My unlikely connection with Steely Dan

Every time I see Steely Dan referenced somewhere, I feel an absurd jolt of recognition and identification, and I never forget it. “Did Steely Dan come?” ask receptionists at a radio station in an essay by Joan Didion. I once spent hours locating a music video in which Stephen Colbert announces, a bit on “The Late Show,” that he knows the lyrics to every Steely Dan song. John Mulaney is also a huge Steely Dan fan. In a scene from “The Fairly OddParents” cartoon, Vicky, the evil babysitter, has a boyfriend named Ricky, who dumps her at the end of the episode. She yells, “Ricky! Don’t lose my number! You don’t have to call anyone else!

Steely Dan, the band famous for a certain brand of cynical, pristine ’70s jazz-infused rock, released their debut album, “Can’t Buy a Thrill,” fifty years ago. Since then, they have retained a core of perfectionist and hyperverbal fans. In high school, my twin sister, Katie, and I constantly visited the Steely Dan Dictionary, a fan website whose creators defined every mystery word that Walter Becker and Donald Fagen used in their lyrics. You can research who Cathy Berberian was, uncover mysterious substances such as retsina, kirschwasser or Brut, or discover that a squonk was “a mythical woodland creature, originally from Pennsylvania”, who spent most of her time in cry because of his ugliness. has been.

My obsession with Steely Dan began when I was seventeen, and even then I thought it deeply bizarre that my sister and I belonged to an obscure group that was completely identified with white men in ‘middle age. We were, after all, distraught teenagers growing up in a Los Angeles suburb populated mostly by quietly wealthy Taiwanese immigrants and their children. And yet, virtually every Steely Dan song irresistibly conjures up images of my youth: lying on the living room rug, listening to “Glamour Profession” and staring at the large, unidentifiable fronds in our neighbor’s backyard, or waiting for my high – boyfriend from school to message me on Google Chat on a hot school night, while my tiny laptop speakers blared the mournful sax solos of “Deacon Blues.”

The way people enter Steely Dan is usually hazy, a gradual awakening rather than a flash of pure feeling. I happened to hear “Do It Again” once, somehow, the summer before my senior year of high school, and suddenly Katie and I couldn’t stop listening to Steely Dan. . Really, we were just playing “Turn That Heartbeat Over Again” over and over – a jangly, insistently cheerful song in which Donald Fagen enthusiastically sings about, among other things, a reanimated corpse. We were delighted. What were these harmonies, so strange and so addictive? What does “Love your mama, love your brother / Love them till they hide” mean? Who would make a song like that?

Over the year, we’ve gone through ‘Can’t Buy a Thrill’, ‘Countdown to Ecstasy’, ‘Pretzel Logic’, ‘Katy Lied’, ‘The Royal Scam’, ‘Aja’ and ‘Gaucho’, which i have all torrent on internet. Our house – a low-slung 1950s California ranch-style design – had an open floor plan, which meant that music played over any speaker system was audible to everyone in the house. Our parents were subjected to replay after replay of Steely Dan’s first seven albums. “What are you listen to?” they would ask as they walked to the kitchen or the garage, puzzled. Or they would say, in Mandarin, “That sounds so bad!”

At that time, Katie and I were living in a sort of ethnic enclave where we commuted with various private tutors during the summers and received packets of math problems to solve. When my cousins, my sister, and I were applying for college, the admissions process was all our parents talked about whenever we got together for family gatherings. Even our grandmother would join us.hafuoshe would say, gliding over to us with a meaningful look in her eyes. It’s Mandarin for “Harvard.” The year we discovered Steely Dan, Katie and I spent much of our time at home, dutifully writing about “Hamlet” and working on AP Physics problem sets.

But even in our own town we were eccentrics. Our comrades attended excellent local public schools, played in the marching band at Friday night football games, went to Bible study, and hung out at other people’s homes playing video games. They were easy-going, well-adjusted, and seemingly indifferent to things too specific; they haven’t, as far as we can tell, descended into strange rabbit holes. They listened to KIIS-FM. Meanwhile, Katie and I were enrolled in a private mostly white girls’ school in another town, where we insisted on taking six years of Latin instead of Spanish or French, and where we once walked around seriously asking all the teachers what they thought the meaning of life was. The only stations our parents’ car stereos were tuned to were KUSC, the classic public station, and K-Mozart, the classic station that aired commercials. Therefore, we had no idea what music other kids our age were listening to, and certainly no connection to new music coming out. My parents were 70s kids, but the pop music they listened to was American chart-topping music that had filtered across the ocean to Taiwan – Carole King, Roberta Flack, Simon & Garfunkel, Don McLean .

Part of the appeal of Steely Dan was how they managed to perfectly capture what it was like to live in the suburbs and never really belong. Their songs are populated by atomized weirdos who often inhabit vaguely Western landscapes (the gunslinging desperadoes of the “Pretzel Logic” album, the sleazy LA guys of “Glamour Profession”) and disgruntled suburbanites, like the housewives of ” Deacon Blues”. It wasn’t a band you got emotional with other people – all you needed were the songs themselves, which were layered and complex enough that they didn’t wear out after ten, twenty, fifty reruns. The best way to listen to Steely Dan was alone, or with a knowledgeable friend, in a quiet room where you could both sit down and maybe nod your head to the music if you were really into it. You didn’t have to be part of a “scene” to be a rabid fan – the band stopped touring in the 70s, a few years after the release of “Can’t Buy a Thrill”, in order to focus on writing and recording. . Even when Katie and I could afford to attend a Steely Dan concert, after graduating from college, we mostly felt alienated by the dancing baby boomers, and it was arguably a more authentic Steely Dan experience. . (However, we still bought some famous and ugly Steely Dan t-shirts.)

Steely Dan was also distinctly unshareable, a convoluted joke that only Katie and I seemed to understand. Play any of their songs to a Steely Dan virgin – with the possible exception of “Do It Again”, “Reelin’ in the Years”, “Peg” and other crowd favorites – and he or she’ll probably be put off by the cryptic lyrics, the sheen of “easy listening” and all the things Donald Fagen does to make his voice sound like it. Boyfriends I’ve played Steely Dan for have been politely baffled or condescendingly tolerant. And then there are all those downright nasty songs, about child molesters, coke dealers, or abusive partners. But even those songs, or the albums that I don’t love (like “The Royal Scam”), evoke in me a strange sense of belonging, the way you might feel about a parent who embodies your most annoying weaknesses. family.

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