By his own admission, there have been more dignified exits from the closet than Bob Mould's. In 1994, the US music magazine Spin sent the transgressive gay author Dennis Cooper to interview Mould at his home. Cooper told him he was to be outed, and he could either participate in the process or watch it happen anyway. Having kept his homosexuality private throughout more than a decade as one of the most significant figures of the post-punk era, Mould now "stumbled" out, protesting to Cooper: "I am not a fucking freak." The US gay establishment, which had been lobbying Mould, alongside George Michael and Michael Stipe, to declare his sexuality, was unimpressed.See Also:
"Now I laugh about it," says Mould. "It's almost like slapstick. 'Here comes Bob! He's coming out and he's wrecking everything! Quick, push him back!' I know all this now. But at the time I had no clue."
Today, Bob Mould is completely and comfortably out. This underground rock legend has become a successful club DJ, whose Blowoff house parties pull 1,000 people each month in Washington DC and are now branching out to New York, Chicago and San Francisco. For the past four years he's written a blog, which mixes rumination upon the state of the music industry with tips on the best gay hangouts in America and faintly ribald insights into Mould's social life ("Great fights, good company, and some tasty meat loaf makes for a fun sleepover"). Eating lunch on London's Old Compton Street, Mould chuckles: "After all those years of being incredibly private, it's a little unnerving to some people, I'm sure."
Before the Spin article - and indeed, for several years afterwards - it would have been inconceivable for him to be interviewed in such an archetypal gay locale. His sexuality was an open secret in the music industry and among his fans, but Mould discouraged its public discussion. Despite his shyness, he has an intimidating aura, not least because of his exalted musical legacy. This is, after all, the guitarist and singer of Hüsker Dü, the Minneapolis trio that emerged from the US hardcore punk scene of the early 1980s and proceeded to expand the sonic parameters of rock. In assimilating their love of 60s pop and psychedelia into the high-velocity fury of hardcore, Hüsker Dü scorched the earth upon which both the Pixies and Nirvana would subsequently build the foundations for the alternative nation.
Besides, Mould's eviscerating songs of anger and pain eschewed gender specifics. Hüsker Dü's 1984 double album Zen Arcade is so overwhelming a treatise in existential trauma that the sexual orientation of Mould - and indeed Grant Hart, Hüsker Dü's drummer and co-songwriter, also prodigiously talented, also gay - was no more an obvious factor in that trauma than anything else.
"There's a hell of a lot of confusion on those records," says Mould. "It's not like I was a fully realised gay man. At 23, living in a country that's marginalising me already because of a disease and telling me I didn't deserve to exist - that's a lot of stuff to deal with. There's a lot of self-hating and battling on Zen Arcade. But I think music is universal. I guess that's the difference between a gay musician and a musician who's gay. It wasn't my intent to exclude a large portion of people from identifying with the songs. Occasionally now a song sneaks through: Who Needs to Dream on the new record, it's very clear what's happening there. But it's not my intent to write a gay-themed record per se."
Peeking into the emotional void of casual dating, Who Needs to Dream appears on Mould's latest album, District Line. A collection of tales inspired by his five years living in Washington DC, it's actually the culmination of a broader story: Mould's struggle to accommodate his burgeoning gay consciousness with his musical self, a process that began with his declared "retirement" from playing rock, following 1998's Last Dog and Pony Show project.
At 38, mentally spent and physically ravaged from a virtually non-stop 20-year cycle of touring, recording and self-analysis, Mould retreated to his New York apartment and decided to act upon his sleevenote aphorism from Hüsker Dü's 1987 swansong album Warehouse: Songs and Stories - "Revolution starts at home, preferably in the bathroom mirror." He went to the gym.
"I knew I needed to make a change in my life," he says. "And putting an absolute stop on things forced me to make that change. I started going to the gym every day, lost a lot of weight, then went to clubs at night. I threw myself into the gay culture. It was all new to me."
As befits a man whose late teens were defined by his weekly trips to record shops to buy the latest UK punk imports, Mould characterises his mid-life handbrake turn in terms of music buying. "I started going to different stores, and they're steering me towards house music instead of indie rock. Everything changed. It opened up all these new ways of living, getting in touch with being a gay man in New York, as opposed to being a gay man who had an apartment in New York but was always on the road with other guys playing rock music."
Mould's sudden infatuation with such house kingpins as Sasha & Digweed and Deep Dish would have a profound influence on his music, but not before his life took a bizarre twist. A wrestling fan since childhood, in September 1999 he took a job as a scriptwriter for Ted Turner's World Championship Wrestling franchise. There followed a seven-month schedule of travelling and stress unlike anything he'd endured before, as Mould's role extended beyond merely deciding who Hulk Hogan was pissed off with that week.
"The show would go live and I'm sitting behind a curtain as the liaison between the wrestlers and the production people, telling the referee on a wireless earpiece how to direct traffic in the ring so we can make our commercial breaks. I'm doing this for three hours, with explosions, people yelling and bleeding - chaos! It's a different Broadway show every night."
Having written not a single note of new music during his wrestling furlough, Mould returned to New York in spring 2000 and resumed his fascination with club culture, searching for different contexts in which to make music. His new direction was unveiled on two new albums, Modulate and Long Playing Grooves. The latter, a collection of electronica instrumentals, so scarcely resembled any other Bob Mould record that it was credited to the anagram LoudBomb.
Modulate, meanwhile, attempted a fusion of synthetic textures and electric guitar, with Mould's voice distorted through Auto-Tune, the pitch-correcting processor made notorious by Cher's hit single Believe. Mould took his newly ripped torso on the road during 2002, fronting an elaborate multimedia solo performance. The public's response was politely incredulous.
"It confounded people," says Mould. "And rightly so. In hindsight, I see those records as my way of learning how to use the electronic tools in public. Maybe it would have been better to keep it to myself. With the 'Cher show', everybody was giving me grief. It was a lot to ask."
Duly chastened, in 2005 Mould decided to "renege on my promise". He took the Rock Bob out of retirement, assembled a band and opened his entire back catalogue, performing material originally played by Sugar, his early 90s alt-rock trio (so neglected that it's easy to forget they had a No 1 album in the UK), and also Hüsker Dü. As well as a typically pragmatic assessment of his work's strongest suits - his force-of-nature voice and electric guitar-playing - the concession spoke volumes for the relative harmony felt by Mould in both his professional and personal realms. In summer 2002 he'd moved with his partner of more than 10 years to Washington DC. Less than a year later that relationship ended and Mould found himself single for the first time in his adult life. "I'd been in two relationships that took up 21 years and had one month when I was single. And that month was spent in a rehearsal studio! So there was a lot of change in DC; 2004 was a very eye-opening year." He laughs. "I learned a lot of things that most gay men learn when they're 21."
The 2005 Bob Mould band was assembled to promote Body of Song, an album where Mould returned to anchoring his material with guitar and using synthetics as embellishment, the inverse of the equation that had so singularly failed on Modulate. The public's response was favourable, though as much out of relief as acknowledgment of great work. District Line is a far stronger, better realised set of songs, though it's clear that Mould himself is more energised by Shelter Me, the album's one explicit house dalliance ("Can we get a Gabriel & Dresden remix of that?") than, say, the keynote Rock Bob redux The Silence Between Us ("Took 10 minutes to write").
"For better or worse, that's what I do," he says. "Maybe because Blowoff is running concurrently - a completely separate outlet, equally gratifying if not more so for me, to have a thousand hot gay men coming out once a month and taking their shirts off and drinking beer and dancing to Daft Punk and Justice - now I've got that, the other seems OK. If that's what the rest of the world wants, that's fine with me, too. It's all about balance. And, being a Libra, I'm acutely aware of balance."
This state of equilibrium apparently precludes a Hüsker Dü reformation, however. Having sniped at each other in the press ever since the band's contentious split, Bob Mould and Grant Hart sparked rumours that indie rock's bitterest feud might be laid to rest after they played two songs together in October 2004 at a benefit show. Mould says he got caught off-guard, and there could be no financial inducement strong enough to make him go there again.
"I can't recreate what people think they saw. I'm not 23, drunk and cranked up and angry. I'm not that person any more. The intensity of those records, I just can't do it. Heat with Grant and Greg [Norton, Hüsker bassist], yeah, that's all there, but it would be like a joke. It would not be becoming. It would do more damage than good to what the band stands for. And ..." He laughs. "I don't wanna be in the same room as those guys."
WAIT... THERE'S MORE STUFF
Watch Out! Hot Footie Chicks in Alex Gaudino Video Game Twist
DJ AK1200 is the man behind the beats
Fatboy Slim denies identity change
Fatboy Slim is no more
Portishead's Album THIRD Debuts at #7 on Billboard
Beck/Danger Mouse album set for summer release
Hot Chip 'free downloads hurt small bands'
DJs To Descend On Washington For Million DJ March