Lessons from Bob Mould of Husker Du: Punk Rock and the Modern Writer II

I just blitzed my way threw Bob Mould’s autobiography (co-written with Mike Azerrad), SEE A LITTLE LIGHT: THE TRAIL OF RAGE AND MELODY.

Mould was the guitarist, singer, and one of the key songwriters for Husker Du, one of the greatest bands of the past forty years. They were an innovative hardcore act that combined insane speed and distortion with incredible melodies, complex structures, and personal lyrics. As Paul Westerberg once noted, Husker Du was never going to be the Next Big Thing in the 1980s, but the ground they broke made the Next Big Thing possible. No Husker Du? No Nirvana, Green Day, Wilco, or a thousand and one Emo-core bands who will never hold a candle to the band that gave the world Metal Circus, Zen Arcade, New Day Rising, Flip Your Whig, and other classic albums of angst and melody. Hell, if you play a broken D chord with distortion and sing about anything sad, you probably owe Bob Mould a royalty check.

Mould’s bio is sharp, if a little dry, but also unflinching. We get the hardship of Mould’s often violent home life, including realizing he was gay in a small town in upstate New York, and how music provided his keen mind and relentless energy an escape. We get the insane road stories, the amazing shows and disasters, the mild rivalry with The Replacements, the band’s almost mythic output of great stuff in quick succession, the internal rot with other members, especially Grant Hart, the drummer and songwriter who sang some of the band’s best stuff. The big label cash, the fears of selling out, and the drug addictions and recoveries that killed the band. The post Husker Du stuff is just as fascinating. Mould’s solo output, his struggles in his first serious relationships, his discovery of gay culture and community and, of course, his brief stint as creative consultant for World Championship Wrestling (WCW)! Ha, you thought I couldn’t squeeze in some pro wrestling? Fools! Mould was a lifelong wrestling fan, just like me, and his time in the major leagues before WCW died was insightful.

Indeed, there were a few choice reflections I wanted to share, mainly for other writers, but maybe for other artists and those who are toiling in the dream factory.

His thoughts on working like an animal, cranking out New Day Rising right after finishing Zen Arcade (a double album that many say was there best and one of the most important records of the era). “Can you imagine if we hadn’t had another record ready? We’d have been sitting around with the earth shaking underneath us, trying to get settled and centered enough to make another strong album-but instead we struck while the iron was hot. If we hadn’t have done that, we might have tried to make another Zen Arcade. When people are watching so closely, it’s tempting to stay with the winning formula. After all, that’s what brought us to the party, that’s the work that took us from nowhere to somewhere. So do it again. But really, the best way to survive is to mutate. When you’ve made the fourth most important record in the world at the moment, you ask yourself, what do I do now? If you’re smart, you go with your gut.” 101.

He also had had this reflection about touring with Sugar, his second major successful band. When they played live, he was even more energetic and frantic. “If other people get it, great, but at the moment, what does it matter? Making a living and getting your validation is really important, but at the moment you make the work, you’re sitting there and taking it all in. Who cares what happens? Who considers the fallout? I guess I don’t, not always. I feel untouchable, I feel invincible. It doesn’t happen that many times in your life, where the sound is coming out of the speakers and it’s as big as life gets. That’s when it’s like religion: you give yourself over, you take the journey, and you take the pain with the joy. Very few of us get that many chances to make that big a statement.” 196

A methodical songwriter, Mould also stepped back and just let inspiration and improvisation roll to loosen things up and keep things fresh. “As the years continued, I further explored that elusive spot, that magic moment lying between unconscious creativity and conscious performance.” 237

On a reflective note about his career, Mould, the workaholic and goal driven nut, came to this conclusion. “I couldn’t have planned any of the great things that happened in the last few years: a wonderful new partner, a killer new band, three albums, a DVD, a book deal. The thing is, I stayed curious and active, something a lot of people don’t do later in life, or don’t have the luxury of doing because of life obligation–family, health, work. It’s led me to some brilliant people, unexpected places, and unbelievable situations. It’s been an amazing journey so far.” 372

So go be curious and active! Do what you do, and enjoy a classic double shot of Husker Du: “Makes No Sense at All/Love is All Around”


About ridlerville

Jason S. Ridler is a historian, writer, and improv actor. He is the author of A TRIUMPH FOR SAKURA, BLOOD AND SAWDUST, the Spar Battersea thrillers and has published over sixty stories in such magazines and anthologies as The Big Click, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Out of the Gutter, and more. He also writes the column FXXK WRITING! for Flash Fiction Online. A former punk rock musician and cemetery groundskeeper, Mr. Ridler holds a Ph.D. in War Studies from the Royal Military College of Canada. He lives in Richmond, CA. Visit him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/jason.ridler.56
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