Never Heard of 'Em

Never Heard of 'Em: Hüsker Dü's Zen Arcade

Anna Minard claims to "know nothing about music." For this column, we force her to listen to random records by artists considered to be important by music nerds.


Zen Arcade

First, a digression: ROCK DOTS (oh, the assonance! So poetic!). Or: Röck Döts?! Also known as a "heavy metal umlaut," röck döts are the dots sitting atop a letter "gratuitously or decoratively" in a band name, according to Wikipedia—e.g., Blue Öyster Cult, Mötley Crüe, etc. (Is anyone else craving the impossible-to-masticate candies called Dots now?) Because of their röck döts, I'd always assumed that Hüsker Dü were a tacky metal band. Ööps! Turns out they're hardcore, punk, or thrash—hardcore is a kind of punk, right? And thrash is a kind of metal... The music taxonomy eludes me yet again. What's important is that they were influential and not commercially successful—catnip to music nerds' little noses.

I started listening to Zen Arcade after the interwebs decreed it in our blog poll. I walked around the city buying groceries, dodging rush-hour pedestrian mobs, baking a little in the late sun. I did not love it; I did not hate it. It was yelly, but I'm used to giving that a chance now.

Shortly, a song, halfway done already, climbed through the mess of city and snared itself in some feelings that had been building a hidden nest in my stomach. "Never Talking to You Again" is straightforward, quietly defiant, and less than two minutes long. "There are things that I'd like to say/But I'm never talking to you again/There's things I'd like to phrase some way/But I'm never talking to you again..." A resigned-but-empowering estrangement anthem? Yes, please! When it was over, I pressed rewind. Then I accidentally-on-purpose listened to it on repeat for an hour-long bus ride, mesmerized.

I did eventually listen to the whole thing, and while I kept wishing I had better headphones or better speakers (then I read that the production is just kind of shit), and some of it was annoying—"Hare Krsna" = someone sharpening their jingle bells on a whetstone wrapped in cellophane?—I liked how much variation there was across a long album. Apparently, it's a concept album about a suburban kid in a mental hospital, but I couldn't really understand most of the words.

I end with music news you should write on a Post-It so you don't lose: Former frontman Bob Mould is coming to town (solo) on September 18! You heard it here first! Or third or something.

In honor of "Never Talking," I give this a "my new favorite ohrwurm" out of 10. recommended


Comments (7) RSS

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This column makes me feel old as dirt.
Posted by mint chocolate chip on August 16, 2012 at 6:29 PM · Report this
ean 2
Yeah MCC me too, but she is kind of right. I always thought that this album was crappy except for that song. Especially the production, which if I remember correctly was a collaborative effort between Self Produced and LSD, never a good combo. For me, Flip Your Wig and New Day Rising were the good albums, and this was the self indulgent lousy one.
Posted by ean on August 17, 2012 at 9:07 AM · Report this
Paul Kuniholm Pauper 3
For the record, and a waste of my breath, Hüsker Dü were the first to umlaut. And though Zen Arcade was not Flip Your Wig, Zen Arcade did inspire a visual art breakthrough of mine, using a vintage video arcade game as an exhibit system.
Posted by Paul Kuniholm Pauper on August 21, 2012 at 3:33 PM · Report this
Blue Oyster Cult and Motorhead were the first to use umlauts. "Something I Learned Today" was a great live tune, but just OK on record. "Never Talking to You Again" is a good one. At the Triple Door show this spring, Bob said he felt the best three records he ever did were Workbook, Copper Blue, and Flip Your Wig. For my money, the Huskers sounded better live than on wax.
Posted by after4ever on August 27, 2012 at 3:02 PM · Report this
The use of umlauts in the band's name is not entirely gratuitous, as the name originally appeared in Danish as "Hūsker Dū" and the diacritical marks known as macrons were replaced with the more familiar umlauts. Why? Who knows.

The name refers to a Danish board game played by children that is similar to a game we call Concentration. The name "Hūsker Dū" literally translates into "Do You Remember?" in Danish.

You're welcome.
-Harold Lowe Bagg, Professor Emeritus
Posted by rael1964 on August 28, 2012 at 1:01 PM · Report this
There was an early-70s TV commercial in the upper Midwest with a cheezy sales pitch for the boardgame Husker Du that would repeat the name over and over.

That's where they got the name.
Posted by Alirox on September 11, 2012 at 2:59 PM · Report this
Posted by I'll umlaut YOUR face on September 18, 2012 at 10:26 PM · Report this

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