"See a Little Light" is a song Bob Mould poured out in 1988, during a burst of creative isolation at his home in Pine City, Minnesota, following the breakup of that now-legendary keystone in music history: Hüsker Dü. It's a shimmery, upbeat, folkish little cut which, in hindsight, sounds a lot like the decade of music that followed it—a testament to Mould and Hüsker's influence on the course of popular music, as well as to major labels' love of all things zeitgeist. "As the years go by, they take their toll on you/Think of all the things we wanted to do," he sings. "And all the words we said yesterday, that's a long time ago."
It's a sentiment everyone can relate to: the creep of time, our reflection on it, and the tenuous closure that our retrospection offers. Mould's new autobiography, which shares that song's title, is, for better and everything else, exactly this.
The book deal was offered to Mould in 2001, but it took him seven years to hunker down. "I was starting to forget the things I wanted to remember, as opposed to remembering the things I wanted to forget," says Mould. "And when I realized I was forgetting the things I wanted to remember, that was really the key to making the book happen." The difference between the two can be difficult to tease apart from within Mould's penned world. Growing up in Malone, New York, near the Canadian border, Mould lived in a household that was an albatross of dysfunction, with domestic violence not just common, but scheduled for every boyhood weekend—even so, Mould never denounces his "family of origin," as he often puts it. That damaged dynamic continually crept up throughout Mould's interpersonal life, in his dealings with boyfriends, friends, and colleagues. "Once we [Mould and the book's conceptual collaborator, Our Band Could Be Your Life author Michael Azerrad] went back behind the professional life and went to family of origin, at that point all the questions started to come up. And that's where the hard work came in for me, was trying to figure that stuff out."
The way Mould goes about that stuff in See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody is worthwhile, not just because of the obvious history happening everywhere within and around it, but for its notable lack of pretension and straightforward tone (something that won't surprise close followers of his work). At the final wheeze of Hüsker Dü's existence, at an intervention of sorts for drummer and songwriter Grant Hart, Mould says: "I think I'm done here. Good seeing everybody. I'm going home to Pine City now." One man's matter-of-factness, illustrated.
If you're looking for a laundry list of rock 'n' roll clichés, you might be better off reading Keith Richards's recent memoir. Instead, Mould presents, in a factual, analytical manner, the practicalities and challenges of living a damaged, semi-public, confusing, frenetic, and ultimately successful life. It's a rather simple story, actually, to hear Bob tell it.
Of course, there are the notable moments, too: putting crystal meth into a pot of coffee in preparation for the recording of Zen Arcade, having Bad Brains steal their pot and leave them an antigay letter, being exposed to My Bloody Valentine and eventually procuring one of their guitar pedals, being the first hipster in Williamsburg, having Alejandro Escovedo steal his boyfriend, singing "Little Drummer Boy" with Craig Kilborn (Mould wrote the theme song for The Daily Show). It's no boring life, and the book is no rosy think piece, either. Rather, just one less-ordinary life examined, in the hope of moving on.
"I wanted to present a story as evenly as I could," he says. "I'm trying to show people what happened. I'm not trying to color the situation at all...there's no heroes, there's no villains." Just plenty in between.
BOB MOULD will perform and read from See a Little Light on WEDNESDAY, JUNE 15, at the DAKOTA JAZZ CLUB; 612.332.1010