In the second to last piece dedicated to his musical heroes, our co-founder André Archimbaud talks about what would be his second musical hero in Bob Mould – former guitarist & singer for Hüsker Dü, Sugar & on his own now the last 20-some years.
Scott, my brother, went off to college in the autumn of 1986. We’ve never quite talked about what it was like for him to be able to get away from our household, but I don’t doubt that it was a relief & release for him. I know when I left 4 years later – and unofficially 3 years later, since I lived with a friend’s family for my senior year of high school – that it was a relief for me. From the age of 10, I couldn’t imagine what life would be like after 18. In fact, I didn’t see myself living past the age of 18.
So, when Scott came home from college at Christmastime in 1986 a good bit changed, it shouldn’t have been any surprise. I remember we drove down to San Antonio from Dallas to get him at Trinity University there. Since winter breaks at college are usually 3-5 weeks, he had a good amount of stuff with him. Amongst those items, was a more full & fleshed out audio cassette case. He had a whole new slew of titles in there that I hadn’t seen. The DBs, R.E.M., Lou Reed, the Red Hot Chili Peppers & a band whose name I had heard called Hüsker Dü. They had a new record out called ‘Candy Apple Grey’ with a bizarre neon painted album cover that sucked me in.
Literally days after this fraternal return, I had begun work on my high school’s winter play. Our winter show was always a large production – even by regional theatre standards, let alone that of a suburban Dallas high school – with a substantial cast & sometimes included massive sets & more. As an example, we did ‘Peter Pan’ my sophomore year – where we brought in a company called The Foy Brothers to help us rig Peter & the kids in the play to be able to properly fly up, down & around the stage. We weren’t a wealthy school or in a wealthy district – even though it was the 1980s in oil-rich Texas – and we certainly weren’t a wealthy family. I simply suspect that there were some smart folks who invested in the arts…as well as sports….who ran ran the school district.
I say all of this to say that Newman Smith High School in Carrollton, Texas had a massive sound system in its theatre. The most massive that this 14 year old had ever heard! It was through that system that I first heard the roaring squall of Hüsker Dü. I was a freshman & two seniors – Mike Weis & Sam Crutsinger – had a 12″ single of their song “Don’t Want To Know If You Are Lonely” that held a very live, very raw cover of The Beatles’ “Helter Skelter.” I cannot remember which of them put it on, but I remember I crawled out of the light & sound booth like an animal on a scent of something. I had to hear the whole of it.
To that time in my life, I had never heard such raw melody.
I was 14 & I felt free in this cacophony.
After Hüsker Dü put out their next record – ‘Warehouse: Songs & Stories’ – they broke up. So, I never had a chance to see them live, though their label put out a blistering live album called ‘The Living End’ from shows recorded at the time of their last tour. I cannot more highly recommend this article of art.
Cut to the summer of 1990 & I’m back in New Jersey with my folks, readying to head off to college. Part of my ritual that summer was to head into Manhattan with my old man in the morning, go over to Father Demo Square in the heart of Greenwich Village & buy a bagel with cream cheese & patiently wait for the sun to rise & the record stores in the neighborhood to open. At that point in time, there were at least a dozen record shops that I can remember. One of them was a shop called Disc-O-Rama on West 4th Street – literally around the corner from the spot where Bob Dylan’s ‘Freewheelin” album cover photo was taken on Jones Street.
I would head into Disc-O-Rama & peruse the new & used CDs – the latter of which was already a bumper crop for independent record stores. About 2 weeks before I headed to college, I was in Disc-O-Rama & happened to see a title by a guy called Bob Mould, ‘Black Sheets of Rain.’ He was the lead guitarist & primary singer for Hüsker Dü. Without having heard anything about it, I bought it & fell in deep. The music on that album is loud & dark & powerful. Bob’s first solo record ‘Workbook’ was a mostly toned-down affair that attempted to stabilize or justify his space in the music business as a serious songwriter. However, the closing tune on that record – “Whichever Way The Wind Blows” – was a harkening back to the noise he’d once made & served as a coda & prelude for ‘Black Sheets of Rain.’
A few weeks later, I was in Boston as a bright-eyed freshman at Emerson College. In the autumn of 1990, if you wanted to see a concert in Boston, you’d most likely find out about it in The Boston Phoenix – at the risk of pissing off my New England friends – the Village Voice of Boston.
I would scour The Phoenix for whatever upcoming gigs were around & in the fall of 1990 and I attended the following shows:
Soul Asylum supported by Drivin’ N’ Cryin’
Sonic Youth supported by Redd Kross
Social Distortion supported by The Screaming Trees & Stone Temple Pilots
I loved ‘Black Sheets of Rain’ so much that I couldn’t not see the show. I got to the club early & made my way to lip of the stage. Bob’s support act that night? Ultra Vivid Scene were an early, one-man band with samplers & such. Think “pre-Beck.” Except for a live show, Kurt Ralske wanted a live band. I can’t speak for anywhere else that Ultra Vivid Scene played on that tour, but in Boston on that night, the backing band for Ultra Vivid Scene were local favorites The Pixies minus Frank Black.
Once UVS cleared the stage, it was set for Bob Mould & I was thrilled. I was 18 years old & about to witness a murder.
Bob Mould & the duo behind him came out & laid waste to the entire audience of about 1000 people. I remember running into a guy from my dorm at that show & he kept yelling at Bob to play to-that-point-unknown-to-me Hüsker Dü songs. We were literally underneath the man, so there’s no way he didn’t hear Justin screaming this stuff out. It was all electric, indeed!
Seeing Bob Mould that night was the 2nd concert I had seen as an adult…and, again, I felt free. Sweating out into a November Boston chill from the crowded crowd was unworldly for me.
About a year later, I found myself living in Austin. Bob came through & played a solo acoustic gig. One of the things that did set ‘Workbook’ apart was the fact that Bob largely played a 12-string acoustic guitar on the album. It’s an austere instrument that requires command & he delivered.
That show in Austin at The Cavern Club that night was similarly so. The opener was the dearly departed Vic Chesnutt. I knew Bob’s solo work very well by then, but had not heard his solo treatments of his own Hüsker Dü material. Those songs played solo on a 12-string acoustic guitar were stark & revelatory.
A lot has been written about the impact that Hüsker Dü had on indie rock to that point. So many scores of bands grew up in the wake of Hüsker Dü & those who were influenced by them. One particularly punk-rock thing about at that show in Austin was that there were about 150 of us in the crowd sitting on stools in a punk rock club. Everyone was away from him on these stools. So, he pleaded with everyone to come near to him…it was as if he was urging a moment of “gather ’round young folk, I’ve got something to tell you.” Meanwhile, at the exact time, Nirvana – a band who wouldn’t have likely existed had it not been for guys like Bob Mould – were building their voices & audience. Bob was holding forth while his offspring were spawning.
Then, in the mid-1990s, I lost track of Bob. For that matter, Bob lost track of Bob – as a musician. As a man, he started to come into his own. Much like David Bowie, Bob “retired” from rock & roll in 1998 or so and he moved into dance music for the next few years. I am unsure what happened to bring him back to rock, but in November of 2005, he released ‘Body of Song’ & Bob was back. To be sure, there was an element of his dance music in this record, but it was largely a loud, post-punk record. In fact, his drummer on that album was from D.C.’s own Fugzai in Brendan Canty.
The next few albums that Bob released were similar & strong. They were loud singer/songwriter albums with a revolving door of backing drummers & others. Most of those songs from those records are hardly played on tour anymore. They’re important numbers, no doubt. But, they don’t rate in comparison to what Bob did from 2009 through this writing in 2017.
In the summer of 2008, Jon Wurster – of Superchunk fame – joined the already formed group of Jason Narducy on bass & Bob Mould on guitar & vocals while on tour. It was as if Bob & his band were reborn. Bob’s percussive attack on guitar needed a twin on drums & Wurster was that. I saw a good few shows from 2005 – 2008 & they all paled in comparison to what I saw in 2009 & since.
With interest towards full disclosure, I managed to tune out Bob’s band Sugar in the early 1990s. I had found other music that quelled me at that point in time…and only when I reconnected with his work in 2005 did I dig into the past & find the strong work from Sugar. I’ve said it time & again…it doesn’t matter when you find it…it only matters that you find it.
The next several records – ‘Silver Age,’ ‘Beauty & Ruin’ & ‘Patch The Sky’ – are as lofty as any of the work that Bob Mould did with Hüsker Dü or Sugar. It’s a triumphant triumvirate of songs that both exorcise & excoriate. There are songs about the world at large & the world at home & the world at heart & they are all there to be taken to heart. His band & solo shows are still loud, angst-ridden & somehow melodic in all of that.
If you happen to see Bob Mould is playing in your town’s version of the Boston Phoenix or the Village Voice, make a point.
You, too, will be reborn.