The Last Days of Sound and Fury

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"The last two records are so indicative of what kind of impact geographical placement has on me," he continues. "I think with any writer worth their salt, your environment is paramount to what you're doing."

New York is evidently Mould's perfect habitat. "There are seasons here," he says. "As I get older, I become much more sensitive to the simplicity of things, the fact that in October I've got to dig out the sweaters and in January it's gonna snow. I can't wait for winter now. In Austin, winter was 70 degrees in the daytime, then it's five months of 100 degrees. I'm a snowbird. I was born in snowbird land. I spent 32 years of my life in the northeast or in Minneapolis. After not seeing snow for a number of years, you start to freak out. And if you're a writer -- and I believe the notion that because I write, my gift is that I can string together the commonplace and make something interesting of it -- those very commonplace things are so important. And I just didn't know. Now that I'm older, I'm aware of it and it's so fucking simple. Duh! Why was I looking for all these other reasons and excuses and justifications? It was as simple as rain."

Thoughts on change and the energy of New York City crackle throughout Dog and Pony Show. The taut "New #1" espouses the balm of new love for a broken heart; "Moving Trucks" rocks its way through a man's self-acceptance after having been left by a lover ("Today I am starting the rest of my life/No moving trucks to hold me down"); and the jaunty "Vaporub" struggles with the difficulty of communicating from the heart ("Never learned to trust another person/Never knew a person who could understand my words").

Though much of the album is steeped in Mould's life and experience, a few cuts reach outside to pure storytelling. The irrepressibly catchy "Classifieds" is a funny story (yes, he does have a sense of humor) about a person who gets caught up in reading the personal ads ("What am I looking for?/Number 340's in here again"), decides to try one himself, and ends up sneaking out after a miserable one-night stand ("Now you know the reason why that one's in there every time"). And the thick, guitar-heavy "Skintrade" chronicles a young man's unfortunate descent into addiction and porn notoriety. It's a very dark tale with a very specific nod.

Mould explains, "It's almost a tribute to one of my mentors, William Burroughs. Not by association but just by being there. Naked Lunch changed my life when I was seventeen and read that book in one sitting. It made my head spin. It simultaneously answered a lot of questions I had that nobody could answer for me because I didn't know how to verbalize the questions, and it opened up this whole other world of 'What the fuck?' I was fortunate enough to get to know William and spend some time listening to him, just observing and learning. When he passed on, it hit me, and I was grateful for that time I spent with him. So ['Skintrade'] is sort of a tip of the hat."

Mould says that some writers have tried to link "Classifieds" and "Skintrade" into some perverse theory about meaningless sex. "It's people who haven't been writing very long who are like, 'Oh, Bob's queer, so we'll try to tie these two pieces of thread together and make a knot.' And I'm like, 'What?! Wait a minute.' [But] I can't dwell on that. When Naked Lunch floored me, I didn't immediately look at the picture of Burroughs on the back of the book and think, 'This guy did all that?'"

For Mould, music is a career, sometimes separate from the rest of his life. His concentration now is on the craft of songwriting and expressing universal concerns like love and trust and loss, "the issues that as we get older we are all a lot more aware of." Even the apparent limitations of the rock format don't bother him. "I don't think there's anything wrong with condensing a pretty broad emotion into something short. That's the art form I've chosen. I'm not writing operas, I'm weaving a good story, getting in and getting out in four minutes. Given today's short attention spans, four minutes is about it.

"But this is what I want to do," he adds. "I want to focus on my writing. I want to focus on my recording. This is why I don't want to spend four months solid on the road. How to make those stories stronger and better is important to me. It's more important than spending seven hours a day in a rental car. It's time to shift gears. I don't know what the next one is -- and that's the cool thing. I don't even want to think about it until I get off the train.

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Michael C. Harris