Creative people, regardless of their chosen vessel, almost unanimously share two common traits. They are to some degree unbalanced (more on that in a future post), and they are inept at judging their own work. A prime example is Robert Plant’s unshakable belief that Physical Graffiti was Led Zeppelin’s best album. Um, sure.
Another trap into which artists often fall is dismissing, without a second thought, their audience’s discernment regarding their work. While popularity (or lack thereof) can never be taken as sole or primary indicator of creative quality, it possesses at the least some credence when calculating art’s worth. The Beatles haven’t sold, depending on who you ask, somewhere in-between six hundred million to over two billion records – that’s billion with a B – strictly because teenage girls in 1964 thought the four moptops were cute.
Artists undervalue their work as often as they overestimate its worth. The better the artist, the more likely he or she is to lowball his or her accomplishments. The late Irish blues guitar master Rory Gallagher twice threw away completed records that, upon rescue by third parties, showed themselves easily up there quality-wise with approved releases. For example, consider this track which, were it not for Rory’s brother Donal’s efforts at keeping Rory’s legacy alive, would have remained forever unheard.
Taking this into the land of the living, not one but two Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees care not a whit about their recorded heritage. Steve Miller’s catalog is available on download sites, but anyone preferring something with actual sound quality, i.e. compact disc, will quickly discover most everything has been out of print for close to a decade. Yet this pales in comparison to Bob Seger. Want anything prior to his breakout 1976 live album Live Bullet? Other than one thin compilation, it doesn’t exist. No CDs, no downloads, nothing. There are a few scattered CDs released in the 1990s and a handful of somewhat dubious legality ones from a decade ago, all long out of print and correspondingly now exchanging hands for a king’s ransom. But readily available? Ain’t happening.
This scarcity of product, as a recent NPR article notes, is serving two purposes, neither of them good. It is alienating Seger’s large fan base, and it is blunting his legacy on classic rock radio. Seger flat out owned mainstream (now classic) rock radio from 1976 forward until well into the 1990s, cranking out hit after hit superglued onto playlists across the land: “Night Moves,” “Old Time Rock and Roll,” “Still The Same,” “We’ve Got Tonight,” etc etc etc and several more etc after that.
Fast forward to today. When by all rights and logic he should be similarly prominent on classic rock radio, Seger seldom gets airplay. Why?
There’s no reason to play his music. There’s nothing to support it. Remember, the music industry and terrestrial radio have a very cozy relationship. Record labels provide the programming, a/k/a music, to the radio stations for free. Radio stations play the music. Licensing fees and artist royalties? What’s that then? Songwriters get royalties from whenever one of their songs are played on a terrestrial radio station. Performers do not. They are placated by the notion of hear song/like song/buy song via CD or download or vinyl. Hence the eagerness for all involved parties to play what people want to, and can, purchase. Remember, catalog sales (music released more than eighteen months prior to the current date) are running higher than new music sales, and by an ever-increasing rate. There’s gold in them thar repackaged, remastered rereleases of albums fans more than likely already own, but are even more likely to purchase again if there is sufficient added value in the new package.
Seger isn’t part of this scenario. He has none of the rereleases constantly refreshing the catalog other artists enjoy. In many cases, a release period. There are no “oh man, I haven’t heard this song in ages – I love this song – I have got to buy a copy while it’s fresh in my mind” moments for an audience that still buys music in lieu of streaming pop puff pastry without filling today and forgetting it this afternoon. If it’s not on Seger’s most recent (now six years old) greatest hits compilation, which while okay is hardly comprehensive, and you’re not willing to go on a very well-financed musical archeological expedition, not only will you not be following up on your impulse … you can’t.
It’s tempting to attempt a dramatic overlay here, using Seger’s story as a grand allegory for some deep political or societal tale. But no. Art needs no justification, and not everything has to have a moral of the story attached. Sometimes, and put plainly far more often than not, the story stands on its own merits. So c’mon, Bob. How about you and your manager – mostly your manager, since apparently he’s the (quote) brains (end quote) behind all this – get it together, respect your fans, reclaim your rightful heritage in rock’n’roll royalty, and make available some new copies of those old records we can each take off the shelf and listen to by ourselves should we choose to do so? Today’s (again quote) music (again end quote) ain’t got the same soul. We like that old time Bob Seger rock and roll, and we want to be able to get our hands on it. Please.
PS: A fun example of older Seger: