Saturday, March 5, 2011

Bob Mould 2/8/91

I'm sure we all have a moment in our music listening lives where we can name the place, time and feeling when we first heard a certain song or band. Most often, it's that band we most feel attached to and have followed for a long time. For me it was Bob Mould and I first heard him in 1991.

When I was in school, I worked after class in a fruit shop in Caloundra. There was a girl who worked there called Jodie who was this crazy bogan punk chick. She had the nickname of OD after she overdosed at a party by taking a potent cocktail of drugs and needed to get her stomach pumped. Anyhow, back then, if you wanted to find out about underground music, you were pretty much reliant on the people you knew as Triple J had only just gone national. Jodie was a great source of information for me. She used to tell me about going to see Rollins Band and about all these great sounding bands like Big Black and Hüsker Dü. To be honest, I could only imagine what they sounded like from her descriptions but it all sounded pretty exciting.

Anyhow, she went to see Bob Mould in Brisbane and was telling me about it. Just this old punk screaming while he played a twelve string guitar. It sounded great and a little while later a short set was played on Live at the Wireless recorded at the Peince of Wales in Melbourne. I dutifully waited until 8pm on the night, blank tape at the ready in my crappy stereo to record it. At that point I wasn't even really sure what it would sound like but Jodie had made it sound like the most wondrous music I'd ever hear. To my surprise, she was right.

The Live at the Wireless set (which was played on 2/8/91) was a life changing event for me. I was an avid music fan but I'd never really heard anything like this. It was folk but it was punk. The thing that really struck me was the how raw, visceral and passionate Bob's voice was. It stirred something in my adolescent mind which changed the way I listened to music. Until this point, I was pretty much a fan of anything with big guitar sounds but being at the tail of the eighties/early nineties - everything tended to be over produced to within an inch of its life. This was something else. This was something real.

The seven songs that came through my speakers that night were played with such conviction and Bob sing/screams until his voice raw. It starts Bob muttering "Alright, here we go," and then within seconds Wishing Well is in full flight. I'm listening to that very recording as I type this and I still get goosebumps, still get that spiraling feeling of elation down my spine. I probably listened to that tape at least five hundred times - I can still sing along to every wail and tic, quote the between song banter and I even know the exact moment someone in the crowd whoops or yells something. This recording is etched deep into my subconscious.

After this, I bought everything Bob had made from Hüskers to his solo stuff and was overjoyed when Sugar released their first album. I have slavishly devoted much of my adult music listening life to Bob. I have probably gotten more joy from his music than is reasonably possible and at the lowest moments in my life (all of them), Bob Mould's music has been my companion through the darkness. This is the blind devotional fandom that you see in small kids. I will buy every record he makes until he stops making them. It is a personal thing, I have tried and failed to convert many a person to his music. I get that it is something that I can hear in his music but which you may find in some other artist's work. That's cool but I think everyone has their own version of this type of relationship with a particular artist.

Anyway, I was just listening to the Live at the Wireless recording* and was just thinking about that time and how happy discovering this music made me. It also reminded me of how random things can be. If Jodie had never mentioned it, I probably never would have recorded that show and my music taste would be very different today. Thank god for drug taking punk chicks who work at fruit shops is all I can say.

*Much later, I made friends with other music devotees who had also recorded the show that night. My good friend Zac eventually gave me a copy of the album which he had transfered from tape to cd.



  1. it's odd - when I consider Bob rationally, he ticks all the boxes. Attitude, honesty, occasionally acoustic etc. But when it comes to emotional/ear frequency, he does absolutely nothing for me. I can hear why some guys like him, but it's just not my subjective scene. Also, I wonder why it's only guys at his concerts. I've taken it as a personal mantra that music which doesn't appeal to chicks also is missing something.

  2. Well, that's ok because you're not the first person who has said this to me (quite politely I might add too). An old (female) housemate told me it was 'whiner rock' and Bob sung like an 'out of tune Ozzy Osbourne'. Music is by it's nature incredibly subjective, so each to their own. For example, I loathe Sonic Youth. It ticks multiple boxes for me but I think it's unlistenable twaddle.

    Anyhow, I think you're probably right in that it is predominately 'boy music' (even though I've known females fans through the years), I'm not sure that's a problem for me. There's a lot of music that cuts the gender divide - for example, I know very few male Tori Amos fans but then have never met a female Frank Zappa fan either. The first time I saw Sleater-Kinney, the crowd was 99% female. The second time, maybe 98% female... I'm going to think on this some more and get back to you.

  3. don't worry - it's just my extreme reaction to Mould music. There's a zappa movie from the 70s (of a concert, with Adrian Belew et al - and an ace drummer in just gymshorts), and the crowd is definitely tipped to near gender-balance. His classical gigs - maybe another story.

    I figure, if it can't be danced to, or stoned to, or in some way elevates, then you gotta worry.

    Also (once you get started), Mould has this habit of playing open string chords that just sounds tired and hackneyed to me. Just too... familiar and easy on guitar. Not enough interesting voicings or choices. But of course lots of vocal bravado on top. (end whine)

  4. That is an extreme reaction although I'm quite happy with myself. Normally, in music arguments I'd resort to 'is not' and then insult you in some way - way to go, new reformed mature me. I can understand why anyone who doesn't like the aesthetic Mould goes for would not be into it - I just happen to love it (I'll happily listen to anyone chug away on an E minor all day though). I actually think he's a very tasteful guitar player because he plays for the song rather than for show. On the odd occasion he opens up and just shreds (the solo on Tilted - oh my) which shows he's probably a more technically proficient player than his music often reveals but each to their own. I like the big hearted ringing open string approach he goes for.