Bob Mould Hates Me (A true story)
The year was 1984. Just out of college, living at home and no clue what to do next. The infinite possibilities of education were lost in the here and now. Meaningless work with little to look forward to in the foreseeable future. Then a review in the Village Voice for Zen Arcade. It sounded promising. I bought it, listened to it, then listened to it again, and again and again. It was the record I had been looking for. The missing link between my classic rock years and the punk and hardcore I was just starting to embrace. As I listened and studied the artwork and lyrics, I realized that this is something I could do. Finally a light that made me believe that my rudimentary bedroom guitar skills, distortion pedal, minimal vocal abilities and novice song writing talent could one day transform themselves into an actual band that I could be a member of.
It took time, a few years in fact (let’s say 1986), the same pointless job but now living on my own, to make the move. Ironically, it was that very same Village Voice in which I placed my first classified ad, looking for a fellow guitarist to dig my tunes and start a band. Influences? Sonic Youth and Husker Du. As I recall, only one person answered that ad and made the trek to my Brooklyn apartment but that one person was enough. Turns out that Phil was a decent guitarist, a decent guy, had great taste in music and happened to have been one of Bob Moulds’ roommates in college (Macalester, Saint Paul, MN). I was duly impressed. After a few months, we added a bass player and drummer (both as technically skilled as we were, which isn’t saying much) and Half A Chicken was born (not the first regrettable band name and certainly not the last).
Saddled with most of the songwriting duties, pop punk was my forte and therefore the bands. Four chords at the most, at least one of them minor, and semi-sincere lyrics about alienation and regret. In retrospect the songs were awful but at the time felt worthy of our contemporaries. We went the route that thousands of bands had taken before us. Hourly rehearsal spaces, horrible unintentional noise (it was the first band for all of us), crappy demos, crappy gigs in the only places that would have us and then finally enough original material and enough confidence to believe we deserved to record our first record.
I was not involved in the process but the call went out to Bob that we were ready to record. Phil believed that Bob would produce our record when the time was right and he was not incorrect. After sending him demos of the songs we wanted to record, Bob agreed to a week in New Jersey at a studio he was familiar with for a fee we could afford. As the old cliché goes, it was a dream come true. Since Zen Arcade I had purchased and studied every Husker Du record that existed. I had seen them live a few times and was convinced Bob and Grant were geniuses. I was not a star worshiper and certainly not a stalker but it’s hard not to get worked up when the very musician who was the catalyst for your pursuit of music as more than a hobby agrees to produce your first record. Regardless of the moral obligation that Bob felt to his former roommate that I was fully aware of, I was pretty damned excited.
Although some of the details are hazy with the passage of time, the essential elements of our week of recording are clear. Bob flew to New Jersey, showed up at the studio on time and was, to my knowledge, a complete professional. Although we didn’t speak at length, I was able to lob a few fanboy questions about the recording of Zen Arcade and he didn’t seem overly annoyed about answering them. Questions related to Grant got a frostier response, the reasons for which have since been revealed to the masses but at the time seemed odd and foreboding. We ate Chinese food for lunch and Bob tried out my Stratocaster (to this day I am convinced that this had a definitive impact on his guitar choices thereafter).
As for the actual Half A Chicken recording, excitement turned to disaster pretty quickly. Given that this was the first time we were in an actual 24 Track recording studio with a real producer, our bands musical limitations quickly reveled themselves. Bobs main issue was with the drummer but to me everything sounded like crap, myself included. As the nominal leader of the band, it fell upon me to try and address and deal with the shortcomings as quickly and efficiently as possible but let’s just say I could have handled that task in a kinder and gentler manner. Once the glow of Bob’s presence wore off, I started to realize that the band sounded like crap and the project itself was going down the toilet. A few choice words of unhappiness to everyone later, it fell upon Phil to inform me that Bob wasn’t happy and that it was me he was most unhappy with. Unsurprisingly, my manner rubbed him the wrong way. For what remained of the recording, I kept my mouth shut but the damage was done. Bob was pissed at me and that was never going to change.
The end of that week could not have come sooner. Somehow we managed to finish the tracks and as was the plan, Bob took the tapes back to Minneapolis (to the famed Nicolette Studio whose name I had seen on the back of the Husker Du records I had studied so intently) to mix and master. Given the sounds we had heard during playback, it was probably more of a salvage operation. Several weeks later our masterpiece arrived and we finally got to listen to the fruits of our labor. Friends who heard it said they liked it but my first thought was mediocre at best. After repeated listens, all I could hear was what was wrong with it, not what was right with it. Part of the problem was the mix, most of the problem was the songs, the band, my singing and the overall execution. In Bob’s defense, I’m sure he did all the turd polishing he could.
So what happened to Half A Chicken’s first record (called Food For Thought. Get it?)? Oddly enough, it found a home at Rabid Cat Records from Austin Texas whose prior claim to fame was putting out the first two Scratch Acid records. Why they thought our record was comparable is beyond me. Did Bob’s name really carry that much weight? The artwork was better than the record itself. Another friend of Phil’s turned out to be Gary Panter who was kind enough to let us pick out and use anything of his we wanted. Rabid Cat put out the record, we went out on tour (to the Midwest, down to Texas, through the South where the van died and back to New York at the end of a Tow Truck) and soon thereafter the label folded. I am firmly convinced our record was the final nail in that coffin.
I don’t know how many copies of the record the label pressed but you can still find a few on Ebay. Phil died from cancer in 2003 but in the late ‘90’s we formed a band called “Mold” (Get it?) and recorded my ode to this tale, Bob Mould Hate’s Me (along with another song, Sonic Youth at Disney World, another true story which I’ll save for later). I think that one song is better than everything else I ever wrote for Half A Chicken put together. Even though the label that put out the Mold record eventually died as well, I don’t blame us for that. As for Bob, does he still hate me? He probably doesn’t even remember me and if pressed would probably have trouble remembering that he produced a band called Half A Chicken. Suffice it to say that most people find the story of the recording more interesting than the music itself. There is something particularly weird and compelling about meeting your idol, working with your idol and then proceeding to piss your idol off. Careful what you wish for.
released July 13, 2015
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