“All night long, we would sing that stupid song, and every word we sang I know was true.” – “Dr Wu,” Walter Becker, Donald Fagen
Walter Becker is dead.
I have to keep repeating this to myself because something in my psyche rebels at the thought. Steely Dan has been one of the touchstone bands of my life. Though Becker’s death comes as the latest in a long string of musicians’ deaths since early 2016 and 2017 has continued this sad trend, like any other fan the loss of some musicians feels more personal than others. Steely Dan is rock for smart people who have to live in a world that detests smart people. Wasn’t it Lennon who said something about being hated if you’re clever?
In Steely Dan, Walter Becker and his partner Donald Fagen created some of rock’s most complex, most intellectual songs. They are also some of rock’s darkest, giving voice to the disenchanted, the cynical, those who, to paraphrase, want a name when they lose. Nothing illustrates this more simply and clearly than examples, so here we go….
Steely Dan’s work is, as this essay suggests, often considered the progenitor of college rock. I have never understood this – given what they have to say here:
Something Becker and Fagen were masterful in explaining is how lives of quiet desperation spin out of control:
Then, of course, there’s our search to understand ourselves. We turn to professionals for guidance and counsel but sometimes get led astray, as The Dan remind us:
And then, of course, we have that most adult of realizations – things are simply fucked up, and if we had any sense we’d simply go do what we really want to do, but of course we talk about doing just that but never do anything:
Finally, put as simply as possible, we never learn. Things go sideways and we go right back and…
An interviewer once asked Walter Becker to name his favorite Steely Dan album. With his cynical smirk, Becker replied coolly, Kind of Blue.
So, beloved Walter, thanks for getting me through the seventies. Here’s a track from your favorite Steely Dan album:
Remember, friends, there’s golf at noon for free….