BOB SEGER: Still Got the Moves & Grooves

You’re renowned for being a very meticulous writer. How do you know when a song is done?

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You never really know it’s right. You just say, “I think that’s good enough.” But I hear lyric writers who are so much better than me. I can give you Tom Waits, Joni Mitchell, Dylan, or Leonard Cohen. These people write stuff that I can’t even get close to. I do the best I can with what I got. It’s very hard work and yet you don’t want to make it so strident. Henley would describe it to me and say, “Rhyme with dignity. Stay away from the “Canyons of Your Mind” shit.” It was easy to ape Dylan with some sort of a vague sensibility of your work and call it art, whereas I think Henley had a great BS meter for stuff like that. And that was inspiring to me.

A lyric that Don and Glenn really liked of mine was a little song called “No Man’s Land” from Stranger In Town that didn’t have much of a melody but it had a great lyric. I played it for them and Don was like, “Yeah, you hurt yourself on that one, didn’t you?” And I had…he used to call it “blood on the page.” You just torture yourself when you write songs. Basically you’re sitting there staring off into space. You’re running schemes in your head and you have a rhyme you want to work. OK, a rhyme doesn’t work, you drop it. Go somewhere else and get a different rhyme that still fits with all the other pieces of the puzzle.

The song, “Night Moves” could be a movie.

It was inspired by the movie American Graffiti, which was when I grew up-‘61 through ’63; that was my life. It was all about cars, peg pants, rolled up t-shirts with a cigarette pack up here [motions to shirt sleeve] and stiletto pointed shoes. It was the easiest song in the world to write but the hardest song to finish. It took me six months to finish it. I had the first two verses. Then I’m listening to Born To Run and I notice in “Jungleland” Bruce had a double bridge. I never thought of two bridges in one song. There’s actually two separate bridges in there. You can’t do that, but he did. So I have two bridges in “Night Moves” [laughs]. People at Capitol Records told me after they heard the song “Night Moves” that I had a career record, and “that’s the first single.” They said, “This is a song that you’re gonna have to play for the rest of your life.” It’s a song like “Me & Bobby McGee.” It is a gift.

When you’re getting ready to write a song, is it scary to sit down in front of a blank piece of paper?

Not really…I guess because I wrote so much I’m not intimidated by it. The hard part is knowing when to stop. Tom Petty did an album several albums back and he said he felt like he was overwriting things and he decided the first version is gonna be the one he’s gonna use. I’m tired of killing myself overwriting. Sometimes the first version is the best.

“The Answer’s in the Question,” your duet with Patty Loveless, is one of the standouts on the new album.

I called Patty Loveless and I was almost apologetic. I said, “There’s something about this song that I love. I’m telling you right up front that it’s not a hit record. It’s just a song I really like.” If it’s a hit record it’s the goofiest hit in the world. But it was just something I hit on. So with great trepidation I approached Patty. She’d done these great duets with Vince Gill, “Go Rest High on That Mountain,” these fabulous soaring vocals. I said, “Here’s my little song. It’s kind of like a folk song. It’s not a hit, but what do you think?” and she loved it. I actually got the inspiration from Dylan. I heard him in an interview, and he told the interviewer “The answer’s in the question you just asked; I’m not even going to answer that.” Dylan had an attitude because he didn’t like the question. I remembered it and said I have to write a song called “The Answer’s in the Question.” The first line: “Will you be home late again?” Right off the bat, you know. You don’t ask something like that unless there’s something wrong. I really love the song.

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