Jeremy Clarkson

Jeremy Clarkson

Clarkson on: Bob Seger

Last night, in one of the world's five great cities, I shared an alligator with Bob Seger.

Ever since that long hot summer of 1976, when I ricocheted around Staffordshire desperately trying to shake off those awkward teenage blues, I have worshipped the ground on which old Bob has walked.

I know that it is desperately trainspotterish to have heroes, but here we have a man whose lyrics are pure poetry, whose melodies are a match for anything dreamed up by Elgar or Chopin and whose live act is quite simply, the best in the world.

After a gig at the Hammersmith Odeon in London in 1977, the manager wrote to Melody Maker to say that in all his years, he had never seen a better concert. I was there and it was even better than that.

And there I was, 18 years later, in a restaurant in downtown Detroit, sharing a piece of battered alligator with the man himself. My tongue wasn't just tied - it looked like a corkscrew. I wanted to talk music but Bob's a chatterbox with the laugh of a cement mixer, and he wanted to talk cars. He was born in Detroit and apart from a brief spell in LA, which he hated, he's lived there all his life.

"This was heaven. The man I’ve most wanted to meet for nearly 20 years is a car freak"

He argued, quite forcefully, that if you're a Detroiter, you are bound to be part man and part V8. The only jobs are in car factories, all your neighbours work there, and the only way to escape the production line is music. It's no coincidence that Motown began in the Motor City.

The buses move around empty, as does the hopeless monorail. The train station is derelict. Everyone drives a car in Detroit because cars are everyone's soul. And Bob Seger is no exception.

A point that's hammered home by the GMC Typhoon in which the great man had arrived. He has a brace of Suzuki motorcycles on which he tears around the States, getting inspiration for songs like ‘Roll Me Away', but for family trips to Safeway he uses the 285bhp, four-wheel-drive truck - you may remember that we took its pickup sister, the Syclone, to a drag race on Top Gear last year.

Bob's mate, Dennis Quaid, has one too apparently, which made me itch to ask what Meg Ryan was like - they're married to one another - but Bob was off again, telling us between mouthfuls of reptile how things used to be in Detroit, how he used to go and race tuned-up musclecars between the lights, how a side exhaust gave an extra 15bhp and how they posted lookouts for the cops.

This was heaven. The man I've most wanted to meet for nearly 20 years is a car freak, but the best was still to come. When we'd finished dinner, he sat back and pulled a pack of Marlboro from his pocket. He smokes, too! And so, he added, does Whitney Houston. By this stage, I had regressed to the point where I could easily have been mistaken for a four-year old boy - I may have even wet myself slightly - but the full flood was saved until later that night.

Do they, I enquired gingerly, still race their cars on the streets. "Oh sure," came the reply. "Most Friday and Saturday nights up on Woodward you can find some races going down."

And this, I'm happy to tell you, was not just some rock-star-close-to-your-roots-SOB. Because they do.

Big money changes hands as a hundred or more guys turn up in Chargers and Road Runners and God knows what else. And then, from midnight until dawn, they simply line up at the lights, wait for the green and go. We watched it all, and happily, from your point of view, we filmed it too for a new series called Motorworld.

We learned, too, that in days gone by, the big three American manufacturers used to take their new, hot cars to these races to see just how quick they were. And that, even today, engineers may sneak a new development engine out of the factory, and down to Woodward to see if it can cut the mustard.

And all this is set to a backdrop of Martha Reeves, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Don Henley, Ted Nugent and Bob Seger - plus the thousand or so other stars that were born and raised in the Motor City.

And we have Longbridge and Take That. Which makes me want to throw up.


Jeremy Clarkson, Column

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