Call him ... Lucifer?!?
Folks, it’s been a busy week as the semester careens to a close, so this one’s a shortie.
Last week’s somewhat out-of-the-blue Bob Seger thoughts generated a lot more reaction than I was expecting. I don’t know if this means that I overestimated Seger’s enduring appeal or underestimated the average age of this newsletter’s audience. In any case, Matthew O’Connell, in a Facebook comment, turned me on to what we might call Another Side of Bob Seger:
I think YouTube commenter Pammy Whammy puts it best beneath this video: “How did he go from doing this to Against the Wind? This stuff ROCKED!”
Apparently, before he broke out nationally in the late 70s with the rounded-off corners of his Classic Rock prototypes. Bob Seger was doing some down-and-dirtier blues riffing, and he wasn’t afraid to scare the locals.
Funky water farmers daughter gonna make the law
Lucy Blue Chicago Green I;\’ll love ‘em till they thaw
Courtin’ all the lovely foxes, brunette, redheads, goldilockses
Talkin’ time to grind my crosscut saw
Goodness! As innuendos go, “Talkin’ time to grind my crosscut saw” — delivered in the younger Seger growl-rasp — is much weirder and raunchier than “tryin’ to make some front-page drive-in news.”
If this is the “Old Time Rock and Roll” Seger’s singing about in 1978, no wonder he misses it. That chorus (“You can call me Lucifer/if you think you should”) is not only catchy, it sticks in the brain in a more exciting way than, oh, say “I’ve seen you smilin’ in the summer sun/I’ve seen your long hair flyin’ when you run.”1
As I’ve been thinking about Bob Seger — for, like, two weeks now! — I’ve also been reading Phil Christman’s essay in The Hedgehog Review, “The Strange Undeath of Middlebrow.” Christman references a famous essay I’d never previously read, Dwight MacDonald’s “Masscult and Midcult,” which ran in Partisan Review in 1960, 10 years before The Bob Seger System recorded “Lucifer.2” Both of the essays are interesting and worth your time if the question of “middlebrow” is something you like to think about. I think MacDonald is mostly wrong but one passage had me thinking about Bob again:
Those who consume Masscult might as well be eating ice-cream sodas, while those who fabricate it are nor more expressing themselves than are the “stylists” who design the latest atrocity from Detroit.
I mean, ice-cream sodas are good. So are some products of the American auto industry. But they’re also slick, smooth, effortless to admire. A Mustang can be satisfying in much the same way that “Roll Me Away” is satisfying. It’s a surface-level aesthetic experience (MacDonald is hung up on the effort required to have a “real” or meaningful aesthetic experience; again, I don’t think I agree with him, but it’s what made me think of this next thing)
You know The Windhover, by Gerard Manley Hopkins? “I caught this morning morning’s minion…”? No? That’s OK, I’ve got it right here3:
Would you like a shorter version? Here’s Seger in Roll Me Away:
Stood alone on a mountain top
Starin' out at the Great Divide
I could go East, I could go West
It was all up to me to decide
Just then I saw a young hawk flyin'
And my soul began to rise
It’s those last two lines that clicked something into place for me: “Just then I saw a young hawk flyin’/And my soul began to rise.” The “I saw a bird and felt more free/more alive/closer to God” has been a theme in poetry for centuries, even preceding Hopkins.
It’s that Seger just says it. His lyrics (again, the late ones we all know) are all text, no subtext.
Also, how does he know the hawk is young?
Thanks for indulging a second straight Seger week. I promise not to do it again. At least not soon! Don’t forget to share this with all the Boomers you know!
There’s a whole other piece to be written (not by me, don’t worry) about the bad sexual politics of this song, with its repeated insistence that “someday baby, you’ll accomp’ny me,” as if that poetic apostrophe eases the creepy stalker vibes.
MacDonald would find this mention of his essay in the same sentence as an obscure Bob Seger song, or any Bob Seger song, insulting, as he found rock music beneath contempt. He begins one sentence in the piece “But now we have pianos playing Rock ‘n Roll…” Pianos!