We took a blood oath to do that back in the oddest year of all.
July 18, 2013 1:39 PM   Subscribe

Donald Fagen and Walter Becker have given an interview to Rolling Stone to promote Steely Dan's upcoming tour. Becker and Fagen developed a reputation for messing with the media in the '70s, and Becker keeps the practice alive in this interview.

Fagen also mentioned in that there is a potential for performing the entirety of Countdown to Ecstasy on top of Gaucho, The Royal Scam and Aja during the course of the Mood Swings tour.
posted by banal evil (60 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well, the White Stripes were a group. There's just two of them.
Oh, what an unfortunate example.

They're obviously very different, but . . .
Jesus Christ. Go ahead and tear my heart out.
posted by chavenet at 2:00 PM on July 18, 2013


Good stuff. If they play Countdown to Ecstasy in its entirety when I see them in a few weeks they can talk as much shit about the audience as they please.
posted by evisceratordeath at 2:06 PM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Talking shit about the audience is one thing, giving the audience what they pay fir is another. I saw them in the 90s in their first reunion tour. It was disappointing. Hugely disappointing. Hopefully they"ll bother to practice this time before hitting the road.
posted by three blind mice at 2:17 PM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


You dismiss anyone born after 1960 as "TV babies" since TV has rotted their brains, but the older ones you dismiss as petrified mummies on slabs. You even say you feel that you're sometimes playing to nursing homes and you should be calling out the Bingo numbers instead of singing songs.

OUCH!
posted by bukvich at 2:27 PM on July 18, 2013


Steely Dan is one long, elaborate troll. It's not restricted to interviews. Also, it says a lot about Mr. Yacht Rock that he shits on something he's admittedly never heard.
posted by basicchannel at 2:28 PM on July 18, 2013


Yeah, about all this interview is missing is "Get off my lawn!", sung in an ironic minor key.
posted by mosk at 2:29 PM on July 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, I think if some legitimately great music ever ran into the sound from a Steely Dan song there would be only silence.
posted by basicchannel at 2:35 PM on July 18, 2013


Also, I think if some legitimately great music ever ran into the sound from a Steely Dan song there would be only silence.

Do, please, provide us with a list of all the "legitimately great music." It would be horrible to waste our time on anything else.
posted by yoink at 2:46 PM on July 18, 2013 [8 favorites]


A mewling cat exhaling it's final tortured breath is more exciting and alive, is all I meant.
posted by basicchannel at 2:52 PM on July 18, 2013


You have some real weird rage about Steely Dan.
posted by logicpunk at 3:07 PM on July 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


A mewling cat exhaling it's final tortured breath is more exciting and alive, is all I meant.

Wow, cool edgy opinion, man! Maybe try a different thread?
posted by evisceratordeath at 3:08 PM on July 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


A mewling cat exhaling it's final tortured breath is more exciting and alive, is all I meant.

Yes but they'd just add a second and then you'd have a -ling cat. You cannot win.
posted by hal9k at 3:09 PM on July 18, 2013 [10 favorites]


I think if some legitimately great music ever ran into the sound from a Steely Dan song there would be only silence.

That hasn't been my experience.
posted by box at 3:15 PM on July 18, 2013


Uptown baby, uptown baby!
posted by box at 3:16 PM on July 18, 2013


Hey kids, who wants to feel really old before their time?!

So, back in the year 2001 I was in class in high school and our teacher, a big Steely Dan fan, brought up the Grammy awards show from the night before, where the group had one a few. I'm pretty sure I was the only person in class who knew who they were. In fact, one girl in class was complaining quite loudly that "Stanley Dan, whoever they are" beat out some better-known pop artist of the month for best album or whatever it was.
posted by backseatpilot at 3:19 PM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Who's better for this than Plug One?
posted by box at 3:19 PM on July 18, 2013


Old? Man, you're so old, you don't even know who Esperanza Spalding is.
posted by box at 3:21 PM on July 18, 2013


> Not the same kind of fairs as Three Dog Night.

Three Dog Night still exists?

*googles*

Huh. Are there any Boomer bands that have actually broken up...like, for good?
posted by The Card Cheat at 3:30 PM on July 18, 2013


Also, I think if some legitimately great music ever ran into the sound from a Steely Dan song there would be only silence.

Take your big black cow and get outta here.
posted by porn in the woods at 3:34 PM on July 18, 2013 [9 favorites]


Even when Steely Dan were supremely popular among the irritating Hacky Sack/jam-band contingent in my (early-'90s) high school, I understood from their interviews that they were supremely intelligent and operating on a much deeper level than their unfashionable sound revealed at first blush. There are certainly folks who think their brand of silky-smooth cynicism is as much of a '70s cliche as their AM radio hits, but I think it bears remembering that they basically invented this formula, and it's not really fair to hate them for their piss-poor imitators. (Joni Mitchell spawned cubic fucktons of precious, self-absorbed, genteel folksy songwriters of both genders, but none of 'em ever made Hejira or The Hissing of Summer Lawns.) I only wish I could find their hilarious "Touring Rules of the Road" that they excerpted in Q Magazine sometime around 1992...
posted by mykescipark at 3:37 PM on July 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Also, I think if some legitimately great music ever ran into the sound from a Steely Dan song there would be only silence.


Spoken like someone who listens to music for how it makes him appear to other people than for, ya know, the music itself.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 3:38 PM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


> Huh. Are there any Boomer bands that have actually broken up...like, for good?

Social Security doesn't go very far these days. Especially if you never paid in.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:12 PM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Spoken like someone who listens to music for how it makes him appear to other people than for, ya know, the music itself.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 3:38 PM on July 18 [+] [!]


That doesn't even make sense. How does that have anything to do with appearance? I like all kinds of stuff, but I hate this band. I've tried to have a sense of humor about it. Apparently, Steely Dan has a sense of humor. Where's yours?

I happen to be listening to Neil Young (After the Gold Rush) right now. Maybe Ty Segall next. Have at me!
posted by basicchannel at 4:34 PM on July 18, 2013


Turn up the Eagles, the neighbors are listening!
posted by STFUDonnie at 4:51 PM on July 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Sometimes it's hard to tell these geriatric people apart from the the farm animals, actually. It's all assisted living."

Becker's funny, but without Fagen semi-seriously answering some questions then laying out some weirdness like the quote above, it would have been kind of pointless.
posted by morganw at 4:54 PM on July 18, 2013


My name is Dr. Wu, and I approve of this post.
posted by Dr. Wu at 5:00 PM on July 18, 2013 [10 favorites]


I realized how smart Steely Dan were on a Behind the Music when they talked about staying up all night talking about Dylan. 'Deacon Blues' breaks my heart, and in Sleeping Dogs you can sing Reeling in the Years for kareoke. I suspect as I grow older I'll love them more.

I think it also has to do with the culture. People just aren't really interested in actual songs that have the sort of musical values that we've espoused anymore. They're more interested in videos or songs where the celebrity or personality of the artist is more interesting than any actual musical values. That's just the way the cultural ball bounces.



this is true, not sarcastic
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 5:05 PM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I happen to be listening to Neil Young (After the Gold Rush) right now. Maybe Ty Segall next. Have at me!

Do you have relatives in Barrytown?
posted by TheRedArmy at 5:08 PM on July 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


To be fair to Mr. Fagen and Mr. Becker, interviewers never approach them on their (higher) level. They all ask the same boring questions about their 'eccentricities' and never ask anything about the music itself, which operates on a very advanced level and is complimented by not just literate but literary lyrics, which also no one asks about.

And they do those two things while still, even today, pumping out straight up solid, infections, memorable choruses. This is why they are good. But no one ever asks about that stuff. I would get tired too. They're iconoclastic and notorious, yes, but those things are not the point of the music itself.
posted by TheRedArmy at 5:13 PM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, you have to understand that our songs are not covered very often. They're very personal and, generally speaking, we came from a kind of ironic standpoint where pop singers really don't do them. We don't get that kind of coverage

Surely they get some money for all the times they're sampled in hip hop?
posted by Hoopo at 5:22 PM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


...not just literate but literary lyrics, which also no one asks about.

This. IMO Katy Lied and The Royal Scam are like an exquisite short story collection merged with very technical rock/jazz fusion. And, although they may be an acquired taste, Fagen's vocals make for a damn good unreliable narrator.

I want to read the sci-fi novel that goes along with Sign In Stranger
posted by banal evil at 5:25 PM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I suspect as I grow older I'll love them more.

I loved them early (Aja was one of the first albums I owned) but didn't get them until I moved toward middle age. I'm very much looking forward to seeing them on this tour, and don't care if that makes me uncool or whatever.

...not just literate but literary lyrics, which also no one asks about.

One of the factors of falling in love with them was that I was a little nerdy Edith-Hamilton-reading kid and, well, Home at Last. Hey, I didn't know popular music covered this stuff!
posted by immlass at 5:27 PM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's not like I ever expected their interviews to articulate respect for their listeners. The whole Steely Dan concept was to prove what suckers we are, right?

I felt like their pride in the quality of the music was respect enough.

Speaking of covers, I do "Dirty Work" on guitar -- just the chords. It's a great sign-along. I've never bothered to learn the solo. "Pretzel Logic" was my first thumping left hand blues song on piano. "Black Friday" never stops rocking, even though nobody ever knows where Muswellbrook is.

If anyone has a scanned-in version of the OLD Greatest Hits songbook (Columbia Records, circa 1982) I'll give you a dolla and my undying devotion. I've been trying to find it since a mean girlfriend ripped it up. The current Greatest Hits songbook is a weak substitute.
posted by surplus at 5:59 PM on July 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


When The Dan were interviewed in Creem Magazine back in the day, they announced a new brand of grey dog food, because they liked the colour grey.
posted by ovvl at 6:06 PM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, I think if some legitimately great music ever ran into the sound from a Steely Dan song there would be only silence.

The first album's shockingly good ... but they managed to turn into something akin to a violent allergy by the time Aja hit. All that finesse and smoothness just made me want to hurt somebody. Maybe it was just the company that album kept -- really big with some of the more obnoxious cokeheads I knew.
posted by philip-random at 6:09 PM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm very much looking forward to seeing them on this tour, and don't care if that makes me uncool or whatever.

Don't expect too much immlass. Steely Dan was a studio band and unless they bring people like Larry Carlton, Wayne Shorter, Lee Ritenour, or Tom Scott along, it's not the same. Becker and Fagen were able to attract some serious talent to play on their LPs and that says more for the band and the music than all the haters can take away. You can't be uncool and have Wayne Shorter play saxophone for you.
posted by three blind mice at 6:40 PM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Don't expect too much immlass. Steely Dan was a studio band and unless they bring people like Larry Carlton, Wayne Shorter, Lee Ritenour, or Tom Scott along, it's not the same. Becker and Fagen were able to attract some serious talent to play on their LPs and that says more for the band and the music than all the haters can take away. You can't be uncool and have Wayne Shorter play saxophone for you.
posted by three blind mice at 6:40 PM on July 18 [+] [!]


I mostly talk about house/techno/trance/beepbeepboopboop here on the blue, so it may surprise some that I'm a serious fan of the Dan. I saw them in 2001, and they had absolutely top-shelf players backing them up. Still one of the best concerts I've been to, ever.
posted by tantrumthecat at 7:16 PM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Steely Dan doesn't have Larry Carlton, Wayne Shorter, Lee Ritenour, or Tom Scott on tour with them, but the people they do have (or have had) with them are no slouches. Freddy Washington on bass, Keith Carlock on drums, Jon Herrington on guitar, Jim Beard on keyboards, the late Cornelius Bumpus on sax, etc. You'll definitely get musicianship on the same level as on the recordings.
posted by jonathanhughes at 7:19 PM on July 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh heck yes, the band I saw a couple of years ago was absolutely stuffed with top shelf players. The live sound was also immaculate.
posted by Wolof at 7:31 PM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've seen them on several of their recent (since 2000) tours. Definitely no slouches; they put on a professional show. Age and treachery, etc.
posted by immlass at 7:46 PM on July 18, 2013


At the risk of wading into a music thread...

I don't really get the hate for Steely Dan's mastery of a polished sound. Yes I know that we live in an era where we applaud the DIY Youtube "watch this 5 year old play scales!" ethos. And hey I like the White Stripes. I even like Local H, whose records sound like you're listening through the wall while they play in the next room over.

But it's not about raw or polish, it's about commitment. I think people equate high production quality with some sort of fakeness or even laziness; Steely Dan is anything but. They were committed to their brand of gleaming, polished sound. And it's not just audio wankery -- their gift is in combining incredible musicality with an accessible, palate-pleasing sound while delivering complex, sardonic stories.

Maybe it rubs people the wrong way that Steely Dan think they are smarter than us and they don't hide it. That they can make pop songs while flexing musical, technical, and writing skills few can match. But they kind of are, and they do. Come on, listen to the 'cuervo gold' chorus at the end of Hey Nineteen. On a good stereo. A really good stereo. On the surface it seems trivial, but that is some incredible craftsmanship.
posted by thebordella at 7:53 PM on July 18, 2013 [14 favorites]


Right on, thebordella. I'm always surprised by the comments about Steely Dan being too "polished" or too "perfect." If you listen closely (or better yet, if you hear the individual instrument tracks that they play in the "Aja" episode of the "Classic Albums"series), you'll hear a lot of things that definitely aren't perfect or polished. The sax solo in "Caves of Altamira" is pretty out of tune, there's a couple bum bass notes in a couple of songs, there's a garbage can lid being played in the background of Josie that's definitely not super precise, etc. etc. Those are all things that would be fixed in a few seconds with autotune or or beat detective in modern music. Even if you're not hearing the stereotypical auto tune sound, it could very well be being used. And it's pretty safe to assume that the timing of drum parts on most things you listen to have been adjusted. Maybe not to a machine-like grid, but certainly enough to make the drummer sound a lot more precise than he or she really is.

The VAST majority of the music that has come out in the last 15 years is far more precise and polished than Steely Dan was. Was Steely Dan more polished than other music of the time? Maybe some, but certainly not more than the Eagles (a band who I personally find to be completely lifeless, and also share The Dude's hatred for), and certainly not more than most "AM Gold" acts like Seals & Crofts, Ace, The Little River Band, Ambrosia, etc. All those bands featured great, solid musicianship and singers. I'd say in general (and I say this as a musician) that musicians and singers were just better back then. There was no autotune to hide behind,and with a limited number of tracks at your disposal, you couldn't sing a track 50 times and pick out the best parts (well, you could, but not easily or cost effectively).

So if you don't like Steely Dan's music or Donald Fagen's voice, that's cool. But singling them out for being too perfect doesn't make any sense, especially in context of music that was even more popular than them at the time (and more popular now).
posted by jonathanhughes at 8:36 PM on July 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Saw them do Aja a few years ago. Fagan's voice is thin, but other than that they rocked.
posted by eyeballkid at 8:59 PM on July 18, 2013


For some great Steely covers… I really like SARA ISAKSSON & REBECKA TÖRNQVIST

Rose Darling

Barrytown

… the Dan abides.
posted by jabo at 9:14 PM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've spent a good portion of my idle time over the last five years with the headphones on, attempting to learn all the bass parts to Royal Scam, Aja and Gaucho by ear, only partially successfully. (i'm doing one side project now that's playing Home at Last, and it's a blast) Their chord progressions are absolute mindfucks - I still can't even tell you what key Babylon Sisters is in, but I do know that it uses all 11 semitones as a chord root at some point. They literally used all the notes. When I'm just practicing to practice and keep in shape, I'll often start out with the song Aja becaue it's not difficult to finger due to the languid tempo, but it has got. To. Be. Precise. That thing Chuck Rainey played, they didn't call it a Precision for nothing. The little timing things they do in that song are just amazing, especially the few bars leading up to the crazy drum solo/sax solo bit where the rest of the band just does the stabs - I learned the notes in 10 minutes, but it took me weeks to play them in the right places. I've learned so much about the concept of the technical mastery of my instument from them, just by listening intently.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:22 PM on July 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


Steely Dan on the Midnight Special 1973

Do It Again

Reelin in the Years Intro by the Cos.
posted by jabo at 9:53 PM on July 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't know why, but I really like Ivy's cover of "Only a Fool Would Say That even though I think it is practically Muzak, as in, it's apparently commonly played in drugstores and the like.

I never though of them as literary. The lyrics really seem to try to be too clever. It's like bad Dylan from another dimension. "The man is wise, you are like an outlaw in his eyes" from Kid Charlemange sometimes makes me laugh out loud. Half the songs on "Everything Must Go" have lyrics that border on self-parody, "Godwacker" and "Pixeleen" are particularly funny. They really can't be serious with some of it.
posted by jclarkin at 10:23 PM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


They are pretty funny. Even funnier than the people ragging on them in This thread. Listen to Gaucho, it's one of the funniest surrealist songs. "Bodacious cowboys such as your friend will never be welcome here, high in the Custerdome". Gold!

If you like the sound of steely dan but want it cut up into electronic music, try Gabe is the Devil.

If you've read this far, you probably know about the Steely Dan Dictionary already.

Another fun fact, if you like William Gibson novels, watch for the Dan references he slips in here and there.
posted by artlung at 12:35 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you like the sound of steely dan but want butchered and dull, try Gabe is the Devil.
posted by eyeballkid at 1:37 AM on July 19, 2013




I got no problem with the Steely Dan hate. Everybody has their tastes, and to some SD sounds like lite music. For the record, it isn't.

I think that an appreciation of SD's music is aided by a few things: 1) a technical understanding of music and/or music production; 2) a wry, cynical sense of humor; 3) an ability to be ok with not being adored by the band you paid to see $200(?) to see and 4) an understanding of the time/place they were from, preferably gained firsthand.

That said, I have little desire to see them live. SD will always be a studio band for me. Also see above wrt ticket prices.
posted by nowhere man at 7:04 AM on July 19, 2013


an understanding of the time/place they were from, preferably gained firsthand.

Yeah, there's something to this. Having grown up in the 70's left coast counter-culture & literary/art/music scene, I can follow the ideas behind songs like Kid Charlemagne, Gaucho & Time out of Mind pretty easily. they've never really seemed cryptic to me --it's obvious that they're kinda myth-making & obfuscating real place & people names, but it seems pretty real.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:32 AM on July 19, 2013


Steely Dan on the Midnight Special 1973

I saw this at the time. I would've been thirteen or fourteen. As I recall, Do It Again was already a hit, but it was the first time I ever heard Reeling In The Years, which sounded entirely fresh at the time. And it still does, particularly once the band kicks into overdrive toward the end. Which is a big part of why I find subsequent Steely Dan stuff so ... whatever.

All polish and sophistication ... precious little earthshaking WOW.
posted by philip-random at 8:48 AM on July 19, 2013


an understanding of the time/place they were from, preferably gained firsthand

As a history nerd, I find them an entree to a time and place that I was a little (or a lot) too young to get at the time the songs came out. Sometimes you have to research if you weren't there, or have it explained to you; I have to do that for other older music (from early in the 20th century, to opera, to medieval music) so I don't personally find that a huge barrier to entry, but I also like some depth in my catalog as well as some breadth.

It's been very interesting watching some of my music snob friends age into the Dan as their interest in production and lyrical complexity increases. I tend to find a music snob's attitude toward Steely Dan telling. There are plenty of taste reasons for not liking Steely Dan, and for not wanting to get into them, but people who dismiss them as too easy and simple just get an eyebrow and a checkmark for "don't really try to get into discussions with this person about music".
posted by immlass at 9:38 AM on July 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


"dolla"

What a disaster. I meant piaster.
posted by surplus at 10:40 AM on July 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Also, I think if some legitimately great music ever ran into the sound from a Steely Dan song there would be only silence.

I'm hearing a Bernard Purdie shuffle in my head that goes:

Sticks... uhn uhn uh chaaa
And stones... uhn uhn uh cha cha
Can break... uhn uhn uh cha
My bones... uhn uhn uh cha cha
posted by hal9k at 10:42 AM on July 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


For keyboard players, try reading through the "Two Against Nature" and "Everything Must Go" songbooks. A mindblower. You'll very often find yourselves saying "this cant' possibly work" (yet it does), and "how does that set of chord changes possibly go there?" Yet they do -- and with utmost clarity and precision. Try "West of Hollywood" on for size. (Doing a transcription on your own would take a lot of doing and many hours). Fagen and Becker, as has been pointed out here, are consummate and studied musicians who came from a jazz background and successfully applied it to the RnB genre they also loved, and rock basis they grew up with -- and made it work spectacularly. Few bands, if any, did that for such a long time, and with so much consistency and aplomb. Just another reason why you can hear the albums over and over and discover new things each time. And they still groove.

Steely Dan are brilliant writers, and besides their own craftsmanship, know how to get the right musicians together to execute their deceptively difficult music. Those who are doing an album in their late-fifties (at the time) don't easily beat out Eminem for Album of The Year. Berklee School of Music does not hand out honorary doctorates to fools.

The fact that they can be so sardonic adds to their legendary mystiques and possible impression of cockiness. And why not? They survivors, and they're one of a kind, at least here at the Western World.
posted by Seekerofsplendor at 10:45 AM on July 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


If you like Steely Dan's wry lyrics and smooth intricate groove, don't miss Fagan's 2012 album Sunken Condos, especially Memorabilia and the opener Slinky Thing.
posted by nicwolff at 7:27 AM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


"There is a substantial body of opinion which holds that Countdown was the best Steely Dan album, bar none. Generally speaking, the type of person who typically holds this position is not the sort of individual you want sitting across the table from you at a dinner party, especially one where alcoholic beverages are being served. Nor would you be well advised to give one of these guys your email address or (gasp) your phone number. Should it happen that such a fan gets a hold of your street address or place of employment, you may as well call the police stalking squad straightway, before the situation deteriorates any further. You get, we trust, the general idea."
--Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, liner notes for 1998 re-issue


found @ 40 Year Itch ...
posted by philip-random at 10:32 AM on July 22, 2013


followup on that songbook request:

thank you Grangousier!
posted by surplus at 6:08 AM on July 30, 2013


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