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Monday, 04 September 2017


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Lovely post, thank you.

Never owned one of their albums---I was a jazz hound before I listened to rock, so I didn't need that intro--- but like you Mike their music was a soundtrack to particular moments of my life, indelible. All things must pass.

I’m convinced that Steely Dan were the best American rock band period. I used to work with a guy who spent his days in a darkened office writing code to the sound of Steely Dan. You could hear him tapping away over the music, his face lit only by the screen. He claimed the intelligence of their music helped him write better software. Maybe so, they certainly helped me achieve a state of flow when coding.

My biggest frustration with Steely Dan is that the sound quality of many of the CD releases is subpar.

I had to laugh when you said "I'd do it if it were me," because the first thing I thought is that TOP is a bit of a nostalgia act, even down to the somewhat old fashioned blog format. And I suppose if you changed things radically we'd protest and want you to play more of your old hits, so to speak.

I fully understand the appeal of Steely Dan, and some other slick 70's bands as well (even, gasp, The Eagles).

Thanks for your post Mike and I'm of like mind. There is a Rickie Lee Jones farewell somewhere on the web for those interested.

I must say Walter Becker's passing came out of the blue, as some of these icon/hero (choose your metaphor) deaths do. We've entered into an era of allot of these deaths.

I was fortunate enough to have seen one of the Steely Dan Beacon Theater "full album" shows about 6 years ago (we chose The Royal Scam). It was one of the best things I've ever spent any amount of money on.

The house lights dimmed, the band slipped into place in the dark, and a single spot illuminated an old red turntable on a stool. A lovely dressed woman (one of the backup singers) came into view, turned on the turntable and placed the stylus on the album. Vinyl crackle and hiss lasted 3 seconds and then wham - house lights on bright and they tore into Kid Charlemagne.

After the first side was finished, the house lights dimmed again, the single spotlight shined once again, the lovely hands turned over the vinyl, crackle..hiss.. and wham - Cold daring...No flies on me...

Pure genius at work, Walter will be sorely missed.

I have always found the music of Steely Dan to be interesting and pleasurable. What more can you ask of music? Looking back 40 years on their emergence it is easy to forget how radically different their music was from that of their contemporaries. I still listen to them on road trips.

Here is Donald Fagen's statement about the death of his collaborator and closest friend, Walter Becker:

"Walter Becker was my friend, my writing partner and my bandmate since we met as students at Bard College in 1967. We started writing nutty little tunes on an upright piano in a small sitting room in the lobby of Ward Manor, a mouldering old mansion on the Hudson River that the college used as a dorm.

We liked a lot of the same things: jazz (from the twenties through the mid-sixties), W.C. Fields, the Marx Brothers, science fiction, Nabokov, Kurt Vonnegut, Thomas Berger, and Robert Altman films come to mind. Also soul music and Chicago blues.

Walter had a very rough childhood — I’ll spare you the details. Luckily, he was smart as a whip, an excellent guitarist and a great songwriter. He was cynical about human nature, including his own, and hysterically funny. Like a lot of kids from fractured families, he had the knack of creative mimicry, reading people’s hidden psychology and transforming what he saw into bubbly, incisive art. He used to write letters (never meant to be sent) in my wife Libby’s singular voice that made the three of us collapse with laughter.

His habits got the best of him by the end of the seventies, and we lost touch for a while. In the eighties, when I was putting together the NY Rock and Soul Review with Libby, we hooked up again, revived the Steely Dan concept and developed another terrific band.

I intend to keep the music we created together alive as long as I can with the Steely Dan band."

Donald Fagen

September 3 2017

Thanks for the warm words about Walter Becker and the reminder about what Steely Dan's music meant at various points in our lives. Although many songs bring back instant but potent memories of places, smells, and feelings, it diminishes the music of Steely Dan a bit to classify it as nostalgia. Too bad your musical friend missed Steely Dan's musical sophistication. Even if their style wasn't one's favored one, the blending of various genres - jazz in particular - but classical influences as well - in a manner that just flowed easily can't be set aside as anything but a true original. Like many popular groups their star burned very bright before dimming, but unlike many popular groups, many of their best songs are memorable and remain fresh even today.

It seems Steely Dan could not run out of hits in the 70's. One after another they produced. I think my personal favorite from them was Josie. I admit it disturbs me a bit to see so many music greats of my younger years passing on.

Same here Michael - the Dan as the gateway drug to Jazz when I was (much) younger myself. Thanks for the nice obituary - wrote one myself as well.

Whenever asked my favorite musical group, I have said "Steely Dan" since I bought their first album in 1973. Probably always will.

I saw them once, in 1974, at Leeds Uni (UK). A good gig, as far as I remember. Controlled and precise - not your typical rock chaos. Yet also not over-rehearsed, not too exact - they clearly had command of their music and their instruments, and gave the impression of being able to do whatever they wanted, if the fancy took them.

Over the years I've sought out their music on occasion, but strangely have tended to tire of it quite quickly. My memories of 'Reelin in the Years' or 'Do it Again' were better than the real thing, re-heard. Perhaps they were just a little too precise, too controlled, too smooth? But they were certainly a distinctive and memorable sound.

"I'd do it if it were me" ha!ha!ha!

My first contact with Fagen and Becker was at The Red Balloon, affectionally known as "Down the Road" a small coffee house in Barrytown where they played music with Chevy Chase on drums. As a student at Bard at the time my room at Ward Manor was next to the one shared with Becker and Fagen and my only personal conversation with either was one non-descript day when I came back to my dorm room to find DF sitting on my bed, something about them not being able to use their room. Fagen, Becker and Chase were all part of the in crowd at Bard socially speaking and I was in another, far less sexy universe. I learned recently that Fagen, who is one week older than me, grew up in the same town I grew up in. How did I not know that?

If people can root for a sports team for no other reason than they are from the same city then I have reason for a fondness of B/F's music. But for me, their jazzy swing rock and story driven quirky lyrics have always entranced me.

Walter's death reminds me once again of the fragility of life. At one time my own life seemed to be coming to an end I made a certain contribution to TOP but fortunately I lived through that sobering time. For Mike that might explain something he didn't understand until now. Or not. Walter's death has catapulted me into thoughts of the strange twists and turns my life has taken.

For fans of Steely Dan DF has a new album out which I think captures the spirit of earlier DF albums and those belonging to the Steely Dan branded work. It's my understanding that though the two stopped working together at one point they have always had an influence on each other's solo work.

It must be a difficult time for Fagen. I know that myriad of folks, like me, are playing through their Steely Dan, DF and WB collections.

Their name always sounded to me like an attempt to just-skim trademark infringement territory on one of my favorite groups, Steeleye Span. For that and other reasons I've never actual heard anything of theirs (at least knowingly; could have been Muzack, mix tape at a party, or whatever and I didn't know). (Jazz and its related areas are also very much not my interest, and their fame included bringing some of that back into pop.)

Looking back, I think Vince Guaraldi probably contributed to my appreciation of jazz before I knew what it was. Our family watched “A Charlie Brown Christmas” every year without fail. In High School, Steely Dan prompted me to explore jazz in more detail. I’ve always loved their music and am probably one of the few who bought Walters 1994 solo release, “11 Tracks of Whack”. There is a track on that CD named "Book of Liars" that has remained wedged in my brain. Even though it's a sad song, the bit about Santa always makes me smile.

Santa Claus came in
Late last night
Drunk on Christmas wine
Fell down hard in the driveway
Hung his bag out on the laundry line

I am of the same year, 1950.
Great band, always loved the music and I sang along, though I never knew what their texts were about. Only very recently I downloaded IOS app 'Genius', that gives both lyrics and their meaning.

If you can find a copy, their DVD "Plush TV Jazz Rock party In Sensuous Surround Sound" from 2000 has a typically arch interview recorded in a rolling taxi; it contains as much as we'll ever know about Walter Becker.

Well, maybe not everything...this reminiscence by Ricky Lee Jones is also terrific: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/read-rickie-lee-jones-poignant-tribute-to-walter-becker-w501078

Ahh blast it...a correction: taxi interview is on the Everything Must Go DVD from 2003...but it's also on YouTube (for now) right here: https://youtu.be/dimyNC1BytY

These guys wrote/write character studies, not typical straight ahead pop songs, but few of the many writers reflecting on Becker's death seem to get that. To me, that is what makes them truly great. Yeah, they were/are great musicians, but a lot of their stuff sounds like jazz for people who will never get jazz. Lyrically though, they're rare geniuses. The loser drug dealer/Hollywood hanger on in "Glamour Profession" is as fully realized and memorable as any character I've heard, seen or read anywhere, a perfect archetype of a given place and time.

I remember first hearing "Reeling in..." so clearly years ago. I have never understood people who claimed to " be into music" and didn't like SD. And there are lots of them. Go figure. DF has a book, ----Hipsters or something, but for free on Amazon, you can read one of his essays about early jazz vocalists, great insight into some of his influences.
I did read the Rickie Lee Jones piece, which was actually hilarious because it's 90% about HER, and 10% about Becker!
Can I also put in a plug for DF's solo album, Nightfly. A masterpiece.
Thanks Michael for creating such a friendly place where this exchange can happen. Thanks Walter. You'll be missed.

responding to an aside you made...howe gelb's "The Band of Blackie Ranchette"...is worth a close listen.......it was my first exposure to lucinda williams...plus it is right on the border of country western....only it is sort of deconstructed........

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