Bob Mould's Beautiful, Ruinous Life In Punk With Hüsker Dü, Mould helped invent alt-rock, and he's kept innovating ever since. "For so many years, I ran away from my own sound," he says. At 53, he's caught up to himself.

Bob Mould's Beautiful, Ruinous Life In Punk

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Apologies if you're not quite awake yet because it's about to get loud.


GREENE: The band here is Husker Du. They were part of the underground punk scene in the '80s. This is lead singer Bob Mould.

BOB MOULD: The shows are very physical. You know, the music was very loud, very violent. And when you get a bunch of kids with skateboards dancing in a circle really fast, throwing elbows and knees in the air as they're dancing and diving off the stage and knocking equipment over and people come up bloody off the floor - it's not really that dangerous I guess.

GREENE: It strikes me as dangerous. But, I mean, if you've been in that scene, maybe that's a normal night.

MOULD: My baseline for normal is different, I suppose.

GREENE: Today Bob Mould is considered one of the elder statesmen in the world of alternative rock. He's given credit for taking that abrasive, hard-core sound and making it more radio-friendly. Nirvana called him a big influence.

Mellowing over time - in a way, that's the story of Bob Mould's life. He grew up in a rural town in New York state, and his baseline for normal, as he puts it, was thrown off in his childhood by an unpredictable father.

MOULD: He was a pretty amazing person - a very, very complicated person. You know, he was a drinker, weekends could be tough - a lot of chaos in the house. I guess I never really thought it was that strange. It almost just seemed like, oh, here comes Friday afternoon. And Sunday night it's going to calm down, and then we go back to school on Monday.

GREENE: It was his father, though, who got him into music.

MOULD: He would take me record shopping, got me my first guitar, got me my second guitar, which was the guitar that people watched me play for eight years with Husker Du. So, yeah, very, very important.


GREENE: Is there a tie here to the music? There's so much anger in it, and I guess I wonder if you were venting some of the anger and frustration from being in a tough family environment.

MOULD: Yeah, in some ways it was an extension of my childhood - not being heard as a child and now as a young man wanting to be heard.


HUSKER DU: (Singing) Something I learned today...

GREENE: And he was heard. But not by that many people in the early days. He remembered a typical performance in San Francisco in 1981.

MOULD: We were one of five or six bands on the bill. It was Wednesday night. We made $12.

GREENE: (Laughing) A whopping $12.

MOULD: Twelve dollars and three plates of spaghetti and meatballs. And...

GREENE: Which might have been more important than the money.

MOULD: I think it was at the time. There wasn't a goal of, let's make $2,500 so that we can do this. It was more like, let's at least break even so we can do another show. That was enough.

GREENE: You know the '80s are known to some people as a happy time. I mean, I'm thinking about, you know, Bobby McFerrin and "Don't Worry Be Happy" and it was the happy Reagan years to some people. Where was the anger and loudness and frustration in this scene coming from during that time?

MOULD: Well, I think when you say the world Reagan, he was the coal that fueled that train of discontent for hardcore for so long. Personally, for me as a not-out gay man in the early '80s and what the Reagan administration did to - I guess more importantly what they didn't do - they couldn't say the words AIDS until the middle of 1985. So here I am, 20 years old, sexually aware but not out, confused, sometimes self-hating, with a president who cannot name the disease that may or may not kill me or my friends. That would be a source of anger for anybody.

GREENE: And Mould coped by drinking a lot. He decided to quit. It's a decision that helped drive a major wedge in the band just as they were getting big. How much was your father in your mind when you decided to quit?

MOULD: My father was in the mirror when I decided to quit drinking. (Laughing) You see what you will become if you don't stop. That's why when I looked in the mirror, and was like, I can't do this. I know where this is going to go.


GREENE: I think about, you know, a group like Nirvana exploding. And then here you are, you're on that potential road, but then you make this big decision. Where was your head as you were sort of exploring something new and personal, and you're watching a band like Nirvana and kind of the world around you take off?

MOULD: Well, at the beginning of '88 when Husker Du wrapped up, I moved up to northern Minnesota. And I bought a farm up there and sat more or less by myself for a year relearning music and relearning how to write songs for myself. I had no friends. I had cut myself off from everybody just to focus on my work.


MOULD: I was looking for a new way to look at music because the last thing that I wanted to do in 1988 was emulate the band I had just been in. I didn't want to use that language anymore.

GREENE: Over the years, Mould experimented with different kinds of music - acoustic, electronic and pop. But now at age 53, he's been revisiting the past. He wrote an autobiography, and he just put out this new record, "Beauty And Ruin." It was inspired by his father's death from cancer in 2012.


DU: (Singing) And all these songs I write for you, they tear me up. It's not hard to do.

GREENE: There's a song called "The War" that you said has something to do with your dad.

MOULD: You know, it touches on my dad's battle at the end. It touches on, you know, life in general as a battle for all of us. It deals with a number of not-so-happy things, but I tried to wrap it with an uplifting melody. Seems to be my M.O. these days - the dark lyric and the happy melody.

GREENE: I guess I wondered if "The War" was in some ways between you and your father.

MOULD: No. I mean, I gave up that war a long time ago.

GREENE: Loud as this album is, there is a sense of peaceful resolution. He even mocks himself in a song called "Hey Mr. Gray".


DU: (Singing) Hey, Mr. Gray. That's what the children say. Life used to be so hard, well, get out my yard.

GREENE: It's funny because it has this image of an older guy, maybe a guy about your age in his 50s, yelling at kids to get off his lawn.

MOULD: Isn't that awsome? (Laughing).

GREENE: It's pretty awesome. It's pretty awesome. What strikes me while listening to it is, you might be this guy yelling at kids to get off your lawn, but you're also rocking like you're 20-something.

MOULD: I know. I love the contrast in this record all the way around. But I think the beauty of it to me, you know, for so many years, I ran away from my own sound. And other people took it and ran with it. And it's almost as if I've caught up with myself somehow. You know, for so long when I go back to '88 and the farm and wanting to be so different - you know, now it's like, people like what I'm doing right now. They like it when I play fast, and it might not be like that forever. It might not be like that in five years. So I'm just going to go for it while it's working.


DU: (Singing) Gets him - it gets him down...

GREENE: Well, Bob Mould ,it's been a lot of fun of talking you, really appreciate it.

MOULD: Great. Thank you, David.

GREENE: That's Bob Mould. His new album came out yesterday. This is NPR News.

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