NPR from Illinois State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Arts and Culture

Bob Mould draws parallels between the 1980s AIDS crisis and today on 'Blue Hearts'

BobMould_BlakeLittlePhotography_2.HR.jpg
James Richards IV
/
Bob Mould (center) plays a solo show at the Castle Theater in Bloomington Friday night.
WGLT is community powered. It’s the Fall Fund Drive and your financial support at WGLT.org is the power we rely on to keep your favorite NPR programs on the air and your newsroom local. Join the community that powers WGLT with a contribution.

Rocker Bob Mould draws parallels between the 1980s AIDS crisis and the early years of the Trump administration on his latest album “Blue Hearts.”

No song more explicitly so than the breakout hit “American Crisis.” The Husker Du founder told WGLT that as a young closeted gay man in the 1980s, he remembered the silence of the Reagan administration while misinformation about AIDS was allowed to spread.

“Never fun to be told that you're less than,” Mould recalled about the 1980s. “Never fun to be told, ‘God created this to punish you’ for something that was sort of out of your own hands. And I felt like we were headed back in that direction with the previous political administration in America. You know that old joke about Deja vu all over again? There wasn't anything terribly funny about it because it really felt familiar, you know, that people, people who are in a minority situation, people of color, people of different sexual preference, you know, economic inequity. Everybody was getting singled out and demonized again. And I went through that once and it's no fun. I felt it was important to draw parallels.”

That experience affected Mould then, and obviously he’s still reacting to it. The scream at the beginning and middle of “American Crisis” speaks to that as much as the powerful, angry lyrics to the song.

I never thought I'd see this bullshit again
To come of age in the '80s was bad enough
We were marginalized and demonized I watched a lot of my generation die
Welcome back to American crisis No telling what the price is

  • American Crisis by Bob Mould

“Well, again, in my early 20s, there was no confusion in my mind that I was a homosexual,” reiterred Mould. “Did I understand the gay lifestyle? Not as much as I should have. But you know, by the end of the 1980s, I had a better sense of who I was, and how I could use my voice to at least explain myself in the context of being different and hoping that people would be able to relate to it.”

Mould is spitting out powerful, pointed thoughts on "Blue Hearts," yet the vocals tend to be mixed quite low, for example on songs like "American Crisis." It can make it difficult to decipher what is being said. He agrees, but counters that lyrics are included online, with each album and in his videos.

“Having said that, my approach to making aggressive guitar music is, ‘I don't want the vocals to overwhelm the power of the other guitars or the cymbals’ … you know, all that distortion. I always try to fit my voice in as if it is just another instrument. So sometimes they sit a little bit lower than your normal pop song,” said Mould.

It's been tough over the last four years to listen to new music and not read the political times into songs. Some are explicit, others subtle, and others non-existent but subtle intent could be read into them. Mould obviously falls into the unabashedly political both on "Blue Hearts" and during interviews. You could say similar to Americana star Jason Isbell, he doesn’t subscribe to the philosophy of "shut up and play the music." He said serious times requires truth, proper information, and critical thinking.

“If we just read headlines and we just doomed scroll for the rest of our lives, we're not gonna have much knowledge in our hands to make informed decisions, I think it's really important to me. And especially when I think back to the 80s, and I think back to Reagan, and AIDS and HIV and how little … I feel like I did not do enough at the time. Fast forwarding up to now, I'm not going to sit back and not be heard. I think I did not do enough back then. And I'm not going to have that nagging at me this time,” explained Mould.

You're one of us
Or one of them
If you're one of them
Don't come near me again
Silence was death
Never forget
Silence was death
Silence

  • “American Crisis” by Bob Mould

And about losing fans because he is outspoken?

“I think these are the times … I think we all have to say what's on our mind. I don't expect all of my fans to agree with me and if I lose some longtime fans because they view the world through a different lens than I do, and we can't get to a middle ground … It's been great. I'm sorry I let you down, but life goes on,” said Mould.

Bob Mould plays a solo show at The Castle Theater in Bloomington Friday night.

Community support is the greatest funding source for WGLT. Donations from listeners and readers means local news is available to everyone as a public service. Join the village that powers public media with your contribution.