Fat Dude in a Beard: The Contradictions of Bob Seger’s “Night Moves”

Growing up, I was terrified and confused by songs about sex written and sung by adult men: the lurid deflowering of “Tonight’s the Night” by Rod Stewart; the fumbling desperation of Meatloaf’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Light”; the erotic nihilism of “Beth” by KISS; and “Night Moves” by Bob Seger, which, among other things, made me aware that there were “moves” and what were they and how were they executed? In the lyric, the narrator talks about night movin’ in backrooms and alleys and woods, all of it very dirty and foreign and thrilling, yet, alas, confusing: the only backroom I knew was my dad’s workshop and every alleyway I’d seen was greasy and strewn with garbage and the woods were dark and murderous and, besides, where were you supposed to do it outside? In a tree? On a rock? On a path pebbled with rocks and sticks? The lyric starts by talking about the awkwardness of sex, but it’s not long before the couple in the song are doing it anywhere they can. I always wished Bob Seger– or the song’s protagonist– had been left scratching his head, like I was, but I suppose that’s why he was a star singer with songs on the radio: he could dispense with uncertainty and adapt to his situation wherever and however required. Another thing that confused: Bob Seger’s voice. He was singing about being young and making out and groping around, yet the story was told in a husky, deep, gravel-dust voice, as if the character in the song was on the other side of youth, having morphed into your uncle, or the guy next door, or the old shopkeeper down at the hardware store. Maybe, after all that, “Night Moves” was a cautionary tale: no matter how lucky you get or how capable your night moves, we all end up like The Seeg: a fat dude in a beard and leather coat with only memories to sustain us. “Better to wait” was the lesson I learned. A downstairs couch, a family bed, a nice sedan with leather interior. Best to make it count. We all end up in the same place, anyhow.

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