Whether releasing a multimedia-experimenting tour in support of an electronica album (after twenty years of guitar rock) or refusing to do a reunion with his most famous band, Hüsker Dü, Bob Mould has made a career of doing exactly what he wants to all the time. If you happen to like the results, well, that's just a nice coincidence.
It’s probably because of that defiant spirit that Hüsker Dü’s music has endured. It’s hard to say whether they brought melody to hardcore punk or whether they brought an abrasive edge to the melodic side of “college rock” in the 80s, but they certainly served as the bridge from American hardcore in the late 70s and early 80s (Black Flag, MDC) to what became “alternative” in the late 80s and early 90s (Dinosaur Jr., Nirvana, and Pearl Jam are undoubtedly disciples). Hell, the Pixies’ beginnings came from a newspaper ad requesting a bassist "into Hüsker Dü and Peter, Paul and Mary.”
Whew, that’s out of the way. There’s nothing worse than the blowhard “THESE GUYS ARE SO IMPORTANT” history lesson when talking about old bands, but unfortunately it’s kind of necessary. They’ve been more important to my education than most of my classes in high school were.
Couple his influence and impact on American rock with the relative enigma of Bob Mould as a person and you have the basis for a pretty interesting memoir. I mean, the whole persona of Hüsker Dü was a non-persona; especially when compared with the reckless antics of their Minnesotan faux-rivals The Replacements, the band’s unassuming image and blue collar work ethic left people wondering exactly who it was putting out these searing bursts of cerebral noise.
So, why did it take me a year and a half to finally read his book? I have no idea! In fact, I honestly could have sworn this book was only a few months old by the time I got around to it. Ya boy’s been slacking, y’all.
What’s rad as hell about the Dü is how much they hate each other. Bob Mould and Grant Hart—the two principal songwriters of the band—dislike one another as much as I dislike Wham!’s “Last Christmas.”
In my quest for an accurate simile to express the animosity these two have shared over the years, I worked myself into a rage that only destroying my house and burning down a village could satisfy. Thanks Wham! But I did it while listening to “Chartered Trips” from Hüsker Dü’s Zen Arcade so I stayed topical. I’m back now, and it’s finally time to get to the review:
There are some issues I have with the book, but I don’t want to jump right into those and give the impression I didn’t enjoy it. I did. Very much so, indeed. There’s a lot of incredibly interesting information (I resisted the urge to include “invaluable” in that orgy of “in-“ words) for music fans, including the first-time telling of the real story behind the Dü’s breakup. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in the process an artist goes through spiritually, mentally, and emotionally during the creation and promotion of work. I haven’t read too many more detailed accounts of the day-to-day exhausting process of creating art we all take for granted.
What I don’t recommend is writing an article about Hüsker Dü because typing out all these umlauts is really a bummer.
There are some curious decisions made in the content of this book. Bob’s writing style fluctuates between rivetingly heartfelt and as sterile as the wallpaper at a doctor’s office. Weird, matter-of-fact sentences might purport to be honest or pure but they just come off as robotic. Strange, for someone whose lyrics seemed so much more human than those of his contemporaries. It almost feels like he's writing about certain albums in his career entirely out of obligation; he spends as much time talking about his attempt to quit smoking as he does talking about the Hüskers’ landmark album Zen Arcade.
I know you’re tired of living in the past, Bob. It’s all old news to you, but we weren’t there. And it was pretty awesome:
Oh. Right. Bob Mould doesn’t give you what you want.
But these are also his memoirs, not Behind the Music. So, hey, if he wants to dedicate time in his book talking about how he discovered his love of electronic dance music in the gay clubs of New York in the 90s, that’s his prerogative.
He does get into a good amount of detail of his life after coming out as homosexual. It’s a pretty significant aspect of his life and his identity, so it's natural that it would be kind of the apex and turning point of his book. I learned far more than I ever thought I’d know about the “bear” subculture of the gay community, but hey, who knows what knowledge will help you impress someone at a dinner party.
If you go into the book looking for nothing but revisionist history about the Dü—a victory lap of sorts—you probably won’t find it. He comes at his former bandmates very sharply and directly; his coarse words about them are more like sniper rifle shots than shotgun blasts. He seems to have an honest eye for his and his band’s place in history and is fervent in his belief that it was of a time and a place, a time and place very distant from who he is today.
But boy, he does hate them. He can include as many “I wish them the best” caveats as he wants, his animosity emanates from the page like the book has been perfumed with hate. Perfume of Hate is a nice album title for anyone out there, as well. Just give me executive producer credit and it’s yours. And don’t cover “Last Christmas."
All told, Bob Mould has lived a fascinating life. He is a man with an unbelievable variety of experiences, from underground hero to alt-rock success with Sugar to booker for WCW—yes, World Championship Wrestling—and the account of his transformation into angry young man from a broken background into happy, healthy adult who has come to terms with who he is makes this an inspiring and powerful read. We should all be so lucky to be as enthusiastic about life after 50 as Bob seems to be. It took Bob Mould a long time to accept himself and to be okay. And for those of us who have used his music and lyrics as as our sympathetic, surrogate voice, well, I think we’ll be okay too.
PROS & CONS
+ An honest, pure insight from an important American rock figure who was previously something of a mystery.
+ The man has lived a fascinating life, filled with interactions with/influence upon figures who are massively interesting in their own right.
+ Probably the only memoir whose author played shows with Minor Threat and was a professional wrestling booker.
- He is absolutely brutal in his opinions about the other members of Hüsker Dü, to the point where he seems completely vindictive at times. Then again, Grant Hart does seem to be something of a world class rod so maybe this is a bit of a wash.
- He tends to be dismissive of works in his career that didn’t come out as he wanted them to or don’t hold as much meaning to him, regardless of how beloved they are. He breezes right through the seminal Dü record Zen Arcade, and all but dismisses my preferred Sugar album File Under Easy Listening.