In the car the other day, I heard Bob Seger’s song “Night Moves” for the first time in years. I loved this album when I was in college in 1977, but then punk came along and I decided it was uncool to listen to Bob Seger. His wretchedly over-exposed “Old Time Rock and Roll” a few years later seemed to validate my decision to relegate old Bob to the dustbin of rock history.
When you’re in your 20s, you’re dumb as shit.
So, I was in the car, and “Night Moves” came on Sirius XM’s “Classic Vinyl” station. (Yes, I admit it, I listen to “Classic Vinyl”.) And it was as if I was hearing this song for the first time. When I was younger, I took away two things from this song: a great acoustic guitar riff and a guy being nostalgic for the girl he used to boff in high school. But now, I finally got it. “Night Moves” is a shattering cascade of memory. It’s the reverie of an aging man looking back at his first sexual experience in the “sweet summertime” of his youth, and it almost broke my heart in half, right there at the red light in front of the Safeway.
Early in the song, Seger snaps off the verses with a lusty swagger. You can feel the urgency of those nights spent making out in “the backroom, the alley or the trusty woods,” when he “felt the lightning and waited on the thunder.” But the word “thunder” stops the music in its tracks and snaps Seger into the present, speak-singing in a wistful rasp:
“I woke last night to the sound of thunder/ How far off?, I sat and wondered/ I started humming a song from 1962/ Ain’t it funny how the night moves/ When you just don’t seem to have as much to lose?/ It’s strange how the night moves/ With autumn closing in.”
When I was a kid, grown-ups used to say, “Youth is wasted on the young.” And I’d think they were just old and bitter. Well, one of the hardest things about getting older yourself is realizing that they were right. And the truth behind those words is not so much bitter as it is bittersweet.
© Joyce Millman, The Mix Tape. 2011