Stephanie Barber, Night Moves, Publishing Genius, 2013
Reviewed by Patrick Gaughan
First of all, I would like to say "Night Moves," by Bob Seger, is a great song.
"'This is the most Timeless and emotion provoking song ever'"
"'This is how you tastefully make a song about sex…take notes, rappers of the world'"
Stephanie Barber published a book called Night Moves. The book's content is the YouTube comment thread which flows below Seger's song.
One could say Barber transcribed the book. Edited and arranged the book. Put a frame around the comments and made them a book, a work of conceptual writing.
"'you are a person who doesn't understand good music. Why don"t you go listen to LadyGaGa'" and "'got me knocked up in 84'" for 75 pages.
Night Moves is a system of portraits like a wall of Norman Rockwell illustrations. They tell the story of a certain kind of life in America.
Occasionally, Seger-haters and casual listeners appear, but this is the story of a tribe. The song's fans (many commenters disclose their age, which range from 14 to 81) are nostalgic, witty, clueless, sentimental, ungrammatical, close-minded, short-sighted, but ultimately, captivating and endearing, a testament to the unifying power of a pop song.
These are Bob's people.
"'I Remember too Bob. When I was young, the night moves was my favorite game! I suppose we have all been there once, with that special some one. Sometimes, when I look back now, the memories are cloudy. It seems so many years since I was young. Then I hear one of your songs............and I Remember!'" I can see this middle-aged man bathed in desktop screenlight in his basement, leaning back in the chair, daydreaming away a summer night to Seger's crooning.
"'I was in a biker bar once, put this on, made a few friends because of that choice :))'" Can you see him sighing relief as bikers nod and tap their feet to his jukebox choice, clink their chilled Bud with his?
Vanessa Place says, "Current conceptual writing concretizes time and space like stills froma digital video."
Words like "biker bar," names like "GaGa," or phrases like "knocked up" are all "tethered to a presumed awareness of the referenced object."
An object in a text points outward.
Grammatical errors point. Excessive reminiscing points. "'this is a panty dropper right here'" points.
The comments also catalog how commenters came across the YouTube page, creating a vortex of cultural referent centered around "Night Moves." The shows How I Met Your Mother, Top Gear, and The OC featured "Night Moves." In an episode of 30 Rock, Tina Fey sits on her couch in a Snuggie with a block of cheese. She sings, "Working on mynight cheese."
And this unavoidable pointing, this accumulation of association in conceptual writing, especially in Barber's book, does what an essay on Bob Seger or a novel about teenage lust could never do. This is not mimesis.
I go to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. A twelve minute documentary on Rockwell plays on loop. The narration says, "In a changing world, he was a reassuring guide." It says, "He has shown us to ourselves."