About a week and a half ago National Public Radio did a piece on an artist I hold near and dear to my heart, Bob Seger. In his article, Tim Quirk recounts his experience looking for albums by the Michigan-born singer with little avail. Towards the middle of the piece he claims that, in this decade, Seger’s records are “not only are missing from my shelves. They seem to be missing from the world”. I’d like to point out that they aren’t missing from all the world.
As I stated above, Bob Seger, whether he’s with the System, Silver Bullet Band, or the rare Last Heard is an artist incredibly important in the evolution towards who I am today. One of my earliest music memories is a late car ride home with my mom listening to Nine Tonight, the second live album by the Silver Bullet Band and just as powerful as Live Bullet. When I was a teenager, my friends would hassle me for having Against the Wind in my car among the White Stripes and Green Day CDs; claiming it was generic classic rock. Even now, at twenty-five-years old in 2017, I own most of Seger’s discography on vinyl and play them as much as anything else in my collection. It’s easy to say that Bob Seger is just as important to me as any other life changing artist whether it’s Black Flag, Wu Tang Clan , or Radiohead. The thing is, however, is that my relationship with his songs is not that special.
I was born in Mid-Michigan, only an hour away from the Detroit suburbs where Bob grew up and still lives today. From early on in his career, he was established and marketed as a true Midwest singer. In his formative years, Bob Seger and the Last Heard, and later, the Bob Seger System are undeniably Detroit with their heavy rhythm section that mimics auto industry factories in the same style Motown records do. There’s nothing Californian or sunshine-y about Bob’s 60’s material; it’s working class, it’s heavy and it just wants to party. I didn’t live in California during this time period but I assume the sentiment among west coasters was to skip work and go straight to the party. When the seventies kicked in and Seger toured the coasts more with the Silver Bullet Band, the sound took on a cleaner tone but the lyrics were still undeniably Michigan whether it’s Roll Me Away (“twelve hours out of Mackinaw City…”) or Mainstreet which is about Ann street in Ann Arbor. While many bands have come out of my great home state, too many to count, Seger’s been the only one to really sing about us in a way we can relate to. In the years since the late seventies, Bob’s popularity has dwindled like anyone from that era. he’s made less trips outside the Midwest on his recent tours but maybe that’s the whole point of his career.
As I’ve grown older and have lived in and visited other cities in Michigan, one of the only things people my age has in common around the state is that we were all raised on Bob Seger. Albums like Against The Wind and Beautiful Loser have become part of our landscape and a sense of pride for Michiganders. Perhaps the reason his music is missing from the coastal record stores is that his music doesn’t belong to those listeners. Maybe Bob is the one artist who belongs to Midwest and only the Midwest. Sure, one could argue that he has songs about California like Hollywood Nights or the rest of the album it comes from, Stranger in Town, but my only counter argument is that those songs aren’t about California, they’re about “A Midwestern boy on his own” in California and how foreign it is to him.
Another thing I’d like to add on to Quirk’s piece in NPR is that while Seger’s records may be missing from shelves, his influence is definitely not. Seger has played a major role in helping acts along the way to success whether it’s having the Stooges and MC5 open for him or taking a young Glenn Frey under his wing and helping him find a recording contract. Bob also helped Frey and the Eagles write Heartache Tonight years later and is still a big hit for that band.
I understand what Tim Quirk was pointing out in his article and I agree with him to a certain degree, sometimes it seems unfair that the rest of the country doesn’t appreciate Bob Seger’s music enough. But he isn’t meant for the rest of the country, he’s is meant for that kid from Michigan that wants to get out of Escanaba but can’t, or that couple in Pontiac that’s living from check to check and couldn’t be happier about it. In my opinion, the rest of the world can have our auto industry but let us keep Bob Seger. At the end of his article, Quirk writes that, “The songs are powerful” and I’d like to comeback with what Seger says on a breakdown during Live Bullet, “Shit! I’ve known that for ten years!”
Click here to hear The Fire Down Below (one of my personal favorites).
– By Mike Metcalf