Wit and Witticisms of Steely Dan
Steely Dan is best known for classic rock staples like "Reelin' in the Years," "Do It Again," and "Hey Nineteen." On a recent teleconference to promote their 2013 Mood Swings: 8 Miles to Pancake Day Tour, the duo of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, they also seemed to be perfecting a Vaudeville Act. If you were not precise with your questioning, you'd find them wandering off on the most bizarre tangents, amusing the reporters, but mostly, and most importantly, amusing themselves.
But what you would expect from a band who named themselves after a dildo from a William Burroughs novel? Here's what it's like to talk to Steely Dan -- who are performing tonight at Mizner Park Amphitheater -- starting with a question about how they came up with the name of their tour.
Walter: How did it come about? We made it up.
Donald: In truth, we put up Mood Swings, that was the easy part and then we were reminiscing about the old television show which was called Route 66 and we remembered how in those days they used to name TV episodes using very eccentric titles like "Who's Afraid of the Muffin Man," things like that. So, we decided we were going to have a subtitle for our Mood Swings tour. In fact, we're thinking we might change the subtitle every week.
Walter: In a way, you may have wasted your question in that we may do exactly as Donald says there, but the other thing is 8 miles to Pancake Day is -- this is a reconciliation of the classic space time dilemma, in other words, time versus distance. In other words, like the Russian army's sergeant says: You will dig me a ditch from here to dinner time.
On being asked whether they will record a new album...
Walter: It's in the air. It really is. We're just picking it up here and starting the tour, but I can almost... Well, I can smell it. It's just a smell now. Next thing is then you taste it, then you start to feel it. You know how this goes, Gary.
Donald: We do have some songs that I'm just remembering now. We have some songs that are really good ones that we only half finished back in like 1984.
Walter: That's true.
Donald: We keep threatening to work on. We have a bunch of things. Put it this way, any other band in the world would have long ago finished or mixed or whatever these old things that were lying around and... was a great ta-da fanfare, but we just don't play it like that.
Walter: That's not the way we roll.
Donald: It's not the way we roll. At least we think it's good stuff. It's like every time we get together we end up just going fishing. Maybe it has to do with our age.
Walter: Remember the time that you were chased in by those mullet.
Donald: Or by those blue fish. Jesus, that was bad. The weird thing is, I've only been fishing a few times especially when I was a kid. The first time I went fishing, I caught a box turtle instead of a fish, and the second time I caught a real ugly fish called a lamprey.
Walter: You caught a lamprey?
Donald: Yes, they have these big suckers on the front.
Walter: You caught a lamprey in New Jersey?
Donald: Yes, and after that I didn't go fishing for years because I thought like every time I went fishing I would catch these really ugly fish.
On whether they're able to write songs while on the road...
Donald: I have a really hard time writing on the road. Usually writing is done with Walter or not, it's when I'm really at home and have very little to do. You need to be in a kind of stasis I think to do that.
Walter: That's right. There's too much stimulus in any strange environment.
Donald: Or else you're just sleeping.
Walter: Yes. The best part is really sleeping. In life, I mean.
Donald: I think actually the time when you could be writing songs, you're actually sleeping on the road.
Walter: Probably true. That's probably why the only song I've ever written on the road was that one called "Dirt Nap."
On whether they have come up with new arrangements for their classic songs the way Paul Simon does...
Walter: We like to take the three chords in our songs and put them in different sequences and stuff like that like jazz musicians and beat them into submission by rehearsing them to death.
Donald: We've been rearranging this stuff for many years. Actually, we're sort of beyond that. We've gone back to the original version actually.
Walter: Which in many cases were already deconstructed versions of the original idea or of another song.
Donald: In other words, we're postmodern.
Walter: In other words, yes with an asterisk. A great big asterisk by it. It's kind of like histrionic ironic.
On whether they will use hi-res formats for new Steely Dan recordings...
Donald: The thing about those things is it's too bad they don't have any good music anymore to play on all those new formats. Maybe they should have a moratorium on inventing new formats until someone has done some good music.
Walter: That would really put the kibosh on a lot of manufacturing and Best Buy or whatever those stores are called, Little Richards, Poor Richards...
Donald: Poor Richard's Almanac?
Walter: No, the one where you buy the...
Donald: Crazy Richard.
Walter: Crazy Eddie. Do they have a Crazy Eddie store in Fort Wayne?
The interviewer from Fort Wayne, Indiana, says no.
Walter: No wonder. Well, that's why. No, we think that many of those formats are not substantially different than the previous formats and you couldn't possibly...
Donald: When they invent a format that sounds as good as a nice clean piece of vinyl played on a good turntable, then someone should let us know.
Walter: Yes, and then we'll add all the clicks and pops to our record so that we can make it...
Donald: Like those hip-hop records.
Donald: Well, this has been fun. Thank you very much. Have a good evening if you're not home and in your Barcalounger by now.
Walter: You're speaking to the...
Donald: I'm speaking to an empty conference room, an empty virtual conference room.
Walter: Is anybody there still in the conference room?
Steely Dan. 8 p.m., Thursday, September 12, at Mizner Park Amphitheater, 590 Plaza Real, Boca Raton. Tickets are almost sold out. Visit Ticketmaster.com.
Get the Music Newsletter
Find out about upcoming concerts and special offers happening in the South Florida music scene.