Drawing the Lines – On Bob Mould, "The District Line" and Washington DC

Bob Mould
The District Line
Anti Records

Bob Mould recently stated in a recent interview with Spin magazine that he named his new album The District Line in part because when out in the District of Columbia he gets asked first and foremost by people who don’t know his work what he does for a living. It is no doubt that today in our Capitol City on the swamp that status is everything. How far up the ladder you climb is tantamount to worth where the free world is deliberated, disceted and conquered. Everyone here it seems is here to get their slice of the ideological, political, or economical pie. It is the center of government, the home of our symbolic idealism, the birth of modern politics that have given way to modern capitalism, globalism and imperialism. What you do in this city tells people alot about you. IT tells people if they can trust you, utilize you to move up, gain a contact or if they should avoid you. It is a cut throat, dirty town where people move very fast in a calculated moves to their chosen destination. In five years living here, Bob Mould couldn’t have said it any better about Washington DC.

The question of “what do you do” however, is most unfortunate. The question in Washington DC that matters most is really “where are you from?” Washington DC is not a place where people live, it is a city that people come to on their path to somewhere else. Rarely within in the city limits or even throughout the ever expanding suburbs
will you find a native of Washington. Through out much of the region you might often come across the children of civil servants who have toiled in the burracracy for large parts of their lives as they watch their commutes grow longer and longer. The sons and daughters of carreer military families make stops along the way, doing time while mom or most often dad does a stint at the pentagon. Often people who were born in the region have stories of time spent overseas when their parents worked in the state department and were deployed to some god awful war situation. But a true native is hard to come by.

For the native, the questions of “why are you here” could be posed to even Mr. Mould himself. What brought Mr. Mould to this city, the four-to-eight year stepping stone people trod upon looking for a leg up? This town is filled will special interest jockies looking to “serve the good of the public” so they can gain the “experience” and “expertise” before they move back home or onto some other city where they can exploit the “private sector”. These upwardly mobile, self sanctioned experts move in and out of craped studio appartments or into the ever expanding suburbs, creating false demand, driving up housing prices and placeing the ever increasing strain on the working poor that supports the infrastructure for people who don’t even take the time to recognize that Washington DC is more then just a stop gap. The reasons people come to live in this city have the greatest impact on Federal City. They leave their foot prints on top of foot prints but they never stay long enough to leave an impression.

Perhaps the question that should be asked is “what will you do?”. Dead City after all has no representative in congress, lacks the tax breaks of US territories, has a budget tied up in federal politics and very rarely has the ability to govern itself, fix itself or tend to the residents that are here. I would be surprised if one-forth of the people that live in DC are even registered voters during their stay in town. People bring their agendas, but they do not bring their help. They do not bring an open mind, they bring the knowledge that when their task is done they will return to their home town customs forgetting they have just lived in the birthplace of our country.

With all these questions it’s a wonder that anyone even survives their tenure in this town, no matter how short. Mr. Mould even says himself in the Spin article that “it takes a certain kind of person to move here to work in the industries of aggression and deception.” A truer statement has never been said. With Mould’s past work with the hyperactive Husker Du or the catchy-upbeat Sugar, his writing duties for the well loved WCW and least we forget his time as guitarist for the house band during Headwig and the Angry Inch’s initial run, give little room for doubt that he has what it takes to cut it here. After all, this schizophrenic region has inspired many people to make historical and powerful music. DC after all was the birthplace and launchhttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifing pad for the Mighty Bad Brains who defined the energy of punk rock and twenty years later still challenge every white-bread (pun intended) conventional pop-culture punk has to offer. This is the home of Fugazi, the staunchly independent band that acted as a musical group, social movement, idea generator, debate topic and inspirational tool. We are the home of Go Go music, a regional music that thrives and strives to this very day despite a lack of interest or involvment from the major labels that have plauged every other home grown culture and musical movement for as long as they have existed.

And yet DC can’t hold on to it’s brightest stars. A look at the phone books of New York City will find the names of Craig Wedredn and Nathan Larson from Shudder to Think and Zack Barocas of Jawbox. As the cost of living goes up, the artisans move to where they can find work being creative to make a living. The constant change of population leaves little left over for any sustainable institutions to exist in the art world. As more and more people move in and out, the suburbs of Maryland and Virginia expand and grow and it becomes harder for musicians to connect with the youth of the region who are left without this important outlet and connection to the art of music. Washington DC is losing it’s musical identity as the years go on. Bob Mould claims Washington as his home (for now), but can the community of Washington continue to hang it’s hats of these icons of Punk Rock to be our representatives? No doubt Mould, along with Ian Mackaye, J Robbins, Brendan Canty, Ian Svenonious and other are still making music or contributing to punk rock culture in significant ways but the future of Washington DC can not be kept fresh and vital without the participation of new artists continuing the tradition of pushing the boundaries of musical expression.

I would argue strongly that District Line should be seen not as a product of Washington, but a portrait of our fair city. After all Bob is, by his own account, settled in Washington for now. Is he in it for the long haul, or is this where the artists finds himself now for inspiration? The Muse is aftera ll a fickle friend and has already carried our friend from his home state of New York to Minneapolis and New York City. Despite his impact on punk rock and his influence on thousands of bands, I am not sure I want this album to represent my city.

I remember seeing Bob Mould play on the stage of Fort Reno when he first moved to Washington DC some five years ago. His solo accoustic set of Husker Du, Sugar and solo songs was one of the greatest performances that hill top venue has ever seen. It is after all a stage of long and rich tradition that is perhaps the bridge from DC’s historic past to it’s unknown, but hopefully bright future. But even then, it was a surreal moment, seeing this icon of punk music and influence in my town where I cut my teeth. In fact, in the five years since, Mr. Mould has not given a repeat performance and that night becomes more dream-like each day. It’s hard to say if Bob Mould has had an impact on this city in a lasting way. Sure “Body of Song” is a fantastic piece of his own canon, but it’s hard to call it a part of the tradition of genre exploring music born here. Certainly he has created a popular, safe space for the gay and indie community to unite with his Blowoff parties, but I am not sure that adds much value to DC’s history.

Bob Mould’s music means a lot to me. His work with Husker DU is blisteringly honest, his work with Sugar is nothing short of pop perfection. I greatly admire his perspective on pop music, his desire to exist outside the potential vaccum of his legacy, and his continual out-put of fantastic music. But I also love the music of Washington DC very much and take it far too seriously as this rant is evidence of. The music of Washington DC has made me who I am, shaped my perspective on the world and my ear for music. The political fervor that I have expereinced at benefit shows has guided my world view and informed my personal politics. I take this shit dead fucking serious. I don’t play around with my words, thoughts and feelings on the city. And that is why I don’t want to rely on Bob Mould or District Line as a representative of my city. To do so would cast a cloud over the current activity that is struggling to find it’s place not only regionally, but nationally. There are kids making music in the nation’s capital that is nothing short of mind blowing. I am so greatful this confused town crossed between East Coast slick and southern town hospitality would attract one of my heros, but Washington DC needs to stand on it’s own two feet again, rising up mightily, ferociously and uniquely as it once did. This is the line that the District music community must re-draw and cross again and again.

About the Author:
The Good Governor is a 17 year resident of the ever expanding, undefined and grossly suburban region known as Northern Virginia. He has two (2) tattoo’s of the Washington DC City flag despite never oce residing with in the metropolis. He has see Fugazi a lot of times but maintains his favorite band from DC is The Most Secret Method. His upcomming EP will NOT be released on Dischord. But let’s face it, the best band on that label was from Baltimore.

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