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EVENINGS OUT

 


August 12, 2011

Evenings Out

Blazing his own trails

Bob Mould’s life has taken him from punk to bear culture

If you came of age during the 1980s or 1990s, you probably remember Bob Mould as the howling singer-guitarist from the groundbreaking punk trio Hüsker Dü or the prime mover behind his next group, Sugar, whose album Copper Blue stands alongside Nirvana’s Nevermind and Smashing Pumpkins’s Siamese Dream as ground-shaking contributions to that era’s alt-rock renaissance.

If you remember him from those earlier days, the version of him in your mind is probably that of a lonely, lovelorn sad sack in an oversized Tshirt or frumpy cardigan. Not the enthusiastic, muscular, and openly gay man who has been thriving as one of the DJs behind Washington D.C.’s Blowoff dance parties for almost ten years.

Nor the self-assured 50-year-old artist who quite willingly shares his musical and personal history in See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody (Bob Mould with Michael Azerrad, .Little, Brown and Company, hardcover, $24.99).

Mould certainly provides a vivid reconstruction of the DIY punk culture that spawned Hüsker Dü, and he dutifully chronicles the band’s rise and fall as well as the subsequent recording of albums like his solo masterpiece Workbook and his later experiments with electronica on albums such as Modulate. There’s plenty of back story about intra-band squabbles as well as countless cameos from fellow musicians ranging from the kind-hearted gents of R.E.M. to the homophobic bullies of Bad Brains. While fans of Mould’s music will find much to cherish in these anecdotes, the heart of this book is, without a doubt, his struggle to come to terms with his own sexuality, which becomes the primary focus of later chapters.

The fact that Mould is gay was something of an open secret in the alternative rock community for years, yet he resisted officially coming out until the mid-1990s and even then only did so when cornered by an interviewer. However, by the late ’90s, as he began to emerge from the self-created cocoon of two long-term and ultimately doomed relationships, he realized that he “didn’t want to continue being the pessimistic, self-hating homosexual.”

Immersing himself in workouts at his local gym, the banter of East Village coffee shops, and even the Fire Island party circuit, he began to gain self esteem and a greater understanding of where he might fit in to the scene. During this period--in the middle of which he did a seemingly improbable but fascinating stint as a writer for World Championship Wrestling--music was never far away, and Mould even played guitar on the soundtrack for Hedwig and the Angry Inch, gaining a greater appreciation for the transgender community in the process.

Eventually, he stumbled upon bear culture at D.C.’s DIK Bar, where, he says, “I didn’t feel like I had to do anything to fit in except be myself. I didn’t have to try to look or act like a bear because I already was one,” and within that context, he began to build cherished friendships and an even more comfortable sense of self. By the book’s final chapters, Mould the rock musician and Mould the gay man have become one and the same: he’s merging his interests in both rock and electronic music, and he’s become comfortable enough with his identity and his legacy to take a band on the road and play songs from all phases of his career, including Hüsker Dü and Sugar, for the first time as a solo artist.

While this sounds like a tidy narrative, the book is anything but. For instance, during intensive therapy sessions, he realized that he was molested as a small child, an event that is acknowledged as formative and yet goes largely unmentioned through later sections of the book. Although he follows the arc of many a previous memoir by detailing both his struggles with and triumphs over alcohol and speed while in Hüsker Dü, he’s still no saint, making no apologies for his continuing marijuana use, his gleefully hedonistic time on the road as a single, randy gay man in his 40s, or, perhaps most surprisingly, his spiritual life as a “cafeteria Catholic,” attending services to experience a sense of calm and community without necessarily embracing the full breadth of church doctrine.

On the one hand, his interest in the Catholic church is hard to reconcile with his hiring of an escort as a birthday present to himself, for instance. Yet at the same time, Mould is nothing if not idiosyncratic, and the book, in the end, is about a man who has always blazed his own trails and made his own rules.

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