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Rage And Melody: Bob Mould Après le Deluge

Bob Mould, along with his seminal hardcore band Hüsker Dü, carved a sonic path in the 1980s that would define the alternative rock style of the 1990s. Bands like The Pixies and Nirvana were shaped by the melodic but raging distorted power-pop Mould and his bandmates pioneered.

In 2011, the guitar-wielding musical alchemist, at 50, produced an autobiography about the twists and turns that have shaped his life and career in music. See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody (Little, Brown and Co. $25) documents his dark and angry journey through childhood, adolescence and adulthood, repeatedly underlining how the creative process of playing and writing music was the balancing force that saved him. In his memoir, he chronicles his experience in the music industry from his unique, “indie” vantage point.

The music Hüsker Dü created in the early years was a maelstrom of amped-up, testosterone-drenched, speed punk fire. Hüsker Dü produced a series of seminal albums including Zen Arcade, Flip You Wig, and Candy Apple Grey, before imploding over in-fighting and drug abuse.

After a couple of intriguing solo albums in different musical styles, Mould formed the popular alt-radio darlings, Sugar. The seminal 1992 classic Copper Blue, is an acknowledged masterpiece of muscular, dynamic power pop. The melodies are the driving connector. Mould’s late 90s forays into electronic music were less successful, but it is noteworthy to mention that Mould lent his distinctive guitar skills to John Cameron Mitchell‘s now legendary tranny/glam/rock film soundtrack, Hedwig And The Angry Inch.

The narrative in See A Little Light is rather chronological and episodic, and a different structural approach might have provided more impact. I’m not sure how much of the book is shaped by co-author Michael Azerrad. One moment Mould is discussing different aspects of the punk scene, then the next he seems to downplay a seemingly innocuous — but life-changing­ — first meeting with future Hüsker Dü collaborator Grant Hart, tie-die smocked and barefoot, as he tends the cash register in a St. Paul record store.

Mould volunteers his perspective on his often combative relationships. With an abusive family environment fueling his anger, and subsequent years self-medicating with drugs and alcohol (there are cringe-inducing passages), readers may feel as sense of relief when, much later in the book, Mould shares how he finally finds self-acceptance at being gay. He acknowledges the aftermath of a lot of self-destructive behaviour, and describes the process of conquering his demons, as well as the steps he takes toward rebuilding and creating a healthier, more fulfilling and loving life.

A gift for melody and a deftness for a unique brand of pop is what saved Mould from an otherwise rage-fueled downfall. The bearded bear got lucky. He is still around to share his musical legacy with us. He is respected as a composer and his following is devoted. Now that Mould is at peace with himself, it will be interesting to see whether his music will mature and become more sedentary. But don’t expect softly-strummed acoustic guitars accompanied with string quartets and brass just yet.

This is an expanded version, originally published in edited form in IN Toronto Magazine, August 2012 issue.
Editor: Gordon Bowness