Stephanie Barber’s new book, NIGHT MOVES (Publishing Genius), is an exquisite corpse-style collection of YouTube comments on the Bob Seger classic. It is one long epistolary poem comprised of many short poems.
The text at once contains lost youth, a melancholic longing for past loves, as well as the potential for chaos, connection, vitriol and fun within the realm of internet anonymity. NIGHT MOVES also depicts the range of responses that one piece of art can elicit, from fierce loyalty to disdain, deeply personal symbolism to some shit that somebody found by way of 30 Rock. The question of what defines poetry — found, conceptual, or otherwise — and of who can be called a “poet” is never far from the surface. Here are a few excerpts:
To Julie… where ever you are. I STILL remember the first time I saw you in psychology class, 10th grade, spring of “76”. You made the nights move for me 77-78. I will carry those memories in my heart forever, and only stop, with the last beat of my heart….
points all her own sittin way up high… << what does that mean?
I can really relate to this song as I have a daughter that is a product of the “Night Moves” and you can bet that she knows it. She is still working on the “Night Moves” what a Gal!!
NYE – OH NO WERE NOT FAR FROM IT AND AUTUM CAN’T CLOSE IN BEFORE I HAVE U TO LOVE FOREVER!! NO BACK ALLEY TRUSTED WOODS FOR MY BABYGIRL ANY MORE, BECAUSE WE DO HAVE TOO MUCH TO LOSE!! I LOVE YOU !!DADDY!! I’m coming for you soon!! OUR LOVE WILL NEVER END! REMEMBER WHEN WE WERE LIKE THIS SONG ? IM SO GLAD WE WEVE FOUND EACH OTHER ONCE MORE. IM IN LOVE WITH YOU MORE N MORE EACH DAY! (PURE) DADDY
88 people didn’t get any in high school…
Gina will never know the truth
The 60,s from Nam to Woodstock you had to experience it.God Bless America
u gotta loveee bob segar u fag, it seems like you have devoted ur fag life into talkin about bob segar
hell, i’m 81 and i love this song. anyone who was ever young has to choke a little when you hear it. it’s the best anthem of youth ever written
got me knocked up in 84
wtf is a pie in the sky summit?
this song makes me so nostalgic it actually hurts
Me too man, me too
NIGHT MOVES is a strange combination of dusty Polaroid-old and lol-contemporary. It also presents an intersection between universality and pop, and the ways that pop culture can summon universal emotions or be, in itself, a shared experience. I don’t think this book would have worked so well had it centered around Rhiannon, Dream On, Show Me the Way, Slow Ride, Dream Weaver, Carry On Wayward Son, or any other classic from the same year. There is an inherent nostalgia in the song Night Moves, an awareness of itself aging, of “autumn closing in,” which makes it a catalyst for worshipful confessions from the lovers and hilarious takedowns from the haters. I asked Barber, a Baltimore filmmaker whose work has been screened at MOMA and The Tate Modern, some questions:
MB: So, why Night Moves? Were there other songs in the running, like a premeditated project, or did the inspiration for the book grow directly out of your encounter with the YouTube comments for Night Moves?
SB: Pretty directly out of the comments for this particular song. In 2011 I made a video which used YouTube comments scrolling over the images so in this way it was an idea I was already sort of smitten with but I was just so blown away by the variance in these Night Moves comments. There’s a pretty commensurate balance between elegance and schlock in both the song and the responses to the song. Or not exactly schlock, that is too dismissive a word. Sometimes schlock is something accrued naturally over time. Particularly in pop music. Supermarkets, traffic jams, commercial soundtracks. I have a 16mm film which follows this very fancified snail as it makes its way across the bottom of the ocean. After watching its plumage sway in the water for a while a voice-over informs us that this snail is actually just a regular snail and some algae and other plant life have made their home on its shell and then on the plant life other sea creatures have set up their homes. I imagine this snail a lot. Humans are like this, crawling across the earth with all this extra stuff on us. All these ideas and experiences. And, of course, art is like this so that Night Moves is whatever Bob Seger thought he was doing when creating the song as well as every cultural car wash and mud puddle the song has been traipsing through these last 30 or 40 years. It’s almost impossible to recognize it. So, not schlock but something like a cultural, sexual mirror vibrating expected chords. I think of this kind of music as cultural Frankensteins, something you come upon accidentally, you don’t seek it out (or I don’t) it’s just out there in the world. Classic rock. And you can either get depressed listening or view it as an anthropological wonder, a super fun artifact that feels just a bit (and pleasantly) perverse. And these are how the comments read to me when gathered up in a big pile like this. Frankenstein, snail, mirror.
MB: Yes, the extra stuff. The extra stuff that you can’t take with you but somehow makes a life. The action of putting these comments into print lends an aura of the eternal to the human experiences centered around the song. This book definitely calls into question that which “the academy” might deem worthy of canonization and what poetry is.
SB: The academy is just sort of a too well organized closet for the extra stuff, you know. it’s all the same stuff and only the organization changes. this is my ludwig wittgenstein/martha stewart mash up. can you hear the super synchronous beat? i’m not trying to think about what is and what is not worthy as far as ‘art’ (i mean, i am actively trying NOT to think about this hierarchical paradigm in a very real way because naturally i do move through the world ONLY thinking about what is and is not ‘good’ (in terms of art) and that seems like such a childish way to contemplate these wickedly diverse human responses to existence. so, it is a big effort.) this book is (or, YouTube comments are) exciting beyond what is a good or not good piece of art because it is a pretty radically diverse platform for artistic reaction. so it is the audience that is being considered–not the piece itself.
MB: I hear the beat. So it’s like shining a spotlight on a crowd in order to excavate something more real? Or maybe not more real, but outside the constraints of what we have been encouraged to think of as art?
SB: well, now maybe this will sound like back tracking (back packing) but art has been at this place of looking back at the ‘audience’ for some time now. modernism is acne scarred with this inclusion. or reflection. that is nice, we can imagine the scope of what can and can not be considered art as panoramic or reactive and these two imaginings are sort of the same. (picture the pimply teenager looking in the mirror at the pimply teenager–these can be player and played to or should we allow for a parent leaning in the bathroom doorway they are simply the bathroom tableau. all parts of the same vision. your spotlight metaphor makes clear (oh i am sidestepping all sorts of puns) this notion of focus (cultural focus, academic focus, artistic focus) this simply shining a light onto one area and then another but, certainly, the parts that are NOT illuminated still exist. (here in this super smoothie of a metaphor are still art, we are just looking elsewhere.)
MB: Ok, to be honest, Night Moves always gave me butterfly tingles of romance in my stomach. But Bob affirms “we weren’t in love oh no far from it.” I wonder if the woman in the song, the black haired beauty, was really not in love. Like, did she want more than Bob was able to give but pretended to be cool with it? Or was she truly cool with it. Also, did she really “get her share” or did she fake? Chevy backseats are tough. I do feel, though, that the romance of the song centers more around the freedom and potentiality of youth than it does around the sex. Which comments moved you the most?
SB: yes, i fall for this song. i am sometimes repulsed by it (not the content as much as the programmatic musical form) but yea, i feel the tingles. i think it was just hearing a song about sex at a young age when all these other questions (pleasure parity!!??) were but dim buffalos on the post-apocalyptic american plains. and again, i think, and it’s something about where and how we experience ‘classic rock’, like at the supermarket or in the (different kind of) back seat with your dad driving and you hear this song and you know it’s about “sex” but what sex is is like, wow, such a mystery. such a thing we are waiting to want or waiting to be afraid of or however your kid mind was working it out it was a thing that was gonna occur……and what is it!!?? i promise you that the man to my left here at this generic book store coffee shop is reading a book entitled EROTICA at this very moment. anyway, there are so many many big chevy backseat cars from the seventies. all the monte carlos and the novas, the caprice and chevelles….i think chevy would probably be one of the best cars to mess around in. i’ve never experienced too much (any) car action. is that a real thing? but yes, the freedom or potential of youth which i think is the sort of active engagement in the construction of your (knowledge, personality, sexuality, future…) self. they’re constructing their sex styles which is communication and interpersonal dynamics and well, just our entire world view can be collapsed or read, in(to) the way we have sex or approach the concept of what sex is actually doing. so that it really IS about sex but sex really IS about freedom and potential. the potential to allow ourselves to feel pleasure?
i am equally moved by the comments which are earnestly, tenderly expressing a fondness for the remembered act as well as the really crass like “fuck you aussie” comments and the really tedious threadline which pulls through the whole book which is a desire people have to tell everyone where/how they first heard the song–a tv show, radio etc. the same exact lines come over and over again like a classic leitmotif of orientation. compositionally i love the balance between this sort of often repeated non-statement and the whiplash speed into which we are brought back to a very expulsive, super intimate statement.
MB: Car action is definitely real. I like your description of sex as “freedom and potential. the potential to allow ourselves to feel pleasure.” Or as Bob would say, “mysteries without any clues.” It feels very 70s. Like Bob looking back at 1960 through a 70s lens. I wonder if internet porn has altered some of that mystery for the groping teens today. One thing that touches me about this book is the way it approaches sense memory, and the way a song can frame — or romanticize — the past. Also, the way the repeat commenters form a sort of pattern poem. There is that one bro who keeps declaring his love to “Pam” who he got down with in her Dad’s barn. It’s like an ode. Was there a deliberate sequencing or did you go at random, and how did you decide what to cut and what not to cut?
SB: these are only from one youtube seger posting and in exactly the order they were written and no cutting at all.
MB: Care to reveal which one? Or is that a secret.
SB: hhmmm, just the “first” one. type in ‘bob seger night moves’ and the one that comes up with a picture of the ‘greatest hits’ album cover. it’s funny, i just went looking for it and got caught up in reading all the posts from the last bunch of months since i’d harvested.