Hüsker Dü -- Eight Miles High
"Eight Miles High"
SST Records, 1984
I was in a record shop not too long ago and, as I was chatting with the store's owner, the conversation turned to Hüsker Dü. At this point, the cashier joined in the chewing of the musical fat and, in one particularly memorable moment, turned to his boss and began raving about the band's version of "Eight Miles High." Grinning appreciatively, he confirmed the owner's query about whether or not we were talking about the Byrds' song: "Yeah, but with these guys," he said in his thick Irish brogue and emphasizing his point with an abrupt gesticulation indicating sudden flight, "it was, like, eight thousand miles high." So very true.
In what is probably one of the two or three greatest vocal performances in punk history, if not all rock 'n' roll, Bob Mould transforms the trippy, mellow psychedelic classic into four minutes of gut-wrenching screams, howls, and plaintive moans that sound as if the maimed, shell-shocked, terrified lone survivor of a cataclysmic event is clawing his way out of the rubble of what had been civilization. And that might actually be an understatement. This is the music I imagine the narrator of Beckett's How It Is would howl if given half the chance. Really, all I can think of when listening to "Eight Miles High" are images of trapped, brutalized husks of beings clawing their way through unbearably thick, impenetrable barriers, trying desperately to preserve life at all costs and knowing full well it isn't likely they'll make it. Indeed, in Mould's mouth, the English language dissolves as the molten fury of pure emotion bubbles forth and the result is as close to pre-linguistic Adamic expression as you well ever hear on record. This is the rage against the dying of the light, my friends.
The B-side, a live version of "Masochism World" is much grittier than the version appearing on Zen Arcade. Though the sound quality leaves something to be desired, presenting the band's relentless energy and Mould's guttural vocals on stage is pretty much the only thing that could possibly do the A-side justice. Imagine capturing lightening in a jar, burning the palms of your hands in the process, and screaming in mingled pain, awe, and joy. Then triple the sensation.
Sobriquet Grade: 97 (A+).