Wednesday, October 25, 2006

They stab it with their Steely Dan, but they just can't kill the beast

I've had a Steely Dan song running through my brain nonstop for the past several days.

This is not as unusual as it sounds. I've had one Steely Dan song or another running through my brain pretty much nonstop since 1972, when I first heard "Reelin' in the Years" on the radio and knew I had found my muse.

Thus, for the past 34 years, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker — plus their supporting cast of crackerjack studio stalwarts — have been writing and performing the soundtrack of my life.

I'll show you what I mean, album by album, through the band's classic period (1972-80).

Can't Buy a Thrill (1972)
  • "Do It Again" — "You find you're back in Vegas with a handle in your hand." Anyone who knows me knows that I love Las Vegas. The handle in my hand isn't on a slot machine, though. It's the handle of a souvenir mug. I'm drinking from my Paris Las Vegas mug as I write this.

  • "Midnight Cruiser" — My wife drives a steel blue (as in Steely Dan) PT Cruiser. It's a shade lighter than midnight, but work with me here.

  • "Reelin' In the Years" — Am I really going to be 45 in two months? Egad.
Countdown to Ecstasy (1973)
  • "My Old School" — My daughter is currently a senior at the high school from which I graduated. Her graduating class will be roughly twice the size of mine.

  • "Razor Boy" — I never travel without a knife in my pocket. At this moment, it's a Spyderco Native. Manufactured in Golden, Colorado. Black fiber-reinforced nylon handle, embossed with a spiderweb pattern. 3.125 inch drop point blade in S30V stainless steel. Wicked sharp.

  • "Your Gold Teeth" — I have two; my rearmost upper molars. They went south in my early 20s, after my wisdom teeth were extracted.

  • "Show Biz Kids" — For two years, I attended Pepperdine University in Malibu. I sat next to Charlton Heston's daughter in a poli-sci class. I roomed downstairs from Jack LaLanne's son. I worked at the campus radio station with Joe Garagiola's daughter. I was in a couple of plays with a guy whose dad starred on some soap opera. Need I continue?
Pretzel Logic (1974)
  • "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" — I can't memorize numbers. Even phone numbers I call frequently, I have to write down or store in my computer or cell phone, or I'll forget them. It took me years to imprint my own phone number, which is why I retained it as my business number — I was afraid of learning a new one. I forget my home phone number all the time. I usually memorize phone numbers not by the digits, but by the pattern I punch to dial them.

  • "Night By Night" — I've always been a night owl. I rarely go to bed before midnight, and often not before 1 a.m.

  • "Any Major Dude Will Tell You" — "Any major dude with half a heart surely will tell you my friend; any minor world that breaks apart falls together again." Words to live by.

  • "Barrytown" — I've been a diehard San Francisco Giants fan (is there another kind?) since 1976. S.F. officially became Barrytown on December 8, 1992.

  • "Through With Buzz" — My comic art collection contains three original commissioned works by the artist known as Buzz: a Vixen, a Black Panther, and a Ms. Marvel.

  • "Pretzel Logic" — If you're a regular consumer of my contorted prose and wonky sensibility, this needs no explanation.
Katy Lied (1972)
  • "Bad Sneakers" — "You fella, you tearin' up the street; you wear that white tuxedo, how you gonna beat the heat?" I have sung in two barbershop choruses that at one time wore white tuxedo jackets as their performance costume. Wearing a white tux jacket, I somewhat resemble the iceberg that sank the Titanic.

  • "Dr. Wu" — My bachelor's degree from San Francisco State University is signed by the school's then-president, Dr. Chia-Wei Woo. He probably thought this song was about him.

  • "Everyone's Gone to the Movies" — I have written over 100 movie reviews for DVD Verdict. I still owe them a couple. I'll get to them, I promise.
The Royal Scam (1976)
  • "Kid Charlemagne" — "Did you realize you were a champion in their eyes?" Did you realize that I'm the 68th all-time money winner in Jeopardy! history? Of course you did.

  • "The Fez" — "That's what I am; please understand I wanna be your holy man." I've been the minister for our church for the past 19 years. I don't know that I always (often?) qualify as a holy man. But I try.

  • "Green Earrings" — "Greek medallion sparkles when you smile." I lived in Greece for two years — my fourth and fifth grade years — in the early 1970s. Specifically, on Crete. You could get two lamb shish kabobs and a mound of shoestring fries for the equivalent of 25 cents American. I bet you can't now.
Aja (1977)
  • "Aja" — I lived in Asia for two years — mostly my seventh and eighth grade years — in the mid-'70s. Specifically, in the Philippines. Did you know that a number of outstanding comic book artists either hail from or reside in the Philippines?

  • "Deacon Blues" — "This brother is free; I'll be what I want to be." If only I knew what I want to be.

  • "Josie" — One of my all-time favorite Saturday morning cartoons was Josie and the Pussycats. Long tails, and ears for hats.
Gaucho (1980)
  • "Hey Nineteen" — Nineteen has always been my lucky number, if indeed I have one. My birthday, my wife's birthday, and our anniversary all fall on the 19th of the month. (We planned the anniversary. The birthdays we didn't have much say about.) I used to have personalized license plates for my car that read "EY 9TEEN." I still have the plates, but I've never transferred them to my current vehicle.

  • "Babylon Sisters" — "Here come those Santa Ana winds again." I once fell in love with a girl on a warm Southern California evening when the Santa Anas were blowing. She was a terrific kid — smart and funny, with a heart the size of the Andromeda galaxy. We used to listen to Steely Dan together quite often, including this album. I wonder sometimes where she is, and how her life turned out. She'd had a rough go of things before I met her. I'm not sure I improved them any.

  • "Time Out of Mind" — This song contains one of the best backing vocal performances ever, by Michael McDonald. That doesn't have anything to do with anything. I'm just saying.

  • "My Rival" — "The wind was driving in my face, the smell of prickly pear..." When my family used to drive cross-country back in the day, I used to like to buy prickly pear candy from the roadside stands one used to encounter in the Southwest. Usually the stands were owned — or at least staffed — by Native American folks. Do you suppose anyone still sells prickly pear candy?
When I was a late-night DJ in my college radio days, Steely Dan's FM, from the soundtrack of the film of the same name, was my opening theme:
Worry the bottle, Mama, it's grapefruit wine
Kick off your high-heel sneakers, it's party time
The girls don't seem to care what's on
As long as it plays till dawn
Nothing but blues and Elvis
And somebody else's favorite song...
FM — no static at all.
I don't know about you, but I'm going to go put on a Steely Dan CD. After all, my entire life is in the lyrics.

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