Steely Dan Represents Everything Missing From Popular Music Today
Walter Becker, left, and Donald Fagen in Los Angeles in 1975.
PHOTO: ED CARAEFF/GETTY IMAGES
The way the music we hear when we’re children infiltrates our psyche as we age is an infinitely intriguing thing. The relationships we build around those songs and records — the memories they cohabit
I’m lucky to have parents with great taste in music, and while it might not have always been the edgiest nuggets providing the soundtrack to my youth, I was fortunate enough to be provided with an inadvertent primer on some of the good shit through my parents’ musical selections. One particular standout band that has jutted in and out of my life since I was a child is Steely Dan — perhaps the ultimate poster band for dad/mom-rock as a concept, undoubtedly the poster band for the laid-back, oft-maligned side of ‘70s rock ‘n’ roll, and in reality, one of the best bands the world has ever known.
Steely Dan’s music entered my life during an annual family road trip to Florida from upstate New York. My parents were on some semi-urbane Griswolds shit — we’d never fly for some reason. We’d hit Disney, we’d stay with my snowbird grandparents at their condo in Sunrise, we’d go the beach — typical Florida vacation. My dad would always specifically rent some land yacht Cadillac to make the journey in, and we’d hit the road at the asscrack of dawn. For me, the best part of the travel was the wee hours. My dad, being a dad, would figure out a way to drive through the night and make the best time possible to Florida. A child insomniac, I’d take on the role of
One year, as we passed through D.C. as night fell, Steely Dan’s Alive in America found its way into the car’s stereo. A live joint from the ‘90s, the album opens with what I still believe to be the smoothest version of “Babylon Sisters” the band ever cut — languid and sparsely adorned, it was the
After that trip, Alive in America was one of the first of my parents’ CDs that I adopted into my own collection (read: stole). I slept
Steely Dan’s music is pretentious, easily perceived as overwrought, and you can’t really party to it. Unless you’ve got a boat. Maybe then. But odds are you don’t have a boat. But this is a band that filled its music with subversive lyrical content (pick any song off Aja and Google the lyrics), named itself after a dildo mentioned in a Burroughs novel, and wrung massive hits out of hyper-literate, truly thought-provoking content. And they play their asses off! We’re missing intrigue, intellect, and subversion in our popular music these days more than ever, and while Steely Dan sets a high standard on all counts (and admittedly might not be everyone’s bag sonically), artists of their caliber simply don’t come around so often, and especially not in the music industry’s current climate.
With Steve Winwood, 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 29; at Perfect Vodka Amphitheatre in West Palm Beach. Tickets cost $25 to $410 plus fees.
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