Punk rock icon Bob Mould sees the Light: Survived Reagan, rages on to surviveTea Party ignorance
I was inspired to pick up punk/indie rock icon Bob Mould’s new autobiography See A Little Light, The Trail of Rage and Melody after catching his recent appearance on late night TV playing his song “If I Can’t Change Your Mind” with Jimmy Fallon’s house band The Roots. In 1980s Houston, specifically when I was in my last year of high school, I was able to experience a show by Mould’s first and hugely influential band Husker Dü shortly after the band released its 1985 album Candy Apple Grey.
Fandom didn't begin with that next to last record in the Huskers' catalog. At one point, I owned all of Husker Dü’s SST and Warner Brothers albums on vinyl. Mould’s stunning post-Huskers solo albums Workbook and Black Sheets of Rain were on my turntable throughout college.
Years later Tony Maimone, the bassist on both of those records and former member of Pere Ubu, would master several of my own recording projects. So I have a little history with Bob. OK, maybe more like six degrees of separation.
In See A Little Light, Mould describes inspiration as a “hot potato” that we “pull out of the oven and then toss to someone else … we listen, we become fans … and somehow the work we create eventually finds its way back to the ones who inspired us."
At 42, I can definitely relate to that statement. Reading his book (written with Michael Azerrad) was like catching up with a friend you hadn't seen in a while. But will Mould’s story speak to those who’ve never heard of the man or his music?
Mould was prepared to "come out," but was concerned about the possibility of violent backlash directed towards members of his family, including his mother and father.
He also worried how his audience would forever perceive his work. See a Little Light will most definitely speak to anyone who has sacrificed their time, development of interpersonal skills and sanity in order to make art. Early on in the book, Mould describes what he felt as music-loving yet self-destructive alcoholic teenager the first time he heard the Ramones on record, simply stating: “That was when the light went on.”
Over a decade later, in a truly frightening performance of his song “Whichever Way The Wind Blows,” Mould would scream at the top of his lungs: “ I warn ya / don’t go near that road / I know that road / and it’s a bitch!”
Right. Try telling that to the young people (i.e. those under the age of 30) who are just beginning to get intimate with their guitars or laptops and will treat this book like a roadmap for the journey that awaits them. Mould describes songwriting as a euphoric experience, declaring: “If other people get it, great …. but at the moment you make the work, you’re sitting there and taking it all in … you give yourself over, you take the journey, and you take the pain with the joy.”
Whether its playing a guitar, writing a lyric or putting together the art for an album cover — take the pain with the joy? No problem. Lay it on me. And by the way, does this amp get any louder? Does it go to “11”?
There is joy in Mould’s story, as well as lot of pain. Again and again, Mould recalls the verbal and physical abuse that he, as the child of an alcoholic father, witnessed being unleashed upon his mother and siblings. But even in the book's descriptions of professional or psychological inertia, the narrative is always moving forward. True to the book’s title, Mould is wont to acknowledge the joy as well as the pain, even if doing so tests the limits of his psyche.
Tea Party contender Michele Bachmann comes to us as a 2012 presidential candidate without having passed any meaningful legislation during her time as a Minnesota state senator or as a congresswoman. Her main claim to fame is her 2003 anti-gay anti-same sex marriage crusade that was not only morally abhorrent, but also completely pointless since at that time her state’s legislature had already passed a law making same-sex unions illegal.
Rewind back to 1981 and a president and administration that refused to acknowledge the AIDS crisis, and in hindsight, it seems that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Ignorance knows no boundaries.
See a Little Light is, among many other things, a frank, eye opening account of growing up gay in the 1980s hardcore punk scene. Mould didn't publicly come out as a gay man until 1994 in an interview for Spin magazine with author Dennis Cooper. In advance of that interview, Mould was prepared to "come out," but was concerned about the possibility of violent backlash directed towards members of his family, including his mother and father. He also worried how his audience would forever perceive his work.
Mould writes: “… for fifteen years I had gender neutralized my work so that it would be all-inclusive; as a result my music was highly personal, and yet it affected a lot of people … My fear was that 90 percent of my audience would have the meaning of my songs ripped out from underneath them.” However, Mould’s audience stuck with him, most likely because they were changing and growing right along with him.
These days, as one half of his very successful DJ/band project Blowoff, a project that quickly grew from being a casual House party for 30 or so friends to a huge event that fills places like New York’s Highline Ballroom, Mould enjoys a fan base of “disco heads and industrial fans and regular folks” dancing alongside a much larger contingent of leathermen and bears. He proudly states that now in his 50s, he is finally having the time of his life.
"We survived …” Mould writes, referring to the dark ages of the Reagan years, as well as his childhood. See a Little Light will speak to his fellow grizzled (Grizzly? Just kidding …) travelers, and inspire those who are just beginning their trip.