Bob Seger Changes His Tune About Detroit For years, Bob Seger's songs glamorized big American cars. One of his tunes helped Chevy sell millions of pickups. But on his latest CD, the Michigan native urges America to kick its gas-guzzling habit.
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Bob Seger Changes His Tune About Detroit

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Bob Seger Changes His Tune About Detroit

Bob Seger Changes His Tune About Detroit

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The rock musician Bob Seger built his first big following in his native Midwest, even though he sang of getting as far away from there as he possibly could.

(Soundbite of song “Katmandu”)

Mr. BOB SEGER (Musician): (Singing) I'm think I'm goin' to Katmandu. That's really, really where I'm goin' to. If I ever get out of here, that's what I'm gonna do.

INSKEEP: His frustrated Midwestern characters head for the mountains or flee backward into their memories. Yet for all the leaving, Bob Seger never quite left his native Michigan. Cars made by Detroit automakers race through some of his songs. One of the most famous was set in the back seat of a ‘60s Chevy. And years later, Chevrolet turned another Seger song into a commercial theme.

(Soundbite of song “Like a Rock”)

Mr. SEGER: (Singing) Like a rock, oh like a rock.

INSKEEP: Bob Seger's newest album begins with a man brooding over an early winter Michigan storm.

(Soundbite of song “Wreck This Heart”)

Mr. SEGER: (Singing) Everything I do is just a little wrong. Every day for me is the same. Everyone I know is getting in my face and I only got myself to blame. I think I'm gonna wreck this heart...

INSKEEP: The album “Face the Promise” has Seger touring at age 61, the first time in a decade. Last month he made headlines when he played outside Detroit, headquarters of the industry where he briefly worked as a young man.

Mr. SEGER: Well, my father worked at Ford's for 19 years. I even worked at Ford's for a short time and at GM for a short time.

INSKEEP: What were your jobs?

Mr. SEGER: I was a conveyor loader at GM and I put - now this was - I didn't last too long on this one. I only lasted ten days at Ford's because I was putting rubber around windshield glasses, you know, around windshields, and I was cutting up my hands and I said I can't do this.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SEGER: And they wouldn't give me a different job, so I left.

INSKEEP: Can't go home and play guitar after doing that, I suppose.

Mr. SEGER: Yeah, that was a little scary.

INSKEEP: There's a song you put out a couple of decades ago called “Makin' Thunderbirds.”

Mr. SEGER: Oh yeah, I like that one.

(Soundbite of song “Makin' Thunderbirds”)

Mr. SEGER: (Singing) Well, the big line moved one mile an hour. So loud it really hurt. The big line moved so loud it really hurt. Back in '55, we were makin' Thunderbirds.

INSKEEP: Do you ever think about whether you came very close to being in that kind of life forever?

Mr. SEGER: No, because I always knew right out of high school, even in junior high, I always knew I had a talent for music and I knew I could make money that way. My father left us when I was 10, so I had to make enough money for us to be able to live in a house because my brother went in the service during Vietnam and I was sole support of my mother. And she had no skills, really, except to clean other people's houses. So I had to have a bunch of jobs, you know, as well as music. I couldn't make enough right away playing music.

INSKEEP: When you read about your career, it took you years to really get noticed and to start making any money as a musician.

Mr. SEGER: Well, yeah, it took me a long time to learn how to write a good song.

INSKEEP: What did you have to learn about writing a song that you didn't know?

Mr. SEGER: Well, I grew up with another pretty darn good writer, Glenn Frey of the Eagles. We were very good friends and we kind of studied it together.

INSKEEP: Somewhere I read a quote from Glenn Frey saying that you learned that you wanted to repeat the title of the song as many times as humanly possible during the song.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SEGER: Well, I mean, if you wanted to get on AM radio and if you wanted to get on one of the big 50,000 watt stations back then, you had to have a chorus that was catchy. Yeah.

(Soundbite of song “Night Moves”)

Mr. SEGER: (Singing) Working and practicing night moves. Night moves.

Mr. SEGER: If you've got a really clever title, and I thought “Night Moves” was a pretty clever title, you know, and at the end the girls sing it over and over and over. And so back then that did help get you on the radio.

(Soundbite of song “Night Moves”)

Mr. SEGER: (Singing) Lord, I remember. Lord, I remember. Oh, oh...

INSKEEP: Do you feel that you're representing the Midwest in any way?

Mr. SEGER: Well, only in the sense that I've stayed there, you know. Maybe because my songs are a little more direct. They're not vague or anything. I think people pretty much understand it's a pretty plain speaking.

INSKEEP: Well, it's explicitly about people from the Midwest too. He was a Midwestern boy on his own. Twelve hours out of Mackinaw City I stopped at bar and had a brew.

Mr. SEGER: Right.

INSKEEP: I could go on for some time like this.

Mr. SEGER: I know. And I remember Don Henley when I first played him “Like a Rock” and he...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SEGER: ...and I got to the bridge and the word unencumbered, you know, came on - unencumbered. And Henley says, Bob, you don't say five-syllable words in (unintelligible).

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SEGER: You know. And I said, yeah, but, you know, but it works.

(Soundbite of song “Like a Rock”)

Mr. SEGER: (Singing) And I stood arrow straight, unencumbered by the weight of all these hustlers and their schemes.

INSKEEP: Can I just mention that on the new album, there you are writing about cars again only not in such a positive way.

Mr. SEGER: No, you're right, yeah. You look at the movie and the book “An Inconvenient Truth,” which I so admire Al Gore for doing all those lectures for, like, years. But basically what I'm talking about in “Between” is, you know, we buy a bigger engine and say it isn't me and the overuse of oil is just wrecking our economy.

(Soundbite of song “Between”)

Mr. SEGER: (Singing) The world keeps gettin' hotter, ice falls in the sea. We buy a bigger engine and say it isn't me. Between what we say and what we mean...

INSKEEP: Have you ever come to regret that one of your songs was used to promote the sale of millions, probably, big pickup trucks?

Mr. SEGER: No, not really. Because, you know, the great thing about that is it was almost like - I actually helped my hometown. You know, I saved a lot of jobs. An actual autoworker came up to me when I was having lunch with my manager and asked me why I never did anything for the auto companies like a commercial or something.

After he left, I looked at my manager who'd been trying to get me to do this for a year and a half and I said, you planted him. And he said, no, no, I didn't, I didn't. And I went to the ad agency that was trying to get me to do it and I said, well, you planted him. And they said, honest, we never planted him. It was as simple as that. If it was OK with him, it was OK with him.

(Soundbite of song “Get Out of Denver”)

Mr. SEGER: (Singing) I still remember it was autumn and the moon was shinin'. My '60 Cadillac was rollin' through Nebraska whinin'. Doin' a hundred twenty...

INSKEEP: Bob Seger's latest album is “Face the Promise.” You can hear some new songs and the story behind a classic song at

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

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