising and Flip Your Wig are my favorite Hüsker Dü albums. And although it's not canon, I love their enormous sound on The Living End.
posted by usonian at 4:44 PM on August 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


Ned Raggett at The Quietus: Shouting Louder Than Words: Hüsker Dü's Zen Arcade
posted by porn in the woods at 4:23 PM on September 3, 2014


« Older Touch the Pickle   |   Budweiser is a better beer than you think Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post