Thursday, June 26, 2008

no static at all



A good friend of mine wounded me the other night with something he said in passing. ...Well, 'wounded' is too strong a word, and I know he didn't mean anything by it. He probably doesn't even remember making the comment. At the time, I didn't feel a response was necessary. But later in the evening I tossed and turned in bed, feeling frustrated about not having had an opportunity to set things straight from my point of view...

Somehow or other, the conversation that evening had turned to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. When I mentioned that I would like to visit the place someday, my buddy said, 'that place lost all credibility when they inducted Steely Dan.'...

...Excuse me? Do you know the extent to which you have just ripped off my head and crapped down my throat with that remark? Do you realize I will now have to challenge you to a duel?

Actually, I think I understand why people from a particular time and place hate Steely Dan, especially the final several albums Becker and Fagen made before their first break up (The Royal Scam, Aja and Gaucho). If you were lucky enough to grow up in New York and move from adolescence to adulthood between the late 60s and the end of the 70s, and if the sounds shaping your consciousness most profoundly during that period came from Lou Reed, the Dictators, Television and the Voidoids (all of which applies, more or less, to the friend making the offending comment), then it's almost automatic that you'd view Steely Dan as the worst kind of overly polished, soulless M.O.R. fare. With each successive album The Dan put out, their fuzak oriented approach became slicker, the guitar solos became tastier, and the overall vibe grew more crassly commercial, at least on the surface of things. By the time Gaucho hit the record shops in 1980, you could practically hear a dentist's drill humming along insistently underneath the fretless bass lines.

But this is exactly where so many people get things wrong and fail to see Steely Dan paradox - namely, their emergence from - and the similarity of their response to - the same malaised zeitgeist that gave birth to punk.

There's more at stake here for me than the issue of musical preferences and taste. I'll take about it more in my next post...

7 comments:

Dan E said...

I'll be honest with you — I hated "The Dan" until I moved to LA. It was only then that their songs (mostly written and sung from the perspective of neurotic New York Jews adrift amid the sun-bleached weirdness of 70s Los Angeles) really made began making sense to me. Now I absolutely love their records, with
the exception of Gaucho, which I still can't get behind.

To me, the RnR HoF lost all credibility when they let Paul Shaffer lead the induction ceremony jams. And that was a long, long time ago.

Max Stevens said...

You're the best, Dan! In one parenthetical comment, you breezily encapsulate almost everything I wanted to say in several paragraphs. ...The only other thing I wanna hit on is their whole post 60s cynicism towards the Hippy Dream (which itself is partly a function of the New York Jew thing to which you allude).

Dan E said...

Wa'll shoot, pardner — don't let me dissuade you from elucidating further. I'd still really like to hear what you were planning to say...

dan w said...

I'm still in NYC, but the soundtrack for my most enduring and compelling visions of the southern CA life I'm convinced you lead, Max, consists entirely of late 70s/early 80s Steely Dan. Dude ranch, chinese music, you know.

Listening to early Steely Dan just makes me want to kill myself (in, like, a good way, of course).

Max Stevens said...

Thanks, Dan. I wish you guys were here to live this life with me. ...On second thought, I wouldn't wish that on anybody.

valley boy said...

Listening to Steely Dan makes me want to cut up a big fat line of blow and sit in a jacuzzi with a view of the Pacific.

Max Stevens said...

Can I join you?