Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Listening to Bob Mould on City Arts and Lectures

This past Sunday I caught the Bob Mould interview on City Arts and Lectures on KQED, part of their Talking Music series. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a taped version of this on their website, but there were some cool stories about Bob's days with Husker Du and their crazy tours, including a long stopover here in SF while they crashed at Jello Biafra's place.

It was a thought-provoking experience to listen to this on an afternoon when I was intending to go to a disco night later in the evening, since, when Bob talked about wanting to get rid of "that music" on the radio, he was making an oblique reference to the disco and pop tunes of the late 70s and early 80s that dominated the charts. I really didn't get into punk music until about 1984, and discovered Husker Du following the release of Zen Arcade, but listening to Bob made me think about how we followed similar paths - angry small town boys who first found an outlet for our feelings in punk music, and who also came around to dealing with our sexuality through that same scene. I remember when Bob was outed by Spin, and then the sudden uptick in Queercore bands like Pansy Division and queer punk zines coming around at the same time.

It's interesting to think about the difference a few years would have made in the identifications I had with the gay world. I was still in high school in rural Virginia when AIDS was identified, and by the time I had gone through college and begun investigating the gay scene a whole generation of men who had experienced that first wave of gay liberation and danced in the discos had been wiped out. Those who survived and came after them brought with them a lot of anger, as I did, over everything from the political climate to the way AIDS patients were being treated. When I hung out with guys in ACT-UP in Baltimore, they didn't listen to disco, they listened to Fugazi and Husker Du and Minor Threat, Nirvana and Ministry. We had pretty typical second-generation attitudes toward the first generation of out gay men, in that we saw their culture as stifling and traditionalist, and wanted to make things for ourselves. When I wanted to scope boys I didn't go the gay bars, but to rock shows and goth/industrial clubs.

Bob Mould and I are pretty much products of the atmosphere in which we came out; while the mood of the 7os generation might be characterized as happy and liberated, our generation felt angry and oppressed. Then, by the mid-90s, all those queer punks found that the second movement we had mobilized had lost its teeth, settling now for issues like marriage and military service, things we vehemently opposed. I guess it makes sense that disco is now undergoing this tremendous revival both here in SF and, from what I've heard, in New York; it evokes happy memories for an older generation, and connects the most recent with a gay identity that seems to offer more radical opportunities for self-expression. It is somewhat galling to think that the gay culture that I and my friends rejected has now re-emerged as a dominant cultural force, while the main accomplishment of our anger and political motivation has been to create a class of gay bourgeoisie, and this, I must admit, accounts for at least some of my own attitude toward the disco aesthetic. And then there are the times when I look around at the current state of the gay scene and I just feel like a curmudgeon, much in the same way as that first generation of gay men must have felt when they encountered my generation and realized that there had been a tremendous shift in values and aesthetics that had taken place without their realizing it.

Bob Mould is still putting out albums, but it seems that he's changed a lot since I last saw him do a solo acoustic show at a small bar in Baltimore; he's now DJing are regular night in DC and New York called Blowoff, and I noticed that on his myspace page, one of his friends is the Service Members Legal Defense Fund. It also seems that Bob has traded in his punk identity for being a bear; I didn't even recognize his current physical incarnation from the husky, intense, geeky guy I watched with rapt attention. I'm glad that Bob has found a way to re-define himself as he starts creeping up on 50; it's pretty hard to maintain that angry energy your entire life without turning into a total crank. I'm a little disappointed in looking at their setlists; maybe I'd like it better if I was actually listening to it, but it seems a bit like a repudiation of the punk aesthetic for pretty mainstream stuff. But at least Bob has found a way to position himself in relation to contemporary gay culture, something that, for all of us, becomes much more difficult as the years pass.

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