i want a name when i lose

Total recall today brought to mind the day I was in the Builder's Square in the Braddock Hills Shopping Center with my dad, probably about 9 or 10 years old, and "Deacon Blues" was on the radio in the store, and it was the first time I paid attention to the song -- like, REALLY paid attention. I had heard this song plenty of times, on the oldies and easy listening stations. All of a sudden I realized there were lyrics here about drinking and driving and dying as a result. I was at once both scandalized and enamored; I referred to it for a time after that with my sister as "the drunk driving song."

At that point I got to the crux of what still appeals to me (and a lot of people) about Steely Dan. Beyond the obvious amazing hooks (see: "Reelin' in the Years," "My Old School"), there's a weird creepiness, a subversive vibe within the songs that doesn't usually make itself immediately apparent. Think about "Show Biz Kids," the tour de force on "Countdown to Ecstacy" that made it to 61 on the Billboard charts (higher than "My Old School, actually): it's a smooth partyish jam, but it criticizes the very coke party culture that made the Dan so big at the time. They go so far as to describe the spoiled rich party culture types they're skewing as having "the shapely bodies" and "the Steely Dan t-shirt" (and briefly lampoon themselves, hitting the "Reelin' in the Years" lick) (reminiscent of what The Beatles do with "She Loves You Yeah Yeah Yeah" in "All You Need is Love").

A lot of people can level the complaint that the Dan represent everything that was bad about rock in the '70s, everything that punk rebelled against. The recordings were overproduced, to be sure. The idea of being a "studio band" and not touring isn't very rock'n'roll -- but then, Steely Dan isn't/wasn't that rock'n'roll (they're more jazz-rock than anything). Whatever you want to call what they are, they're good at it, and they've never been completely complacent in the industry. ("Show Biz Kids" was the first single off of "Countdown," their second album and the follow-up to the album with "Dirty Work" and "Do it Again," and it had the line "Show biz kids makin movies of themselves/You know they don't give a fuck about anybody else" in it!)

I was still in when "Two Against Nature" came out in 1999 and won all those Grammies, then shortly after I became too damn punk to dig the Dan, then in 2001 I picked up a Punk Planet in which Lady Hopper discussed at length her love for the Dan and the Geto Boys, and she made enough good points that I again began to enjoy them.

Which brings me to today: they're playing at the ridiculous Post-Gazette Pavilion at the end of August, and even with the Skunk attending to important matters of national security, I'll probably go, and I'll probably like it, and I won't be embarrassed or think that I'm selling out my punk/rock'n'roll cred. It's not a guilty pleasure, it's an amazing band. Get into it.


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