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Old 09-03-2017, 02:24 PM
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MikeDinosaur MikeDinosaur is offline
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Default Walter Becker from Steely Dan has passed away

I think Steely Dan received some positive critical reappraisal around the time Kaputt came out, but it wasn't enough. They were musically adventurous people with a very odd, prickly sense of humor. The fact that they wrapped their stories of losers, addicts, and predators in the kind of soft rock that still blares out of 70s rock radio from time to time is, to a very specific kind of comedy nerd (me and five other people) one of the greatest achievements of that era. They are often lumped in with The Eagles, the Doobie Brothers, and the other yacht rock of the era, and that makes sense as far as their music and sound goes. But unlike The Eagles, Steely Dan did nothing to romanticize the values of the Boomer generation. Here, for instance, is their biography of Owsley Stanley, one of the inventors of LSD.



Their lyrics are intricate, full of veiled allusions to sci-fi stories and current events. They had seemingly no need to be understood or even liked, something I have always admired in an artist. While they are deeply cynical I find that their music also has a deep undercurrent of melancholy that makes their humor cut much deeper.

They are ironists. Much of the humor comes from the incongruity of their music and the dire content of their lyrics. You wouldn't guess from the cheery elevator funk here that they're talking about the way someone's search for the divine led him into a heroin addiction.


Whether you find that kind of incongruity amusing or pretentious probably defines whether you'll enjoy their music.

Anyway, Walter Becker has died. He was one of the two permanent members of the band from Pretzel Logic onward. If you have any interest in them I'd recommend starting out with Countdown to Ecstasy or Pretzel Logic, which still retain some of the positive qualities we'd normally associate with rock. From there it gets more yachty and the humor gets more buried in their puzzling lyrics. My favorite album of theirs is Gaucho but by then they were intentionally discouraging any kind of spontaneity or conventional melodies, and they don't show even the occasional flashes of sincerity you'd find in Aja with Deacon Blues. It's an album about the living dead, and the music reflects that.

RIP


Last edited by MikeDinosaur; 09-03-2017 at 02:58 PM.
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Old 09-05-2017, 09:42 AM
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Dang. I'd seen some footage of their more recent liveshows, and he really wasn't looking in the best of shape; this isn't a shock but it is a bit sad given how important they are musically.

The most fascinating thing to me about Steely Dan is how much of their music I didn't realize was theirs. I thought "Do It Again" was Santana, and I thought songs like "Aja" were by Joe Jackson (which is probably fair enough given that Joe Jackson obviously takes Don Fagen, the other Steely Dan guy, as a major inspiration/influence). Given their tendency to jump around and weave in-and-out between established genres, though, it's little wonder.

I don't think Becker tends to be as celebrated as Fagen, since I tend to hang out more with musicians in jazz contexts, and I think Becker was the rock/blues side of things more despite still sharing Fagen's interests in the life and times of the bebop musicians (Aja itself being a reflection on Charlie Parker's time in rehab). Still, Becker's solo work is fascinating in how unorthodox it can be. I'm particularly fond of his rather matter-of-fact eulogy for a thrill-seeking friend while they were both living in Hawaii, which he had a series of Buddhist monks perform a funeral prayer chant over, that he found matched up excellently in terms of tempo and key. It happened to be a major influence on stuff I made just a few months ago.
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Old 09-05-2017, 12:56 PM
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Old 09-06-2017, 03:33 PM
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Old 09-06-2017, 05:26 PM
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A little late on this, but I love the Dan, and they were the first band to make me realize that sharp lyrics can really elevate a song. I particularly love all of the weird characters on Katy Lied, and the doomed time traveler from the Pretzel Logic title track. And musically, their catalog gives '70s AOR a good name. RIP
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Old 09-07-2017, 06:38 PM
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Old 09-11-2017, 10:05 AM
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oh hey someone put the unreleased version of Gaucho on the youtubes now too

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Old 09-13-2017, 06:18 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by muteKi View Post
Black Friday strikes me as what Animals would have sounded like if Floyd were better musicians. Becker's solos in it are obviously nuts, incredible.

Also holy shit I had no idea you could actually hear "The Second Arrangment"--thanks for sharing that!
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Old 09-14-2017, 07:51 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MikeDinosaur View Post
Black Friday strikes me as what Animals would have sounded like if Floyd were better musicians.
That's a strange comparison but I think I can get behind it.
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