30 Years Ago: Husker Du’s ‘Warehouse: Songs and Stories’ Marks the Beginning of the End
Husker Du's Warehouse: Songs and Stories arrived on Jan. 19, 1987 as a double album, which seemed to point to an era of creative growth. Instead, it represented a final attempt at reconciliation before they blew apart forever.
The reasons were right there in the DNA of this band, which fused the seemingly disparate sounds of sweet '60s pop and flinty punk. As the balance of power shifted to one side – specifically, toward Bob Mould – the fragile center of Husker Du could not hold.
Warehouse: Songs and Stories, the band's second big-label release, was created during a period of great expectations and as such was largely written on the road while Husker Du promoted 1986's Candy Apple Grey. "I keep a journal," Mould told the Chicago Tribune in 1987. "We'll jam at sound check and come up with a melody line. The actual arranging usually happens when we have time off."
When they finally gathered in the spring of '86 – at a warehouse, thus the title – new songs seemed to flood out. "We had a chance to sit down and gather up all the loose ideas," Mould added. "I got all the stray pieces of paper out of all the pockets of my jackets, put them in one place and looked at them. It was sort of like going to the accountant, except this time we were ready."
What emerged wasn't a bludgeoning force of nature like their earlier projects, something that became a bone of contention for some old-line fans. Instead, the album was dotted with the most heartfelt, emotionally mature songs yet from Mould, drummer Grant Hart and bassist Greg Norton. Warehouse: Songs and Stories wasn't always an easy listen, but it richly rewarded those who were open to its raw sentiments.
"What we write about is painful in the sense that it's real honest," Mould told the New York Times in 1987. "A lot of the misery or the torture that it seems like we're going through, a lot of times those may or may not be metaphors. Sometimes, you have to paint the picture a little more vividly than real life for the subject to stand out."
This wasn't Husker Du's first double album, but Mould said there was a significant difference from the last one. "Zen Arcade was a long story," he told the Times. "Warehouse is a collection of short stories. We had a lot of ideas saved up."
So much so that even Warner Bros., their new label after six acclaimed indie releases, was taken by surprise. "They were worried there would be 10 good songs and 10 filler songs," Norton told the Morning Call in 1987. "Once the album was in completed form, they realized there were 20 good songs."
Listen to Husker Du Perform 'Up in the Air'
During moments like "These Important Years," in which Mould warns that "if you don't stop to smell the roses now, they might end up on you," there is some sense of what would soon befall Husker Du. Later, it became clear that Hart and Mould had been fighting over Husker Du's steering wheel for a while. At the time, however, Warehouse: Songs and Stories felt like an honest, if occasionally uneven statement from a band on the cusp of something new.
Then, their band manager David Savoy Jr. committed suicide in February 1987, forcing a two-week postponement of the companion tour dates. Norton described Savoy as a "real dear friend. Besides being our manager, he was one of our biggest fans." Hart, also talking to the Morning Call, noted that "David was manic depressive," but said, "it was a big shock."
Mould ended up stepping in as Husker Du's management, and existing fissures involving the direction of the band and Hart's reported drug use quickly widened. As Hart's struggles apparently worsened, Mould abruptly cancelled the rest of the tour – while never discussing it with Hart or Norton.
Already, they'd taken to robotically performing Warehouse: Songs and Stories in its exact playing order, as internal tensions mounted. A newly sober Mould would eventually turn to more acoustic sounds, marking an even sharper deviation from Husker Du's tough early approach.
"It was almost coming to the point where I had no emotions; it was just a blur of white noise," Mould told the Associated Press in 1989. "Emotionally, I was not attached to it because I no longer felt that way. We were doing what people expected us to do."
Basically on the road since the appropriately named Land Speed Record arrived in 1982, it appeared that Husker Du simply burned out. But there was obviously more to it than that. Hart quit in early 1988, later citing the partnership's sudden shift. He also came to blame his pitched arguments with Mould for driving Savoy to his death.
Warehouse's impact on the emerging genre of alternative rock steadily grew, but Mould has remained focused on a solo career -- with the exception of his early '90s band Sugar -- ever since. "I think immediately upon my leaving I felt a great sense of release," Mould told the AP. "You have to let go of things like that. It became a situation where we could not work together again."
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