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See a Little Light
The Trail of Rage and Melody
By Bob Mould
Formats and Prices
- ebook $8.99 $11.99 CAD
- Audiobook Download (Unabridged)
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around June 15, 2011. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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The long-awaited, full-force autobiography of American punk music hero, Bob Mould.
Bob Mould stormed into America’s punk rock scene in 1979, when clubs across the country were filling with kids dressed in black leather and torn denim, packing in to see bands like the Ramones, Black Flag, and the Dead Kennedys. Hardcore punk was a riot of jackhammer rhythms, blistering tempos, and bottomless aggression. And at its center, a new band out of Minnesota called Hvºsker Dvº was bashing out songs and touring the country on no money, driven by the inspiration of guitarist and vocalist Bob Mould. Their music roused a generation.
From the start, Mould wanted to make Hüsker Dü the greatest band in the world – faster and louder than the hardcore standard, but with melody and emotional depth. In See a Little Light, Mould finally tells the story of how the anger and passion of the early hardcore scene blended with his own formidable musicianship and irrepressible drive to produce some of the most important and influential music of the late 20th century.
For the first time, Mould tells his dramatic story, opening up to describe life inside that furnace and beyond. Revealing the struggles with his own homosexuality, the complexities of his intimate relationships, as well as his own drug and alcohol addiction, Mould takes us on a whirlwind ride through achieving sobriety, his acclaimed solo career, creating the hit band Sugar, a surprising detour into the world of pro wrestling, and most of all, finally finding his place in the world.
A classic story of individualism and persistence, Mould’s autobiography is an open account of the rich history of one of the most revered figures of punk, whose driving force altered the shape of American music.
Table of Contents
"You see this button? If I push this button, you'll be blacklisted from every clothing-optional resort in Palm Springs!"
* * *
I'm not one for vacations. The idea of setting up camp in an idyllic but remote parcel of land—think western Costa Rica or a bay-view motel in central Florida—doesn't do it for me. I'm a people watcher. Most days I sit alone or with a companion, the parade of humanity tumbling and unraveling in front of me. I love pedestrian cities with mass transit, town squares for shopping and dining, and coffee shops with free Wi-Fi. I love the measured and gently oscillating pace of socially progressive, medium-scale world cities—Amsterdam, San Francisco, Berlin.
Give me a leisurely late morning walk to the Bloemenmarkt for an apple pancake washed down with a double espresso, tempered by a few hits of weed, and I'm on vacation. Give me a seat in the Castro plaza watching the late afternoon fog roll eastward from the Pacific Ocean, over Twin Peaks and into Eureka Valley, and I'm on vacation. Give me a crisp evening stroll down Motzstraße for a takeaway schnitzel, a scoop of ice cream, and an hour of fun at a neighborhood bar, and I'm on vacation.
Since 2005, the Coachella music festival has become one of my annual vacations. Sure, it's a busman's holiday, but over the course of thirty years in the music business, I've earned not only my keep, but the perennial all-access wristband and Lot A artist parking that make everything a whole lot easier. The three-day festival takes place in mid-April at the polo grounds in Indio, a town twenty-five miles southeast of Palm Springs, California. In 2009 I was finally playing at Coachella—Saturday, 2:30 PM, Gobi stage. It's not the main stage, or even the second stage, but the time slot was good—early enough to make a strong impression before people began suffering from sun and/or alcohol poisoning.
Friday morning, Micheal and I flew from Dulles to LAX, rented a car, and drove east on 1-10 to Highway 111, which cuts south to the desert valley. Once in Palm Springs, we stopped at Koffi, a midcentury-style coffee shop, then at a drugstore for sunscreen, snacks, and a case of bottled water, before finally arriving at our accommodations—a clothing-optional resort strictly for men. I'd stayed here many times over the years, the most memorable being in 2007 when the local police were called to apprehend a whacked-out guest who'd destroyed one of the suites. After an evening of hearing this guy yelling and throwing furniture, I woke on Saturday morning to the sight of two Palm Springs Police officers in the courtyard interrogating the guest, who stood naked except for a pair of mirrored aviator sunglasses and a poolside chaise recliner cushion he'd fashioned around his torso like a sarong. The police seemed equally perplexed by the fourteen-inch-high by twelve-inch-round black rubber dildo sitting in the middle of his decimated room like a forlorn fire hydrant.
But I digress. After checking into the resort, we grabbed some fast food and drove to the festival site. Friday's highlights included Morrissey (cutting his set short due to the smell of grilled sausage wafting from the food tent to the main stage), Leonard Cohen, and the master of the big stage, Paul McCartney. We left before the end of Macca's set, avoiding the crush of outbound traffic.
From years of loud noise at work, I have tinnitus. In order to sleep, I need a low-level masking sound—typically the television. Our suite had two televisions, each with a unique remote that required a four-digit security code in order to work. The bedroom remote wasn't functioning, so we went to the front desk for assistance. None of the codes they gave us worked, so the TV couldn't be adjusted by remote. We asked a second time, and nothing they told us helped. It was becoming a hassle.
The next morning we woke up at eight—too early for the free continental buffet staged in the porn library room overlooking the main pool area. We headed to Koffi for a quick jolt, then to Sherman's Delicatessen for breakfast. Around ten we returned to the resort, where people were beginning to stir—the usual assortment of nude sunbathers, early-bird day-pass sex cruisers from LA, and older gentlemen with their (much) younger weekend escorts. I wanted to catch a nap before heading to the festival, but I still couldn't adjust the volume of the TV from the bed. Micheal went to ask for help at the front desk one more time, at which point I quickly dozed off.
Minutes later I was woken by the sound of Micheal slamming the door to the room and then locking it with both deadbolt and chain. Visibly shaken, he said, "That man out there is crazy. He's threatening me!" I opened the door to find a wild-eyed troll yelling, "I'm the manager, and your friend called me an asshole. You're both out of here in ten minutes or I'm calling the police to have you escorted off my property." My instinct was to grab him in a front face lock until he was unconscious, but the fact that I had to be onstage in four hours saved his scrawny ass. Rather than argue or reason, we began packing up our stuff. The walk of shame took us from our poolside room, case of water and luggage in tow, past the smirking sunbathers and bagel-nuzzling septuagenarians, and to the front desk. The young employee who handled the cancellation of the remaining two nights' room charges had a puzzled and somewhat sad look on his face, as if to say: Yes, he's out of his mind. But he's my boss and I need this depressing job, so I can't help you either.
Once the charges had been removed, I looked at the manager and said, "You know, you're out of your fucking mind. You see this wristband? This wristband says I'm standing in front of tens of thousands of people today, and you're stuck here with your drugs and delusions and dog shit by the pool." The manager rushed to a hockey puck–size object on the desk, raised his hand, and replied, "You see this button? If I push this button, you'll be blacklisted from every clothing-optional resort in Palm Springs!" I chortled and spat, "Save it for someone who cares," then sauntered away with my partner, my dignity, and our case of bottled water.
We checked into a nearby "clothing required" hotel before heading to the festival. Within a few hours of being thrown out of the clothing-optional resort, I was, in fact, onstage in front of tens of thousands of music fans, blazing through a thirteen-song, forty-five-minute set that encompassed stories from my thirty years of adult life. Not only was I was having a great time entertaining the crowd, but I was also having a hearty internal howl over what had just happened—and the thought of how people would have reacted had I told this particular story onstage.
It was a moment, one of several in the last few years, that showed me how integrated my personal and professional lives had finally become. Clearly, that sunny afternoon on the Coachella stage wasn't the right time or place to tell that anecdote. But the journey that led me to that place—and to self-acceptance, wholeness, and freedom—was ripe for the telling. New Day Rising indeed.
* * *
As a child, music was my escape. It was my fantasy world. Once I understood the value and meaning of music, I began composing. When I'm creating a new piece of music, I float unconsciously for hours, days, weeks at a time. The words and melodies flow through my brain, body, and soul. Imagine standing under the most beautiful waterfall, or in a wonderfully appointed shower, the perfect-temperature water pouring down over you. The infinite loops of history and harmony blend seamlessly into each other and wash my pain away.
But unlike the escapism of composing music, writing this book was an emotionally taxing process. Even though my life and work have been on public display for many years, I have always been a very private person. My desire for privacy has often bordered on secrecy. The thought of revealing certain aspects of my personal life was hard to reconcile. As time progressed, I found myself losing track of certain memories. It felt like it was time to assemble the key pieces into a narrative. Instead of telling individual anecdotes (the typical memoir), I'm telling my story in order—and by doing so, I can see the patterns. In a way, I'm finally making sense of my life.
When I signed on for this project, I had no idea what I'd gotten myself into. Once the rush from the flattery and vanity of the book deal subsided, I was left with three years of gathering, recounting, examining, reexamining, questioning, and, ultimately, letting go of the past. It wasn't a jovial journey through my musical history. It's not a book filled with self-congratulation, glowing reviews, or tales of high and mighty triumph. It's my life story, as best I can remember.
Trying to pull memories from the infinite void has not been an easy feat. In looking back at the first fifty years of my life, I was sometimes appalled by my faults. Be it my uncanny ability to cut off friendships and relationships without explanation, my inability to properly process criticism, or my love/hate relationship with blind rage—in writing this book, my flaws became all too clear.
I've lost chunks of my life floating in limbo, riddled with anxieties and guilt. On my good days, I am a well-meaning person. I am generous, supportive, and a good listener. On my bad days, I exhibit the symptoms of someone afflicted with compensatory narcissistic personality disorder. To use a musical metaphor, I don't understand how I can have perfect pitch but sometimes be so out of tune with my emotions and the world around me.
I tried not to upset or bring shame upon anyone else in writing this book, but there's no way of telling my story—or of anyone telling their story, for that matter—without running that risk. I would like to apologize in advance to anyone who feels hurt by any part of what I'm about to tell. It is not my intent to make anyone look or feel bad.
There's no way I can take back the things I've done, the life I've led. All I can do is take ownership of my failings, ask forgiveness from those I may have hurt through the years, and hope for understanding.
When I was born on October 16, 1960, Malone, New York, was a town of roughly four thousand at the very northernmost end of the state, in a thin strip of land between the vast Adirondacks and the Canadian border. That's one thing in my life that hasn't much changed. A working-class town with some light industry and a lot of potato and dairy farms surrounding it, Malone is the seat of what used to be the second-most impoverished county in the state. Main Street's eight blocks are lined with two-and three-story buildings. Winters in Malone are long, cold, and snowy—sometimes the snow would be so deep that my father would have to tunnel from the doorway, through the yard, and all the way to the street.
The rural setting was idyllic—clean air, swimming holes, and a wide-open sky that revealed tons of stars and even the northern lights. But you could say I was raised in a dysfunctional home.
My father, Willis F. Mould III—everyone called him Bill—was once regarded as the best TV repairman in town. He eventually took a job at the post office, but after he left that job he found it difficult to find work again. So it fell to my mother, Sheila Murphy, to be the breadwinner, and for years she worked as an evening switchboard operator for Bell Telephone. My mother was a religious woman, a Catholic, and she'd spent part of her childhood in a convent. She never learned to drive and had little freedom.
My sister, Susan, was seven when I was born, and my brother, Brian, came two years after her. But we weren't the only children my parents had had—their first son, Stephen, died of nephroblastoma, a tumor of the kidney, right after I was born. He was only nine years old, so my parents were under a big black cloud of grief when I came around. Then, a year or so after I was born, my mother miscarried.
Somewhere along the line my father picked up some pretty monstrous behavior. He probably got it from his father. That's the way these things tend to work, so I don't blame him, but I do hold him responsible. Over the course of my childhood, weekends settled into a predictable rhythm. Friday afternoons, something would trigger my father's alter ego, and after rising from a midafternoon nap, he would leave for downtown to "run errands." One of the chief errands was an hour or more of steady drinking at Seven's Bar and Grill, a main gathering place for men in Malone.
Before leaving for the bar, my father would press "record" on a portable cassette recorder and hide it behind his living room chair. He didn't realize that everyone in the family knew he did this. How many tapes of whirring vacuum cleaners or shushed silence did he listen to? And, more importantly, when did he find the time or the privacy to listen to them? To put it mildly, my father was not a trusting man. He hammered it into us that everybody is lying to you all the time, everybody is trying to steal from you all the time. It left an impression I'm still trying to shake to this day.
My father would come home around seven in the evening, and that's when the game would begin. Inevitably, something, just about anything, would set him off: it could be a pot boiling over, a chore left undone, something of little significance that happened days before. The whole family would walk on eggshells before the coming shit-storm. I'd wait in dread for the first venomous line, the first accusation, the first degrading comment. Where would it start tonight?
My mother was the usual recipient and Brian took the lion's share of the rest. Sometimes it was only verbal. When it got violent, my mother and brother typically took the brunt of that too. It was frequently just hitting with his hands. And then there were the rare weekends when the violence went beyond mere punching and slapping, and he invoked the threat of, or involved the use of, murderous weapons. My mom would get pretty banged up, sometimes a black eye, and she'd have to put on makeup to cover it. Things would typically wind down late Sunday night, just in time for us kids to get ready for another week of school.
Instead of physical abuse, my father would play psychological games with Susan. He berated her, mostly for her weight, and after reducing her to rubble, he'd build her back up by offering to make her a meal and then bully her into eating more than she wanted. It became a vicious cycle as my sister ballooned. Today, even after gastric bypass surgery, Susan battles with near-morbid obesity.
Somehow I managed to escape the abuse. But why? Because I was the golden child, the one who survived while Stephen died? Was I the constant reminder? I was the only one who could break up the violence. Even when I was as young as four or five, my brother and sister would beg me to go in and get my parents to stop fighting. So I'd go and cry and beg everyone to get along, and things would simmer down for a while.
My parents struggled not only with each other but also for my affection. My father tried hard to sway me, calling my mother all kinds of names. She always remained stoic, martyr-like, taking the blow. But these personalities, this routine, started before I was born and continued through my college years.
We didn't have a lot of money, but that didn't quite explain why Brian and Susan would often get stale week-old pastries instead of birthday cakes. Sometimes they'd get nothing for Christmas even though my father would give me a jar with silver dollars in it. I'd offer to give some to my brother and sister, but they had to refuse—if my father found out, he'd go nuts. Then he would come back to me and ask for the silver dollars. One winter, when I was nine, Christmas wasn't going to happen at all, so I dragged a tree from my school back home. At the beginning of my journey, the tree was full of paper ornaments made by my classmates and me. By the time I'd gotten the tree the half mile to home, the needles had all worn off of one side and most of the ornaments were gone.
Nonetheless, I was a bright kid. When I was three, my mother would take me to the grocery store and stand me on the counter. As the cashier called out the price of each item she rang up, I would add them in my head without paper, and every time I'd get it right. People would gather around the cash register when this happened; it was an event. There she is, she's bringing the golden kid with the curly hair who can add things up. I am drawing a crowd, I am always right, and it is causing a scene.
I was an early reader as well. One day I surprised my family by reading the headline of the paper out loud—and it was hard to forget: "President Kennedy Assassinated." So when I was four, my mother took me to the convent for an IQ test. Supposedly, I had the intellect of a seven-year-old, with an IQ of 175. In those years, I went to school only three or four days a week and still got near-perfect grades. I don't know why the school made this special dispensation, but I guess they figured, What can we do?
Perhaps this was the beginning of my creative, independent spirit, my self-possession—or maybe I was just bratty—but on my days off, I just sat around at home and listened to music. My earliest recollection of anything musical is the cover of the soundtrack album for Around the World in 80 Days: a hot-air balloon soaring off to some faraway place.
I really started to get into music when I was six. It's funny: although my father had been a saxophonist in the army during World War II, stationed at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, I don't ever remember him playing a musical instrument, and yet he was the person who brought music into my life. A local company stocked the jukeboxes of the two truck-stop restaurants in Malone, one on each end of Main Street, and when songs ran their course, they'd pull the singles out and replace them with new ones. My father somehow realized music was important to me and would buy the old singles from the vendor for a penny each. "Happy Jack" by the Who, "Strawberry Fields Forever" by the Beatles, "Good Vibrations" by the Beach Boys, "There's a Kind of Hush" by Herman's Hermits. In 1967, those were my toys. They were also my refuge, a way of blocking everything else out. And I studied those singles more closely than anything I was taught in school.
I had a little record player, and I'd put a stack of singles on its spindle. The turntable would start up, the arm would lift, the two rabbit ears on the spindle would retract and drop the first record, and then the tone arm would pull over and drop into the groove. Once the needle wound down all the way to the catch groove, the tone arm lifted, pulled back, and another single would fall—then the arm would swing back over to play the next song. I would sit for hours with stacks of records, putting them in different sequences, fascinated by the endless combinations.
I'd study everything, right down to the design of each label and how they looked when they were spinning: Capitol with the yellow and orange yin-yang design; MGM had the rainbow letters and roaring lion; Motown had the map of Detroit; Roulette had the gambling wheel pattern, the o in Roulette as the ball. I'd read the precious few notes on each label: the songwriters, the publishing companies, and the length of each song. The writers were usually faceless names like Goffin-King, Boyce-Hart, and Jimmy Webb. I had no idea what these people looked like or how they created these miniature masterpieces, but I knew some of the performers from seeing them on television or in the newspapers. Their clothes, hairstyles, and all the other visuals added to the sum total of their musical work and the impressions they left on me.
On special occasions, I would go to Newberry's department store with my mother or grandmother and buy a long-playing album by either the Beatles or the Monkees—I didn't know or care that the Monkees had started as a prefab version of the Beatles. In my young mind, the two bands were equally cool.
I knew I could make music too. Around this time, I would occasionally accompany my grandmother to her work caring for a woman who had been struck by lightning. The woman was essentially paralyzed in situ, fingers gnarled like animal claws and a facial expression that was apparently frozen at the moment she was hit. I wasn't afraid of her though. There was a piano in her house, and when I heard a song on the AM radio, I'd walk over to it and within seconds would be able to figure out the melody and even the rudimentary chord structure.
I started writing full songs when I was nine. My parents bought me a small plastic Emenee organ with two octaves of keys and six sets of chord buttons. I'd type out the lyric sheets in stanza form on a mechanical typewriter and carbon paper, notated with "© 1970 ABC-Easytime Music"—my first "publishing company." There were songs like "Let Me Live Today," which was about my dog, Tipper, and there were songs about flowers, songs about being a kid. I taught myself how to record these simple tunes, including overdubbing, using two small reel-to-reel tape machines. I got two of my friends to help me play my compositions, with me on my chord organ. One of them had a toy drum kit and the other had a toy guitar—they just sort of held the instruments and pretended to play along.
My teachers knew I had an aptitude for music since I sang in the school choir, and in fifth grade, they wanted me to play the tuba. I was a larger than normal kid, big boned and growing fast. Even so, I looked at the size of the case and said to myself, There's no way I am dragging that thing back and forth in the snow. Besides, I thought the kids in band were a little nerdy. They would do the one rock song and let the drummer have the one solo, really letting their hair down.
* * *
In 1970 my mother developed rheumatoid arthritis. Her joints swelled to dangerous proportions, and when she had to give up her job at Bell Telephone and go on disability, my parents bought a mom-and-pop grocery store at 23 Elbow Street for roughly $10,000. It was attached to a big two-story house on a large parcel of land not far from the center of town—not a desirable neighborhood, but it was right near the Glazier meat-packing plant, the Tru-Stitch moccasin factory, and the Royal Crown Cola bottling and distribution plant, which provided many of the store's regular clientele.
The grocery store was off the kitchen. In the back of the house, a small door led to a large storage structure that was on a separate heating system so the inventory (mainly beer and soda) wouldn't freeze in winter. In the front yard, there was a large illuminated sign adorned with the Royal Crown Cola logo and the name of the store: B&S Grocery, named after my parents. My father stacked cases of beer throughout the garage, which also had two large green garbage bins for returnable cans and bottles. By watching the recycling, I could tell if my father was accelerating his drinking, which would be an indicator of the level of madness that would build over the course of the week.
But I spent most of my time in the driveway, playing street hockey in winter and basketball in summer. Later, my father got a large plot of land cleared behind the house so we kids would have a larger play area. But the yard was riddled with craters, so we'd often turn an ankle or stumble face-first into the dirt. I suppose that's as good a metaphor as any for the way we lived in that house. Because of the unpredictable psychological control my father wielded over the rest of the family, we were never certain if we stood on firm, level ground.
Separate out my father's behavior, and my childhood was like the old sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, which was also set in a small-town mom-and-pop store. There was a little mechanical flipper on top of the entrance to the store that was wired to a buzzer that went off in our kitchen. Whenever the door opened, the buzzer sounded and my father would immediately let out an exasperated "God damn" or "Jesus H. Christ"; he'd say it like a hissing teapot. Then he'd rise from his battered recliner, its armrests held together with packing tape, leave the living room, and go out through the kitchen, around the stove, past the telephone on the wall, through the narrow passageway to the store, and one step down to serve the customers—the very customers he would curse because they dared to come and give us the business that kept a roof over our heads.
- On Sale
- Jun 15, 2011
- Page Count
- 416 pages
- Little, Brown and Company