The first album I ever bought was Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band’s Nine Tonight when I was fourteen years old. I used the money I earned from my first check as a chambermaid, the only job I could land that summer because I wasn’t sixteen yet and my friend’s dad owned the little seasonal motel where I lived in Gloucester, Massachusetts, so I had an in.
I sang every song on that Bob Seger album from memory as I rode my bike five miles to the chambermaid job. After my first shift, I promised myself I’d somehow earn enough scholarship money to go to college so I could maybe one day become a writer and never have to clean another stranger’s toilet again.
My route home from my summer job took me past Gorton’s of Gloucester, the frozen fish stick company, and a place I swore I’d never end up. I’d pedal my old red Schwinn by the assembly line workers, some still wearing their hairnets, as they got off their swing shift. When our paths crossed, Bob Seger’s Feel Like a Number would play in my head like an anthem. I knew the workers were making an honest living and likely had families and bills to pay. But I had dreams that were going to hopefully take me far away.
I have no idea what ever happened to that Bob Seger album. I can’t remember if I took it with me to Syracuse University four years later when I somehow scared up enough scholarship money to go to college where I’d eventually graduate with high hopes for the future and a degree in journalism.
Those songs from that album, like so many memories from that part of my past, got shelved away as my life moved on. I became a journalist. I got married to a good Michigan boy who I met at a newspaper in California where I was covering the cop beat. And two little boys later, I found myself in Michigan after my husband received a job transfer from his company.
I’d always liked Michigan and Detroit, unpretentious places with hard working people. For me, Detroit was an underdog, battling its way back from a series of hardscrabble knocks, like my lead character, Julia Gooden, in the book I started writing after we landed in Michigan.
Fifty pages into the book, Bob Seger’s Michigan had found me again. I began to recall his music from my past, filled with stories of love, lust, and bittersweet reflections of youthful dreams never realized, sung with Bob Seger’s signature Heartland grit. To me, the Michigan icon’s songwriting is honest and raw to the bone, but more than that, always so, so good.
Before I finished the book, I bought Nine Tonight again, not as a vinyl record this time, but on iTunes. The songs sounded like old friends, bringing me back to a time when I knew I’d have to hustle for anything good to happen in my life against a blue-collar soundtrack that seemed to understand me.
Come back, baby
Rock n roll never forgets.
Thanks for the inspiration, Mr. Seger.
(My personal playlist of songs that inspired me as I wrote “The Last Time She Saw Him”)
Songs from Nine Tonight
I Won’t Give Up
Synchronicity (the first title of the manuscript)
Electric Light Orchestra
Allison Kraus and Robert Plant
Killing the Blues
We Found Love
That was my playlist. What’s on yours?