Hopefully most people who have some interest in punk rock and/or college rock need no introduction to Bob Mould. However, for those who remain clueless, Mould was part of one of the noisiest trios to emerge in punk, taking on the world with a blistering attack laced with melody and pop sensibilities: Hüsker Dü. From there, he went on a solo journey before forming another power trio in Sugar. Since then, Mould has produced a number of albums, of which it could never be said that he was resting on his laurels, recreating the same sound over and over.
Given the impact Hüsker Dü’s music—both recorded and live—had on my life in the mid-to-late 1980s, this book promised to flesh out an awful lot of grey areas around the band and its members, as well as adding an insight into Mould’s background and his career following the disintegration of his first band.
Whereas I’d always considered Mould to be a native of Minneapolis, his formative years were spent in the town of his birth, Malone, in New York. The book deals with his dysfunctional family life, which was lived in the shadow of a father who drank and had a vicious temper—something many can relate to (although I am pleased to say I’m not one of them). With a love of music from an early age, Bob Mould was thrown into the world of punk, primarily listening to the Ramones, and from there on his life was on a path that would sometimes be easy, although often sailing close to the edge of an abyss as he went. The impact alcohol had on his life is clear to see, as well as his eventual drug taking that seems to be quite prevalent but never is glorified or even apologised for—it was who he was at the time.
In terms of Mould’s sexuality, this is mentioned as being known to himself from an early age, and whereas many fans were unaware of his orientation, many of those he worked with were fully aware of his homosexuality. His eventual public "outing" is covered, along with how he felt that the whole event was handled—a Spin article in which words were taken out of context and led to him refusing to speak to the magazine for many years. It is interesting to discover how, when he decided to embrace a more open and gay lifestyle, Mould seemed to become a happier person and allowed himself to finally become more of a whole person, or at least, to be himself more fully. This "blossoming" also provides some insight into how and why he embraced electronica so much, as well as how it led him into a predominantly gay DJ scene—all quite a departure from his initial beginnings in Hüsker Dü.
Subsequent meetings with former Hüsker Dü bandmates Grant Hart and Greg Norton allow Mould to reflect on the fact that it was Sugar that gave him more pleasure in terms of being in a band rather than his first forays into music. It’s no surprise reading the book that he felt that way, but as a fan at the time I was underwhelmed a bit by Sugar, and it took me a while to appreciate them, whereas I always found Hüsker Dü more immediate in terms of liking their output. With Hüsker Dü ending under a cloud, Mould was able to bring Sugar to a conclusion without the acrimony and issues that he had endured previously. It’s no wonder that he looks back more fondly on his second trio. His subsequent solo work (good and bad!) is discussed, and with flesh being put to the bones of these parts of his songbook, it’s easier to understand the decisions taken in terms of direction.
The most surprising aspect of Bob Mould’s life that I discovered was his love of pro wrestling and how he immersed himself in this sport/entertainment vehicle solidly for a period of his life. Back in the 1980s and up to the mid-1990s without the internet, such information was not as freely available as it is today, and unless you read all of the music press, elements of people’s lives like this might not be broadcast as freely as they would be today. For me, this is what helps make Bob Mould such an interesting subject, as he is from a time when he could be quite an unknown quantity.
In the book, the word “catharsis” is mentioned, and it’s possible that the writing of the autobiography has been part of that process, as it seems that Mould is willing to lay his faults firmly in front of the reader without trying to paint over things that may not be putting him in a good light. This is what I feel makes a good autobiography, as there is no point in hearing all about the good times when these only form part of what makes the subject tick. The Bob Mould story is so much more than Hüsker Dü, and what See a Little Light does is offer the reader some inroads into how Mould turned out as he has, why certain behaviours were established and why he has no problem in moving on, be it from a band or from a city.
The book flows nicely, giving enough information as to provide the revelatory aspect that such a book often contains. If you are familiar with his lyrics, then you know that Bob Mould is more than capable of writing something that is interesting and informative without repeating himself. Not that it’s a finger-pointing book, but there is a caveat at the beginning in which Mould states that he did not intend to cause upset to anyone mentioned in the book, but that he has tried to be as true and accurate as possible. It certainly doesn't come across as a vehicle for retribution or revenge, even with those who Mould clearly has little or no time for anymore—i.e., his former Hüsker Dü bandmates—but treats people as fairly as he feels they deserve.
Reading this book, I used a large number of sticky pieces of paper to remind myself of interesting, amusing and/or big moments in Bob Mould’s life/career. The book now looks as if it is afflicted with some sort of yellow Post-it disease, as they are to be found, in number, throughout the book. I think that testifies to how it’s a book worth checking out for fans and those with a passing interest in a man whose career has been varied, to say the least.