Tom on Bob: a conversation with Tom Scholte apropos of Sunday’s Bob Mould Show

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      It’s funny how being a music geek can bring people together. Take Robert Fifik and I, for example: as the CUPE rep who helped a co-worker and I negotiate a contract at an ESL school I was working at, he and I might not have had too much to say to each other during our downtime, union politics not being a particular passion of mine (not his favourite topic either, it turns out, when he’s not at work!). But it turns out he’s a record geek—and suddenly we have the basis for an ongoing conversation every time I see him (last seen at Marshall Crenshaw, before that Television, before that Jonathan Richman—or was it Pere Ubu?).

      Ditto Tom Scholte. I quite like him as an actor, and have enjoyed his work with Bruce Sweeney; Dirty, which he co-authored, is my favourite representation of Vancouver on film, and I thought Scholte’s own feature, the Dogme-influenced Crime, was also excellent. It’s too bad Vancouver isn’t prideful enough about its cinema that films like these aren’t as well-known here as locally shot Hollywood crap (like, say, the remake of Walking Tall, where I laughed aloud to suddenly see Tom in the role of the Rock’s lawyer). That’s plenty ‘nuff for the basis of an interesting conversation, but when Scholte and I cross paths, we don’t talk about movies: we talk about Mike Watt, or Dinosaur Jr.—whom Tom is authority enough on that I hooked him up with an interview with the band, when last they came to town.

      And now it turns out that Scholte’s a big Bob Mould fan, too, and has followed Bob closely while I (foolishly) ignored him for decades because his solo output doesn’t sound enough like Zen Arcade for me. Not only has Tom remained faithful while I sulked and sucked my thumb, he’s even read Mould’s autobiography, See a Little Light. And he has his own unique outlook on Hüsker Dü’s output: for instance, Tom thinks that New Day Rising is the better album, compared to Zen Arcade.

      Wait a sec, what the fuck, Tom? New Day Rising is a better album than Zen Arcade? What?

      “Two words:  ‘Celebrated Summer,’” Scholte replies, unruffled by my gesticulations. “An absolute masterpiece that combines so many different elements - crunching riffs, wistful youthfulness, virtuosic playing, classic SST lo-fi ambience, and… One in a series of SST tracks that took my sense of what rock music could be and blew it wide open.  The emotional power and expressive range of that song is staggering.  An utterly unique piece of songwriting.”

      It’s pretty great, I acknowledge - certainly one of the album’s high points - but you’re up against a DOUBLE ALBUM of concentrated, raging angst here, man. New Day Rising doesn’t, in fact, have a bad song on it, and, okay, it’s got a better album cover than Zen Arcade, sure, but - but -

      “Of course, that song is not the only reason,” Scholte continues. “Much of New Day Rising’s lasting place in my heart is due, no doubt, to the fact that it was my first Dü (back when bringing an SST album into my parents house felt a little like smuggling pornography).  But the whole album just gave me so much of what I was looking for at the time: the authentic aggression and outrage of punk but wrapped up in undeniable riffs and achingly sweet hooks.  ‘I Apologize’ is a classic example.  I also love the febrile muttering of ‘Perfect Example’ and ‘59 Times the Pain.’  And it also contains my two favourite Grant Hart compositions: ‘Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill’ and ‘Terms of Psychic Warfare.’  Of course, I love Zen Arcade as well and ‘Chartered Trips’ has always seemed to me to be a song that foreshadows the feel of New Day Rising.”

      I am sitting back grinning, going “aha, it’s baby duckism.” Tom loves New Day Rising more than Zen Arcade because it was the first Dü he heard. Fair enough, actually; those sort of attachments run deep and sometimes apply to my own musical favourites too—the Flesh Eaters’ A Hard Road to Follow, say, will always have a place in my heard over and above Forever Came Today and A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die, which are probably both objectively superior albums, simply because it was the first Flesh Eaters I heard. Fine.

      But I still get to one-up Scholte: the first Dü I heard was Metal Circus, two releases before New Day Rising, so not only was I listening to Dü before Tom Scholte, my favourite album of theirs was NOT the first I heard, but the next one! So my Zen Arcade fetishism is more OBJECTIVE than his New Day Rising fetishism! Ha!

      (Competition is an oft-unstated element in conversations between music geeks. Actually, New Day Rising is pretty great, too.)

      But what about Flip Your Wig, Candy Apple Grey and Warehouse: Songs and Stories? Dü’s last album for SST and their subsequent major label works didn’t sink the hook for me at the time; both Mould and Hart were evolving as songwriters, changing from the furies of Zen Arcade, and—like I say, partially out of stubborn fanboy petulance—I would have none of it. It wasn’t Zen Arcade, so it wasn’t good enough. Did Scholte have any similar backlash?

      “I’ve been loyal to Bob through it all (including the bizarre Modulate),” he replies. “ While I was devastated by the break-up of Hüsker, I did hunger to see Bob as a songwriting craftsman set free with solid production values.  (Very bourgeois, I know.)  And Workbook absolutely delivered for me.  And then the monster rock of Black Sheets of Rain was like hearing the music I’d imagined was possible materializing right before my ears.”

      He’s got a point. See, I’ve been—with the help of people like Scholte, or Ford Pier, or, indeed, the Rickshaw’s Mo Tarmohamed—delving backwards into Bob Mould’s catalogue. I have grown up just enough to loosen my grip on Zen Arcade and acknowledge that, holy cow, Silver Age, Beauty and Ruin, and Mould’s most recent solo venture, Patch the Sky, are magnificent rock albums. They don’t sound much like “Indecision Time” (and are probably even harder to process for those extreme types out there who prefer Land Speed Record). But jeez, I’ve been missing out. Black Sheets of Rain, in particular, is awe-inspiring. And even those Sugar albums I had plugged my ears through in the 1990’s, when friends tried to open my mind, are pretty goddamn great (“A Good Idea” is delightful Pixies-ish bubblegum that I never knew Mould had in him).

      Did Tom ever get a chance to see Dü, or Bob Mould, or Grant Hart, or Sugar before this Sunday’s show at the Rickshaw

      He has two stories to tell on that front.

      “First, the heartbreaking story of almost seeing Dü. I was 18 and trying to sneak into Toronto rock clubs with mixed success. I lived in the suburbs and the trek downtown in shitty weather was always a particular drag on the nights that I got ID’d. The night Dü was in town on the Warehouse tour, I just didn’t have it in me to drag myself down there and, most likely, get turned away. The next day, a friend of mine who was in a band that was making a little headway in the local scene says to me: ‘Where the hell were you last night? I got you on the guest list!’ And, of course, Hüsker Dü was no more in a matter of months.”

      Second story: “I finally saw Bob solo on the Last Dog and Pony Show tour. This was when he had just turned 40 and announced that it was embarrassing to still be playing loud guitar music at his age and that this was the last time. I was at the show with a bass player friend of mine. He had also just turned 40 and we had recently started getting a band together. I joked to him, ‘Man, what’s wrong with us? We’re just getting started at the same age that Bob has decided he’s already spent.’ And thus, our heavily Bob-inspired band, SPENT, was born.”

      Tom is trying to dig up an old rehearsal tape of that; he says the “best ever moment” during his time playing music was “after a gig when I guy asked me if I’d heard of Dinosaur Jr, ‘cause he couldn’t stop thinking about them when we were playing.” You see a bit of Tom playing guitar in Crime, but he spends much of that movie making fun of his own musical ambitions, playing an unemployed, bong-hitting loser still working on his masterpiece. You don’t really get a sense of Scholte’s own music based on it.

      Back to Bob Mould: Scholte’s favourite moment of the show was when someone—it wasn’t me!—shouted  a request for the Sugar track “A Good Idea“, and “Bob deadpans in his flat Minnesota accent, ‘Start your own fuckin’ band and play that song.’”

      Does Scholte have any favourite solo albums by Mould?

      “That’s a hard one as I am truly into his whole body of work. Black Sheets, Last Dog and Pony Show, District Line, Life and Times. Jesus, that’s almost all of them!” (including three I haven’t heard yet).

      Most significantly, does Scholte see a kinship musically between Dinosaur Jr. guitarist/ frontman J. Mascis—whom Scholte is also way ahead of the curve than me on, and whom he describes as a genius—and Bob Mould?

      “Absolutely. For better and for worse, the two of them combined created the guitar sound that would become ‘grunge’. Heavy distortion but first position ‘folk’ chords rather than power chords, so lots of ringing and droning open strings. That combination of biting, buzzing tone with an absolutely gorgeous and even romantic melodic sense. (As my friend quipped and I shared in the Dinosaur article: ‘Like The Cure getting fucked in the ass by Black Sabbath.’ Lyrically, the typical self-loathing (at least in the early work) that carried over into the slacker/grunge thing. And they broke the anti-virtuoso punk taboo and made the world safe for blistering guitar solos again. It was like true musical deliverance for a kid like me. Classic rock was dead. Metal had morphed from authentic early Sabbath, Motörhead, et cetera, to sickening commercial hair bands like Ratt that were absolutely insufferable.  And, I’d always had trouble with the macho posturing of hard rock because I was, at the core, a deeply insecure and emotionally clumsy nervous wreck. Suddenly, there’s these guys laying down the heaviest melodic music since Sabbath's Masters of Reality and they're singing about how inept and uncertain they are. I couldn’t believe such a thing was possible.  Literally as if something I’d only dared to begin to imagine was taking shape. And now I’ve grown old with these guys. I had about 5-7 years in the late '80s/early '90s when I was incredibly hip and I’ve basically just stayed there.”

      See you at Bob Mould.