Line Out Music & the City at Night

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Turning on the Charm with Brian and Bob

Posted by on Sat, Nov 12, 2011 at 12:38 PM

  • Chicago Review Press

Given the chance, I'll die like a baby on some faraway beach when the season's over. Unlikely I'll be remembered. As the tide brushes sand in my eyes, I'll drift away, cast up on a plateau with only one memory, a single syllable. Oh lie low, lie low. —Brian Eno, "On Some Faraway Beach" (1974)

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People don't often compare Bob Seger with Brian Eno, and there's no reason they should. The men forged different musical paths in different countries, though they aren't far apart in terms of age (Seger is three years older). Somehow, though, they came up with a pair of songs that sound remarkably similar. Eno got there first with "On Some Faraway Beach" from Here Come the Warm Jets.

Then, in 1978, Seger released "Still the Same"* from Stranger in Town. In this more conventional arrangement, he keeps returning to the chorus ("Still the same, baby baby still the same"), while Eno takes his haunting melody for a ride before ending exactly where he began, but they start off with the same elegiac piano chords, even if Seger adds more urgency to the proceedings, while Eno delays the entrance of his self-described "electric larynx" until the 2:53-minute mark.

* As with "Night Moves" before it, the song peaked at #4 on the pop charts.

By Seger standards, though, "Still the Same" is about as low-key as it gets. And by Eno standards, "On Some Faraway Beach" is about as straightforward as it gets. As my friend Larry puts it, "To my ears, one is soft cloths and baby lotion and the other is sandpaper and cigarettes." I like the analogy, because the vibe is undeniably divergent, yet nostalgia serves as The Great Equalizer. Eno wonders if he'll be remembered when he's gone, Seger reflects on a person from his past.

In 1974, Eno was 26; in '78, Seger was 33. The two solo artists had done their time in other bands, from Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels to Roxy Music. By the time they released these songs, they were still young, yet experienced, perfectly positioned to take stock of their legacies and those of their associates.

  • Island/Astralwerks

Though Eno has ascribed most of the lyrics on Here Come the Warm Jets to free association, I suspect that he's either being disingenuous or that his subconscious is more literate than most (both theories seem equally plausible).

In 1994, Seger told Detroit Free Press that his song "is an amalgamation of characters I met when I first went to Hollywood. All Type-A was another great reason to base out of Michigan." Some fans, however, believe he's actually singing about his father, who moved to California when he was 10.

  • Capitol

Wherever the truth lies, the depth of feeling behind each song—and not just the melodic similarity—also unites them, no matter how oppositional they may seem.

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In case you missed their posts the first time around, Segal and Nipper make a case for early Seger here and here. I haven't read the Eno bio yet; author Sheppard is a contributor to MOJO.


Comments (2) RSS

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Estey 1
Amazing! I'm glad I was checking what was posted the past couple of days that I missed! This is excellent conversation fuel for music fans. Thanks!
Posted by Estey on November 14, 2011 at 6:18 PM · Report this
Kathy Fennessy 2
Thanks! When I posted these songs to a certain social networking site--not MySpace!--a friend wrote the following, "At least it's not as brazen as Big Star's 'Holocaust' vs. Yoko Ono's 'Mrs. Lennon'."
Posted by Kathy Fennessy on November 14, 2011 at 11:23 PM · Report this

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