Originally published April 2009
I lived in Florida for 10 years and though it could be a relatively cosmopolitan place because of the large number of Hispanics and northern Yankees living there, every now and you’d be reminded that you were, in fact, in the Deep South. It wasn’t just the gun shops, the Confederate flag bumper stickers on pick-up trucks, the signs on shop doors saying “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service” or even the fact that black people seemed to live in a completely different world from the white folks. There was also the drunken redneck straight out of Deliverance who staggered up to me in a bar one night and, because I had no idea what he was incoherently mumbling about, said to me “If you cain’t unnerstand what ah’m sayin’ then get the fuck out of mah country!” and punched me in the face. Or the guy in another bar who told me that the English weren’t worth a damn and the United States should never have gotten involved in WWII because it wasn’t their problem. When I said that the Holocaust was a pretty important problem for everyone he replied “Aw, them Jews were askin’ for trouble” which was my cue to move to another stool. As you can imagine, being a left-wing, urban sophisticate from London, there were times when I wondered what the hell I was doing there (easy answer actually: it was hot, it was cheap, and the girls loved my accent.)
The bar jukebox soundtrack to those days was usually some loud and leaden Rawk music of the hairy and chest-beating kind: Lynyrd Skynyrd, AC/DC, Metallica — you know, real man’s music — but the one record I really, really hated which always plays in my head when I think about the South is “Old Time Rock and Roll” by Bob Seger. The song probably doesn’t mean much to your average Brit (unless they’re familiar with this scene from Risky Business) but it was a popular blue-collar classic down there which always got the Good Ol’ Boys rocking and made me want catch the next plane home — or at least cleanse my ears with some Pet Shop Boys. It wasn’t just that it made Status Quo sound cutting edge, what made it worse than all the others was its proud declaration that modern music was rubbish which, mixed with the ambience of cheap watery beer, rusty pick-up trucks and chewing tobacco, sounded like the rallying cry for every reactionary redneck cracker who still thought the wrong side won the Civil War. The line “Don’t try to take me to a disco, you’ll never even get me out on the floor” always made me think of the theory that the whole “Disco Sucks!” movement in America was driven by racism and homophobia — in that context it might as well been called “Old Time Rock and Roll (And Not That Fag Shit).”
But I don’t want to dump on Bob Seger too much because — while I might be a liberal city boy who does like disco — the truth is I am also quite a fan of his 1978 album Stranger In Town even though it does contain the offending song. I really liked the single “Hollywood Nights” and used to own it on silver vinyl. I still think it’s a tremendous record which motors along with the same exhilarating rush you get from flooring an open-top Mustang and zooming down a highway. It almost makes me forgive him for the living hell he put me through with “Old Time Rock and Roll”. Well, not quite, I still have nightmares about that bloody record.
Download: Hollywood Nights – Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band (mp3)
PS: I should add, before I get a deluge of “How dare you!” comments, that I knew many wonderful, intelligent people in Florida, including my lovely wife who I met there. And I have been punched in pubs in London and Wales so there are arseholes everywhere.