See A Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody: By Bob Mould, 403 pgs. By Mark Twistworthy

Sep 23, 2011

Bob Mould, the much-heralded singer, guitarist, and co-writer for one of the most influential punk/hardcore bands of the ‘80s teamed up with co-writer Michal Azerrad (author of the widely praised book Our Band Could Be Your Life) to tell his life story. This includes the details of his tumultuous childhood, continuing on into his college years and tenure in Hüsker Dü. It moves onward to his successful early ‘90s band Sugar, and his solo records along with his voyage into discovering house music, DJing, and briefly working in the world of professional wrestling.

Mould’s look back at the Hüsker Dü era is often painful for a number of reasons, as he wasn’t yet then the man who he wanted to be: an openly gay man in a predominantly hetero punk/hardcore scene. There are plenty of details in the book about his tales during this time in his life, but it all comes off a bit dry and full of disdain for the position he was in and the people he was making music with at the time. All of the chapters about this era of his life lack any kind of spark in telling how exciting a time these moments probably were.  Instead, it comes off as often tedious and uninteresting (unless there is an opportunity for Mould to recount a story of being able to explore his then-secretive sexuality).

The reasoning behind that may be the result of how much time has gone by, making the old memories of Hüsker Dü dull and less exciting. However, Mould doesn’t seem to get passionate about anything within the first half of the book unless it’s to discuss the pursuit of getting laid.

There are a few stories of drug use and other wild stories with all of the stereotypical “rock’n’roll” trappings. There are explanations of the meaning behind some of the lyrics he wrote and a re-telling of stories already written about in the 2010 Hüsker Dü biography to which fellow ex-band mates Greg Norton and Grant Hart both contributed. The whole laissez faire attitude with the parts of this book pertaining to Hüsker Dü left me definitely wanting more.

The one part of the book that stands out the most is how much Mould didn’t like and/or respect his fellow bandmates then and doesn’t like or respect them even more now. His ego seems to be his own worst enemy. That’s not just during Hüsker Dü, but it’s evident in his later band Sugar and his solo work. He comes off as controlling and ultimately unlikable because of his extreme arrogance. He shows little to no appreciation for what his bandmates contributed in making Hüsker Dü what it was and tells stories about these relationships that vividly paint a picture of a completely unhappy person.

The second half of this book (post- Hüsker Dü) delves heavily into Mould’s personal life and the seemingly endless insecurity about every relationship he’s had. Now fully out of the closet and no longer the self-proclaimed, “self-hating homosexual,” he begins to write with some feeling and emotion behind his words—albeit that emotion seems to almost always have something to do with some sexual exploit or a failing relationship personal, musical or otherwise.

Upon getting to this part of the book is when the realization really hit me: See A Little Light… isn’t simply a biography of a musician, but instead a biography of a gay man struggling to find his identity and who just happened to be the primary singer/songwriter of one of the most influential punk bands of the ‘80s. The relationships and struggling to find happiness with his identity is the main topic at hand here, with the rest of the book mostly filled with stories of discovery of being a self-described “bear” in the gay scene, tales of attending wild gay parties, and wondering if various men he admires could turn into something more than just a flirty conversation at a bar.

While I can find interesting parts to the book, I believe the frank, descriptive nature of Mould’s exploration into the gay scene will turn off a lot of people who pick it up. The book straddles the line between who the author is trying to connect with as the target audience—either the punk scene or the gay scene. As a heterosexual male, I think that ultimately See a Little Light might be too “gay” for the run-of-the-mill hetero punk readers and equally too “punk” for the average gay non-punk reader, failing to make that intimate, sustaining connection with either. Big fans of Hüsker Dü will want to pick it up for sure, but be warned that after reading about the horrible treatment of his ex-bandmates, you’ll probably never feel the same about the band, the author, and the legacy the three of them, together, created. (Hachette Book Group, hachettebookgroup.com)

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