Reconsidering Bob (But I’m Still Not Buying A #@&%! Ford Truck)

January 9, 2013

(reconstituted and reheated from January 2009)

I’ve never really been one of those music fans who take offense to artists who license their songs for use in commercials. I wouldn’t consider myself such a purist, believing Melt With You helping to entice me to want a burger devalues the song.

I’ve also been blessed with a superhuman ability to, for the most part, tune out commercials.

(working in record stores during one’s formative years will nurture skills in selective listening).

And, recently, I’ve been strangely, unexpectedly compelled to snag half a dozen albums by Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band. They were in excellent condition and none was more than a dollar – not even the double, live album Nine Tonight.

Purchasing them was surprising (or maybe not) as I’ve never owned anything by Seger in my life on any format despite growing up in the Midwest where he was staple. I knew his hits and even some album tracks from radio and the bowling alley jukebox.

(you know, I wonder if in some parallel universe I was a better bowler and ended up The Dude)

So, I was familiar with a chunk of Seger’s work. My best friend in junior high played his older brother’s eight tracks of the stuff relentlessly. There were songs of Seger’s which I thought were good, but I kind of shelved him with Johnny Hoosier as likable and workman-like but not having the spiritual, transcendent kick of Springsteen.

As I’ve listened to my trove of Seger the past few weeks, I’ve been surprised to realize how much of it I do like. I’m still not elevating him to Springsteen status, but he does now occupy a zone for me as slightly more than erstwhile heartland rocker.

And I was puzzled as to why I’d been rather ambivalent toward him.

Then, I remembered that damned truck commercial with Like A Rock playing and the incalculable number of times I must have been subjected to it, particularly during football season. I had to wonder if, somehow, subconsciously, the use of that song had caused me to dismiss Seger’s entire catalog.

I still have no issue with an artist making some coin through licensing their songs but maybe such a move is a bit more insidious that I’ve believed.

Here are four songs by Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band, all of which I heard on the radio plenty in the early ’80s when I was first discovering music…

Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band – Fire Lake
from Against The Wind (1980)

Fire Lake was Bob Seger & The Bullet Band’s current hit during the spring of 1980 when I was first becoming interested enough in music to turn on the radio. It was one of half a dozen songs from Against The Wind that I’d hear on one station or another over the next year.

And, as we were in the Midwest, there were another half dozen Seger hits from the ’70s that were radio staples – a decade or more before true classic rock stations – that you would hear more days than not.

But the one song from the band that I’ve never tired of is Fire Lake. I was in junior high when the song was a Top Ten hit and the whole “bronze beauties/lying in the sun” slant brought to life some kind of Midwestern Valhalla for bikers in my head.

Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band – You’ll Accomp’ny Me
from Against The Wind (1980)

One of the most popular places for kids to hang out in our small town was the bowling alley. On weekend afternoons during the winter, the place was packed.

My buddy and neighbor Will was quite smitten with Kim that winter and every time I’d hear You’ll Accomp’ny Me coming from the jukebox, I was fairly certain his quarter was the one that had conjured it.

Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band – Shame On The Moon
from The Distance (1983)

Even though our town was fewer than four-thousand people, we did have a radio station. By the time Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band released The Distance, the station had flipped from soft rock and light Top 40 to country.

I would hear the rootsy Shame On The Moon, written by Rodney Crowell, during breakfast on the kitchen radio which would be tuned to the local station. And I wanted nothing to do with country music at the time.

So, by association, I wanted nothing to do with the wistful Shame On The Moon when it came on the rock stations I favored at the time. Over the years, though, I’ve grown to appreciate the song’s loping melody and introspective lyric.

Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band – Understanding
from Teachers soundtrack (1984)

Understanding wasn’t from a new Seger album when it was a hit in late 1984. Instead, the song appeared on the soundtrack for the movie Teachers. My friends and I caught the flick while skipping school one day.

Ironically, the movie was about the poor state of the American educational system. Of course, the fictional school in Teachers did hire Nick Nolte as a teacher and enroll Ralph Macchio and Crispin Glover as students, so what did they expect?

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The Eighth Of December

December 8, 2012

There are a lot of music fans today recalling and recounting the details of their lives when they learned that John Lennon had been murdered.

My memories are hazy and uneventful.

December 8, 1980 was a Monday and a lot of folks had the sad news broken to them on Monday Night Football, but I had gone to bed at halftime and missed Howard Cosell’s announcement.

The next morning, I might have heard the news on Good Morning America . The television was undoubtedly tuned to the show as everyone scrambled about preparing for the day.

But, I don’t recall hearing the news of John Lennon’s death from David Hartman or Joan Lunden as I ate a bowl of Cheerios. It might have been because my usual routine that morning was altered with a dental appointment.

I learned of the death of one of the most iconic figures of the 20th Century from the radio station playing in the dentist’s office as I got my teeth cleaned.

I was thirteen and my interest in music was casual. Of course, I knew the music of The Beatles.

(is there anywhere in the world – where there is electricity – where their music isn’t known?)

But, I have to confess, the news had little effect on me.

I was a passive witness not an active participant.

As the years passed and music became a more important part of my life, as I learned the lore of bands and artists that had ruled the world, John Lennon’s death took on more significance.

On December 8, 1990, I was finishing the final classes that semester for a misconceived degree and the world was headed toward the first Gulf War.

MTV had added the video for an updated version of Lennon’s Give Peace A Chance performed by The Peace Choir, which brought together Yoko, Sean Lennon and an array of artists including Peter Gabriel, Iggy Pop, Cyndi Lauper, Little Richard, Randy Newman, Tom Petty, Duff from Guns ‘N Roses, Wendy & Lisa, LL Cool J, Michael McDonald, Bonnie Raitt, Lou Reed, and numerous others.

That night, walking home from the record store where I worked, I switched my Walkman from the cassette to which I was listening and channel surfed radio stations. The brightness of the moon illuminated the landscape as it poked through fluffy clouds in the night sky.

It was one of those skies that, in the Midwest, you recognize as heavy with snow.

On the radio, the DJ – like DJs all over the world – was noting the passing of a decade since John Lennon’s death and playing songs of the late Beatle.

I trudged back to my apartment and was greeted by my dog. Those minutes after returning home from work or class (or both) often redeemed the day.

Part German shepherd, part Golden Retriever, Coke – a nickname not affiliated with the drink or narcotic – loved water and, even more so, he loved snow.

I walked around the apartment grounds with him that night, probably pondering the idea of ordering a pizza, watching some college hoops, and becoming one with the couch.

Then, both of us looked up as, suddenly, massive flakes – the size of baby birds – began to flutter from the sky.

Coke spent the next hour or more diving into the rapidly accumulating blanket of snow and trying to dodge and/or catch the snow balls I lobbed in his direction

Once inside, it was nearly midnight, I was too drowsy from being out in the crisp air to do much more then throw on some sweats and a baggy sweater that was a size too big. I lit some candles, put on some Beatles, and Coke and I stretched out on the couch and listened as the snow continued to fall.

John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band – Give Peace A Chance
from The John Lennon Collection (1982)

The Peace Choir – Give Peace A Chance
from Give Peace A Chance single (1990)


“It’s Me And Fee, Drinking Buddies”*

November 18, 2012

tubesI’ve known plenty of fans with an unshakable, enthusiastic devotion to certain acts. I’ve known Dead Heads.

But, no matter how passionate these folks might be, in twenty-five years plus, no one has struck me as having more unerring passion for a band than a friend from high school.

Bosco loved The Tubes.

Bosco had more than a bit of Spicoli in him, though he attained his carefree demeanor (mostly) without additives and preservatives. There was also some Ferris Bueller in there, too.

He wasn’t a jock, the most quick-witted, or the most dashing lad in town, but there might not have been a more genuinely liked popular kid in our school as Bosco.

Bosco and some of his friends intersected with a group of mine and during our last two years of high school, I got to know him quite well and we had more than our share of misadventures.

I was with him once when he informed the cop that had pulled him over that he couldn’t give Bosco a ticket because “I have no job, no money and no future.”

(somehow, like a Jedi Mind Trick, it worked)

It’s still easy to picture him – checkerboard Vans, lank blonde hair flopping about, and the perpetually surprised yet drowsy expression he seemed to always have.

Music was the usual chatter. For the isolation of our remote hometown, Bosco had spectacular impressive taste in music. He seemed to have a bent toward literate songwriters – Bob Dylan, Ray Davies, and Mark Knopfler – during a period when these artists were not at their commercial or artists heights in the early ‘80s.

But The Tubes were all his.

He’d make collect calls to the president of their fan club – some chick named Marilyn in California – from the high school lounge during lunch.

He had pictures of him and the band, backstage, after concerts.

(we had no idea such a thing as backstage existed)

“It’s me and Fee,” – he and lead singer Fee Waybill had their arms around each other’s shoulders – “drinking buddies.”

He’d use Spooner – in tribute to the band’s guitarist Bill “Sputnik” Spooner – as a greeting.

“Hey, Spooner…”

He was a fan of the band long before it became an MTV darling with She’s A Beauty. Bosco knew all of their albums years ahead of that time.

It must have been his older brother that turned him on to The Tubes because, aside from reading about them, stuff like Mondo Bondage and White Punks On Dope was not going to be heard on the radio stations in our orbit.

I haven’t spoken to Bosco in twenty-years. The last time I saw him, we were both home from college, and things had changed. It was him, but there was no whimsy. He was focused on his fraternity and business school.

I did a bit of online sleuthing for him awhile back and the results yielded a lot of stuff involving chambers of commerce and zoning ordinances.

I couldn’t help but wonder if he still listens to The Tubes.

Nevertheless, I still listen to The Tubes. Here is a quartet of songs from Fee and friends…

The Tubes – White Punks On Dope
from The Tubes (1975)

At fourteen or fifteen years old, the wry title of White Punks On Dope alone was a source of amusement to us when Bosco was turning us on to The Tubes. It’s a nifty little bit of social commentary that manages to be a catchy stomp of a song that contains the theatrical flair that helped garnered attention for The Tubes.

The Tubes – Talk To Ya Later
from The Completion Backward Principle (1981)

I’ve heard the earlier stuff from The Tubes – courtesy of Bosco – but I was more partial to their more mainstream stuff and that’s pretty much all I own (I’ve kept my eyes open for some used vinyl with which to reacquaint myself with no success thus far).

And though The Completion Backward Principle probably mortified long-time fans of the band’s more outrageous stuff, my friends and I loved it. The slick, new-wave tinged Talk To Ya Later featured Steve Lukather (of Toto) on guitar. Infectious beyond belief, its title became our standard conversation ender for years to come.

The Tubes- She’s A Beauty
from Outside Inside (1983)

She’s A Beauty was the first time I ever heard The Tubes on the radio and the next day at school I immediately reported to Bosco that 96Rock had played the band’s new single. Two months later, the song had become the group’s only Top Ten single in the US.

Outside Inside was one of the big albums for me and my friends during the summer of ’83 (along with The Police’s Synchronicity, which was the album that summer). It’s still a song that I wont skip on the iPod.

The Tubes – Piece By Piece
from Love Bomb (1985)

Love Bomb came out in the spring of ’85, the last full year my friends and I had together before heading to college. Maybe the fact that it came and went with little fanfare might have been an omen that our group of friends was headed the way of the dinosaurs.

I don’t recall it being a bad record, just kind of uneventful. This was surprising as the great Todd Rundgren – someone else who Bosco had turned us onto – produced it. But, like She’s A Beauty and Talk To Ya Later, I can’t skip the crunchy goodness of an earworm that is Piece By Piece.