"See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody" by Bob Mould
By Andrew W. Griffin
Red Dirt Report, editor
Posted: January 6, 2012
BOOK REVIEW: See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody by Bob Mould with Michael Azerrad (Little, Brown) 2011
If there’s one thing I got out of this new autobiography about alt-rock god Bob Mould, it’s that he likes to be in charge, knows he’s in charge and yet he still likes the band dynamic, as we have seen over the years with Husker Du in the 1980’s and with Sugar in the early-to-mid ‘90s.
And in the midst of all that and up to this very day, Mould continues to collaborate with some of the best musicians around from drummers like Anton Fier (Feelies, Pere Ubu) and Brendan Canty (Fugazi) to bassists including David Barbe (Mercyland) and Andrew Duplantis (Son Volt).
But being the founder of one of the most influential bands of the final decades of the 20th century, this reader was particularly interested in his early years, leading to the founding of Husker Du, the making of all that sonically wrenching, heartfelt music and what led to its ultimate demise.
Mould gets to all that in his exceedingly interesting memoir that takes us from his days growing up in an abusive family in rural upstate New York to his current status as a rambling, recently-confident, out-gay musician. In between is all the messy moves to Minneapolis, rural Minnesota, Austin, New York, Washington and eventually to San Francisco. He likes to move around and likes to be inspired by those around him and by his environment.
In his early years – he claims he knew he was gay as early as 5 and also notes that he may have been sexually abused as a toddler – he is drawn to pop music during the late 1960s. He loves the Beatles and the Monkees and starts writing his own songs for a while. This is where his love of a good song – a mixture of melody and melancholy – finds its foundation early in his life.
A decade later, the blisteringly loud alt-power/punk trio of
Mould, bassist Greg Norton and drummer/songwriter Grant Hart is formed and its
life during the ‘80s is a curious one. Mould paints Norton as a sort of
expendable musician who had no real decision-making role in the band. The real
power struggle was between Mould and
Hart, as we discover, and it was Mould who ultimately walked away in
late 1987 when Hart – a messed-up junkie by that point – was no longer a
reliable partner in Husker Du. Now, Mould admits to much drug use but was fortunate in that he kept it largely under control.
Mould admits he is a mercurial character and was hard to get to know during the Husker Du years, touring North America and realizing he had more to offer than the band provided. And that was his songs. As a teenager I was drawn to Mould’s music, songs like “These Important Years” off of Husker Du’s Warehouse: Songs and Stories or his exceptional solo work in 1989 and ’90 on Workbook and Black Sheets of Rain, respectively. In fact, the title of the book, See a Little Light, is also the name of one of his best known solo songs, and a track he unapologetically allowed to be used in a TIAA-CREF TV advertisement a few years ago.
In fact, Mould writes of the ad: “(T)hanks to TIAA-CREF, I have my own small retirement fund. It worked out very well.”
Throughout the book, Mould talks about the ups and downs of the music industry, record labels, record label shenanigans, the comings and goings of backing musicians and touring band members and the overall creative process of creating music in an industry that is constantly changing. As Mould often notes in See a Little Light, he always looks forward and never looks back, which is why there will be no Husker Du reunion, despite Grant Hart’s desire for such an event.
But the underlying issue of his homosexuality contextualizes
a lot of his work and he embraces that now. Remaining in the closet until 1994, while still in his
second power trio of Sugar, Mould anguishes over how Spin magazine paints him when he
tries to reassure the writer that he is not a high-camp, effeminate gay man, inadvertently
offending the gay community in the process. He seems to have learned from the experience and is better for it. In fact, he acknowledges that before coming out his weight was a problem but now he takes care of himself and is in the best shape of his life.
In fact, for a while in the late ’90s, Mould left music for
a bit, working as a scriptwriter for World Championship Wrestling. Mould’s love
of wrestling is noted multiple times in the book, including him noting his father - a serious alcoholic who refused to acknowledge his son's gay sexual identity - taking him to Montreal to catch wrestling matches.
In fact, Mould recalls giving Jesse “The Body” Ventura a Husker Du T-shirt, which Ventura would wear on an episode of WWF on the USA Network back in the ‘80s. Ventura, of course, was from Minnesota, where Husker Du was based, and later the governor of that state.
“(T)he fact that he wore a Husker Du T-shirt throughout the two-hour episode was hilarious, touching and a real thrill,” writes Mould of Ventura.
Mould also shares a lot about his various relationships and how they didn't work out, ultimately. He still doesn't speak to his former Husker Du bandmates, for the most part, and seems perfectly fine keeping that part of his life in the past.
And while there is a lot Mould has to say about the gay lifestyle, it’s the music that stands out. And not just the guitar-based roots-punk he’s known for. He delved into dance music and the Blowoff musical/deejay collaboration at the 9:30 Club in Washington D.C.
Bob Mould writes See a Little Light in a breezy, conversational and easy-to-read way. Sometimes you find out things about the man that you’d rather not know but in a way his candor is refreshing. And that’s the thing I’ve always enjoyed about Bob Mould’s music – it’s in your face, honest, often-melodic and has an undeniable staying power.
Copyright 2012 West Marie Media