SEGER AT 60

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, National Music, Artist Feature,   From Issue 627   By: Robert E Martin

07th December, 2006     0

'Beneath the bare light bulb aboveŠ
She stared into the eyes of loveŠ'

-     Bob Seger, 'East Side Story'

Okay.   It's been 40 years since Bob Seger, Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame inductee and one of the last  icons still standing  from the 'Golden Age' of Michigan Rock 'n Roll, paired those  poetic opening lyrics to  a perfect fuzz-toned riff on his first Cameo-Parkway single back in January, 1966.

Needless to say, a lot of Hollywood Nights (not to mention those spent on Main Street) have come and gone over four decades. 

But as I stand at the Dow Event Center and watch a 61-year old Seger take to the stage for a record-breaking sell-out show, I can't help but think about the litany of great songs that he penned from 1966 - '76, and how many of the best (Heavy Music, Ivory, Down Home, Lucifer) are conspicuously absent from the set.

Perhaps its because they were written at a time when Seger, for all ostensible purposes, was neither rich nor that famous. Though he had a breakout national hit with Ramblin' Gamblin Man in February, 1968, his great follow-up albums (Noah, Mongrel, Smokin' O.P's)  pretty much failed to crack out of the regional market. 

Indeed, it wasn't until Beautiful Loser that Seger started gaining national attention again; and it took Live Bullet  (which ironically followed the same formula that Peter Frampton did in terms of releasing his strongest overlooked studio gems in the context of a 'Live Concert Album!') that Seger truly started riding that silver bullet to riches &  stardom.

So (he probably figures) why perform anything edgy from the days of the Seger System, when he has such bankable hits as Old Time Rock 'n Roll, Turn the Page, and We've Got the Night to pay the heating bill and pay for the renovations on that home up at Harbor Springs.

Not to say this material isn't good, but to me it epitomizes a period where Seger, tired of floundering in regional esteem and paying his dues in countless obscure club dates, decided to follow the model of the fast food industry.  After all, true art may be incendiary, inspiring, and life defining; but you don't sell a lot of Chevrolets with it.

While I am not one to criticize anybody for appealing and reaching out to a larger demographic; in essence, witnessing Bob Seger back in energetic form after an almost 20-year absence from live performance focused my thoughts on this issue:  the distinction between artistic and commercial success, whether or not they are mutually exclusive, or could they be balanced without suffering the dullness of compromise.

Actually, I wanted to ask Seger these very questions, however our much-requested interview was not to materialize.  "We're waiting for the okay from Punch Andrews (Seger's manager) as to when he can start talking to the press again," I was told.  Personally, I think it has something to do with that article I did on Kid Rock four years ago, when his ex-guitarist informed me that Kid would put apple juice into an empty bottle of Southern Comfort before going on stage, that clinched the deal. (Kid Rock and Seger share the same management, you see).

In a recent interview with Rick Coates in the Northern Express Seger revealed that he presently has "700 songs in the 'vault' with 300 recorded." " One of these days I'm going to have to take the time and play all these tapes and hope they don't fall apart. I have had this vision of creating an album called 'Everything' and release 60 songs at once," Seger reveals. Obviously, Seger has not been whiling away all his hours sailing the Port Huron to Mackinac race and attending Pistons games over the past decade.

As for the concert itself, I'll leave it to Bo White to describe, as he did quite insightfully in his recent blog on whitesbar.com

"Like the zombies in the Night of the living Dead flick, people were voraciously devouring memories - mindlessly gnawing on the bloody corpse of the Seger catalog. Singing each lyric at the top of their ragged lungs in honor to the high priest of working class rock' n roll. Bob Seger - who finally got off his yacht, squeezed on a pair of over-sized black denims, did a coupla sit-ups, gargled with warm salt water, and prepared to rock the house down."

"No matter that Seger's range had narrowed considerably through the years, he STILL rocked. Hell, the old fart had more energy than any one of the old used-up boomers wearing Seger tee's from '78 and drinking $9 beer. Yep, we were quite a sight. And SegerŠ.well, he leaped, hopped and ran across the stage like a mongoose chasin' a snake."

"Seger opened with Roll Me Away and then proceeded to dust off one classic after anotherŠTurn the Page, Mainstreet, We've Got Tonight, Beautiful  LoserŠalmost hitting the notes and goin' flat when you cold hear him. But it was with his new songs from Face the Promise where he really hit his mark. Wreck My Heart, Wait for Me, Simplicity, No More - that's who he is now and that's how he sounds today."

"It took guts to lay so many new songs to an audience that worships the past and yearns for its lost youth, but Seger pulled it off - with humility and charm."

"He also performed crowd pleasers such as Hollywood Nights and Against the Wind, bonafide top-ten hits that signaled Seger's artistic decline. Don't get me wrong, I love Bob Seger and I was grateful to see him one more time. And I'm glad I got it out of my system."

"Man, it's a bitch to get old."

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