Ray of Light
Body of Song
On the morning I woke up queer, I was 20, new to Minneapolis, and alone. I walked out of my house and into a University of Minnesota campus suddenly filled with passing male bodies as well as female ones. "This is what it's like to be bisexual," I thought, and I worried that it wouldn't last. It didn't last, as it turned out: I'd awoken from a dream about men, but the desire faded with time.
This was before Bob Mould was outed in Spin magazine, and I remember being pleased to hear the news when it arrived--and happy to learn that it wasn't news to many older, local punks. Mould had found a mass audience by then, singing and playing guitar in Sugar. But many old fans felt as if they were hearing his old Hüsker Dü songs for the first time. "The Biggest Lie," from 1984's Zen Arcade, contained the mocking chorus, "Back to your day job/Back to your girlfriend/Back to your hometown--the biggest lie!" Listening to it again was my first experience in hearing a song "come out" to me like an old friend.
"That song was definitely about somebody going back in the closet," Mould says, speaking over the phone last month. "But at the time, it didn't really matter, did it? This was one of the concerns in the back of my mind all that time as 'out day' approached: What will this do to the context of my work? I would prefer the music stand alone, but now I know it really can't."
I bring up sexuality here because its revelations provide a useful metaphor for the déjà vu quality of Mould's best pop songs. Hüsker tunes felt instantly familiar in their time, from the moment you heard them in concert to the moment (usually about a year later) they arrived in record stores. Mould's newest solo work has that same effect, particularly the vocoder-guitar-disco portion of Body of Song (Yep Roc). Dafter-than-punk tracks such as "(Shine Your) Light Love Hope" and "I Am Vision, I Am Sound" feel new, but you've been waiting to hear them, and they fit. The same could be said of the long-emerging genre Mould is in synch with: the cross-pollination of indie-rockers playing dance music (United State of Electronica, Franz Ferdinand) and dance DJs incorporating guitars (Sasha, Justin Martin).
"It's gotten really blurry," says Mould, "When you ask, 'Are we creating a genre?' I don't know. We're just creating a party. I went to a gay bar in L.A. a few weeks ago and they were playing Interpol's 'Slow Hands.' A quarter of the guys were singing along, and there was some sort of kinky scene happening. I was like, 'This is really cool.' It's what I've been telling my record company all along: We need to promote those remixes to DJs, because the worlds aren't that far apart, anymore."
Mould should know: His "Blowoff" DJ sets with collaborator and fellow Washington, D.C., resident Rich Morel have included tracks by Polara, Basement Jaxx, Jamiroquai, and more recently his own dark house remix of Low's "Monkey." Mould found a scene similar to the one in L.A. when he and Morel brought Blowoff to Minneapolis on June 26, spinning in the basement club of the Eagle, a.k.a. the Bolt. Just a few blocks from where Hüsker Dü played its first Longhorn gig 26 years ago, the black walls were once again sweating, this time around aging punks gyrating next to leather boys and other regulars--at least one of whom, when I asked, had never heard of DJ Bob Mould.
In some undefined way, this was a more intimate homecoming for the artist than his unprecedented sit-down interview with Jim Walsh last year onstage at First Avenue, not to mention his first-ever reunion with Hüsker Dü's Grant Hart at the Quest the same year (an event he says won't be repeated). Mould has long said that there was a saying in the '80s punk scene, a more liberal precursor to Clinton's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy: "Don't advertise, don't worry." But when I ask whether punk rock didn't have something to be ashamed of by encouraging the "don't advertise" part, he laughs.
"Yeah, but take a look at how the guys looked, and what they were doing," he says. "I mean, come on. I don't want to bum out a bunch of straight guys who used to wear colored bandanas and had war fatigues and would buzz their hair. I don't want to burst their balloon. But you know, it was a male-bonding experience."
Mould has since become the closest thing American hardcore has produced to a mainstream gay icon. On top of his solo recording career, he composed the theme to The Daily Show and played guitar in the film Hedwig and the Angry Inch. In 2003, he launched a blog, modulate.blogspot.com, and is now touring with a rock band for the first time since the '90s (featuring Morel on keyboards, Verbow's Jason Narducy on bass, and Fugazi's Brendan Canty on drums). The night after this group plays First Avenue on September 28, Mould's latest single, "Circles," will appear on an episode of The O.C. The once intensely private musician is now high-profile, and Mould says I'm not wrong to read significance into the fact that his first Blowoff in Minneapolis coincided with the closing night of Pride Weekend.
"I've tried to get more comfortable with representing the community when asked to do so," he says. "That's a work in progress, and it always will be."
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