As the frontman of Hüsker Dü and alterna-heroes Sugar, Bob Mould often buried his plainspoken, emotionally rich lyrics behind a euphoric blur of distortion. His autobiography, See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody, peels away that layer of noise, exploring the psychic minutiae of a 30-year career via his natural affinity for fearless confessionals and conversational storytelling. With some narrative massaging from inestimable indie rock historian Michael Azerrad, See A Little Light is a rock tell-all that finds its power not in hedonistic anecdotes, but in Mould’s microscopic eye towards his own obsessions, fears, mistakes and triumphs. Mould leaves no stone unturned: the details of growing up with an abusive father, the dissolved relationships between him and his fellow Hüskers, the evolution of his homosexuality from open secret to public knowledge and even some eye-opening insider tales from his time writing storylines for professional wrestling.
Christopher R. Weingarten talked to Mould about looking like a jerk in his own book, breaching his wall of privacy and crafting the final word on the Hüsker reunion.
Very early in the book, you describe yourself as a “private person.” Did that make this book especially taxing to write?
Learning to let go of all those stories was tough. I try to be careful what I say about other people: “Don’t say anything you wouldn’t want to have said about you.” But when signing on for a project for this, I had to learn that the whole story was going to come out one way or the other. If I had taken the easy route and just done three days of interviews and let somebody else write it, it would have been fine. But, no — I have to actually write it! Jesus.
Has anyone gotten back to you disputing how you represented them in the book?
Nope! I think there’s some disagreement out there in the field about certain pieces of the book. But that’s the great thing about books and about stories and one’s personal truth. It’s that it’s my truth. I’m certainly not going to say it’s the truth. I’d be a fool to say that.
What was the first thing you and Azerrad did together?
He and I got together just about three years ago and spent a lot of time together talking. Everything spilling out. I took those recordings back and started transcribing. And then got informed that I should actually hire a transcriptionist [laughs].
You said that you and Azerrad battled in making the book. What was your biggest argument over?
My relationship with Grant Hart. For the past 20-plus years the essential story out there in the world is terrible acrimony. At each others’ throats. Hate each other with a passion. So when pressed to fulfill that notion, I came up with very little [laughs]. I don’t really think that’s [the story]. I’m having a really hard time coming up with any great contention. The world has been believing this self-perpetuating myth for 20 years. It’s not to say I love the guy — or like the guy. We just got tired of being around each other. It’s just not what everybody thinks.
Azerrad was trying to pull the drama from it?
Yeah, and I’m like, “Dude, I’m not finding it.” I think Azerrad has his style of writing, and clearly this book is written in my voice. So in an effort to spice up the book, he would make literary suggestions. He would infuse his vocabulary and I would just have to strike it down: “You know, I really don’t use that word. I’m a plain talker. Those are great adjectives and I know what they mean, and I know how to pronounce most of them, but they’re not really words I use.”
Some people would be excited that someone is making them sound smarter…
You know, I’ve seen a couple of people take the book to task because it’s not this “great literary work.” Well, you know, if anybody knows the way I’ve written songs for 30-plus years, they’re gonna read this book and go, “Yeah, that’s how he writes.”
And you have no problem in the book making yourself look like a jerk at times either…
Absolutely! I think I could have done a real good job if I applied myself more. [Laughs]
Was that hard for you to paint yourself as an asshole?
Nope! It is what it is. Years ago I would have definitely not wanted to take ownership of it. I would have had no reason to. But in the interest of fairness, I have to.
A lot of recent rock bios are really explicit in their description of sex, but yours isn’t especially explicit or gratuitous. How did you decide to draw that line?
Probably because I didn’t do any of those crazy, salacious things that Led Zeppelin did. That’s just not my style. I guess I could have inflated a few things to make them more like that, but what’s the point? When I say I’m getting a handjob from a biker in Hamburg — that’s pretty much what it is. Why pile on? What else do you need? Do you need the color of the floor tile? It’s not really that wild. It’s not two midgets, a gimp and a snake.
Do you have a favorite musician biography?
Honestly, I think I’ve read more wrestlers’ biographies than I’ve read of musicians. The wrestler ones are always really funny because I know enough of the stories anyway, so I can tell when they’re lying.
Were any of those inspiring?
Well, out of all the ones I’ve read, Brett “The Hitman” Hart, his book was, like, 600 pages. It was just this diary of an obsessive. He kept such notes on his life on the road. The amount of detail in the book was scary. How can you remember the last three minutes of a house show match from 1985 that nobody cares about? It was so much detail. So much inside baseball. It was a really overwhelming book. Hulk Hogan’s when I read it, it was, oh my god, I don’t believe any of this. He’s just working it. I can’t wait for the real book.
What was it like narrating your words for the audiobook?
It was pretty crazy. It’s what I imagine the Nuremburg trials were like. I was in the middle of a really nice old recording studio, sitting at this folding table with this red vinyl dropcloth and one lamp. I had a cold the first two days so I’ve got cough drops and my book and this light. And somebody from the publisher is eavesdropping and telling me to slow down or speed up. I got pretty good at it as my cold went away and I started to get the rhythm. It got real fun.
How many times a month does someone ask you about a Hüsker Dü reunion?
Not so much since the book came out. But before that, if I did 10 interviews on a new record it would be maybe two. The book spells out many reasons why I don’t think it would be a good idea, nor will it happen. To me it’s as much not wanting to tarnish the memory as it is not wanting to deal with those guys again [laughs]. I can’t do that. I can take some of those happier songs and play them in a happier way, but I can’t play side two of Zen Arcade again, sorry. My head’s not in it… That band was too intense. That was not an act. And I do not have that in me. I’m 50 years old and I don’t feel that way anymore.