Monday, July 27, 2009


I also could have titled this post "A History of Steely Dan According to Dawn." I want to declare from the get-go that I don't claim that any of this information is accurate or true. My only claim is that these are rumors I know about my favorite band, interjected with my opinion on various SD topics.

Therefore, if you hate Steely Dan, or if you hate me, or BOTH, stop reading now...


For the one person still reading, I will begin!

Steely Dan is my all-time favorite band. People who learn this about me are very surprised, and I am not sure why?

The first time I ever heard a Steely Dan song was the summer of 1980, and I was only nine years old. The song was "Hey Nineteen," and I instantly loved it. I remember sitting in my bedroom on that warm Saturday morning, listening (as I did every weekend) to Casey Kasem's "American Top 40 Countdown." When the song came on I quickly grabbed my portable tape-recorder and held the handheld tiny microphone up to the radio to record the song. Needless to say, I missed the first verse. But I played it over and over again, loving every bit of the song that I had captured. My favorite part was when they said "Boston," and also when Donald Fagen said "Skate a little lower now..." I had no idea, at nine years old, what the song was about. It is probably a good thing, too!

I remember waiting for Casey to tell me the name of the band, and when he said "That was 'Steely Dan' with 'Hey Nineteen,'" I remember thinking that it was a pretty stupid sounding name for a band.

Some things I would come to learn in my later years:

The name "Steely Dan" is actually named after a Dildo. Yup. Apparently in the book "The Naked Lunch" by William S. Burroughs, there is a dildo named "the steely dan." No, I have never read this book, although I plan to someday (if I can ever get through the rest of the fucking "Twilight" series!).

At the time I had no idea that the song "Hey Nineteen" was about a cradle-robber, either. Over the past twenty years or so that I have been into Steely Dan, I have come to realize with more and more clarity that Fagen and Becker are a couple of creepy, dirty old men. But that is okay. They write great tunes. AND they pretty much admit that they are creepy, dirty old men in numerous songs, which I find kind of cool.

It took me until my early college years to realize that when they sang the chorus "The Cuervo Gold," they were singing about tequila. It took me even longer to realize that the other half of that chorus was about pot. I could be a little naïve like that.

Truth be told, I didn't really get "into" Steely Dan until college. Other than "Hey Nineteen," I wasn't familiar with any of their songs, or so I thought at the time.

One summer night I was hanging out with my good friends Paul and Arron, and they announced that we were going to some guys' parents' house to watch his band practice.

(As a quick side-note, I cannot tell you how much time I spent in my teens and twenties "watching" bands practice. This was pretty much WHAT I DID. I always, always, always wanted to be in a band, but all I ever did was watch others rehearse and, as I got older, go see them play in the clubs and the bars. *Sigh,* always a bridesmaid, never a bride.)

I had met two of the members of this band before (but had never seen them play). There were three other guys at his house, and being the only girl in a group of boys, no one thought to introduce me to the people I didn't know. I was almost always the one girl hanging out with all the boys. Not sure why; my best friends were always male for some reason. I was always more comfortable being with all guys rather than all girls.

Anyways, the band was playing "December 1963 (Oh What A Night)" by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons when we arrived, and I was instantly enamored. Finally, finally, I was watching a guitarist playing something other than Aerosmith or Led Zeppelin. Not that there is anything wrong with either of those bands; I love them very much! The point is, these boys were playing a set list that consisted of songs I had never, ever heard another high-school / college garage band play. And this made me LOVE them.

The next song they played was "Saturday In The Park" by Chicago, and when Tony started playing the trumpet at the begining of the tune I thought I was going to melt.

But the best was yet to come; the third song they played was "Peg." Peg, a song that just might now be my very favorite song of all time. It was a song I knew well, but that I knew nothing about.

It was the song that began my love affair with Steely Dan.

As they were playing the song, I was freaking out. I kept grabbing Paul and asking him "Who sings this song? I LOVE this song! I always have loved this song! What is the NAME of this song??" I was completely freaking out. And apparently I was being a bit of a distraction during the band's rehearsal.

When they finished the song, I shouted to Brett (the guitar player) my multitude of questions I had just badgered Paul with. Before Brett could answer, the bass player Dan (one of the band members I had yet to be introduced to) interjected with his calm, quiet voice and said to me, "Can I just ask, who the FUCK are you? And why are you here?" Dan and I later went on to be great friends.

Anyways, when rehearsal ended, the band was more than happy to give me a quick education on Steely Dan, and when I said things like "I only know one song of theirs, 'Hey Nineteen,'" they would pull out yet another album play me songs I didn't know I already knew.

"Dirty Work"
"Do It Again"
"Rikki Don't Lose That Number"

It wasn't long before I owned a few of their CD's myself, and I quickly learned how interesting their lesser-known songs were.

I mean, let's face it: these guys wrote some bizarre songs. On odd subject matter.

They have a song about a guy who goes a bit mental, climbs to the top of a clock-tower and starts blowing away strangers with a shotgun, hoping to commit suicide-by-cop. Not really your average love-song.

They have another song about the neighborhood pedophile who invites little kids into his home to watch pornos with him. Yup.

And of course, the lovely ballad about a caucasian housewife who takes a solo vacation to Haiti, has a one-night-stand with a local, and nine months later shocks her husband when her mulatto child is born.

I'm telling you - this is good stuff!

Here is another "fact" about Steely Dan (and by "fact" I really mean a rumor I have heard about them): Steely Dan never toured when they were popular. The story is that they were studio perfectionists, and they were not convinced that their studio sound would translate well to the stage, so they just didn't perform live. Like, ever.

I believe the boys in the band gave me this little tidbit of information. This is also why, a few years later, when we hard that Steely Dan was going to tour, we went ballistic and raced out to stand in line all night for tickets behind the Dedham Plaza. Little did we realize, at the time, that Steely Dan was into the idea of touring (now that they were able to make tons and tons and tons of cash by doing so) and that they would subsequently tour every couple of years from then on. We went to this first tour knowing that we were seeing history, but not knowing we could see history pretty much any damn following summer that we pleased.

I have probably seen them about eight or nine times live, and I have never been disappointed. My favorite show of theirs, up until last Wednesday night's show, was two summers ago when I saw them WITH Michael MacDonald. Hearing "Peg" with the appropriate background vocals, as well as hearing Steely Dan play various Doobie Brothers songs, was quite a treat.

Oh - and a funny story from that night. I was telling my husband the story I am writing now - about HOW I got to know and love Steely Dan - and just as I was telling him about that first night watching the band rehearse, we took our seats. And as I sat down I looked to my right and said "Oh, Hi Dan!" Sitting right next to me in this completely sold-out venue was the Dan of the "who the FUCK are you?" comment. I finished the story by saying to my husband "this guy is one of the reasons I got into this band in the first place!"

Hmm...some other things I have heard about Steely Dan, which may or may not be true:

The first band that Walter Becker and Donald Fagen were in together also had a band member by the name of Chevy Chase. Yes, THAT Chevy Chase.

The Eagles song "Hotel California" pays homage to them in the lyrics "they stab it with their steely knives but they just can't kill the beast." To return the favor, in Steely Dan's song "Everything You Did," they sing "turn up the Eagles, the neighbors are listening."

Becker and Fagen were kicked out of school for partying too hard.

There was a lawsuit between Steely Dan and the writers of "You, Me and Dupree," because Fagen insisted the movie was a direct rip-off of their song "Cousin Dupree."

And a personal fact: I onced used a Steely Dan concert as an excuse take out a guy I was WAY into. Because, really, nothing says romance like a Steely Dan concert. (For the record, it worked!)


Bottom line is, they rock. They are interesting. They make incredible music. They make me think. They make me laugh. They make me smile.

And they are creepy, dirty old men. But that is okay. I still love them.