There’s no question that Bob Mould has had a hand in shaping the direction and sound of rock music over the last few decades. As a member of Hüsker Dü and Sugar, and as a solo artist, his variations on punk and classic rock have become sonic templates for generations of musicians. Moreover, as one of the first of the ’80s DIY generation to successfully make the jump to a major label, he was a role model to indie rockers trying to make a living without “selling out.”
But that is only part of Bob Mould’s story. As evidenced by his new autobiography, See a Little Light, the other continuous thread running through his life has been his struggles as a gay man. Though never one to hide it on a personal level, his homosexuality is something that he kept separate from his professional life. Moreover, as a beer-swigging guitarist in a hardcore band, Mould was obviously in touch with his masculinity and had difficulty finding his niche in a lifestyle that seemed to celebrate effeminate stereotypes.
These are all issues Mould addresses in the book. However, he should have also addressed the cover of his tome before it ever did see the (little) light of day. It looks like he just threw on his best Eddie Bauer outfit and had someone take a quick snapshot. This is how he wants to be remembered for ages to come? And what is with the fade on the side? Did they discover a ketchup stain on Bob’s knee and this was the only solution they could come up with? Obviously, you can’t judge a book by looking at the cover and all that, but this one doesn’t set the bar very high.
Fortunately, the content is largely of a higher quality. However, it is telling that the first 27 of Mould’s 50 years only take up a third of the book. For any Hüsker Dü fan, the question has always remained: what really went on there? Why does there still seem to be some lingering annimosity between Mould and drummer Grant Hart? Did it have something to do with Mould and Hart both being gay? Were they lovers?
The only one of these questions that Mould sheds any light on is the last one. As he tells it, he was never interested in Hart romantically or sexually, and nothing ever happened between them. But he offers little insight into Hüsker Dü’s demise other than to say that it was due to mounting tensions between him and Hart related to splitting the songwriting duties in the band and as a result of Hart’s drug use. But while it is obvious that part of the band’s problems stemmed from not being able to communicate with one another (this would be another continuing theme in Mould’s life), Bob seems either unwilling or unable to talk about that portion of his life. These segments of the book seem glazed over, as if he’s in a hurry to just get to part of his life with which he’d rather concern himself. While he may still play songs he wrote while a member of Hüsker Dü, it’s as if he would rather just let the band fade from his memory.
This is in sharp contrast to last couple decades. Perhaps his memories are more vivid (he gave up drinking), but he also has much more to say about his more recent career struggles, and especially, coming to terms with his identity as a gay man. It is no coincidence that at the turn of the century Mould decided to (temporarily) walk away from the loud sounds that had been his bread-and-butter for so long. To find his way as a homosexual, he needed to try new things, and that included new sounds. Sure, Modulate is not by any means a great album, but it was a necessary detour for Mould to find himself.
It is this process of self-discovery that is at the book’s core and which Mould is able to describe with the most eloquence. He eventually found his tribe, with a masculine population of gays known as “bears,” and was able to connect that part of his life with music through his Blowoff DJ events. Here, Mould is open about the feelings of inadequacy that needed to be shed before getting to this place in his life where everything seems to fit together. While one can wish he had more revelations to share about his Hüsker Dü days, that time period may just be—like the music—a blur of speed and noise. As it is, Mould’s tale is still very unique (especially when you throw things like working as writer for professional wrestling in there), and one worth reading, regardless of one’s own connection to the man and his music.