Sometimes a song that one takes for granted can benefit from a closer listen. I recently found this to be the case with Bob Seger’s “Night Moves.” Never a huge Seger fan, I’ve often turned the station when one of his songs comes on the radio. However, recently when “Night Moves” has come on the radio, I’ve found myself listening a little more closely. Details that seem insignificant at first actually conceal more than meets the eye.
“Woke last night to the sound of thunder
How far off I sat and wondered
Started hummin’ a song from 1962…”
It could be, of course, that Seger chose the year 1962 purely by random. But by chance or design, the mere choice of year helps the song paint a picture in a way that few other details do. A lot changed between 1962 and 1976. I wasn’t alive back then (I’m not quite that old) but I know this:
In 1962, JFK , RFK and MLK were all alive. The voting age was 21. Abortion was illegal. Civil rights legislation was still two years away. U.S. involvement in Vietnam was minimal, although it was starting to increase considerably. The changes wrought in music from 1962 to 1976 of course, are countless. In the early 1960s, a quartet of unknowns from Liverpool were paying their dues in Hamburg while, stateside, many speculated that rock’n’roll would not recover from Elvis’s joining the army. In the world of film, “Easy Rider”, “The Godfather” and “Taxi Driver” were still years away. A young director named Stanley Kubrick had just pulled off a feat that many thought impossible by bringing the controversial book “Lolita” to the big screen, and was starting on his next project, a movie based on “Red Alert”, a novel about the dangers of nuclear war. Even sports changed: it was during this time that the first Super Bowl took place, and free agency came to baseball, transforming the game.
But back to Seger.
“Night Moves” doesn’t do anything different; it just does it better. Themes of lost innocence, looking back at one’s life, and how music can instantly evoke a certain place or time are nothing new, but they’re rarely articulated as economically or as plaintively as in “Night Moves.”
The irony, of course, is that the song itself probably played a role in many scenarios such as the one described by its narrative. That’s the mark of a good song: it speaks to people across generations and cultures. For me, the lessons of “Night Moves” are the power of detail, and the possibility of depth lurking beneath the surface.