Thursday, August 25, 2011

Bob Mould's Book: Where's The Bangers-And-Mash Recipe?

Bob Mould: "Recipes, Stegall?! And you wonder why I never return your calls or emails anymore?! Forget having coffee again, boyo!"

When Bob Mould announced in his always readable Boblog a couple years back that he was co-authoring his memoirs with fine rock journalist Michael Azzerad (author of authoritative histories of Nirvana [Come As You Are] and '80s indie rock [Our Band Could Be Your Life]), you could practically hear the hosannas arise across his fan base. Those of us who'd regularly read his blog before he ceased posting shortly after that announcement knew the guy could write (as if years of great song lyrics didn't already prove this). So much so, in fact, it's puzzling as to why he even needed Azzerad's assistance. (It turns out it was more for organizational and editorial aid, all done in perfectly 21st Century fashion via Skype.)

Whatever the case, there's no serious gripes about the finished results since its publication this past June. See A Little Light: The Trail Of Rage And Melody (403 pages, Little, Brown and Company, New York, Boston, London, 2011) is definitely not easy to put down – I actually gave it two consecutive read-throughs across two weeks. Ultimately, my conclusion is Bob and Michael gave us three books in one, all equally fascinating.

The first book would be a musical journey/work memoir that's most detailed in accounting his pre-Husker Du days and in recounting Sugar and his solo work. Mould seems as pained as he is proud of Husker Du, the Minneapolitan buzzpunk trio which first introduced him to the world (and made the '80s far more bearable for those of us not inclined towards Pat Benatar or Ratt). As deeply as he goes into the making of that music, he simultaneously seems to be in a rush to get the Huskers' tale over with. Perhaps Mould is still uncomfortable with how that band played out? It reads that way, despite the big revelations along the way: 1) Zen Arcade means more to his fans than it does to Mould (!!); 2) bassist Greg Norton began to feel surplus to requirements to Mould following Husker Du's signing to Warner Bros. in the mid-'80s; 3) the tipping point, in Mould's mind, where his working, creative and personal relationships with drummer/co-songwriter Grant Hart soured (as early as Flip Your Wig's pre-production, when Hart brought later solo masterpiece “2541” to the band and Mould suggested it needed work); and 4) that the events leading to the band's demise may not have been as has been reported all these years. (Mould's previously untold account of the band's final meeting in Grant's parents' kitchen is as woeful and Spinal Tap as the Husker Du story can get.) There's also enough gear porn to keep a guitarsexual like me orgasming for days.

The next book-within-the-book concerns the dysfunctional household in which he grew up, and how it's colored his life and his relationships. The tale's about as harrowing as they come, being set in a small town in upstate New York and a household regularly fogged with the stench his alcoholic father exhaled every weekend. Those fumes are not something that clears out when you move out of such a home. Bob initially dealt with the odor by drowning it in both the usual substance abuse and a furious creative workload. It wasn't enough to drown out the howl which would damage much in his life, be it romantic relationships or those with band mates. How he turned down that horrid noise is the subject of the 3rd book-within-the-book: His sexuality.

Mould's homosexuality was one of the worst-kept secrets in '80s/'90s punk rock. Hence, it was odd when he felt the need to “out” himself to author Dennis Cooper in Spin Magazine as Mould was promoting Sugar's 2nd LP in the mid-'90s. It's interesting to read Bob characterizing the '80s punk scene as having an unspoken “don't ask don't tell” policy. (Perhaps I have no perspective on this, considering Austin' scene embraced flamboyantly gay personalities like Randy “Biscuit” Turner and Gary Floyd. Homosexuality was just another thread in Austin's funky, freaky punk scene, so no one really thought about it.) To read Mould's account, he identified with neither his own sexuality nor gay culture through much of his youth, despite realizing his tendencies at a very early age. (There's a lot of warm humor in Bob's confession that barber shops remain a turn-on to this day!) It took that public closet exit in Spin (despite it's having unpleasant side effects, anyway) before he was comfortable enough to begin an exploration of What It Is To Be Gay. Mould finally took the plunge during his late-'90s/early-'00s seasons in NYC and DC. Thence came his exploration of electro-dance music/culture, it's incorporation into his own music (alongside the formation of the popular gay dance party he DJs, Blowoff), and ultimately embracing/being embraced into the masculine gay subculture of the bears.

Most surprising is Bob's briefly-touched-upon return to Catholicism in the mid-'00s, as well as a seemingly out-of-nowhere chapter on his one day job of the last 30 years: Scriptwriter for the WCW in 1999! Anyone who knows Bob knows he's been a long-time, highly educated pro-wrestling junkie; he even contributed some authoritative writings to some punk-and-wrestling fanzines in the '80s. But there Bob Mould was for eight months, four years on from Sugar's demise, devising plot lines for the likes of Hulk Hogan and the gang! He was also a strong internal advocate for a younger breed of wrestler he felt would be the WCW's future. The saga is brief and but one chapter, but it's as hilariously out-of-context with the book as it was with Bob's life (despite his wrestling fandom). It would have been great to see Bob expand this into an entire book on its own.

All in all, See A Little Light is a joy. It's a hope-filled, down-to-earth ode to pop songcraft, punk rock, self-discovery and redemption. It's the marvelous story of the maturation of one America's finest and most idiosyncratic artists, one who deservedly engenders much respect and affection. Definitely up there with Keith Richards' book in a season of rock memoirs, although an entirely different beast. All it needs is for Bob to include a better bangers-and-mash recipe in the paperback edition!

1 comment:

  1. I adore this book as well - it's everything I'd want in a memoir. I think you're right about it being 3 books in one, but, like you, I found them all compelling, and I think he wove them together well.