Thursday, July 28, 2011

Bob Mould - 'See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody'

Celebrity autobiographies are a tricky thing for the writer and the reader. Celebrities too private to reveal the good stuff – the dirt, the failures, the deepest lows – yield uninteresting books. Sometimes they namedrop too much, producing chapter after chapter of braggadocio. But then, every so often, fans get something really worth reading. Bob Mould’s tell-all, the Michael Azerrad-assisted See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody, is such a find.

Admittedly, my interest in Mould’s work, at least before picking up this book, was in his seminal ’80s hardcore band Hüsker Dü. I’m a huge fan, and a big part of that comes from Mould’s barking vocals and demonic, otherworldly guitar work. Before My Bloody Valentine and Jawbreaker, there was Hüsker Dü, effortlessly churning out one guitar squall after another. Yet Mould’s years in Hüsker Dü occupy maybe 100 of the book’s 389 pages. But any fan of the band is going to be satisfied with those 100 pages. You get the band’s genesis (Mould met drummer Grant Hart at a record store), the early punk days, the artistic breakthroughs, the major label deals, and the inevitable drug-fueled fallout. All the controversial stuff (Bad Brains’ homophobic attacks, Hart’s drug addition, heck, even the time Joan Rivers accused them of selling out) gets picked through in a matter-of-fact fashion. So do the big creative moments and the glory days.

By his own admission, Mould is an intense, straightforward guy, and his writing reflects that. He tries to get the facts right as best he can, even if it means making himself look like the bad guy on occasion. But I’d be surprised if I found out he held anything back, but everything, from his father’s alcoholism to his own drug battles, comes out. Failed relationships, bad decisions, and songwriting snafus all get discussed. Mould holds very little back.

Which is why it’s such a compelling read, even after Hüsker Dü breaks up. Mould has remained a wealthy artist thanks to smart spending and consistent output, and reading about the ’90s, with the success of Sugar and his solo material, is just as good at the Dü days. The ‘00s deal extensively with Mould’s love life, which is where his openness really pays off. See, Mould spent most of his life covering up his homosexuality, but after getting outed by Spin, he started really dealing with that meant. He immersed himself in gay culture and figured out who he was. As far as I’m concerned, dude’s still pretty punk in his fifties, but the journey he took toward reconciling these different aspects of his personality is inspirational reading for anyone who’s ever felt out of place, regardless of sexual orientation.

This quality plays well with Mould’s conversational approach to writing. He frequently breaks from past tense to give play-by-play notes on some of the weirdest, funniest, and most fucked up moments in his life, putting the reader right in the scene. He also talks about hanging out with legends like Black Flag and Pete Townsend like a music fan. Yeah, some of the chapters bum me out (Mould doesn’t think two highly of my two favorite Hüsker Dü albums, Zen Arcade and Candy Apple Grey), but I also relate to this honesty. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate the later works of artists like Blake Schwarzenbach and Davey von Bohlen of Jawbreaker and The Promise Ring, respectively. Those two artists are judged mostly by the music they created in their early twenties, even though their later material turns out to be just as good as I get older and my tastes evolve. I guess what I’m saying is that even the sections of See a Little Light that let me down are still illuminating.

I’m interested to see what audiences think of the book. As a music fan, I think it’s essential reading, but the book deals with homosexuality just as much as it does with Hüsker Dü. I think the LGBTQ community might get a kick of this book. And if it gets ’em into Hüsker Dü, that’s good too.

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