30-Day Song Challenge, Day 30: A Song That Reminds You of Yourself
It’s been over a month since my last entry in the 30-Day Song Challenge, and almost six months since I started it. Time at long last to put an end to this.
I’ve given the final category a lot of thought, trying to find just the right selection for the big finish, the most flat-out autobiographical item yet: a song that reminds me of myself. I considered Bryan Adams’ “Summer of ’69”; Mellencamp’s “Small Town”; Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again”; Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark.” I thought about a relatively obscure song called “It’s Always Something” by my main man Rick Springfield. I even pondered a couple Jimmy Buffett tunes, even though I already used him earlier in this challenge. All of these possibilities seemed to capture aspects of myself, or particular memories or experiences, maybe a certain era of my life. But none of them felt quite right — or quite enough — to answer this final question.
I very nearly went with Eric Clapton’s “Rock and Roll Heart,” which has always felt like a sort of theme song for me. But in the end, I just kept coming back to an old Bob Seger tune. Well, technically two Seger tunes, although they’re best known in a medley form.
“Travelin’ Man” and “Beautiful Loser” both originated on a 1975 album recorded before Seger was widely known. The latter — the album’s title track — was released as a single, but it barely moved the needle, peaking at 103 on the Billboard chart. A year later, Seger and his Silver Bullet Band released one of the great concert recordings from the heyday of arena rock, Live Bullet; this album, along with Night Moves the same year, finally brought Seger to mainstream popularity. While Live Bullet didn’t generate any top-40 hits, a number of its tracks received heavy airplay on FM album-oriented rock stations, including the classic account of life on the road, “Turn the Page,” and the combined “Travelin’ Man/Beautiful Loser.”
I don’t remember when I first heard it… maybe in my early teens? I do recall that it was the first half of the medley that caught my fancy in those days. I liked the rhythm of it, the driving beat of the opening verses alternating with the quieter reflective bridge about memories. “Travelin’ Man” was aspirational for me, with its images of the open road and a rich, colorful romantic history. That was what teenage me wanted to be, a rogue and a footloose scoundrel with a girl in every port. If I’m being honest, I still have moments when that sounds pretty good. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that it’s the second half of the song that more accurately reflects the adult I became.
Not that I think of myself as a loser, necessarily, at least not on the good days. But the couplets illustrating the contradictory desires of the song’s protagonist strike pretty close to home:
He wants to dream like a young man
With the wisdom of an old man
He wants his home and security
He wants to live like a sailor at sea
That’s me in a nutshell. Pulled in so many different directions, wanting so many different things, all at the same time. My inability to just pick one and go for it is probably my greatest failure. I’ve always feared making the wrong choice and finding myself unable to back out of it, so I tried to avoid making the choice at all. And now I’m 51 years old, and I struggle nearly every day not to feel completely disappointed in myself.
What’s that,? This post is depressing, you say? Yeah, maybe it is. But I’m just being honest. This is who I am and where I am at this point of my life. At least I’ve got a good rock-and-roll song to underscore it.
There is no video per se for this tune. There are a lot of clips of Seger performing it live, but they were evidently all recorded on smartphones, so the sound is dodgy at best. As it seems to me that the whole point of this Song Challenge thing is to actually share the music, I’m opting to go with a clip that doesn’t have much happening visually but which captures the original experience of hearing the music in all its analog glory. Here it is, taken directly from the Live Bullet LP. Enjoy…