Grant Hart calls it “the unending chain of artistic appropriation,” and he seems unusually happy with the results.
A new exhibit at Walker Art Center, “Land Speed Record” by St. Paul artist Chris Larson, is named after a record by Hart’s old band Hüsker Dü and based on what was essentially a big ol’ pile of Hart’s stuff.
“I’ve lifted a lot of things from other people to use in my art over the years, and now Chris is keeping that cycle going,” said Hart, who kicks off the Walker’s Summer Music & Movies Series in Loring Park on Monday with a new backing band to promote the exhibit.
Hart will also perform on Aug. 15 to mark the 35th anniversary of the original “Land Speed Record” at 7th Street Entry, where Hüsker Dü recorded the album live in one breakneck-paced, all-roar set in 1981.
But first, the exhibit. The Twin Cities punk vet suffered a house fire in 2011 and called on his friend Larson to store his soot-covered but salvageable goods. Larson works out of a giant warehouse/studio with ample room, above a nondescript Slumberland store on St. Paul’s East Side. He obliged Hart’s request — and then turned his friend’s mess into art.
“Land Speed Record,” the exhibit, features a video installation made out of Hart’s items, from musical and visual-art equipment to a lawn mower, Studebaker car parts and records. Larson arranged all the gear into a 85-foot span and built a special track above it for film footage and close-up photos.
Hart, for his part, didn’t overly question Larson’s motives.
“Chris and I have been friends for over a decade, so we have a real comfortable push-and-pull thing going on,” he said. “If it had been anyone else than Chris — any other ego than Chris — I probably would’ve said, ‘Forget you. You’re not appropriating my work.’ But I trusted him, and you can see why.”
Give the drummer some
The exhibit also features a replica of the drink rail in 7th Street Entry. And if all that weren’t cause enough for some curious head-scratching, Larson also recruited a young-and-able drummer, Yousif Del Valle, to rerecord all of Hart’s drum parts from that original 1981 album.
“Way too many packs of cigarettes have gone through my lungs to drum like that again,” said Hart, who was impressed by Del Valle’s effort. The Walker is pressing the all-drum recording on clear vinyl for purchase starting Aug. 15.
“He studied it and worked very hard on it. He didn’t quite get it all the way, but he came close. I think it would’ve been more dishonest for me to do it, since it’s all about Chris mirroring and recontextualizing my work.”
Before his Entry show on the 15th, Hart will put the original “Land Speed Record” into context with a preshow discussion, tentatively set to include Hüsker Dü bassist Greg Norton, soundman Terry Katzman and others.
The album famously captures the influential Minneapolis trio pushing the fast-and-fierce hardcore punk sound to an almost comical extreme, tearing through 17 songs in 26½ minutes with nary the melodies and rich songwriting that set the band apart from the punk underground on subsequent albums.
“We were going for something very maximum,” Hart said simply. “It never could’ve been maintained.”
‘Behind the madness’
Hart doesn’t plan to revisit any of those songs at the performances. In fact, he’s played only one of the “LSR” songs in the decades since, “Data Control,” and only rarely. But he does plan to get loud again after many years of performing solo around town. His new band will feature Dylan Ritchie on bass and Tim Leick Jr. on drums, both formerly of Prissy Clerks.
Hart, 55, is also once again working with producer Mike Wisti on the follow-up to his well-received 2013 double LP “The Argument,” based on John Milton’s epic poem “Paradise Lost.” This one will also be a concept album, and the subject is even more surprising than the last one.
“It’s based on the life and work of one Theodore Kaczynski,” Hart said cheerfully, referring to the Harvard-educated mathematician-turned-terrorist better known as the Unabomber.
“There was a great mind behind that madness. With different medication, he might’ve actually been heralded as a genius.”
Much like Larson’s appropriation of Hart’s work, Hart’s take on Kaczynski sounds … interesting.