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