An unofficial web site about the music of Bob Seger Last updated September 2001 Written and edited by Scott Sparling firstname.lastname@example.org
- The Full Contents
- Search the Seger File
- The 2011 Tour Page
- FACE THE PROMISE
- 2010 Updates
- 2009 Updates
- 2008 Updates
- 2007 Updates (Jan -July)
- 2006 Updates (Jan-Sept)
- 2006 Updates (Oct-Dec.)
- 2005 Updates
- 2004 Updates
- 2003 Updates (July-Dec)
- 2003 Updates (Jan-June)
- 2002 Updates
- 2001 Updates
- 1998-2000 Updates
- Nine Years Online
- The Seger File's Birthday Party
- Unreleased Tracks
- Vault V
- 10 more unreleased tracks
- Vault 4
- 16 more unreleased tracks
- Forward Into the Vault --
- 26 more unreleased tracks
- Return to the Vault -- 18 More Unreleased Tracks
- The Vault --31 Unreleased Tracks
- Recorded but Unreleased --Unreleased Seger from A-Z
- Photos 1Photos 2
- Photos 3Photos 4
- Hall of Fame Photos
- Settle Annex
- A collection of great Seger photos
- Dylan's "Denver"
- The Albums
- Ramblin' Gamblin' Man
- Brand New Morning
- Smokin' O.P.'s
- Back in '72
- Beautiful Loser
- Live Bullet
- Night Moves
- Stranger in Town
- Against the Wind
- Nine Tonight
- The Distance
- Like A Rock
- The Fire Inside
- Bob Seger's Greatest Hits
- It's A Mystery
- Greatest Hits 2
- Face the Promise
- Other Albums
- The Promised Live Album
- The Promised Studio Album
- Seger on the Edge
- The Bob Seger Collection --(Australian Greatest Hits)
- Seger Classics
- A Very Special Christmas,1987
- Other Album Appearances
- The Seger Tribute Album
- Sing Your Own Seger
- Perfect Albums?
- Selected Singles
- Check the Label
- Who Picks the Singles?
- Early Singles
- The Lonely One
- TGIF/First Girl
- Ballad of the Yellow Beret
- East Side Story
- Persecution Smith
- Sock It To Me, Santa
- Vagrant Winter/Very Few
- Heavy Music
- 2+2=?/Death Row
- Ramblin' Gamblin' Man
- Looking Back
- If I Were A Carpenter
- Bombs Away
- Chances Are
- My Take on Chances Are
- Reaching Number One
- Other Seger Tracks
- Released on Singles, But Not on Albums
- Covered by Others
- Written By Seger, Recorded by Others
- Night Moves (SNL)
- Making Thunderbirds
- Old Time Rock and Roll
- American Storm
- Like a Rock
- Real Love
- Fire Inside
- Night Moves (New)
- Turn the Page
- It's A Mystery
- Chances Are
- Ten for Two
- The Cobo Hall Tapes
- The Palace Tapes
- Influences/Other Bands
- TV Appearances
- Like a Truck
- Who Does the Song Belong To?
- Ancient History Dept.
- How Seger Sees Rock/Truck
- Singer or Salesman?
- Gatsby, Seger and Victory
- The Mystery Man
- How the Song Became An Ad
- Good Song, Great Ad?
- Bad Press, Bad Precedent
- Through the Lean Years
- Bob's View
- Insults and Dead Horses
- Fix Or Repair Daily
- The Early Years
- Early Days
- Motor City's Burning
- Places He Played
- More Dues-Paying Years
- Career, Misc.
- Lead Singer Vs. Guitar Player
- The Slow Road to Success
- The Requisites of Greatness
- Theories: Why It Took So Long
- "You Are Now Leaving Seger Territory"
- Breaking Out
- What Is Success?
- Early Bands
- The Decibels
- The Town Criers
- The Omens
- Democracy Rocks
- Later Bands
- Bob Seger and the Last Heard
- The Bob Seger System
- Julia/My Band/Borneo Band
- Muscle Shoals band
- The Silver Bullet Band
- Back-up Systems
- Shaun Murphy
- Karen Newman
- Related Bands
- Detroit All-Stars
- Alto Reed
- Blue Highway (Drew Abbott)
- Bio, Part 1
- Detroit? Ann Arbor?
- We Even Sang the Parts the Instruments Were Playing
- A Father Leaves
- Fire and the Memory of Love
- All the Wild, Wild Good Times
- Interests and Hobbies
- Predicting the Future, Then and Now
- Bio, Part 2
- On Growing Older
- The Seger Work Ethic
- You Can't Miss That Driving Rain
- Friends and Family
- Let's Dig Up Something Really Nasty
- I'm Gonna Tell My Tale, C'mon
- Of Caves and Barbed Wire
- Early Tours and Shows
- The Oakland Mall
- The Primo, R&R Farm, Suds Factory and Chances Are
- The Agora
- On the Road
- Jackson County Fair
- Pontiac, the Michigan Jam and Other Victories
- Seger in the Arena
- The 1983 Tour
- The 1986-87 Tour
- The Last Tour?
- They'll Never Be in The Arena, But They Get to Write the Reviews
- San Francisco
- New York
- Los Angeles
- Vancouver (Canada)
- The 1996 Tour
- The Set List Discussed
- The Set List Presented
- The Set List Analyzed
- Bringing the Family
- Tour Notes
- Thirsty for Seger
- A Review of the Reviews
- Palace of Auburn Hills
- The 2006-07 Tour Pages
- Readin' O.P.'s
- A compilation of e-mail messages. Some favorite are:
- -- Hope to see you tonight
- -- Motor City Rock
- -- The FargoDome
- -- The 7-Eleven and the Winter Olympics
- -- He gave me a strange look
- -- Now that we're older
- Brand New Email
- More great letters.
- -- Seger, Sinatra, Cobain
- -- My Dad, Bob and Charlie Martin
- -- I work for General Motors
- -- Seger and Mohammad Ali
- -- The last thing I hear from Bob Seger
- -- Road trip to Ann Arbor
- -- I never spoke to Bob, but he always spoke to me
- Brand New Email Pt. II
- -- Bob at the Roseland Inn
- -- Seger interview
- -- Backstage with a bad pass
- -- Put the car in park
- -- Starry August nights
- -- Cool me down
- -- The bridge from Motown
- -- The Seger-starved masses plead for tour news
- -- The Kiss File?
- Seger Stories and Misc. Email
- --The best thing you could say
- --Blue and Julia
- --Rockin' with Fidel
- --Early days of baseball and Bob
- --Follow your heart
- --Waving with the lighter
- Email '05
- --About Drew Abbott
- --On 2+2
- --On "The Lonely One"
- --About Tom Neme
- --About Charlie Martin
- --The Toledo Jam
- --About Pep Perrine
- --About Jim Bruzzese
- --Early days
- --Early songs
- Seger Inks SimTour Deal, Gets Ready to Rock
- Capitol Releases "Dee-Pah!
- The Seger Cam is back online
- The Michigan Jam 2
- The Seger versus. SpringsteenComplexo-Meter
- The Medicated Top 20
- Reese: Money for Music
- Get Back to Work
- A guide to surfing The Seger File at work.
- The Primo Photo
- The Rolling Stone Letter
- The Imaginary Interview
- Why the Seger File Is Here -- Getting Over Bob Seger
Like a Truck
The years have flown and the plants have changed, but you're lucky if you can get through a major televised sporting event without seeing yet another iteration of the long-playing "Like A Rock" campaign.
You have to laugh at the one of the fairly recent ads. It shows a poker-playing dude putting the deed to his cabin in the pot. Presumably he loses, because the next thing we see is a Chevy truck towing away his cabin. The dude's dog whines. Seger sings. And then the dude says, "Shut up."
If you're looking at the screen, you realize the dude is talking to the dog. But it sounds for all the world like the dude is telling Seger to shut up. Which is how a certain percentage of audience may feel. Enough with that like-a-rock stuff already. Hey, GM, you're beating it into the ground. It's been eight years -- move on.
Before we go any further, you should probably know that "Like a Rock" is the Seger song that means the most to me. This ought to be impossible. It's like having a favorite star in the sky, when so many sparkle. Yet there it is. Out of all this bounty, "Like a Rock" stands out. It's the bulls-eye of the bulls-eye...and also an ad.
Who Does the Song Belong To?
Before we get too righteous, let's remember that Seger created "Like A Rock." Which means it's his to do what he wants with. Anyone who's carrying around a code of ethics for Bob or any other artist to live up to can go have a Coke and smile. We're not the creators so it's not our call.
As listeners, on the other hand, we're entitled to our preferences. And my preference is not to have songs that mean a lot to me become commercials.
Furthermore, since we're dealing with music, the discussion of ownership necessarily goes beyond the legal ownership. A song, after all, asks to be invited in. It plays in your consciousness. Without the interaction of external music and internal emotion, there is no song -- without the meaning I bring to it as a listener, the song would simply be noise. In other words, a good song lives inside you. It becomes, in an emotional sense, yours. That's what people mean when they say, 'they're playing our song.'
So what do we do about "Like a Rock?" We let it in, we let it put down roots, we invested it with meaning and memories -- which is what any songwriter would dearly hope for -- and now it's a commercial for a truck. Which feels, at times, like a violation of something important.
Ancient History Dept.
Seger on doing commercials or accepting tour sponsorships in 1983: "I don't want to owe anybody anything. I've never done a commercial in my life and I don't want to start now. I've never done a video! I'm a hard case." Timothy White, April 1983, Musician. "The Roads Not Taken."
"We were all set up for a million from Ford; they offered us a million, they would have gone to a million and a half, for a [tour] sponsorship. Maybe I'm talking out of school here, but that's what one guy came to me last year to offer -- a million bucks in tour support...I said,'I just wrote a song ['Making Thunderbirds'] about how you guys don't make good cars anymore. (Booming laughter.) Do you still want to sponsor me?'" Timothy White, April 1983, Musician. "The Roads Not Taken."
Seger reportedly turned down "a ton of money" from Coors, which wanted to link up the Silver Bullet brand. "I don't want a corporate sponsor. Maybe for [some bands] it makes sense, because costs are so high. But I can present myself. You see a band sponsored by Molson or someone and after the show there are all these people around who want to meet you and have you do things for them. Who needs it?" David Hinkley, September 21, 1986, New York Daily News. "On the Never-Ending Road Again."
How Seger Sees Rock/Truck
Seger: "It saved a lot of jobs in my area, and that's exactly what we set out to do. It wasn't a moneymaker, per se, so I feel good about that aspect of it." Roger Catlin, April 12, 1996, Hartford Courant. "Bob Seger's back - with his kids." [Does that mean he doesn't feel good about some other aspects of it?]
"Almost our entire economy, other than tourism, in Michigan, is automotive-based. There are little mom-and-pop companies all around the state that are tied into the big companies. So if I help them sell a few cars, that's fine." Colleen Fitzpatrick, November, 1991 (?), Detroit News. "Pop artist's ad is rock solid."
Right...the reason people didn't buy domestic cars and trucks during the 1980s is because the commercials weren't good enough. Once the automakers started doing better TV spots, problem solved. Okay, I might admit that the music helped draw attention to the fact that GM was making its trucks better than it used to...and maybe it saved some jobs (though the ad agency and automaker offer no numbers to support this).
Indeed not long after GM started using the song, they announced extensive layoffs and had to choose between closing a plant in Texas and a plant in Michigan. They closed the Michigan plant. The Detroit Free Press responded with editorial cartoon showing a giant meteor about to crush the GM plant, The caption was: Like A Rock.
"I was offered 10 times as much money as I got from Chevrolet from beer companies and things like that, and I turned it down. My idea was to help my local state economy. And that's what John [Mellencamp] does with the farmers. And you can say, 'Yeah, but John doesn't get paid for that, and I did.' Nevertheless, that's what it took to make me do it." Colleen Fitzpatrick, November, 1991 (?), Detroit News. "Pop artist's ad is rock solid."
"I feel fine with it. I'm a Michigan guy; my father worked at Ford for 19 years, I worked at GM in Ypsilanti. I'd been turning down commercials for years and years, just hated the idea of it. ... I felt like this is the one thing I'll do. I don't think I'll ever do another commercial." Gary Graff, October 1994, Detroit Free Press. "Bob Seger Tells The Stories Behind The Hits."
In 1994, Punch Andrews said, "'Like a Rock' is not over. I called and asked if it wasn't time to give it a break, and was told not while it's still testing 85 percent in recognition." Bob Talbert, December 4, 1994, Detroit Free Press. "Sweet sounds: Seger, 'Christmas in Detroit.'"
[Punch originally argued for doing the commercial -- the article doesn't explain why he called to suggest they stop running it (or why they didn't sell it with a set time limitation); was he concerned that Seger was becoming too strongly identified with the ad, to the detriment of his career?]
Seger: "I never expected it to last this long." Joe Urschel, January 5, 1996, USA Today. "3 words that evolved into a corporate hymn."
Seger: "My son's three, and he and I watch baseball and football games on TV together all the time. The commercial will come on and he'll look over at me with a big smile on his face. I'll nod to him and say, 'that's Daddy.' And he and I will sing the song together. I'm from Cartown and these are my people. I get a lot of thanks for it." Roger Hitts, Star, January 23, 1996.
Asked in 1996 whether he was proud of the ad, Seger replied: "I wouldn't say I'm proud of it. I'm right in the middle. I swore I'd never do a commercial, but I'm not ashamed of it. If you look at the numbers, we've really helped a lot of people in this area keep jobs." Jerry Crowe, January (?), 1996, Los Angeles Times. "Hitting the Road, Like a Rocker."
"Yeah, you can't get away from it,'' Seger says, letting loose one of his frequent hearty laughs. "Every sports event I watch on TV, there it is. I figure we saved a lot of jobs in our area. I'm proud of the way the workers look at it. But once is enough. I don't think you'll hear one of my songs in an ad again." Attribution? 1996?
Singer or Salesman?
When a song becomes an ad, does the singer become an adman? That's one of the issues raised by the licensing of "Like A Rock."
Unlike some ads that use rock songs, the Chevy spots use the original version. Many sponsors buy the rights to the song, but are forced to re-record them with no-name musicians. Of course, Seger's voice is the main reason the Chevy spots work -- and one reason I don't care for them. It makes Seger himself perilously close to a spokesman. One Detroit reporter referred to him that way while writing about "the number of years it's taken Seger to rise from regional star to worldwide hitmaker and truck salesman." [Emphasis mine.] John Smyntek, July 30, 1995, Detroit Free Press. "New Seger album due out this fall."
And here's how Gary Graff began his "Mr. Showbiz Interview" about Seger in November 17, 1995: "Bob Seger may be best known for the Chevrolet commercials built around his song 'Like a Rock,' but it is his place in rock history, not his support of the American auto industry, that has made him Detroit's favorite son." [Emphasis mine.] The Mr. Showbiz Interview Archive: Bob Seger, by Gary Graff, November 17, 1995.
And one more time, from the Washington Post: "Now that Bruce Springsteen has become a Dust Bowl refugee, Bob Seger a pick-up-truck salesman and Tom Petty a Hollywood celebrity, the sound of blue-collar, populist rock 'n' roll has pretty much disappeared from the charts and the radio." Geoffrey Himes, February 14, 1997, Washington Post. "Brennan's Fitting, Blue-Collar Rock."
Cheap shots all, you say...and you're right. But the answer might be, why expose yourself to cheap shots to begin with?
It was Jesse who sounded the DEW line alarm with news of a Seger commercial. At first, he didn't tell me which song was about to become a glorified jingle. My heart sank, when he handed me the news clip, because -- more than any other Seger song -- "Like A Rock" has always had a special meaning for me. The cathartic moment of the song contains a heartfelt line -- one of the most heartfelt in the entire Seger catalog, I've always thought: "I still believed in my dreams." As Seger has said, it's a song about renewal.
The fact is, we all start out with dreams. For most of us, growing older means revising those dreams, one little nibble at a time, until the dream is nearly gone. It's the normal way of life; you need the dreams to give you strength when you're young, but you need to be realistic as you grow older. And being realistic takes you to places you'd never thought you'd go, as described in that insightful John Hiatt lyric: "I never made no plans to live this kind of life -- it just worked out that way."
But some people manage to be exceptions. These people latch on to their dreams tight and never let go, no matter what the cost -- and the cost is usually high. Often their stories end badly. Think, archetypally, of the Great Gatsby.
Once in a while, though, you come across someone who dreams and wins. Someone who keeps going because they have no choice...and this no-choice desperation leads them to victory. Some combination of faith, luck and tenacity overcomes all the bad breaks the world throws at them, and they end up capturing the prize. It doesn't happen often.
Seger is that sort of person, or seems to be, from afar anyway. I don't know if that's the real story of his life on a personal level. Maybe Bob's life has been full of compromises, maybe he gave up a hundred dreams along the way. The fact that he writes about people who wake up living a life they never dreamt of (Jody Girl, The Ring, etc., etc.,) would say that he's familiar with this disillusionment at some level .
But on a public level, I think of him as someone who still believes in his dreams, someone who never gave up. Picture him driving to hundreds of gigs a year, driving through the winter cold in a beat up station wagon with no windshield, persevering through a decade of bad luck. How can you fail to be inspired by that tenacity? How can you not want to celebrate the victory he finally achieved? Like a Rock captured all that emotion for me. It still does. And now it is also a truck ad.
The Mystery Man
On a different note, what about that anonymous man who spurred Seger into selling "Like A Rock?" The story has been told more than once. In 1991, according to the Detroit News (which was recapping the Bob Costas interview), Seger was sitting at the Juke Box in Royal Oak, Michigan. "I was actually sitting in a bar...with my girlfriend, and a guy came up out of nowhere and said,'How come you never do any commercials for the auto companies and help us out a little bit?' Then he walked away. He was nice about it.
"And I said,'Why not?' I'm not above this.'"
In 1996, in the USA today article, "Seger was dining with his wife at a place called the Venue in Detroit on Woodward Avenue," when the anonymous autoworker approached his table.
Dining or drinking? Wife or girlfriend? Juke Box in Royal Oak or the Venue in Detroit?
Well, anyone can forget the name of a restaurant over the course of five years.
Another quote from USA Today also made me curious: "The next day he [Seger] called Andrews and told him to accept. But not before first checking to make sure the autoworker was legitimate and not working for Campbell-Ewald [the ad agency]."
How do you check on the identity of a mystery guy who comes out of nowhere? That struck me as rather strange.
Most curious of all, where is this guy now? He's the driving force behind this whole deal, and he hasn't stepped forward and said, 'hey, I'm the guy who talked Seger into it'? He hasn't bothered to take credit for one of the most successful ad campaigns in automotive history?
Of course, neither story identifies him as a GM worker. Maybe he's an autoworker in the Dodge truck division at Chrysler, and for the past seven years he's been thinking, 'Me and my big mouth. Why couldn't I have just asked for an autograph like everybody else?'
Or maybe he was one of the workers who lost their jobs when GM shut down a Detroit plant shortly after the commercial was rolled out. Heck, maybe he was so stoked when the ad came out, he went out and bought a Chevy, got ripped and smashed head-on into a peach truck. We just don't know.
Frankly, I have that same question about the Gorilla Woman from the Roseland Inn. Where's the interview with her? All you reporters from the Jackson Citizen Patriot sitting around on your butts waiting for news to happen. Why don't you go out and track down that old-time stripper and get her side of the story? Find out what she thought of that young punk singer leaning against the wall as she did her sorry strip routine -- that young singer who later become a mega-millionaire and went on to laugh about her with Costas on NBC... and now the story never dies.
Recent History Dept.: How the Song Became An Ad
Kira Billik writes: "He balked for six months before agreeing to do it; he had refused other commercial offers throughout his career...
"The true story of it is: I was sitting in a restaurant with my wife, and this guy came up and leaned over the table and said, 'How come you never do anything for the auto companies?' Literally said that. 'I called my manager, and I said, 'Come on, you sent him.' . . . He said, 'Swear to God, nobody sent him.' I said, 'Well, then, what the heck am I worried about?'" Kira L. Billik, January 7, 1996, Associated Press. "Seger hits the road - with diaper bag."
The ad was created by Campbell-Ewald Advertising in Warren. Don Gould, the ad agency's executive vice president, gets the credit or blame for originating the idea. Colleen Fitzpatrick, November, 1991 (?), Detroit News. "Pop artist's ad is rock solid."
The agency tried for months to get Seger's permission, but couldn't until the famous guy in bar/restaurant came out of nowhere and convinced Seger. "We'd all like to find him and buy him a beer. He's the guy who really turned it around for us." Colleen Fitzpatrick, November, 1991 (?), Detroit News. "Pop artist's ad is rock solid."
Interestingly, the ad outlives its creator. Don Gould, the creative director who came up with the concept of using "Like A Rock" for Chevy, died of a pulmonary embolism in May of '98. He was 54 and had spent 29 years with the company.
Joe Urschel, writing in USA Today, reports the following:
Research showed Chevy trucks were viewed as wimpy, especially compared to the "Ram-tough" Dodge trucks. Gould's assignment was to change that image. [Indeed, "Like A Rock" was GM's answer to Dodge's claim of "Ram-tough."]
Gould: "I was lying on my family room floor. I had this old tape of Seger's...Right on the cover it said Like a Rock and I thought,'That is exactly what we need.'"
The agency made a mock up, tested it with a focus-group in California and then tried to get Seger's permission.
"We tried to get an audience with him...and nothing was working." Gould said.
Seger: "For the first six months, we just said,'No!.' We just didn't want to do any commercials."
Urschel: "Finally, Gould convinced Seger's manager, Punch Andrews, to watch the ad. After 15 seconds, Andrews was convinced."
Seger: "Punch came to me and said,'I know I've been bringing you these commercials for years and you've always said 'no'. But he [Punch] said he thought this one made sense.'This is trucks,' he said.'You drive them. It's very American.' And there was this feeling that the Japanese were running us off our heels and maybe we could help."
Good Song, Great Ad?
USA Today reporter Urschel editorializes about how effective the ad is without considering the issue of whether licensing the song was the right thing to do. To Urschel, it's right because it's effective. His front page(!) article credits the ad with lifting "a multibillion-dollar-a-year international corporation out of its doldrums...(rebuilding) not just an image and a product but the morale of the army of employees who produce it as well." Joe Urschel, January 5, 1996, USA Today. "3 words that evolved into a corporate hymn."
[So GM turned things around not because its products got better, but because its advertising got better...yeah, right.]
Fitzpatrick writes: "'The ad is a success,' said G.L. Van Noord, Chevrolet's assistant advertising manager, although he couldn't say whether sales have increased as a result." [The purpose of spending money on product advertising is to increase sales. If you don't know whether an ad is increasing sales, you don't know whether it's a success -- as G.L. Van Noord surely realizes.] Colleen Fitzpatrick, November, 1991 (?), Detroit News. "Pop artist's ad is rock solid."
Nevertheless, major corporations don't continue running ineffective ads year after year. Indeed, the ad has been hailed as "one of the most successful and longest-lasting campaigns in automobile advertising." Joe Urschel, January 5, 1996, USA Today. "3 words that evolved into a corporate hymn."
Urschel quotes Kurt Ritter, manager for Chevy trucks, who tells us what "Like A Rock" really is: "The song has a brilliance to it -- it has helped us internally and externally. It is not just a marketing campaign. It captures the soul of the brand. It is how to build a truck. It is how to run a company."
Of course, it is also a song about renewal, about staying true to youthful ideals, about standing high above all the hustlers and their schemes -- but never mind that, let's sell some trucks. It's the soul of a brand!
Oddly, USA Today's Urschel refers to Like a Rock, which reached Number 12 on the Billboard charts, as "a minor hit record." Number 12 hardly seems like "a minor hit" to me.
Seger himself has played along with this theme, saying: "I like the song. That song wasn't that big a hit, so when they asked for it, I said 'Yeah, I'd like to have people hear that song.' I never thought it would go for five years.'" Jerry Crowe, January (?), 1996, Los Angeles Times. "Hitting the Road, Like a Rocker."
"Like A Rock" was described this way by The Album Network, an industry review of new music: "The title tune is one of the most important songs of Bob's career, and we're not out of line by predicting it will be one of the Top 5 Power Cuts of 1986. This is 'Night Moves' and 'Turn the Page' wrapped up in one chilling song..." The Album Network Editorial
Bad Press, Bad Precedent
When you live in the spotlight, you take some hits. Amazon.com got in on the act with their review of It's A Mystery, to wit:"A significant segment of the CD-buying public probably thinks of Bob Seger as the TV pitchman for those 'like a rock' Chevy pickups. The problem is a little something rubbed off Seger in the process. And now he wants it back. Is that what Seger is referring to when, in 'Lock and Load,' he complains of 'users and fakers' who've caught him in their "schemes"? ...Thus it's time to 'take a different road and start again.' Not so quick, Bob. It is, after all, easier for a 4x4 to pass through the eye of a needle than for a multiplatinum rocker to recapture his erstwhile ideals..."
As anyone can see, that's not a review, that's just some young writer spouting...and dipping into the cheap shot bag in order to avoid the real work of writing. A more responsible critique is this older one I came across recently:"...I've been a fan of yours since way back in the early' 70s, when you were kicking around in small Midwestern nightclubs playing songs like Ramblin' Gamblin' Man. Even back then, many of us knew you were something special.
"Your hard-driving music, your from-the-gut singing and your inspirational lyrics combined synergistically for a powerful treatise about passion, about commitment to ideas, about fighting off the compromises brought on by the passing of years...So when you finally made it big, landing on the cover of Time magazine a decade later, we were proud of our fellow Midwesterner.
"...You've taken one of your better songs and turned it into an advertising jingle for a pickup truck....didn't you notice the incredible irony of using the song Like a Rock?...Like a Rock was one of your classics. Now every time I hear it, I'll think of a damn pickup truck." Bob Dyer, January 12, 1992, Beacon Journal.
The bad press probably doesn't bother Seger, and it doesn't bother me either, but the precedent does worry me. Like Hollywood execs, ad agencies are always trying to recreate some earlier success. "Like A Rock" makes it big as a truck commercial. So now the post office wants to "Fly Like An Eagle." Cadillac rips off "It's good to be king." Someone else is riding the "Magic Bus." Sure, Seger didn't start the song-to-ad momentum, but he may have fed it.
Indeed, the success of Like A Rock as a truck-selling device has probably encouraged other corporations to raid our rock 'n roll memories in search of anthems that can sell other products. The first rock song to completely enchant me -- in fact, the very first record I ever bought -- was "Can't Explain," by The Who. The song still drives me absolutely crazy and probably always will. Yet in 1997, "Can't Explain" became a car commercial. Which raises the question: If "Like A Rock" had not been so wildly successful, would the ad agencies have left "Can't Explain" alone? Who knows?
Finally, a friend provides this hopefully unrelated observation: Since "Like A Rock" became an ad in 1990, Seger has not had a big hit single. I believe he's right; however, Seger's lack of hit singles most likely has other causes. "The Real Love" reached #24 on the Billboard charts, as I recall; maybe it stopped there because there was no supporting tour, or maybe the market for the "Seger-medium" had finally begun to play out. And It's A Mystery wasn't written for radio airplay...he was aiming for the edges, not the Top 40 charts that time out. So there's no proof of any cause and effect relationship between the ad and record sales; still, it's an interesting theory.
Getting Through the Lean Times
I got a letter recently with an interesting point of view, and here it is:I read a lot of what you had to say about the "Like a Rock" Chevy ad. I agree with much of what you said, but I have to say this:
I work for GM in Lansing and as far as I'm concerned that ad helped rebuild the pride we have in making our cars and trucks. I really appreciate Bob Seger for allowing us to use that song. My life depends on GM being healthy; whatever part, small or large, Bob Seger played in that, I am very grateful.
I wish I knew how to let Mr. Seger know how much it has helped my family. We don't make trucks here, but the truck sales helped get us through the lean times.
A good letter, I thought. There's a temptation, sometimes, to see things as black and white, right or wrong. AJ's letter points out how relative the truth is. His point of view makes perfect sense to me -- from his point of view, that is.
It started me thinking about the shades of gray involved in art, entertainment and business.
If music is to be art, it must be fiercely loyal to itself and only to itself. Art tries to say something true and it can't pretty itself up in order to draw a crowd. Entertainment, on the other hand, is meant to be consumed. It needs an audience. It might have a strong artistic element, it might still be about truth, but it has to make itself presentable or nobody will listen.
Business, of course, is about money. If there's any art involved, its reason for being is to increase the cash flow...not to tell truths or explore the soul or any of that stuff, except to the extent that it brings in the bucks.
Popular music lives somewhere between art and entertainment. Some artists/musicians (Joni Mitchell and Randy Newman come to mind, among others) are perfectly willing to release albums that are -- sometimes, in some ways -- commercially unaccessible. Newman, it has been written, would sometimes edit out the most commercially appealing parts of his songs in order to be true to whatever the song was trying to say. These types of artists are more interested in getting the music right -- whatever that might mean to them -- than they are in finding a big audience.
I think you have to give Seger credit for much the same thing with "It's a Mystery." It was an album that came more from his artistic commitment than from any formula for selling records.
Think of this art/entertainment/business thing as a continuum. That's where I start having problems with "Like a Rock." It started out in the art/entertainment realm (closer to the art side, in my opinion). GM repositioned it to the business end. And, true, it's very, very good at functioning in the business realm. But that doesn't mean it belongs there.
This whole deal reminds me of a line I love. It goes like this: "What used to be the world is becoming the marketplace." Okay, I admit it , I wrote that line. (And if any major corporation would like to buy it and use it for a slogan, my email is email@example.com. Make me an offer.)
Insults and Dead Horses
Anyway, in the middle of all this, along comes a new truck commercial...for Ford. An actor is walking outside. He says, "You hear a lot about trucks that are supposed to be like rocks or different. Well, that's great if you want to stand still, like a rock."
As he says his line, he slips a little and sloshes the coffee he's holding onto a small rock. We see him step over it, or on it, I forget which. "And 'different' is just what you say when you're not Number 1," he continues.
It's a clever spot, but my sense is that it's a mistake. When Ford tries to make fun of the phrase "like a rock," they inevitably remind viewers of Chevy's campaign -- which is only the most successful automotive campaign in the past twenty years, using what is arguably the most memorable automotive slogan since "See the USA in your Chevrolet."
My guess is that "Like A Rock" has had so much power for Chevy that the Ford guys felt they had to take it on, despite the risk. And they're trying to trivialize the line by visually splashing coffee on the rock.
Will it work? Is it just more advertising? Or one more insult to the soul? Who knows.
Die, dead horse, die!
Fix Or Repair Daily
Long before we became the men we are today, Jesse and I would call the Jackson radio station and ask the lying disk jockies there to play "Rosalie." It would always take them forty or fifty rings just to pick up, and their standard line upon hearing our request was always, "Sure, we'll get that on." Then Jesse and I would sit in the basement of my parent's house for as long as three to four hours, listening to WIBM, knowing the bastards were probably lying, but thinking what if they weren't. We had plenty to talk about, and the waiting wasn't hard -- I see now that it was a precursor to all the waiting we did in freight yards a few years later, living on railroad time, feeling like two halves of a whole. But we wanted the thrill of hearing Seger on the radio and we were righteously angered by WIBM's stupidity in never playing him. We were 18 -- actually we were 19 -- and solid everywhere.
My favorite Seger song is now also available as a floormat, as shown here in Jesse's truck. I've gotten over it, honest I have. It's a great truck. A Ford, to be exact. We heard "Hands In The Air" for the very first time in this truck. We happened to be sitting in the middle of a parking lot, which made it even better, and our feet were on these mats. See, the world isn't exactly the way we want it to be -- it wasn't then, back in my parent's basement, and it isn't now, but I've gotten over it. Given who he is and where he's been, these mats are perfect for Jesse's truck. They might not look so good in yours. But who am I to judge?
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