Night Moves, by Stephanie Barber. Baltimore: Publishing Genius Press, 2013.
Stephanie Barber is a performance artist and filmmaker known for examining the relationship between audience and art. In her latest book, she’s furthers this idea by transcribing user comments from a Youtube video of Bob Seger’s “Night Moves.” She’s included 75 pages worth of comments, complete with typos, malapropisms, poor punctuation, basically warts and all, except most of the user names. Clearly, she's edited it to remove the "junk." But beyond that, it purports to be fairly authentic. So should Barber be credited as an author or an editor? An argument could be made for either. isn’t writing simply a collecting of ideas and experiences which frequently aren’t are own anyway? No? Well, I thought it was worth a shot.
At first thought, this project sounds like a trick, or maybe the joke is on the reader. One can’t help but wait for the other shoe of irony to drop. After all, seriously, Bob Seger? How vanilla can you get! And how passé. But reading through the comments, one is arrested by certain recurring themes: sure, there are a few people who’ve posted apparently simply to “see themselves talk” by posting negative comments simply to stir up a reaction. Some people simply quote certain lyrics that seem meaningful to them or question the meaning of certain lyrics. They argue over completely self-indulgent ideas like the value of rap music. Also, a few people posted simply to name-check some TV show or something else that referenced the song (kind of an "I was here") but most of the posters simply share their stories. They reference first loves, summer romances, parents who’ve turned them on to the song, experiences they’ve left far behind but which are brought back while listening to the song. There’s an honesty to these stories. In a sense, Barber has collected a series of brief love poems inspired by the song. The bulk of these people have come together in this forum to say that they were touched by this song, and there’s something really, profoundly beautiful in that.
Barber has actually done something pretty amazing. She’s divorced the crutch of irony from the project entirely. She’s also divorced herself; there’s little to tell us how she actually feels about any of this. Does she even like the song? Does it matter? These are simply people sharing stories about how this song affected them and remembering past times. It’s such a hokey idea, but it works. After reading the book, I thought about other songs this might work for, or other videos. It seems like such a simple idea, what Barber has done, and it works so well. But she’s the one who thought to do it. I wonder what Bob Seger would think about this project. In a way, I hope he never finds out.