As the icons of rock 'n' roll have matured, some have slowed down and taken time to reflect. A number of high-profile rock memoirs have hit the shelves recently, often in attempts to set the record straight or to present salacious, hedonistic details. And sometimes both (see: Keith Richards, Patti Smith, Steven Tyler).
But with the memoir See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody, published earlier this spring, Bob Mould takes a more holistic approach, reliving his time as the frontman of seminal rock band Hüsker Dü as seen within the context of his dysfunctional childhood, struggles with substance abuse and conflicts over his sexual orientation.
"I thought I'd like to tell my own story," says Mould. "I was just this guy who happened to be in this band, but I was also battling family, battling depression, battling alcoholism, battling above all probably my sexuality."
Mould, a gay man in the testosterone-fueled '80s hardcore punk scene, spent much of his career keeping his personal life private. Early in See a Little Light, he details how his two worlds collided during a run-in at a "clothing-optional" festival. "Once I decided I couldn't draw a line between the two, it all started to make sense," he says. "It felt like a lot of the burden was lifted off of me. I was really particular about keeping things separate, especially my sexuality in the Hüsker Dü days. It was a lot of work. I'm sure it would sound weird to people in their 20s now who have their social lives hanging out in the open on social media. But you did have the ability to compartmentalize back then. Letting it go was good. I'm not saying my life is any different than anyone else's, but I do have this public timeline I can use to write around."
Though Mould's music has always been emotionally charged and often brutal, his writing style is more restrained. The prose in See a Little Light is candid yet unembellished. His straightforward presentation of events grew out of the writing process he undertook with the aid of music journalist Michael Azerrad, whose books include Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana and the landmark Our Band Could Be Your Life. They sat down together for months at a time over the span of two-and-a-half years, with Mould telling stories and Azerrad editing Mould's writing.
"He coached me through stuff that I wasn't aware of," Mould says. "To write about one's life in a vacuum is pretty daunting. It was exhausting, heavy, dealing with private things that hadn't been touched on before. I had breakdowns, the usual in the creative process [but] Michael pointed out threads and themes and got me to dig deeper."
The book is intricately detailed — sometimes overwhelmingly so — and should offer indie-rock scholars a solid counterpoint to Andrew Earles' recently published history, Hüsker Dü: The Story of the Noise-Pop Pioneers Who Launched Modern Rock, the writing of which Mould did not play an active role. Going into his own book, Mould thought, "'So this is my official statement on everything. How brutal should I be? How forgiving should I be?' That's what I lost a lot of sleep on."
The book also touches on Mould's connection to the Atlanta and Athens music scenes. In the 1990s, Mould led the college-rock favorite Sugar, playing with Georgia bassist David Barbe, now a high-profile producer in Athens. When Mould returns to Georgia this week, he'll headline the Athens Popfest before playing a less traditional set here at Eddie's Attic, where he'll read passages from his book and perform a solo acoustic set.
While Mould is enjoying his current tour and book promo, it's not as freewheeling as the storytelling his rock pal Henry Rollins does these days, he says, but fairly revealing nonetheless.
"One of my biggest failings in my early days — whether it came from childhood and walking on eggshells, or from something else — was always being afraid of rocking the boat. But sometimes there's people now that are close to me that say my fault is that I'm too brutally honest with people when we're working. So I try to find a good balance."
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