Monday, October 9,1989
the Michigan Daily
Bob Mould leaves both isolation and Husker Du behind
BY JIM PONIEWOZIK
WELL, the silence in this house
It echoes in this house
I pull myself together, say
"Today I will get out."
- "Lonely Afternoon," 1989
Bob Mould is coming out of the
He is calling from a pay phone in
Hoboken, N.J., taking a break from
the job of moving to New York
City from the Minnesota farm where
be lived in virtual isolation for a
year. He is talking about Workbook,
his first album since 1987, and his
first since the bitter break-up of his
band, Husker Du.
For a man who virtually defined
both hardcore and power-pop with an
onslaught of ten LPs in six years, a
two-year recording absence means
"After I left Husker Da, I didn't
-really have any big ambitions about
making a solo record," he says. "I
just knew I wanted to get out of that
In 1987, the trio released the
double LP Warehouse: Songs and
Stories, arguably its best ever. It
was their second major-label release.
R.E.M. had just broken big, and
many saw HD, long a critical fa-
vorite, as the next band to ride the
post-punk wave to "real" fame.
But the same personal and inter-
personal tensions which had made
the band great turned against it.
Stagnation set in - "we knew each
other too well," Mould says - and
drummer Grant Hart's increasing
drug use took a toll on and off the
stage. The band's live show fell
apart, recording plans got pushed
back, and Mould finally decided to
call it quits. Thus began his retreat.
Never changes, the things Ifeel
Sit by a lake and cry
Like a shingle on a roof in a
Should I let loose and fly?
-"No Reservations," 1987
"I needed to isolate myself from
the music business, the music scene,
the local scene, the whatever scene,"
Mould says. "I spent eight months
taking a look at myself, taking a
look at what I'd done with my life
for the first 26, 27 years... taking
But while he left the music
scene, he did not leave music. Holed
up in Pine City, Minnesota, he
channeled his distress and confusion
into some of the most honest and
disturbing songs in a career long on
This is not to say that the songs
on Workbook are "about" the break-
up of Husker Du, as many have ar-
gued - Mould himself is reluctant
to get "too specific" about the split,
but the emotions on the album are
too entangled, too deep-seated, to
have any such one-dimensional root
What Workbook is about is be-
trayal, confusion, the desire to run
away from the world and the rage to
confront it - and the insufficiency
of both. On 1985's New Day Rising,
Mould sang "59 Times the Pain."
Workbook is pain to the 59th
Workbook's baroque, largely
acoustic songs do not merely sug-
gest an Everyman angst; most are
unobscuredly the voice of Bob
Mould, circa 1988-89, a physically
isolated, shellshocked man trying to
whip himself back into shape, as on
"Brasilia Crossed With Trenton": "I
used to be a big shopper 'round the
world/ Big credit cards, they don't
matter anymore/... They don't take
these things down at the bank/ They
just take money."
"I wanted people to know who I
am, as opposed to who I used to be,"
Mould says. "As it's a very personal
record, there's a few things on it that
make me a little uncomfortable
when I hear them go by."
And, he says, his cathartic hon-
esty creates its own personal prob-
lems - wouldn't you want to know
if your pal Bob means you when he
sings "I see you swing by your neck
on a vine" on "Poison Years"?
"It'll drive (some people) out of
your life," he says, solemnly. "But
what can you do?"
I could be proud of things I have
Pretend I don't have to try to be
e cuts from his new album,
act Big Dipper on this Yom Kippur.
"I wouldn't want (other people)
to act like they did five years ago, ei-0
ther," Mould says. "I don't feel an
obligation to be anything other than
what I am that day... I know a lot of
people don't want to let go of that,
but I did. And it was hard for me,
The tortured but beautiful songs
reconcile Mould's contradictory per-
sonalities - the mild-mannered
Minnesotan who transforms into a
banshee onstage as if he were a psy-
See MOULD, page 9
Bob Mould's show tonight will featur
Workbook. Also featured is openinga
I could say that I've done it all
So it's ironic that an album this
pained and angry is also by far his
most hushed. Mould abandons his
shrill screech for a surprisingly
warm tenor, and trades the corusca-
tion of his Gibson Flying V for the
rich interplay of 12-string and cello
- not without grumbles from punk
purists. But Mould says he feels no
obligation to reprise Husker Du.
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