It's taken me
three weeks to write up my weekend in Cleveland.
All the standard excuses apply. Don't worry, though
-- my memory of the trip is as sharp as a
band was sharp. The photo
Brewer, Brewer, Brewer, Brewer. I'm pretty sure
the drummer's name is Brewer.
Bear in mind that
I left Portland at 4 a.m. and I've spent all day on
planes and I'm still more or less on the losing end
of this month-long grudge match with whatever
iron-fisted bug is trying to take over my body. The
antibiotics, bless 'em, are not working. And Ears
Two, the one person who could keep me on the
straight and narrow and prevent me from
embarrassing myself, is nowhere around.
In other words,
I'm not at my best. But I'm pretty sure the
drummer's name is Brewer. He's standing right in
front of me, at the Caribou Coffee stand outside
the Ritz-Carlton. I'm not hanging here in hopes of
seeing the band, though. I'm hanging here because
"You must be
Don Farner," I say, which is not what I meant
And so my
Cleveland trip begins.
And what a
fantastic trip it was. The Rock and Roll Hall of
Fame. A weekend with Ears Two. Seger at the Q, with
the band in super form. And a couple of historic
band interviews, the first of which is not getting
off to a great start.
that he is not Don Farner, which pretty much ends
my first conversation with him. Hey, he's the
drummer. I got his name half right. Shouldn't I get
a medal just for that?
Also, I can say
anything I want about Brewer now, because he told
me later that he doesn't read the Seger
(And all this
time, I'd been restraining myself from posting
Homer Simpson's joke about Grand Funk: "What??
You kids don't know Grand Funk? The wild shirtless
lyrics of Mark Farner? The bong-rattling bass of
Mel Schacher? The competent drum work of Don
Brewer?" And yet, a little Googling reveals
that Brewer is proud of being included in Homer's
little dig. I guess it doesn't matter what you say,
as long as you get the name right.)
A number of
amazing things happened in Cleveland. I started
to like "We've Got Tonight," which I have always
resisted. I ran into a fan named Shellie, who has
seen more Seger concerts on this tour than anyone I
know. I saw a photo of mine at the Rock and Roll
Hall of Fame. I felt "Travelin' Man/Beautiful
Loser" hit with a power I can barely
But first, a word
on Detroit and Cleveland, specifically the
difference between them. My take is, once you're
inside the arena, there isn't any.
If you're from
Detroit, you probably think Detroit's special. And
it is -- until the lights go down. At that point,
you're in a big room with 18,000 screaming Seger
fanatics who know every word. Most of us feel a
special one-to-one connection to Bob (How does he
DO that?). One of the biggest Seger fans I know of
lives in Iowa. Would his connection to the music be
any stronger if he lived in Grosse Pointe? Of
Music is personal
that way. It doesn't care where you live. Of
course, there's no question that the pre- and
post-concert buzz is enormously more potent in
Detroit. But when the music's playing? The
Cleveland show was the last gig before Detroit and
the band was in red hot form. At that level, it's
all the same. Disagree with me if you must.
Brewer and whoever he was talking with -- Jim
"Moose" Brown, I think -- look at me like I've just
flown in from the sticks, which is sort of true,
and I walk away wondering why he won't admit to
being Don Farner. The answer to that occurs to me
So I make the
best of it. I have myself a beer at the Hard Rock
Café and slap my head about 1,600 times. I
actually think it's an improvement. My forehead has
more character now. Soon enough it's dark and I
still haven't found my hotel, so I hit the
sidewalk. It's cold and empty, and there's only one
other guy on the sidewalk. Who happens to be Don
What the heck, is
he following me, or what?? I'm sure that's what
he's thinking too, so I give him a pretty wide
berth and say hello. He's actually very polite and
friendly, though it's hard to be too friendly with
a 20-knot wind coming in off Lake Erie.
I apologize for
getting his name wrong. He still seems a bit
miffed, but once we get that cleared up, I
introduce myself. He says he's heard of the Seger
File, but apparently he's not a big Internet guy.
I ask him if he's
seen Seger's recent quote, the one where he says he
might not want to tour without Brewer. (Brewer
won't be available after March because of
commitments to Grand Funk. Seger was quoted as
saying: "I don't know if I'd want to do it without
Don 'cause he's such a great wall to lean
Brewer says he
hadn't heard this. "It's a great compliment," he
says. "It's a very nice compliment." But he also
didn't want the tour to be dependent on him.
"Please don't put it on me," he said very
With that he
ducked into the Hyde Park Steakhouse, where
presumably the rest of the band was eating. So I
never got to ask him whether he prefers a
paradiddle or straight sticking on an ascending
two-tom fill of four sixteenth-notes each. If only
I'd gotten his name right the first time, maybe I
would have found out.
afternoon, Ears 2 and I endured another brisk
wind coming off the Lake, finding our way on foot
to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It's an amazing
place. I particularly liked Jim Morrison's cub
scout shirt, but nothing can really match seeing
John Lennon's Sgt. Pepper jacket right there in
front of you.
In fact for a
museum about music, there were a lot of displays
about clothes. There were multiple Britney Spears
outfits, which actually looked better without the
talentless body inside. But where was Seger's black
t-shirt, blue jeans and sweatband? All they had
were some boots that he wore on the cover of
Greatest Hits 1.
The Seger display
is the first thing you see as the escalator takes
you to the third floor. And the first thing you see
is wrong. "Bob Seger was born on May 6, 1945 in Ann
Arbor, Michigan," it says. It's a common mistake
(he was born in Detroit) but at least it gave me a
chance to feel superior.
(Not that I
haven't confused things a bit myself over the years
by writing that Seger was born in Dearborn in Henry
Ford Hospital. That would be impossible. Seger fan
David Silver pointed out recently that Henry Ford
Hospital is in Detroit -- what I meant to write is
that the family lived Dearborn.)
Inside the case
are some cool Seger artifacts. An ancient contract.
The aforementioned boots. A jacket that I never
noticed him wearing. A guitar, I think, although to
be honest, I saw so many guitars that day they
blurred together. I don't play guitar and as Ears 2
commented, unless it's been smashed or set aflame,
a guitar is a guitar.
But I did like
the handwritten lyrics to "Like A Rock." The extra
verse, which I reported on in the Vault,
was included. But there were more lyrics as well.
Toward the end of
the song, there were these lines: "And I think of
all the roads I've known, and all the faces come
and gone, and the too many nights I've spent
alone." Then he tried a shorter version of it: "And
I think of friends who've come and gone, and the
many nights I've spent alone."
Off to the side
of the page, you can see him trying to work out the
verse which eventually came out like this: "And
sometimes late at night / when I'm bathed in the
firelight / the moon comes callin' ghostly white /
and I recall." In the handwritten version, as Ears
2 pointed out, you could see Seger looking for
possible rhymes: "And I watch the moon rise pale
and white, insight, takes flight." The line ends "I
look back" instead of "And I recall."
I found that
glimpse inside his writing process to be
fascinating. Most people were more interested in
the guitar, I think.
But the best
thing about the Seger display is that I met
Shellie Altman there. Shellie is a tremendous Seger
fan who first emailed me in 1997. Our meeting was
not quite an accident. I had actually suggested
meeting by the Seger display in an email. But we
never settled on it for sure, and I thought it was
off. As I started to walk away, Shellie saw my
Segerfile t-shirt and introduced herself.
All you really
need to know about Shellie is that she saw 13 of
the first 21 shows, including all four in Detroit.
She drove from show to show alone or with her dog,
got great seats most places, and was a frequent
to the Fans on Tour page.
She promises to
write up the whole experience, which I would love
to post. At this point though, you probably ought
to go read her
to the Seger File, which she wrote under the name
Eevilbeech@aol.com. (It's called Backstage with a
Bad Pass -- I liked it so much, I've kept a link to
it on the Update page for years.) And having
finally met her, I can vouch that there is nothing
evil or beechlike about her.
that blew my mind was the Seger jukebox. It's
really a touch-screen computer terminal that lets
you hear every song recorded by every artist who
has been inducted. Which means you can hear every
officially released Seger song ever. (Including
things like "Paint them a Picture Jane" and other
cuts off Noah, that Seger had basically
nothing to do with.)
I was in the mood
for "2 + 2 = ?" and it was nothing short of
stunning to stand there with headphones on and hear
the power of that song, almost as if for the first
time. It's a museum about music, after all, and
nothing takes the place of actually hearing it.
came with its share of errors. "Railroad Days" was
listed as "Railroad Says." And two songs from
Brand New Morning became a single track
called "Sometimes You Know How You Are." When I
played "Railroad Days," it was preceded by the
sound of the needle going through the groove -- so
the tracks were clearly digitized off an LP, rather
than from a master.
(Well, duh. Why
would anyone imagine that Punch Enterprises or
Capitol would still have the masters to Brand
New Morning? I mean, c'mon on. I assume they've
lost the masters to Face the Promise by now.
It's been four months, for crying out loud. Who can
keep track of things that long? And all that Hi-Def
video they shot at the Palace two weeks ago? If the
DVD's not out in a month, forget it.)
I'm kidding, of
course, but in truth I got a huge kick out of
margin note on one of Seger's early contracts.
Written in a hand that I assume belongs to Punch,
it said: "File downstairs behind the furnace." I
don't know about your house, but the stuff I keep
behind my furnace is not worth keeping.
The other kick
was seeing my photo of Seger in one of their
videos, on a screen that must have been 20 feet
high. It was the unauthorized photo, the one they
never bothered to purchase. It's been turning up in
a lot of places lately. I speak here as someone who
has "borrowed" a hundred zillion photos just to
keep this website going.
item: The people who run the Hall of Fame were so
impressed with Ears 2 and me that they asked to
take our photo! I guess they'd heard of us. Ears 2
has written about music, and at least one of his
pieces was referenced in a Springsteen book that's
sold in the gift shop. And now they're showing my
photo in their film. At any rate, as soon we bought
our tickets, they stood us against the wall and
took our photo.
Later that same
photo was being sold in the gift shop for $20. The
guy next to me even bought a copy. Of course, the
guy next to me was Ears 2. It's almost as good (and
more expensive, as I recall) as the shot of Ears 2
and me on the Cyclone at Cedar Point.
yeah, blah, blah, blah
what about the
concert?? What about Seger??
The concert was,
at times, absolutely amazing. Sitting farther back,
I saw the stage as a whole and noticed a lot of
things I had missed before. Like the way Seger and
Reed take opposite ends of the stage for "Turn the
Page" -- and the hip handshake they give each other
at the end. It was moving.
exception of thirty or forty people sitting right
behind me, the crowd was great. In Grand Rapids,
they sung along for "Turn the Page" and several
others. In Cleveland, they seemed to be singing
along for every song.
And then there
was "We've Got Tonight." Everyone loves it, I
don't. So it goes. But just before I started to
space out, I looked down from my perch in Row 1,
Level 1. Right in front of us, on the floor, three
couples were slow dancing. And the more I watched
them, the more I liked the song. It was romantic,
they were happy, maybe even in love. And in an odd
way, it opened me up a little to what I'd been
missing in the song.
be wrong with Ears 2. He didn't like "Old Time
Rock & Roll."
"The crowd loved
it. I cringed," he writes. "The problem with
singing lines like "Say I'm old-fashioned, say I'm
over the hill" is that they can sound a little
self-incriminating 25 or 30 years
On the other
hand, E2 loved "Wait for Me." And I didn't hear it.
I was thinking about something else. What the hell
is wrong with me? I flew half way across the
continent just to hear Seger, and then I got
distracted by ice cubes hitting the back of my
head. Anyway, I'm sure it was great.
As was "Wreck
this Heart." Of "Mainstreet," E2 writes, "the
visual of Seger wailing on one side of the stage
and Alto wailing on the other was
"No Matter Who
You Are," was terrific, and the lighting effect is
the best of the night -- the lights seem to create
a textured, red theatre curtain hung in the sky.
The gospel feel of the song when the backup singers
come in is just stunning.
It was at that
point, or maybe even the next day, that I told
E2 about my interview with Barb
one of the three backup singers. I met her a few
minutes after my encounter with Don Brewer, so I
was naturally nervous about getting her name right.
It cannot be
said, however, that I was in any way stalking or
following her. I was actually in the elevator first
when she joined me. This was on the sixth floor of
the Ritz Carlton, where I had been perusing the
wine menu. I quickly concluded that I would need a
loan from the Quicken Loans Arena just to have a
glass of house red. I was on my way out; the
elevator doors were about to shut when Barb stepped
I chose my first
question to her carefully. "Which floor?" I
the naivete of my query was quickly exposed. When
you're in the elevator on Six in the Ritz Carlton
in Cleveland and going down, you have to go to One.
There's no other choice: the elevator doesn't stop
anywhere in between.
"I guess it'll
have to be One," Barb said.
"Can't go too far
wrong with One," I agreed.
So immediately we
had something in common: our faith in the correct
and proper choice that we had made, together. This
put us on the same wavelength emotionally. It also
concluded my interview with her, as the door
opened, and she left.
watching her across a hundred yards of floor seats,
up on there on the risers was a kick. She sounded
"Turn the Page."
Writes E2: "There wasn't anyone in the house who
wasn't singing along with every word. Absolutely
the high point of the night. I couldn't stop
smiling." My thoughts exactly. Although for me, the
next few minutes turned out to be an even higher
"Has it really
been 31 years since Live Bullet?" Seger
Man / Beautiful Loser" started and it was crazy.
The guy next to me went absolutely nuts. Wait --
that was me. I was the guy next to me, having an
out of body experience.
And the song
didn't make me happy. Not in the normal Seger "I
couldn't stop smiling" way. It more made me want to
cry. The song was happy and sad at the same time,
in a way that it couldn't have been 31 years ago,
when it could only ring the chords of freedom and
adventure. Those are powerful chords, true. But
this time it was also about the years that have
gone by, and how you try to hold on to them, but
you can't. It was about the "friends come and gone,
and the nights alone," and that part of it made me
feel all choked up, even while Brewer's pounding
drum work and the rest of the band was opening up a
physical kind of joy that I could feel blasting
against my chest.
another revelation: I was absolutely transported
by the instrumental break. I didn't even
know where Seger was. He might have been backstage
having a smoke for all I knew. I had my eyes closed
and I didn't open them until the first line of
It's a line that
shines with a kind of reverse glow after all these
years. "I want to dream like a young man / with the
wisdom of an old man." Now that I am, well, not an
old man, but no longer young, the line is still
full of yearning, but it's yearning that has
doubled back on itself. It's a much better line,
for example, than Townshend's celebrated "I hope I
die before I get old," which once held rebellion
and now holds only irony. Seger's line doesn't need
irony, because it still has truth. It's a line that
could tell you what life was like when you were 20.
And when you're 50. Like Zevon's midnight train,
it's a river that runs both ways.
can't have it all." For me that was the moment.
That line. The glass of wine and the easy
conversation in Little Italy. Ramblin' Gamblin Man.
Spending time with E2 and his wife. Those are the
getting all choked up, let's go to E2's report:
"Intermission," he writes. "At right around eight
minutes, this was the longest number of the night
and probably the least inspired." I love it. Do you
see why I've hung out with E2 for more than 30
liked it and so did I, but I still think the arena
rumble robs it of its power. The groove needs sharp
edges, and even with the horns it didn't come
through for me.
Gamblin' Man" was "so good that you have to stand
even if nobody's in front of you." (E2) "Real Mean
Bottle," "Sunspot Baby," "Katmandu"
point Seger is working the crowd into a fever
pitch. And then the encores, of course, and then
"Rock and Roll Never Forgets," with fists in the
stage from fairly far back, it was like Seger had
his hand on the throttle of a steam engine. With a
pull, the Silver Bullet Band would erupt, or turn,
or throttle down, or roar, and Seger controlled it
all with that fist of his, and the steam engine
swept over all of us. "What a joy it was to have
this relentlessly energetic song leave the final
impression of the night!" E2.
Sure, we both
would have done a few things differently. I
would have loved to hear "Red Eye to Memphis." Had
it been an album cut, instead of an iTunes extra,
I'll bet it would have kicked "Simplicity" off the
set list. E2 would have skipped "Betty Lou" and
"Horizontal Bop," and so would I. Heard 'em enough.
We both felt "Face the Promise" was the weakest
song of the night (though I'd call it the weakest
version of potentially the best song. Somehow it
just doesn't cut through.)
I would love to
hear Seger play in a setting where he could do the
quieter, more emotional songs like "Won't Stop."
Imagine that song in a 3,000-seat theater instead
of an arena. But I can see how it wouldn't go over
at the "Q."
E2 would kill,
or at least fire, the light guy. "Enough with
shining lights in the eyes of the audience," he
writes. "Is the idea to blind us so we'll focus on
the audio experience -- in which case I'd really
rather stay home and listen to the songs on my
I'll let the
light guy live. But the guy who threw ice cubes at
me is permanently banned. From, I don't
You, Mr. Ice Cube
Thrower, are the guy Seger wrote about in UMC: "If
there's war or famine / I promise I'll examine /
the details if they're on TV." I have a news flash
for you, ice guy. You're not watching TV. You're at
a rock concert.
You might want to
sit there with your soft drink and your pretzels
and let the entertainment cover you like a blanket.
But this ain't your living room and when Seger
takes the stage, I'm taking to my feet, because
that's what rock and roll is all about. I don't
even know why they put chairs in these places. Who
wants to sit and listen to music?
light, it burns, it
upside, there was John and his wife Patti, who
read the site and who came down to our seats to say
hello, and there was Bryun, a Seger fan from Canton
who emailed me years ago and who caught up with me
near the merch stand, with his friend Terrii. One
of best things about doing this site is meeting so
many great Seger fans. There was even a fan who saw
my Seger File t-shirt, shook my hand and said, "You
must be Kevin!"
I'm not, of
course. (Kevin runs segerbob.com, another great
Seger site). So what did I do? I very politely
explained that I was Scott, not Kevin, and we had a
great conversation. See, when somebody doesn't
quite get your name right, that's how it's handled.
Take a note.
"I do a little
bit of stretching to get the muscles limber,"
Brewer said, explaining his pre-show routine. "I
take an Advil for pre-inflammatory help. I take a
four-to-five mile walk every day, then I go to the
gym in the evening. I work on keeping my body fit
and I try to stay in shape. Drumming is physical,
no doubt about it."
He went on to
talk about playing with Seger versus Grand Funk.
"I did backup
vocals with Bob and I played drums on two tours. It
was a great learning experience for me. He has a
huge number of hits and a band he brings in, heavy
studio guys, plus his own guys that he's had with
him for years. It was just a whole different thing
for me, because when Grand Funk would work on
material, you could put yourself completely into
"Now here I am in
a situation where I've got to imitate what somebody
else had done. So I was learning from two different
drummers he had prior, plus studio drummers he had.
I'm learning all these ways to play things, whole
different kind of grooves -- not Grand Funk
grooves, but Bob Seger grooves. It was a whole
different thing. I've always loved his music and
loved doing it. I appreciated that he had that
Detroit thing, it's got the R&B rock thing."
Of course, Brewer
didn't say any of this stuff to me. He said it in
an interview in Classic Drummer. "As a matter of
fact," he concludes, "I got a call that Seger's
thinking about going on the road again."
It's now been
three weeks since the Cleveland concert, and I
haven't listened to "Face the Promise" once. After
playing it every day for months, I've put it away
for a while. I'm listening to John Dee Graham and
Kasey Chambers and of course, The Beatles'
Love. I'm letting Face the Promise
just sit there. I can feel it pulsing. I can hear
it whispering to me. I can tell it wants out. I
figure the longer I keep it off the CD deck, the
harder it's gonna hit me when I finally turn it
loose. And that's exactly what I want.