Monday, September 4, 2017


I am reading and rereading the Facebook posts of several friends who are talking about Steely Dan in the light of Walter Becker's passing yesterday. It is almost impossible to describe how influential this band was to the music scene of the 1970's. Few musicians before or since have attained their level of technical excellence and originality, but even at the time, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen were known to be unabashed perfectionists.

Back in the day, we would sit around and talk about their music, how it so perfectly blended jazz and rock, how it spoke a language, both musically and lyrically, that spanned from the East Coast to the West. No one else seemed to be doing that. I have such good memories:

  • Hearing that unbelievable "Reeling in the Years" guitar solo for the first time while driving to high school my senior year and just sitting there frozen in place until the song was over
  • Listening to the "Countdown to Ecstasy" album on the roof of my friend Paul's house while sipping cheap beer
  • Asking that same Paul to play "Midnite Cruiser" over and over on his Marantz quadraphonic receiver
  • Hearing "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" in Klein's car one night on the way to dinner in Chicago and not finding out until twenty years later that the opening keyboard riff was actually taken from an old 1960's Horace Silver jazz tune
  • Witnessing my friend Dan's excitement when he burst into my dorm room at Northwestern waving his copy of "The Royal Scam" and yelling, "This is the best thing I have ever heard!"
  • Purchasing my very own copy of the classic "Aja" at Peaches Records in Memphis and taking it home, marveling at the glossy cover finish and impeccable music within
  • Listening to the cuts of "Gaucho" while driving up and down Manchester Boulevard while working in L.A. in late 1980, thinking how this band had taken me from high school to the working world

The music was, of course, only part of the magic. Consider the lyrics...even if you don't understand them all, which we didn't at the time and may never:
Double helix in the sky tonight
Throw out the hardware
Let's do it right
Aja, when all my dime dancin' is through
I run to you
Are you with me Doctor Wu,
Are you really just a shadow
Of the man that I once knew?
She is lovely, yes she's sly
And you're an ordinary guy
Bad sneakers and a Pina Colada my friend
Stompin' on the avenue
By Radio City with a
Transistor and a large sum of money to spend
Got a case of dynamite
I could hold out here all night
Yes I crossed my old man back in Oregon
Don't take me alive
Who is the gaucho amigo
Why is he standing
In your spangled leather poncho
And your elevator shoes?
I suppose I could go on and on, and even now as I type, I'm listening to "Aja" again. Every time, it's like the music is brand new, fresh and sophisticated. It made a difference. Generations of musicians will feel that influence, and we will go on listening. Donald Fagen says he will keep the music of Steely Dan going for as long as he is able. I hope that is a very long time, indeed.