Bob Seger is the legitimate hero of American street life. All the restless young white kids who never gave up "the street" for the office or the kitchen -- even as they passed 30 -- view Seger as an inspiration. In his music, Seger shows the fire and determination that make today's party more important than tomorrow's promises.
For all the gas pumpers, riveters, carpenters and secretaries who live for the weekend, Seger's new album, "Against the Wind" (Capitol SOO-12041), is a welcome return. On his last record, Seger seemed to desert them for the glittery lures of "those Hollywood Hills," where they could never follow.
"Against the Wind" takes Seger back down to the street corner action of Detroit's Woodward Avenue, where his true fans have always been. Seger's 10 new songs capture the flavor of that action better than anyone's since his own legendary 1976 album, "Night Moves."
The blood-boiling excitement of the new record is best represented on "Betty Lou's Gettin' Out Tonight," the best Chuck Berry song that Berry never wrote. Seger's Silver Bullet Band charges forward with the irrestible momentum that marks all Berry songs. Seger has to suck in quick breaths between lines just to keep up.
Seger captures the sexual element of such moments on a fast dance tune, "The Horizontal Bop." The album's first single, "Fire Lake," holds out a vision of a summer beach where one can escape to ride fast cars, bet on cards and flirt with the sunbathers.
Seger clearly separates himself, however, from the mindless music of Ted Nugent and Styx, who are also parking lot heroes. Nugent and Styx hold out visions of thrills with no costs. Seger deliberately emphasizes that a life based on thrills rather than security carries a high price and requires a strong code of honor.
One of the obstacles is age, an issue that absorbs the 34-year-old Seger. Much like the title song of "Night Moves," the title track to "Against the Wind" is a reflection of the road traveled and ends with a renewed determination to keep going.
The costs and benefits of the working-class quest for thrills have been articulated best by Seger, Bruce Springsteen and Graham Parker. All three have expressed admiration for each other's music. In their wake, many have adopted a similar musical /lyrical style: most blatantly, John Cougar, Mink DeVille, Roy Sundholm, D. L. Byron and Richmond's Bill Blue.
Byron, the opening act on Seger's current tour, is most influenced by Springsteen. Byron's debut album, "This Day and Age" (Arista AB 4258), remakes the early '60s pop of New York's Brill Building into guitar-led rock 'n' roll, much as Springsteen does. At this point in his career, Byron's music is far ahead of his lyrics. His words mostly whine about his lousy romantic luck.
His music, by contrast, bursts with exuberance. Byron's melodies build wonderfully so his voice and guitar can get progressively worked up. When they do, you can believe him when he sings, "My heart is exploding."
But as much as Byron embodies the enthusiasm of the rock 'n' roll life, he can't articulate it. That's what separates Seger from all his imitators.