Bob Mould moved to D.C. not long after 9/11, and lived here for much of the proceeding decade. His time in the District helped him bridge the gap between his two distinct musical identities: a punk legend known for his blisteringly tuneful songs with Hüsker Dü and Sugar, and an electronic music performer with strong ties to the gay community. Indeed, figuring out who he is as a musician helped him realize who he is as a person, and Mould’s new memoir, See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody, lays out this transition in compelling detail. If you’re a fan, it’s as satisfying as his best work.
Raised in upstate New York, Mould began drinking heavily as a young teen, all the while attempting to mediate between his alcoholic father and the rest of the family. He came into his own in St. Paul, Minn., where he attended Macalester College and formed Hüsker Dü with Grant Hart and Greg Norton. Hüsker Dü became one of the handful of bands most associated with the early days of hardcore punk, and Mould describes his years with the group as a haze of trucker speed, cheap beer, near-poverty, and small, often-violent shows. Mould takes pride in the act’s legacy and output while resenting his former bandmates: He often writes dismissively of Hart, whose songs contribute heavily to the band’s legacy, while Norton barely gets any ink at all. Mould instead saves his praise for his Sugar colleagues and the various A&R reps, producers, fans, and journalists who seem to have understood him better over the years.
At its heart, the book concerns Mould’s journey from a frightened gay teen to out-and-proud muscle daddy comfortable enough to DJ with his shirt off. Having come out of the closet at 33, he began to identify with gay culture through electronic music, and found a crowd that made him comfortable at his club events like Blowoff, which developed in D.C. (Even more liberating was his discovery of Dupont Circle’s DIK Bar, home to the hairy, masculine “bear” subculture.) Nowadays, many revelers at his dance parties reveal their longtime Hüsker Dü allegiance, Mould writes, which he finds surprising. Who knew those rowdy punk crowds were full of young men disguising their identities, just like him?
Note to would-be musical memoirists: Get a good ghostwriter. See a Little Light is elevated to the level of literature thanks to the contributions of Michael Azerrad, author of Our Band Could Be Your Life, the seminal chronicle of ’80s DIY punk. Mould’s book is compulsively readable, rarely shorting on dishy details or funny anecdotes. (Hanging out backstage one time, Cheers actor George Wendt was disappointed to find the booze cooler empty, quipping: “If you’re outta beer, I’m outta here.”) Most importantly, the book presents Mould in human detail, and we watch him make both bumbling decisions and inspired choices. We’re ultimately left with a portrait of a humbled man, a rock god who’s really most comfortable in a room full of hot, sweaty guys.