Back in the mid-seventies — years before guys like Tom Petty and John Mellencamp came into their own — the discerning rock fan basically had two choices concerning state of the art working class rock music.
And that's what we called it back then. It wasn't "heartland rock" or anything of the sort.
Years before it splintered off into everything from the Americana "genre" of everybody from Mellencamp to Wilco, to the more redneck sensibilities best embodied today by people like Toby Keith, we simply called it what it really was.
Back then we called it working class rock and roll. Pure and simple.
The kind played in some backwoods joint where the only thing left between you and that girl perched next to the jukebox was whether you chose to use that dime to play someone like Bruce Springsteen or someone like Bob Seger.
Because back then at least, those were pretty much the two guys.
Both were guys who celebrated the American working stiff like nobody else back then. But around the eighties, something strange happened. The diehard rockers drifted more to Springsteen — especially around the time of Born In The USA — while the folks who would much later embrace the "new country" of today went straight for Seger.
And why not?
Where Springsteen was still fine-tuning his vision of working class America on albums like Born In The USA with what would years later prove to be a much more political vision, Seger was already peppering his own Detroit working class roots with the mellower feel of albums like Against The Wind.
Much as I love Springsteen, I think at least in this respect Seger better understood the core values of his audience. A whole lot better actually. Seger met these folks where they actually lived.
Where Bruce began his big-time recording career bringing the street operas of the New Jersey shore to life, and only later shifted his vision to the more rural working man on albums like Darkness On The Edge Of Town and The River, Bob Seger began his own career as the heir apparent to fellow working class Detroit greasehead Mitch Ryder on songs like "Ramblin Gamblin Man." And he has basically never looked back from that singular, if simpler visiion.
That he would later grow into the more introspective songwriting of albums like Night Moves for instance in the seventies is of no consequence.
Which is exactly why on recent "quieter" Springsteen tours like those for Devils & Dust and The Seeger Sessions, for example, you will still find the clueless guy waving the Bud can for "Born In The USA" high and mighty. This is a guy who doesn't know where he really is. Let's be honest. It is also a guy who would likely feel much more at home amongst his friends at a Bob Seger show. Becuse I suspect you will find no such thing there. Truth be told.
Which is exactly why, I for one, doubt there will be any such confusion when Bob Seger takes his act out on the road in support of his great new album Face The Promise.
Nope. I think you will find no such thing.
Tell ya' what I really think.
I think the upcoming Seger tour is going to be quite the party. Bring your Bud cans. Bring your bikes. And for that matter, bring your kids. Because these are people who will know exactly where they are.
They will be at home. And among like-minded friends of pretty much the exact same mindset.
The messages of each of these artists are not really that far apart at all. I just think that Seger, again as much as I love Bruce, connects with that great "middle" part of his audience much better. Seger is really the everyday guy Bruce only wishes he could be. Truth be told.
God knows the Democrats could learn a lesson or two here. Because again, as much as the core values the audiences of these two former torchbearers of the working class may seem to have in common, it all comes down to basic approach.
Face The Promise is Seger's first album of new material in like about a hundred years. Well okay, lets make that eleven years to be exact.
But here's the thing. Seger still knows how to connect directly with the average working class guy in a way Bruce seems to have long since lost.
On songs like "Wait For Me," Seger still appeals directly to the longing of the working class stiff for a better life that seems to directly echo the former sentiments of lyrics like those, for example, of how "someday baby you'll accompany me."
Bob Seger, looking for all the world more like Kenny Rogers than Kenny Rogers does these days, may have been away for eleven or so years. But what is readily apparent here is that he still gets it. On the cover of his new album, he seems ready to face the challenges of the world with one hand on his Harley and the other on his heart.
And if this album gets the exposure it should (probably on country radio of all places — because there may not be a place for it in current rock formats), there is no doubt in my mind that the bikers and the steelworkers of the world for example, will feel the exact same thing. It's the sort of folks a guy like Springsteen or even Mellencamp, for example, could only pray to reach.
Because at the core of this album lies the fact that Bob Seger still speaks for the longing of the Average Joe. At the end of the day, Bob Seger, as content as I am sure he must be in his own life, still gets it.
Seger kicks things into high rock gear here from this album's opening track, "Wreck This Heart," which finds a "cold wind blowing over me… another early Michigan storm."
It's no wonder people like Kid Rock grew up idolizing this guy in his native Detroit to the point of reproducing the artwork of Seger's classic Live Bullet album on his own Live Trucker album. Kid Rock himself shows up here with Seger on the very appropriately titled "Real Mean Bottle."
But getting back to the central theme, Seger hasn't lost a step in terms of what makes him a guy so uniquely able to connect to his core audience of everyday Joes.
Take the title track for example.
There are lots of themes that will be absolutely familiar to the Bruce Springsteen fan. When Bob Seger sings "So Long Missisippi, So long Alabam, I wanna face the promise of The Promised Land," it strikes the heart in a such a way that it makes complete and simple sense. Bruce may have struck that very same simple and direct chord in songs years gone by, bearing many of those very same themes the lyrics reference.
But that was then. When has he done so lately? On The Seeger Sessions? Nope. I don't think so.
More importantly, when has he reached out so directly to the core of his audience in songs the same way those found on Face The Promise aim for?
Bottom line is whether he is talking about "wrecking his heart" or "facing the promise of the promised land," (and yes, I recognize some degree of redundancy here), Bob Seger is still speaking directly to the working class sort of guys who congregate in bars after a hard working week for a cold one.
Like all of Bob Seger's music that came before this surprisingly great album, Seger is still appealing uniquely to the restless heart of the average working man. That he does this so agelessly and unpretentiously is the key to his appeal to middle America.
Socially conscious musicians (and the Democratic party) could stand to learn such a lesson here.
Hit 'em where they live. But don't hammer 'em over the head.