As part of my project of playing all the records in my collection in reverse chronological order, I’ve spent a fair amount of time lately reliving some of the most awkward moments of the years of my sexual awakening. It really is a trippy trip down memory lane, remembering where I was and what I was doing, with whom, when certain records were popular. What strikes me most, though, is the amazing power of pop music to shape young minds and libidos.
It’s not for nothing that our parents feared rock and roll. The music industry knew what it was doing targeting we record-buying and concert-going packages of raging hormones. Sure, there were other influences — TV, school, parents, peer pressure — but I think one cannot overestimate the influence of the songs we heard on the radio.
This struck me the other day as I played Stranger in Town, Bob Seger’s 1978 follow-up to Night Moves. I had the album on 8-track and used to play it cruising around in my big gold Pontiac Catalina. In particular, “Brave Strangers,” a pretty good, pretty blatant ripoff of Bob’s own, better hit from a year earlier, “Night Moves” (Is it still a ripoff when it’s your own song you’re copying?), brought back vivid memories of early, fumbling attempts at teenage, heterosexual sex, or wanting to have some and then wanting to get better at it, which is not so surprising since that’s exactly what both songs are about.
Probably a lot of people who grew up with those songs, and songs like them, felt something similar. They take on special significance for me when I realize they so strongly evoked an experience I felt I had to be having; that is, they quite significantly contributed to my trying hard to be straight, not gay.
Oh sure, other factors like wanting to fit in, not knowing any other boys who liked boys, not wanting to be beat up by my classmates, and not wanting to burn in a fiery hell had some influence as well, but Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band did play a big role.
I still like those records, a lot. And I’m still workin’ and practicin’ the night moves. But I’m more apt to change the pronouns now if I sing along.