Local Current Blog

Local legacies: Brian Oake and Martin Devaney talk about the Replacements and Hüsker Dü

Martin Devaney (left) and Brian Oake at The Current. (Jay Gabler/MPR)

Hüsker Dü. The Replacements. Two seminal names in Minnesota rock, two bands that exploded out of the Twin Cities alternative scene in the ‘80s and changed the course of popular music. There, the similarities end. Or do they? I invited Replacements superfan Martin Devaney, a local singer-songwriter, to sit down with Hüsker Dü superfan Brian Oake, co-host of The Current’s Oake & Riley in the Morning.

How did you become a superfan?

Devaney: I remember being at Cheapo on Snelling and hearing “Here Comes a Regular.” I was in high school. Hearing that song and being like, “Woah, what is this?” Then getting into Let It Be pretty heavily when I was making my first record. I was in the midst of discovering favorite songwriters, so that was my Westerberg rabbit hole.

Oake: I was living in the suburbs and I was the cool alternative kid, the Ducky of my John Hughes high school. I would make these regular forays to downtown Minneapolis and there was a great old record store called Northern Lights on Block E. I walked in there in 1984 and I asked the guy behind the counter, “What’s good?” He walked me over and said, “This is the best record in this store right now,” and it was that sprawling double album Zen Arcade by Hüsker Dü. I took it home and it literally changed my life.

What shows did you see? Which do you wish you could have seen?

Oake: I saw [Hüsker Dü] once at the Armory. It was basically a huge gymnasium. I went down to see Otto’s Chemical Lounge, Hüsker Dü, and the Dead Kennedys. It was freakish. I’ve actually never seen a stage heave that much up and down. They were blisteringly fast. They were almost militant in their precision.

Devaney, on seeing the Replacements reunion shows: Paul and Tommy are the spirits of the band and I feel like it did count. Yeah, I didn’t see the classic lineup, but I’m still happy it happened.

Oake: For the Replacements, the legend goes you either got to see the worst band you’ve ever seen before in your life or you were witnessing something that you were never going to see again. I would choose one of those [latter] shows as opposed to one of the complete drunken plane crashes that apparently were a little too frequent in their repertoire.

Devaney: I would’ve loved to see their really early Entry stuff, or the very last show in Grant Park in Chicago in ‘91.

Oake: There is legend of this [Hüsker Dü show] that happened at the Longhorn. It just so happened that everybody was there and it suddenly crystalized that, wow! This wasn’t just a great, loud, local band, we’re in the presence of something. I would’ve liked to have been there when they emerged from the chrysalis.

What are their best albums?

Oake: If I’m representing Hüsker Dü I could rank them in order, but for me Zen Arcade is my second favorite album of all time. Prior to that, they had been on SST Records and so they were hanging out with West Coast hardcore bands like Black Flag. This was the record where all the fury and bombast dovetailed perfectly with the two songwriters. You’ve got two songwriters in this band — Bob Mould, who’s clearly working through some stuff, and Grant Hart, who’s in love with this psychedelic, romantic [sound] — but I think they all hit that perfect point right there.

Devaney: With the Replacements, Tim being the first record I got of theirs, that’s my favorite. It’s tough with Let It Be and Tim kind of jockeying, but ultimately I go to Tim with slightly stronger songs across the board.

Oake: Let It Be, to me, is the Replacements’ absolute high water mark. Although I think Westerberg’s songwriting got more sophisticated later on, I just feel like there was a moment in time where suddenly he was a great songwriter, but they still had enough of that raw element. You get songs like “Gary’s Got a Boner” and you’re dealing with an undisputed masterpiece like “Unsatisfied” or “Androgynous,” and then they’re also doing a cover of Kiss’s “Black Diamond.” Complete chaos, but I love Let It Be.

What are your favorite stories about the bands?

Devaney: Things like when they were trying to convince Slim [Dunlap] to come into the band and they just sat at the CC Club and drank until he gave in. I heard that they pinned a note to him that said, “You’re in the band.” Some of the hijinks…the story of Chris Mars and Paul going down the street on the motorcycle. One of them was driving and the other was on the back covering up his eyes. That was the foundation for the song “Run It” on Hootenanny.

Oake: I’ve gotten to know Greg Norton from Hüsker Dü pretty well over the last few years, and I was lucky to know Grant, not real well but well enough. Hearing the stories of Grant and Greg just hanging out early on at the record store all day talking about music, just dreaming…it’s hard to imagine that a couple of music nerds just like you or me were hanging out at a record store and were like, “Let’s make a band! You know, we can do this. Make it is a little psychedelic, we can make it super fast and loud,” and then actually going on to become one of the most influential bands to come out of the 1980s.

What legacy have they left?

Oake: If you look to Seattle and everything that came out of there, that doesn’t happen without Hüsker Dü’s legacy. You look at the entire output of all the emo, post-hardcore, indie stuff that happened in the ‘90s, your Promise Rings and your Sunny Day Real Estates, that doesn’t happen. Nirvana doesn’t happen without Hüsker Dü! I just like to think of them as the sort of nerdy guys wearing cutoff denim shorts hanging out in a record store in the late ‘70s going on to change the face of American music.

Devaney: Coming up musically when I did, Slim Dunlap was playing the Turf Club every last Saturday night of the month and I would hang around and open for him and you would get him started and the stories would start to come. Grant too, you get him started up in the Clown Lounge and they start coming out. You’re sitting there thinking, Dave Grohl would piss his pants to hang out with these guys!

Oake: The Twin Cities really were the Twin Cities before Seattle was Seattle. When you talk about lifting the look, when you talk about lifting the overall vibe, and look at all those Sub Pop records that came out all the way through the ’90s…basically they lifted the whole aesthetic and just marketed it better and turned it into a whole multimillion dollar industry, as opposed to just a cool scene in a place that gets remarkably cold in the winter.