I felt compelled to check out Bob Mould’s See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody. First, I’m a big fan of his music. Second, the last time I had read about Mould was in Michael Azerrad’s seminal underground rock history tome, Our Band Could be Your Life (My review). As BGB’s Shaft pointed out specifically in his review of the book, Bob Mould does not come off in a very positive light in Azerrad’s telling. Imagine my surprise then to learn that See a Little Light was co-written with none other than Michael Azerrad. What gives?
Our Band Could be Your Life focused almost exclusively on Bob Mould’s time with indie rock pioneers Hüsker Dü. However, Hüsker Dü occupied only about eight years of the life of a man now in his fifties. The lion’s share of See a Little Light, accordingly, is about all the other aspects of Mould’s life. He is also keen to squash any and all hopes of a Hüsker Dü reunion. Ever.
If you have an original ticket stub dated 1979-87, you saw Hüsker Dü. If not, you missed out.
See A Little Light goes back and explores Mould’s childhood and gives more backstory on where Hüsker Dü came from, works through the Hüsker Dü years, and then dives into the years that followed, which includes everything since 1988. It turns out that quite a bit has happened in Mould’s life, professionally and personally, since then. He’s performed all over the world as a solo performer, formed a new band (Sugar) that outsold the band he’s ostensibly most known for, branched out in new musical directions, worked as a scriptwriter for WCW Wrestling (!), and found a way to be happy in his personal life. He’s had drug ans alcohol problems and found his way clean.
Much of the latter part of the book involves Mould’s coming to grips with being a gay man and deciding to finally live his life openly and in a way that makes him happy. Sadly, this realization does not come until much later in his life than for most. A theme that runs throughout the book is how uncomfortable Mould has been within his own skin, worrying about the acceptance of others – of being found out and losing everything that he had worked for. Occasionally Mould’s fears sound irrational to the straight ear, but then the reader is reminded of the story that he tells early on about a gay teen getting beaten to death in his home town.
The book also serves up a steady diet of tour stories and lengthy discussion on albums being made. I love that kind of stuff, but it may not be for everyone. At the beginning of the book, there were sections where I couldn’t believe Mould’s arrogance. I was sure that See a Little Light would paint a similar picture of the aging rocker that Michael Azerrad portrayed in Our Band Could be Your Life. By the end, somehow, Bob Mould completely wins over the reader on his own terms.
Mould’s biggest accomplishments with this book may be getting the average straight male indie rock fan to read and experience a gay man’s story of coming out and finding joy in his life. I finished reading See a Little Light on the evening that New York’s Senate cast its historic vote to legalize gay marriage. It seemed fitting. I was happy for the implications for several people in my life, and I was happy for Bob Mould.
The first Hüsker Dü song I ever heard was the title song on the album New Day Rising. The entirety of the lyrics are “new day rising” repeated over a bed of howling guitars, driving drums, and visceral howls. The repetition and conviction of the lyrics – a mantra – sold me on the idea that a new day was in fact rising. This was 1984. This is what rage and melody sound like.
Hüsker Dü - New Day Rising
Bob Mould’s first solo album Workbook was an impressive effort from beginning to end. The opening instrumental track served notice that Mould was breaking new ground.
Bob Mould – Sun Spots
This is the track from the same album that gave the book its name:
Bob Mould – See a Little Light