(Photo credit: Michael Lavine.)
made-for-TV ironies that would have ensued.
Bob Mould has deviated from the script somewhat. While that solo album, Workbook (Virgin), was a critical success, it was less than boffo at the box office. Many of his faithful old slam-dancing fans were turned off by the quieter Mould, whose lyrics could finally be discerned over the din. (Unless you heard Hüsker Dü play live, you probably can't imagine just how loud they really were; my wife claims she once enjoyed one of their concerts while sitting in a car parked several blocks from the club.) And not enough new fnas took their place: Mould had little name recognition as a solo act, and he doesn't exactly have what you'd call matinee-idol looks. His extraordinary shows were often sparsely attended. (There is an excellent promotional live CD of the tour, with cuts from the album and a cover of Richard Thompson's "Shoot Out The Lights.") So before he knew it, the new, mature, low-key Bob Mould found himself pumping up the jam again.
"I really did think there was a more adult way to do this, but I was wrong," Mould says, taking a drag on his last remaining vice. (Once the possessor of an impressive beer gut, he's just about skinny now, and he's no longer writing any of his tunes while he's got a buzz on.) "There's no other way but to go out and sweat and die. The Workbook tour was supposed to be calmer ... like how I'm sure Suzanne Vega does it or John Hiatt does it. But when you get people yelling shit at you, it's like you have to do something. They're yelling 'You suck' or Play some old stuff.' So I'm, like, 'Well, okay, I'll just turn it up a little louder. Pick your head up at the door onthe way out.' I thrive on that hate. 'C'mon, hate me some more,' y'know? 'See if I care
|Ex-Hüsker Dü leader
|Bob Mould just can't escape his hard-core past
BY STEPHEN FRIED
GEE, and it was such a good story too.
Here was Bob Mould singer, guitarist, writer, noisemaker leaving America's loudest and most accomplished garage band, Hüsker Dü, moving to a barn in rural Minnesota, far from big-city pressures, and creating a pensive, mature solo album with such a broad mix of sounds that some tunes made sense for thrash-rock fans and others were so user-friendly that one actually made the regular rotation between news stories on National Public Radio's All Things Considered. It almost seemed like a sitcom created by the producers of thirtysomething. The lead could have been played by Jeff Daniels (a nearly perfect voice match for Mould), and each week "Bob" could have been shown trying to balance his hard-core past with the "live slow, die old and leave a smoke-free corpse" Nineties. Imagine the hilarious high jinks and
anymore.'" As a result, his new music started getting louder and harder (and better if you ask me; I fell for Workbook only after seeing Mould play' live).
Mould also found that he needed to get even farther away from the Minneapolis music scene, of which Hüsker Dü had been such a prominent part the band helped spawn a veritable midwestern hard-rock culture of such groups as the Replacements and Soul Asylum that were the perfect counterpoint to Prince's local funk legacy. Rumors persisted that Mould and his former power-trio mates one of whom was battling a heroin addiction might be reuniting. So Mould decided he no longer wanted to be a big fish in (or living next to) a small pond. He opted to move east and be pond scum all over again.
"I got to the point where the place I lived was holding me hostage," he says. "It was, like, people were saying, 'You have to respect him because he helped build this scene.' You've staked out this claim: You're famous, people will buy you drinks." So he moved a year ago. "Within twenty-four hours, I was out and my stuff was on the way here. I didn't have a (continued on page 162)
(continued from page 157) place to live; my stuff was sitting in a
truck in a hotel parking lot in North Bergen, New Jersey. I found a place the day before we were supposed to go back on the road.
"I'm living in Hoboken now. I'm on the fourth floor of a five-story building; above me is the apartment where everyone else in the building mostly Hispanic families sends their kids [during the day]. They just run back and forth all day; one time, they were jumping up and down so hard that I came back and my light fixtures had fallen out of the ceiling. But it's nice for me. It fits my mood. I came back after [the Workbook] tour with a lot of energy, a real 'fuck you' attitude. I'm sick of people being so hypocritical of everything I do. And now I feel the way I should about my work. Instead of this meticulous detail that went into the last record, I don't care anymore.
clubs and see these bands they have five gigs, two of them are good,
and they get signed, and then somebody makes up an identity for them.
Nobody has time to develop themselves as a group, and a lot of them can't
Mould can play. He's one of the few guitarists I've seen lately who can enthrall crowds with songs they've never heard before (a talent that, if I remember correctly, was once consdiered the cornerstone of rock and roll). Mould also knows more about the music scene than do most musicians because he has his own independent record label, SOL (co-owned with Steve Fallon, who runs Coyote Records and manages the Feelies, and with longtime A&R man and band manager Nicholas Hill), which produces only seven-inch singles. The project grew out of Mould's childhood love of jukeboxes he learned
Mould decided he no longer wanted to be a big fish in a small
pond. He opted to move east and be pond scum all over
more. I'm not pissed off, just stimulated."
The product of that stimulation is Black Sheets Of Rain, just released by Virgin: a recording spawned by nearly a year on the road with an indie all-star rock band that consisted of guitarist Chris Stamey, of the dB's; bassist Tony Maimone, of Pere Ubu; and drummer Anton Fier, of the Golden Palominos. For the new album, Mould returned to the power-trio format (Stamey had his own solo career to attend to), and he is more consciously trying to recapture the raw energy and enjoyment of playing without sacrificing the strong writing that made Workbook such a unique record. "If anybody had any complaints about [my music] sounding too solo-ish or too singular, that's gone," he says. "This one sounds so live ... and I'm not taking myself as seriously as I did last time."
However, he is taking the nation's shrinking club-and-small- concert-hall scene seriously, as he is the music-business trend toward signing performers, such as Milli Vanilli, who can't really play or sing. Mould feels that the public is tiring of huge production-number spectacles with canned music and lip-syncing. He's hoping that it shares his yearning for bands that can actually play.
"When I see a band, I go to see them work their asses off," Mould explains. "If they're not sweating and bleeding by the end of the set, I just walk out and go, 'Well, it's just a pose, no emotion there.' I go
about pop music from the used jukebox singles his father would bring home
but it is particularly timely because the major labels have all but
Mould founded the label to give fledgling bands a way to record even before they are ready to make a whole album, but now he thinks SOL can be much more. Just as Santa Monica-based Rhino Records has made a lucrative business of reviving or repackaging music the major labels have tired of, Mould envisions a time when he will single-handedly keep the jukebox alive by licensing vinyl singles from major lables that might otherwise release only tapes and CDs. But his ideal jukebox isn't stocked with the Top 40; it plays cutting-edge music. So for only a quarter you can get the chance to fall in love with an unfamiliar song.
"I like places with real jukeboxes," Mould says. It's a real American thing. I grew up with that a lot of us did. You're on the road, in a two-bit diner, and you can go over and play a really cool song, something that might endear you to the waitress."
While Mould is nostalgic for jukeboxes gone by, he does not wallow in the memories of the early Eighties pop-rock world that was revitalized by the regional scenes in Minneapolis and Athenss, Georgis. But he is amazed at how much the world of the musician has changed.
"Ten years ago," he recalls, "everybody
was fucked up when they went to see a show taking tons of speed, tons of Valium. It was about gettin' your hair cut real short and going out and bumping into all these guys you didn't know. There was violence in that scene, but it was friendly aggression, male bonding. It was misinterpreted by adults, but, then, everything is: I'll probably do the same thing in five years to the next thing that comes along. [Mould is 30.]
"The amount of outrageousness in the late Seventies ans early Eighties and the violent nature of it there was nothing like it before, not even in the beginning of rock and roll," he continues. "It was just out of control. Around '82, '83, it started to dissipate and became diluted. Everyone became so individual, but at the same time everything became more stratified: This image means this, this image means that; it wasn't all just crazy-mixed up. Suddenly you were just hard-core, just death rock, just glam rock, just goth rock. Stars and trends emerged. Somebody got big and had a paisley shirt, and the music was going there. Somebody had the big hair and was part of a coven, and that became that thing. Everyone had uniforms, and it became part of mainstream culture again. There wasn't anybody being extreme any more, they were just copyng things that had been done. And I don't know that it'll get exciting again, because a lot of the kinds of places this music came from are just gone. And alternative America just isn't that alternative any more. Most of the people I know from the business when I started out are now in major A&R positions at record labels."
At the moment, Mould is focusing mainly on his music, but he thinks that eventually he might want to write a book. "I have so much stuff around," he says, "short stories and such. I've had a few things published in art papers, but someday I'd like to put it all together. I've got a friend who's a European-history professor in Boston who used to play in a hard-core band and offered to help me edit the stuff. It's, like, hundreds of pages, and I carry it around with me: some handwritten, some typed, just years and years of it. A lot of it's really weird, but a part of me wants to get it out of my house."
GQ music columnist Stephen Fried received the 1990 best-magazine-story award from the Philadelphia chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
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