Don’t Dream It’s Over
Back in ye olde benighted 1980s, The Joan Rivers Show had some avid viewers among the ranks of us music lovers. Someone on the staff of the forgotten late-night talk show kept booking great bands. In fact, it was through Rivers that some of us discovered two of the best bands of any decade: Crowded House and Husker Du.
Melodic fireworks aside, the two broods seemed to have little in common — the former, buttoned-up New Zealand pop purists; the latter, hardcore noisesmiths from Minnesota. But both crews had indispensable drummers with outsize personalities. And if a poll had been taken to guess which drummer would be found dead in 2005, most of the tallies would have gone to Grant Hart, Husker Du’s resident heroin addict — certainly not Crowded House’s sunny Paul Hester, whom you’d sooner picture serenading his mates at a beach bonfire than alone in the dark, fixing his own demise.
It is, however, Hester who appears to have hanged himself on March 26 in a park near his Melbourne, Australia, home.
To Crowded House’s obsession with midperiod Beatles, Hester was more than Ringo. Did Ringo ever strip naked onstage? In addition to penning and singing at least one great tune (1991’s giddy “Italian Plastic”), Hester the Jester was the band’s unfettered comedian. But he was also the rough interior of the band’s polished sound, standing upright while hitting his spare set of pots and pans, lending skiffly intimacy and rock-and-roll propulsion to the band’s calibrated pop. If not for Hester, it’s tough to imagine the band having attained worldwide acclaim — and a dedicated American cult — by the time of its 1996 split.
We trailed the lads in the vain hope that their chemistry could be synthesized elsewhere. Bandleader Neil Finn’s solo albums have their sweet spots but lack the soulfulness Hester might have lent them. Hester formed his own band, Largest Living Things, which produced only an EP of half-cooked folk-pop. But befitting his well-known geniality, the disc was sent out fully autographed by every member of the band. There’s no telling exactly what did him in. What we do know is that there will be no Crowded House reunion, and the nonbiodegradable Joan Rivers will outlast us all.