Monday, October 26, 2009

Marky's song #14: Hüsker Dü – “Somewhere”

(Hüsker Dü, part tü – read part one here.)

Though they would go on to bigger (if not necessarily better) things, the strongest music this Minnesota trio made occurred when they were still on independent label SST. Hüsker Dü is also notable for being the first ‘underground’ band to switch from an indie to a major label (Warner), flaring a debate concerning the appropriateness of such a move that still simmers to this day. Without getting deep into an indie versus major argument, let me present a counterfactual: if Hüsker Dü’s stint at a major label had been a thoroughly positive one – replete with improved albums and the lack of heartbreaking implosion, would certain segments of indie rock nation look upon major labels with as much derision as they justifiably do? Food for thought. Even those who talk about it disparagingly refer to the action of bands moving from smaller, independent labels to larger ones in an upward fashion. “They jumped to a major label” implies ascending, not downward or lateral, movement.

It seems that Hüsker Dü won me over despite bucking my preconceived notions at the time regarding supposed virtues and sins in music. Believe me, even though I loved the previous EP, I was very skeptical the first time I put Zen Arcade on. Think about what it is: a concept double album. Do they really expect to hold my attention that long? And what’s the deal with this last song being 14 minutes long? I still have some minor objections to the concept album claim. The story is about a boy who runs away from home in order to escape his tumultuous family life, only to discover the life outside of home is just as hard. This I cede, but where does “Standing By The Sea” (an earlier version of which was recorded during the Metal Circus sessions) or “Beyond The Threshold” fit into the narrative?

Oh well, no matter. Nowadays, the cult status of this album goes rightfully unchallenged a quarter of a century after its initial release. A legendary recording recorded in legendary fashion, Zen Arcade is an album that honestly does need to be listened in its entirety. The songs lose a little when plucked out of context. But this blog is called 500 Songs, not 500 Albums, so we have to stick to the game plan here.

Of the four sides of vinyl that comprise Zen Arcade, side two is my least favorite. (I realize this is sort of like complaining about what your least favorite way of winning the lottery is.) The first half of it comes across as senseless ruckus-making, the second half sounds like a collection of tunes that didn’t quite fit anywhere else. “What’s Going On” and “Masochism World” both conclude by devolving into noise; “Standing By The Sea” is a slow drift meant to mimic the soothing rhythm of ocean waves. I am being overly-critical here; don’t get me wrong – this is all great music I love dearly, but in hyper-analysis of the album it’s a bit of a lull, and I distinctly remember being in kind of a drowsy haze when I took side two off and replaced it with side three.

I was instantly snapped out of that haze with the bright and shiny attention-grabbing chords to “Somewhere.” The only song on the album written by one member of the band (Mould) but sung but another (Hart), this is the point where Hüsker Dü delivers on all their promise. Lyrically, this is classic Hüsker Dü emotional turmoil, contrasting desires with actuality. Furthermore, the songwriters make the concession that not only do they not know what they want, but that there might not be anything in particular that would satisfy them.

Searching for the truth but all I ever find is lies
Trying to find identity but I just find a disguise
Looking at the nightmare when I try to see the dream
Finding a reality as perfect as it seems

Somewhere the dirt is washed down with the rain
Somewhere there’s happiness instead of pain
Somewhere satisfaction has no name
Somewhere I can be the same

Looking down on everything it seems a total bore
Missing all the people that I’ve never met before
Trying to find an unknown something I consider best
Don’t know if I’ll find it but until then I’ll be depressed

The backwards guitar after the second chorus that continues through the rest of the song (and into the next) is gorgeous. And it’s worth pointing out that this song is just the beginning: the entire second disc of Zen Arcade is amazing song after amazing song, all the way to the final feedback whine of that aforementioned lengthy final instrumental.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the album, I hope all this chatter piques your curiosity and that the sound sample whets your appetite. You can find all the other songs on the album on YouTube as well, but it is not available as digital download. The band has not gone back and re-mastered any of their SST output. The only way to get it is by way of the hard copy. But that’s fine, it’s not hard to track down and you can pretend to be the indie diehard that still clings to vinyl CDs.


  1. Pretty agreed about the SST thing. Warehouse is good, but it's not the same. Oddly, Flip Your Wig got pressed on vinyl again a couple years back. *stares at record collection*

  2. Really! I didn't know that. I wonder if they remastered it? I know there's a lot of live video and audio footage in the vaults that Mould said would be taken out of the archive "when someone somewhere needs money."

  3. Nope, no remaster. I'd like to hear what they could do with them because the CDs are pretty hollow sounding.

  4. Another great post. Haha - least favorite way of winning the lottery.

    I should listen to more Husker. I really only know a few of there songs but found Sugar first and am more emotionally attached to them. One of these workdays I'll put Zen Arcade on and listen the whole way thru.