That's why I'm goin to Katmandu
Up to the mountains where I'm going to
If I ever get out of here
That's what I'm gonna do
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Apparently, even the yearning for peace and tranquility is transmuted into ass-kicking rock and roll within the mind of Bob Seger.
The growling vocals and honk-tonk piano of Seger's "Katmandu" make the location sound like a city of drunken debauchery and lasciviousness. While air-guitaring around the living and kicking over imaginary amps, one can very easily overlook the fact that (1) Kathmandu is a real place, and (2) it's the capital of Nepal, which was the birthplace of Gautama Buddha and one of the modern centers of Buddhism. In short, Kathmandu isn't actually a particularly raucous party town.
It's clear, going by the lyrics, that Seger was perfectly cognizant of where and what the real Kathmandu is. In the song, he's talking about how he's fed up with the hectic pace of American life. He assures us that he loves all the regions of his native country, but that he's not feeling happy anymore. He wants to escape into the tranquility of the Nepalese mountains to be true to himself and stop "being blue."Durbar Square, Kathmandu
Photo: Florian Blümm, Dreamstime
Just about everyone can relate to Seger's sentiments at some point in their lives. Surrounded day and night by technology, by the highway sounds, by people's demands, a longing for a simpler and quieter life is basically a ubiquitous aspect of our modern lives. Kathmandu makes an excellent choice for the fulfillment of that longing.
Situated in the Himalayas, Nepal is a place of ancient architecture and stunning vistas, as well as an area of great importance to the Buddhist faith. It has had a thriving tourist industry since the 1950s, when it became more readily accessible by plane. Throughout the 1960s and '70s, it was a popular destination for hippies seeking an "authentic" spiritual experience, so much so that the Jhochen Tol neighborhood is still known by many today as Freak Street.
Seger's "Katmandu" was released on the Beautiful Loser
loser album in 1975, so it's very possible that Seger was aware of all the other rock stars who were visiting Nepal and Tibet at that time and was thinking of doing the same. Or perhaps he was mocking them. Or maybe it was just intended to be a fun song about wanting to get the hell out of his life and visit a place as far away and isolated as he could possibly get. The juxtaposition of the hard-rocking sound and its contemplative lyrics make it impossible to know how "deep" the intent of the song really was.
Whatever feeling Seger was trying to communicate with the song, "Katmandu" certainly found favor on the radio. It was the album's highest-charting single, reaching #43 on the Billboard Hot 100 and helping Beautiful Loser
achieve platinum status. A live version of the song was later released on 1976's Live Bullet
, which was recorded at the famous Cobo Hall in Detroit, Michigan. The song has appeared in the film Mask
and the television shows "Supernatural" and "Freaks and Geeks."
"Katmandu" is still played frequently today on many classic rock stations and is one of Seger's most recognizable songs. On any given day in America, there is almost certainly at least one person out there on the highway jamming out to the tune in their car, dreaming of escaping rush hour and disappearing into the mountains of Kathmandu. Whether or not this hypothetical person actually knows where that place is or what it means is an entirely different story.Jeff Suwak
January 8, 2016
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