by Akim Reinhardt
When a song gets really stuck in my head, I break it down. I learn how to play it and even ponder ways to fiddle with it and improve it. In the throes of involuntary obsession, it gives me something to do. It’s a coping mechanism, a way to retain my sanity. And for this project, it also means writing, at least a little bit, about the song and artist. To create some context.
But I don’t need to talk about “Night Moves,” or any of a dozen other radio staples by Bob Seger. Why? Because Bob Seger is already a part of you, me, and everyone else. Bob Seger has sold over 50,000,000 albums.
Jesus, what kind of figure is that? 50,000,000. Is that a real number? If it does exist, where would I find that number? Somewhere between the Sun and Saturn, I reckon.
But even if you’re not among the many millions who’ve purchased a Bob Seger album during the last 40 years, he is still woven into every American’s existence. Even if you don’t listen to “classic rock,” or you’re a younger person who can’t put his name to his songs, you still know his music. You know Bob Seger even if you don’t know you know Bob Seger. Because if you’ve ever walked down the aisle of a supermarket, loitered in a 7-11, or simply stood there and pumped your gas, then you’ve heard more Bob Seger than you could possibly imagine. He’s had so many successful songs that simply listing them all would be tedious.
Since the late 1970s, and without any real interruption, Seger’s music has been absolutely ubiquitous in American culture. In addition to his own 31 charting singles and 18 albums, other artists have topped the charts with his songs (“Heartache Tonight” by The Eagles, “We’ve Got Tonight” by Kenny Rogers and Sheena Easton). And aside from the radio, his songs have been in Chevy truck commercials (“Like a Rock”), pop culture spoofs (on 30 Rock, Family Guy, and Eastbound and Down), iconic movie scenes (Tom Cruise dancing to “Old Time Rock n Roll” in Risky Business), and video games (Grand Theft Auto V) to name just a few outlets. Bob Seger’s kinda been everywhere all the time even when you didn’t know it.
The truth is, you don’t need a 1,500 word exposition from me about Bob Seger just because one of his all time biggest hits, “Night Moves,” got stuck in my head.
So to save you the trouble, I tried to just dump it on some friends instead.
I was out to dinner at the bar/restaurant on my corner, a scant 50 yards from my doorstep. Me and some friends headed there after their punk band practiced in my basement. They keep their drum kit and bass cabinet down there, and so the people I play with get to use their equipment, and really, who wants to move that shit if you don’t have to. It’s all copasetic.
We were out for a bite and a beer after their practice, and I mentioned that I had “Night Moves” stuck in my head. One of my friends mentioned hearing something on NPR about ear worms. Apparently there’s been some research.
According to my friend, most people get a song stuck for a couple of days or so. They also tend to get just one section over and over, usually the chorus. Oh, and there seems to be a high correlation to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; if you’re OCD about other shit, then I guess you’re likelier to be the kind of person who hears “Louie, Louie, Oh babe, I said me gotta go now, Yea Yeah Yeah Yeah” in your head over and over and over again until you move on to the next shitty thing like, I don’t know, hopping over cracks in the sidewalk or cleaning every square inch of the toilet until it sparkles or running home to make sure you turned off the stove or whatever.
She said this to me with that knowing kind of look. Like I got me some OCD.
I dunno. I don’t like anyone touching my towels. I don’t mean I don’t want you to dry off with it after you come out of the shower. Nobody wants that. Nobody wants your wet balls on their towel, not even your wife. Deal with it. I mean, just don’t even fuckin’ touch my towel. Don’t dry your hands on it. Don’t pat your wet face on it. Don’t casually breeze your fingers across it. Don’t. Touch. My. Towel. Just get the fuck away from my fuckin’ towel, okay?
I don’t think that’s OCD. That just might be the asshole thing.
Anyway, I said yeah, I get that sometimes. A song for a couple of days, and then I shake it loose and move on to whatever’s next. Maybe hop over a sidewalk crack or something. But that’s not what this here is all about. Bob Seger’s “Night Moves,” in my head right now, is a little bit bigger than that.
This shit’s like a week. Maybe two. Two goddamn weeks of a song bullying its way through my waking consciousness. So that’s different. Also, it’s not just one part. It’s the whole song. Actually, it’s more than the whole song. It’s everything about the goddamn song, cause I’m breaking it down, from nuts to bolts. I don’t just listen to it over and over. I’m learning how to play it on guitar; I’m investigating the structure; I’m taking it apart and put it back together again, like one of those little kids who does that with his toys, and you just know he’s gonna grow up to be an engineer or maybe a criminal.
How do the verses and chorus relate to each other? Is the bridge binding it together or bogging it down? What are the lyrics’ strengths and weaknesses? What about the key? The tempo? The rhythm? Oh, and the arrangement. How does every instrument fit into every part of the song? Or really, how do some of them not fit, and how might they be thinned out or muscled up or replaced with other instruments altogether?
No, this ain’t just a fit of “Louie Louie’s” chorus nagging at me for a couple of days. This is a central component of my life for a week or two. It’s happening all the time while I do everything else I need to do, like work and play and pretend I’m not OCD.
I’ll be walking down the hallway on campus, on my way to class, ready to teach 90 college students about post-Civil War Reconstruction, and thinking about how I’d ditch the strings and replace them with horns. I’ll be making love to my girlfriend, finding a smooth rhythm we can both enjoy, her not knowing it’s the song’s soaring bridge. I’ll be out to dinner with some friends after their band practice, and I’m freaking out because one of them claims he’s never heard “Night Moves” before, and of course he has and I should just let it go, but I can’t because right now this song is consuming my every waking moment, and his need to assert his punk identity and cred by casually but insistently claiming immunity to Bob Seger is fucking with my need to talk about how part of the reason I’m stuck on this song, I think, is that Seger’s typical mid-tempo basic G-F-C-F-G major chord progression is played with a capo on the 1st fret, which means he’s using a common trick (playing a 7th major, in this case the F major chord in the key of G) to boost the song, and also another less frequent trick: bumping the song up to a flat key (A flat major in this case), which is most decidedly not a typical rock n roll key, and that these two things together help give the song a deceptively deep feel in which to couch Seger’s all-American, sly grin, coming of age reminiscence lyrics.
This friend is Mike, whom I mentioned in the “Monday Morning” entry a few weeks back. Mike’s a punk, and punks can be stubborn, so he’s gonna insist he’s never heard “Night Moves.”
It’s kinda fitting in a way, and not just cause I’m a head case. Seger’s actually easy to ignore because he makes it look so easy. A couple of indelible images or homespun aphorisms sprinkled into the lyrics. A reasonably soulful voice that’s gruff and masculine but never intimidating or off-key. A simple rhythm with just enough mild syncopation to get everyone unconsciously tapping a foot or nodding their head, without anyone losing the beat. Beautiful production values, at least until the late 1980s. And always a tempo that’s in the pocket: not too fast, not too slow, but just right for that particular song. Bob Seger’s like an offensive lineman in football or a low level, local politician. He’s just plugging along, doing his job. He’s got everything working as it should; you may not even notice him until he fucks up. And in Seger’s case, that didn’t happen til he was almost 40, so there’s a ton of good shit out there.
Fine. It’s okay that Mike says he’s never heard “Night Moves.” It doesn’t mean he’s a liar or that I’m going crazy. It just means that Bob Seger is right where he’s always been: so deep in American culture that you might not even know he’s there. Unless you’re me, this week, and then you just can’t escape him. Don’t even try. Just skip to the beat over the cracks in the sidewalk.
Akim Reinhardt’s website is ThePublicProfessor.com