Bob Mould Casts a Spotlight on Himself in 'See a Little Light'

by John L. Murphy

10 August 2011


New Days Rising

He appears as outwardly confident, yet he harbors doubt. This may stem from his start. “As a gay kid, the dialogue of courtship was tightly yet invisibly twined around the sexual camaraderie that young boys need.” He feared intimacy. He shunned tenderness. New Day Rising by its title and lighter atmosphere may signal his recognition that “bookish musical aficionados” like myself listened to his music as much as the hardcore crowd dominating the mosh pits nearest the stage.

He stopped drinking at 25, fearing he would follow his father’s fate. He does not preach about sobriety or sexuality, but he steadily shows how his solo work, after eight relentless years with his increasingly weary band, shifted as his moods did. He quit. He moved to a farm outside St. Paul.

Workbook featured delicacy as well as energy, and his stellar supporting musicians enriched its presentation. His then-partner designed the cover. He included a figure of Jesus, taken off the cross. Black Sheets of Rain, as the title shows, came with Mould’s breakup with that same lover. Mould left for Hoboken and then Brooklyn. Recorded at Manhattan’s Power Station studio, its angry, overpowering production, with a lavish budget, plunged these songs in pain as if, Mould says, one drowned in a factory, submerged in motor oil.

So, the step back to lead his power-trio Sugar to a more tuneful, punchy style proved a wise move. Copper Blue still sounds fantastic, and his longtime co-producer Lou Giordano gains credit for its impact. With a new partner, Mould restored his sanity. He moved to Austin, then back to Manhattan before 9/11. Typically, he devotes as much space to the life and death of his beloved dog, Domino, as to the tragedy that enveloped his adopted city. He balances the personal and the promotional nimbly, but for stretches over four-hundred dutifully told pages, this account feels as if expanded from decades of Day Runner notes. He appears to list everyone he met and every place he flew to and stayed, and while those included here may cringe or grin at their shout-outs, fans may wonder as I did why this near-total recall remains so necessary.

Nonetheless, this offers a more in-depth look at Mould than a music-based survey such as Earles was limited in providing. Mould’s enthusiasm for his debut solo LP and Sugar’s best work (even if the spectacular song “Gee Angel” escapes mention) captures his romance with playing and producing catchy, punchy songs. He addresses relationships in often a non-gendered form of address, so everyone feels included in his audience.

Still, his demons haunted him, for his new lover proved as straying as his first. His second Sugar record failed to live up to his first, just as his second solo LP had. “Maybe someone can adopt this book for Broadway: CATHARSIS! starring Bob Mould. The hit play with no ending.”

He evades responsibility for leading his second power trio; he had walked away from his first. Lessons do not stick with him without repetition and a slow awareness of his shortcomings. He learns to seek happiness.

It takes him until his late-30s to come to terms with his sexuality in public. I remained somewhat unclear about his claim that Dennis Cooper in a way outed him in his Spin magazine 1994 “Bob is gay” feature; when Hüsker Dü was interviewed a dozen-odd years earlier, Mould’s preferences to a reader such as myself in the alternative press appeared the “open secret” he writes they were in his memoir. Mould gets over what proves a muted reaction to his admission as he does the demise of Sugar. After the revealingly titled The Last Dog and Pony Show, 1998’s temporary farewell to what had once been “college rock”, he makes a surprising career move.

Seven months of exhausting work as a “creative consultant” inventing story lines, timing routines to be filmed, and ensuring quality control for World Championship Wrestling gain a fascinating and grueling chapter. Mould’s lifelong love of wrestling led him to this job, and he did it with the same intensity, and command of numbers and minutes, that he brought to his exactingly created music. Luckily for him in the long run, he was let go after a series of tragedies at WCW. Storylines became too real, and the physical and emotional damages to his colleagues piled up during his manic stint. As he says of his lyrics, used to work his way through tension and torment, so with these doomed wrestling narratives: “Write it and it shall be so.”

The millennium finds him in Manhattan embracing his gay identity. He evokes (a few) secrets of club life and mating behavior on Christopher Street and Fire Island as deftly as he does the action behind the scenes at WCW. He learns to accept his parents with all their flaws, and he understands how the rituals of the Catholic Mass he long abandoned from his childhood remain a necessary anchor for community and belonging for some seekers now and then, same as the dance floor and the concert may for others. And, sometimes, those punks grow into the gay “bears and cubs” he embraces. He wryly tells of his 45th birthday celebrated with a call-in masseuse at the Ramada Inn on Santa Monica Boulevard, and his well-timed 52-minute session.

First in Washington D.C., and now in San Francisco with a third steady partner, Mould makes records mixing the pop-punk of the past with massed electronics, his interest for more than dozen years. He stays as much of a fan, whether of Pete Townshend or No Age, as a performer. If he wants to play an old song, he will, but often, one senses, he does not. He continues his stubborn direction ahead, no matter what crowds expect.

This expansive story ends as a gentle but firm lesson in starting over, even if it takes a half a century. Finally, Mould can enjoy life. Thirty years making music, he pays as much attention now to his health as his career. He works out, produces, d.j.‘s, performs. He lives a happy life. So, don’t expect a Hüsker Dü reunion.

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