Friday, December 2, 2011

"I Wish I Didn't Know Now What I Didn't Know Then"

I've always liked Bob Seger. I wouldn't call myself a "fan," and I'm more than aware of his status as "Michigan's B-list Bruce Springsteen." He's at least in the wheelhouse of something I adore.

Oh, come on...there are more than a few similarities.

However, I've always liked his songs, so when I found Ultimate Hits: Rock And Roll Never Forgets, on Amazon, I thought, "what the heck?"

Now, I haven't had time to really ingest the whole thing. I barely got through Disk 1 on the train ride in, but I was just struck by the sadness that runs though almost all of the songs on this collection. Every song seems to be about loss, memory of a time when things were better. Sadness at the core.

Seger was a nostalgia artist at the height of his career.  Seriously, every one of his major hits has elements of "you should've seen me when I was young and whole." He was also older than your average "rock star" at his high point. He was born in 1945, meaning that in 1976, when the Night Moves album was released, he was 31. That's kind of amazing. Springsteen was 5 years younger when Born to Run was released.

Not that I'm saying 31 is "old," but in the realm of Rock/Pop music, it kinda is. Also, to clarify, my description as a "nostalgia" artist is only referring to the subject matter of his songs. He seems to have been looking back on better days right from the start.

Night Moves is, simply, an amazing song. The whole song has a sense of melancholy, but also a sense of childish naughtyness:

She was a black haired beauty with big dark eyes
And points all her own sitting way up high
Way up firm and high

I mean, what song can go wrong with such benign, if *ahem* pointed sexual references?  Seger, however takes it further, with a clear vision of what the childish groping he's writing about actually is. He effectively mixes the meaninglessness of it with the absolute joy of it, and the all-encompassing teenage need to "keep score":

We weren't in love oh no far from it
We weren't searching for some pie in the sky summit
We were just young and restless and bored
Living by the sword
And we'd steal away every chance we could
To the backroom, the alley, the trusty woods
I used her she used me
But neither one cared
We were getting our share

Just when you think the song will only be a clear-eyed memory of childhood, Seger drops the last verse on us, and it's majestic and shattering, leaving us with the inescapable images of a man who can feel those days of freedom and excitement, but never again touch them:

I woke last night to the sound of thunder
How far off I sat and wondered
Started humming a song from 1962
Ain't it funny how the night moves
When you just don't seem to have as much to lose
Strange how the night moves
With autumn closing in

If this was just one song, I could write it off, but even in his most off-the-cuff, "fun" songs, there's blatant sense that the best days are gone.

Call me a relic, call me what you will
Say I'm old-fashioned, say I'm over the hill
Today' music ain't got the same soul
I like that old time rock 'n' roll

"A Relic?" He was 33!

Of course, everyone, and I think especially every man, always feels like, whatever age they are, is the oldest that anyone has ever been. It's intrinsic in the human experience, I think. No way to escape, but of course, everyone yearns to escape, and Seger goes there, too.

Took a look down a westbound road right away I made my choice
Headed out to my big two wheeler I was tired of my own voice
Took a bead on the northern plains and just rolled that power on

I get that, and I think a lot of folks in my age bracket would, too.

I think I found the Seger "Mission Statement" however, in one line at the end of the first verse of Against the Wind. A line that really encapsulates a lot of what I've been feeling over the last few years, and what I think a lot of people feel as they grow older.

Wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then

Yeah, maybe I'm not a big Bob Seger fan, and I still think Springsteen does a lot of this better. That said, well done, Bob, you've hit the target.

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