Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A letter from you know who

A Letter from Anne Marie - Grant Hart

Minneapolis was an amazing place in the 1980s.  Prince, Hüsker Dü and the Replacements were reinventing pop, punk, funk and rock.  Recently, Gorman Bechard directed a documentary about the 'Mats, "Color Me Obsessed," and has now turned his sights to the very compelling Grant Hart of Husker Du.  I encourage you to check out the project on kickstarter (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1542689813/every-everything-the-music-life-and-times-of-grant) and to pledge if you can.

A quick thought before I get to one of Grant's songs:

Songs that one loves are generally easy to categorize - those that were huge hits; those that feel like they should have been; and those that will only appeal to a smaller audience for whatever reason.  I usually can sort my favorites into these buckets without a problem.  But once in a while there's a song I could listen to endlessly on a loop and I can't quite grasp if it's something a lot of other people would like if they heard it or if it's just me.

"A Letter from Anne Marie" by Grant Hart is a prime example.  To me, it could be a Phil Spector produced track for David Bowie from the 1970s that became an FM staple.  Or maybe a lost Lennon track from the White Album.  But that's not to say that it's a facsimile of other artists - it's a total original by Hart that he sings with real passion.  It strikes home to me.  Everyone can relate to waiting in vain for a letter that never comes - even though now, only 13 years after the song was released, a personal letter arriving via US Mail is a rare thing.

Below the jump: the music and some thoughts from Grant, who graciously responded to my queries with humor and great candor, as you will see.

Grant, some artists are happy to discuss the inspiration for and the meaning of their work.  Others prefer to let their art speak for itself and feel their personal opinion as the creator is no more valid than anyone else's.  Both are reasonable positions.  Which of these attitudes is closest to describing you?

GH: Sometimes it gets frustrating waiting for the public to embrace a meaning. After a few years or so I am likely to explain the song so people have an idea how clever I am. Ahhh, pearls before swine!

You sang and played all the instruments on "A Letter from Anne Marie."  Did you have a clear idea from the beginning about how you wanted it to sound or did you experiment with various arrangments?

GH: There were many different and exotic mixes of LFAM. Some featured the background vocals very much. Some the drums . I would probably take a completely different approach today.

Pitchfork's review in 1999 liked the album ("Good News for Modern Man") but not "A Letter from Anne Marie," saying that the title refrain becomes "insufferably repetitive."  Funny, that's part of what makes the song work for me, it becomes a powerful mantra.  How does the song hold up for you, listening to it 13 years down the road?

GH: I do not care much for the song today. I tend to never play it unless it is requested . When I do I shorten the refrain completely.

Is there an Anne Marie and is her name indeed "Anne Marie?"

GH: Yes there is and yes it is.

Like you, I grew up in the Twin Cities.  The line about all you ever see in your mail is a bill from Meadowbrooke makes me think of the golf course, but I assume you're not talking about country club dues.  There's also a woman's clinic of that name, so it could be about paying for Anne Marie's abortion.  Or not.  Are you willing to shed any light or do you want to leave it vague?

GH:  It's funny how some things stay in your mind a long time while other things are forgotten almost immediately.  Sometimes the things that you want to remember most are the things that you lose track of.

Sometimes what you remember and what you do not remember say things about what kind of person you are. This can be frustrating when you think that what you do not remember makes you seem like a jerk. Imagine remembering the town and the restaurant and the food you had with someone but you can't remember her name. Or she gave you a book that night and you cannot remember the title.

   I was walking down High Street, I believe, in Columbus, Ohio. It was probably 1982 or 1983. I was not alone, perhaps we were looking for something to eat after the drive from who knows where. The scene plays back a million times. We enter a town, find the club, unload the gear and wait until it is time to set up and ''do'' a soundcheck.

   As we were walking away from the club I could not help but notice a young woman wearing a grey t-shirt with the ''Hüsker Dü'' logo painted by hand in a bright cerise colour on the front of the shirt. I was going through a hetero phase at the time and the logo was not the only thing I noticed about the front of her shirt.

  After eating we went back to the club where the staff was beginning to show up and were starting their bar stocking and ice schlepping.

   I talked to the girl with the Hüsker Dü shirt and when I left town I had her address and she had mine.

   I am a heel for forgetting so many of the details but at the end of this hetero excursion i found it easier to think of the girl Anne Marie than it was to think about and talk to and love and have sex with the very real woman I was living with in Minneapolis. It was the results of a very strong woman and a weak-willed me on the rebound. My male partner at the time was also seeing a girl and the whole thing was a joke. A joke that turned deadly when a pregnancy and an abortion as an option came up.

  As it was easier for me to say things in song I again took the easy route and wrote the song ''A Letter from Anne Marie.'' I demonstrated the song to the band, but the band's guitar player refused to consider playing it or adding it to our set.

   A few years later i was going through old notes looking for a song to open side two of ''Good News for Modern Man '' when i came across the song again.

  I wonder whatever became of her...


  1. "Letter....' has been a favourite of mine since i picked the album up second-hand 4 or 5 years ago . Funny, i hadn't thought on it in a while & then just a couple of days ago it entered my head in the early morning & accompanied me on the journey to work.
    Now going to check out the kickstarter film page. Thanks for the feature , nice work.
    Craig, London

    1. Hey Craig, thanks for chiming in and for the kind words. If there are any songs you think would make a good post for this blog, let me know.

  2. Thanks, I hadn't heard this song before but really like it. Will have to check out the rest of Hart's catalog.

  3. I wonder if Anne Marie regrets not having Grant's baby.What an honor it would have been. I loved Husker Du in the extreme and would have loved to meet and talk to Grant...or maybe more than that! I did see them play several times and these were some of the greatest shows I'd ever seen, and I'd seen a lot.But in 1982-1983 I was already a single mom with a kid--fathered by another drummer with the same kind of drug problems!---and was in no position to go dragging around the country with the kid chasing beautiful rockdudes (I'm not from the Twin Cities). Later came marriage and another kid. The drummer dad has been deceased for a long time now from drug-induced AIDS,and he never could be bothered with us.But Grant miraculously is still with us for which we should be joyful,for he is such a treasure.Looking forward to the wonderful movie about him,which I was happy to contribute to on Kickstarter.

    Those drummers...my everlasting weakness...

  4. Hey Anonymous, thanks for sharing your story and glad you liked the post.