I had a birthday last week, not a round number one but getting damn close. And it reminded me, yet again, how much of life is about perspective, and how much one’s perspective changes as you go through life. A brilliant story teller in addition to bad-ass rock and roller, the estimable Motor City icon Bob Seger has written numerous classic songs covering this immensely affecting theme.
In his breakout 1976 smash, ‘Night Moves,’ he waxed nostalgically on bygone backseat summer romance. Ten years hence a then-41 year old Seger recalls his bold, purposeful stride and arrow-straight posture in the anthemic ‘Like A Rock,’ forlornly wondering how twenty years could somehow have gone by since his youthful and mighty peak, in a song so beautiful and poignant it couldn’t be ruined by years of looped plays over Chevy truck ads. In between he created the simple yet striking metaphor of struggle on his 1980 album title track, ‘Against The Wind,’ setting the wistful mood right away with the memorable opening couplet, “It seems like yesterday / But it was long ago.” But it’s the pre-chorus line that stoned me when I heard the song recently, Seger ruefully acknowledging the present while simultaneously looking back: “Wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.”
Man, that’s a riveting, powerful line. The innocence of youth juxtaposed with the implied corruption, disappointments and humbling sorrows the passing years may bring; in short, the coarse realities of adulthood. It isn’t that when we were young we didn’t care, it’s that we simply were blissfully unaware…a critical divergence. Seger, like all elite songwriters (of which he’s certainly one), undoubtedly chose his words with distinct intent, and painted a moving character study of yearning in guileless phraseology. Though I always assumed that it was, whether it was autobiographical or not doesn’t really matter: we, the listener, could relate. And, in melancholy moments, I find I’m relating more and more as time goes by.
To state the obvious, time passes for us all and it’s passed for Bob Seger, too. Two years ago the grizzled legend, seller of over 75 million records and an inductee to both the Rock And Roll as well as Songwriters Hall of Fame, gracefully walked away from the road and from his performing career, after playing a final series of North American shows, the “Roll Me Away” tour, that kicked off in his native Michigan at Grand Rapids, and culminated with a group of East Coast dates including the penultimate one at Madison Square Garden. Though his trademark raspy voice was still mostly intact, he no longer resembled the brawny biker persona with which he’d first arrived onto the music scene in the late ‘60’s, nor the triumphant yet earthen superstar of his Like A Rock late ‘80’s. With a wrinkled t-shirt, baggy “dad” jeans, and a stark, white mane of unkempt hair held back by an elastic headband, Seger looked more like your kindly, old neighbor, or the guy chosen late for a pick-up basketball game at The Y. Yet, more importantly, he seemed absolutely comfortable with that.
I had caught Seger at The Garden just prior to the farewell run, and other than his greatly altered look, and his righteous ability to still pound out both the high-octane hits and heart-rending ballads – from ‘Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man’ to ‘Turn The Page,’ ‘Rock and Roll Never Forgets’ to ‘Still The Same,’ and ‘Old Time Rock & Roll’ to ‘Beautiful Loser’ – the thing that struck me most was his demeanor, that of supreme enthusiasm mixed with gentle benevolence, and an overriding sense of gratitude for his audience. Notwithstanding his massive success, Seger was ever the understated rock star, the everyman. No more did he sport his younger man’s leather jacket and snarl; a warm, endearing smile and a cheap headband was now his thing. For a man of a certain age, it was nothing short of delightful to witness.
Today Bob Seger is 75. And I’m, well, about to be something more ridiculous than a still-teenage me could possibly have imagined when I scraped together enough money to buy “Night Moves” and first started listening to him. The years, as they say, march on. But, every once in a while, when the mood strikes right, me and Bob, we can feel our younger selves. Like the chilling final verse of ‘Like A Rock,’ we, most definitely, can recall. And that, I suppose, is timeless.
And sometimes late at night
Ooh, when I’m bathed in the firelight
The moon comes callin’ a ghostly white
And I recall…I recall
And…from Seger’s final show at The Palace arena, just outside Detroit, his performance of ‘Against The Wind.’ Let the cowboys ride!