Amid the recent spate of bestselling rock memoirs, Bob Mould may not have the widespread name recognition of a Keith Richards, Eric Clapton or Steven Tyler. But as someone whose music with Hüsker Dü, Sugar and as a solo artist provided a bridge between the punk insurgence of the Ramones and the popular breakthrough of Nirvana, Mould has a provocative, reflective and revelatory story to tell in See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody.
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As he details his tumultuous childhood and the challenges of coming to terms with his homosexuality in the public arena, Mould proves an uncommonly honest and insightful memoirist, one who pulls no punches. Here, he talks to us about crafting his memoir:
As you say in your book, “catharsis” is a term often applied to your music. Was writing this memoir cathartic?
Ultimately, yes, that was one of the emotions I went through. I guess “catharsis” is sort of a catchall for that idea of going back and sorting through one’s life and putting it out there for people to see, for better or worse.
But there were a lot of different stages to the process, from combing through the interviews then putting them in chronological order, then, lo and behold, all these patterns of behavior start showing up. I don’t know if that was cathartic so much as confronting the hard truth about the first 48 years of my life—things that one should actually verbalize rather than just keeping them inside.
You’ve described yourself as a private person. Are you someone for whom this sort of taking stock and revelation is rewarding? Or did you find it painful?
It started with the latter and ended up more as the former. For me, the challenge was how much should I share—how much is relevant? It would have been easy just to write an autobiography based on my professional life, but at the prodding and coaching of [co-author] Michael Azerrad, that’s when family of origin and how I dealt with relationships and where my sexuality fit into all of it.
And when we wove those threads through the professional history, all of a sudden the light was much brighter. So I thought I’d better let go of this stuff. Maybe it will help somebody else. Maybe it will make more sense of my life to other people, because it’s certainly making more sense of it to me.
What do you think will be the biggest revelations for your readers?
I’d like to think of it as the story of someone who happens to be a musician, but who has had this interesting and crazy journey negotiating sexuality and negotiating public and private life. For me, the biggest revelation is that I really didn’t know where the early rage in my music was coming from. When I really looked at what was fueling it, it wasn’t just the Ramones and the Sex Pistols or whatever. A lot of it came from my father and the conflicts I had there. Not a new story, but it was new to me.
As the book relates, you’ve lived all sorts of different places and done all sorts of different things musically. Do you find it curious when people still identify you most strongly with Minneapolis and Hüsker Dü?
No, I mean everybody has an entry point. That was a great period in my life. I’m sure most people would kill to have that be their first band. But when I walked away from that band in the beginning of ’88, I just wanted to let that lie, leave it where it was and move forward on my own. Not try to cash in on the name and, most importantly, not try to denigrate what the band had done. For decades I said very, very little if anything about the tumult at the end. For me, that band was what it was—it was a period in my life that spoke to where I was as a person. And once I make a leap or a growth, I’m in a hurry to get to the next place.