Pretzel Emotions: A musical journey through the images of life
One of the more prominent, though not as recognized (as Stevie or Earth, Wind & Fire) musical backgrounds in my life was the jazz-rock band Steely Dan. I remember hearing their jazzy tunes attributed to them in my early 20’s, probably on the “KISS Jazz” show (that NY’s “Kiss-FM” had on Sundays), and a few of them, before that, on other stations like WPIX. I remember buying both the album Aja, as well as fusion group Spyrogyra’s new release Alternating Currents, likely at Bondy’s on Park Row (the ornate old Potter Building), if not J&R on the next block. The title track “Aja” was a nice, flowing almost solid jazz tune on piano. (I believe it was hearing this one on the radio or a record store that led me to get the album in the first place. I had early on thought if I could slip in a tune of my own on my father’s Saturday jazz radio program still going on at the time; I would add that one, but he would never go for that, as he wouldn’t see it as true [older black] jazz).
I didn’t even remember what exactly I bought Spyrogyra for; I guess whatever I was hearing on the radio or in the store was interesting (with the whole “electronica” theme), but Steely Dan would slowly become a significant group. The album includes the hit “Peg”, whose chorus I always heard for years as “HEY; it will come back to you…”! It was like the perennial “New York state of mind” type of sound and, and all of the other jazzy/funky tracks (such as “Josie”, which like Peg has an Earth Wind & Fire-like funk feel, and “Deacon Blues”) remind me of lower Manhattan, though all their music was recorded in LA, and I’m seeing an interview where they’re saying it was a “California” sound that you could not picture being anywhere but from LA.
The album opens on the quickly changing smooth Fender Rhodes/Clavinet chords of “Black Cow” (and the chordal drop and changes leading to the bridge), which right away assured me it was a good buy. (For some reason, it took me a very long time to appreciate or even remember really, the lesser songs of the album “Home at Last” and “I’ve Got the News”, but these are just as much the classic sound as the others).
I until probably that time did not know that the lead singer of this group was the guy (Donald Fagen, with the funny album cover pose with the cigarette in his hand) who had done “International Geophysical Year (What a Beautiful World)”, which I liked so much, I had gotten the 45 for. (The B side “Walk Through the Raindrops” didn’t move me, however). I liked “On that train of graphite and glitter…”, and something about “spandex jackets for everyone” (had never even heard of spandex before). With just a cursory listening to the words, it totally seemed to be a random bunch of images, that had no coherent meaning.
I originally actually thought this was Stevie Wonder (especially with the harmonica solo or reasonable facimile), as the voices are really not all that far apart, and after the smash hit “Do I Do” that summer, which I assumed would be part of an upcoming album in addition to the compilation it and three other new songs were apart of, I got totally “into” Stevie and began listening for new songs, and anything that sounded remotely similar I would take notice of.
Then, that winter, Thriller came out, and “Billie Jean” was playing heavily. I liked it, for it reminded me a bit of Curtis Mayfield’s “Little Child, Running Wild”, from Superfly, 10 years earlier (which I had been taken to see at a drive-in). At some point, Kiss began playing this mix of Billie Jean with an old song from the 70’s I remembered, which went something like “black jack, Do it Again“. (https://youtu.be/ngVXXr0ZfAo My mother said she hated that mix). I had no idea this was from the same guy who did IGY, and the same group who did Peg. (The song had a similar harmony as the Doobie Brothers’ “Long Train Running”; both of which from the early 70’s, but I associate with the mid 70’s).
There was also “Hey Nineteen”, a [at the time] not too long ago song that was also pretty common.
Even less would I have imagined that this is also the group who did the old grungy rock song whose chorus I had always heard as “Realing in the East” (which was followed by “stowing away the time…”, and a very signature fast moving Celtic styled jig on guitar backed by tamborine beats). This song (which was actually on the same album as “Do it Again”) always reminded me of some gritty old barber shop with a dirty looking sunlit bathroom with peeling light green paint and an old sink, on Rogers near Empire my father took me to once or twice, on the way to either Grandma’s, or Cub Scouts (in Grandma’s church, Bethany Baptist. The barber we usually went to was further up, where Rogers merged with Bedford [and almost literally a stone throw from where my future wife was growing up], but this other one stuck in my mind, and the song, which I think I heard on the radio there was like a gritty background for it).
The same images became associated with Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” for some reason. (The beginning part has a similar piano harmony as Reelin’ and the more uptempo section toward the end has a similar rhythm, called “shuffle rock” aka “swing”, where the groove consists of triplets, with the middle count blank, hence “1,_ a-2,_ a-3,_ a-4. It is technically 12/16 time, but almost always gets written as the “Common” 4/4, with the odd numbered [sub]-beats compressed on the staff into what are called “triplets”).
Growing up on the Beatles’ Abbey Road, a song’s lyrics or title did not have to have any meaning, so I never questioned that as the actual words, though I would later wonder what the lyrics of both groups meant, especially after hearing that some Beatles lyrics (like “Lucy in the Sky”) were [cryptic] “veiled references” to drugs (and I imagine, sex).
Exploring the group’s progression in sound
When beginning to look at Steely Dan albums in stores, I would see all the weirdly themed album and track titles, and wonder what they were about. (“Razor Boy”? “Fire in the Hole”? “Your Gold Teeth” —with a second part, two albums later?) As a young Christian, I was probably afraid to to try them out by buying more albums. I did see “Do it Again” and “Reeling in the Years” on their first album (titled ‘Can’t Buy a Thrill’ and graced with hookers on a seedy street). But I didn’t even realize that they were those very familiar songs. (The latter made me think of Simply Red’s recent hit “Holding Back the Years”, and so I imagined it as a sad kind of ballad).
The second album, “Countdown to Ecstasy” (whose artwork reminded me a bit of Stevie’s contemporaneous “Innervisions”) had a song “Bodhisattva”, which I recognized was an Eastern religion concept.
The title track to the next album, “Pretzel Logic”, I first heard in the 1991 live version (with Michael McDonald who was once apart of the band for awhile, doing the last verse, about stepping on the platform and explaining where he got his shoes) that used to play on the CD101 station (Former WPIX-FM).
This began raising interest in the group, for its very jazzy “chordal changes”, which were the audible “hooks” in music that gained my attention the most. This is what Stevie had a great handle on, when he finally perfected his sound in the second contract, working with “TONTO” engineers Margouleff and Cecil, and including Talking Book, which I had grown up with. Even before hearing the term “jazz-rock”, as applied to Steely Dan or anyone else, I had thought of that album as “jazz-rock” (to contrast one of his first albums, The Jazz-Soul of Little Stevie Wonder. So this was the “Jazz-Rock of Big Stevie Wonder”!), and why I liked it so much. It was of course basically soul or R&B, with touches of funk as well. But songs like “Maybe Your Baby” were definitely rock infused, and even the two main hits “Superstition” and “You Are the Sunshine” were basic top-40 staples that blended in with contemporary “rock”. As time went on, he became more strictly R&B, and less rock-like or jazzy.
So Steely Dan was also similar to that period of Stevie and others TONTO worked with at the time such as the Isleys, in generally having no orchestration. (The only ones that have a string orchestra are “Through With Buzz” on Pretzel logic[and I think “Charlie Freak” sounds like it has a violin/cello as well, but it might be a synth or something], and “FM (No Static)”, which was a special song made for a movie and not on a studio album. Some others; and few at that, such as “Josie”, have synth strings, and a few have light Moogs or Moog-like background sounds!)
So “Pretzel Logic” starts out sounding a bit like a slower version of “Reeling in the Years”, with the grungy rock guitar sound, but when it gets to the chorus, you suddenly out of nowhere get this jazzy set of ascending chord pairs consisting of a higher one, then a lower one; which repeats three times; the third time accompanied by the words “those days are gone forever, over a long time ago”, and backed by horns later on, which were nearly absent in the previous albums. This was clearly the kind of sound I was familiar with on Aja, (and reminded me of Stevie’s early Contract 2 stuff I liked so much). It was also something heavily resembling the later [disco era] fusion jazz such as Bob James’ “Westchester Lady”, and so seemed a bit ahead of its time.
So this began raising some interest in the group. (I more recently find another song, performed in concert at the same time this was released, called “This All Too Mobile Home”, which also sounds mostly like the previous stuff but fades on those same or similar chords in a similar up/down repetition).
I eventually began hearing “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” (the album opener; a similar song, whose chorus shares some of the same chords as the chorus of “Aja”, and also being another one of those mysterious titles I remembered, that you wonder what could possibly mean), and the also similar “Doctor Wu” from the next album (with it’s theme of a lying girl named “Katy”, represented on the cover by a katydid insect).
It wasn’t until very late in the game, perhaps in the latter days of the old “Downstairs Records” in Midtown, where you could play 45’s on a turntable, that I ventured to try out some Steely Dan singles, and began to learn what was what.
Then, it figured that all of this stuff from “Reeling” to “IGY” featured that same lead vocalist, and had some of the same musical and lyrical techniques, even the earliest works, though, not as refined as later.
They are even credited for what has become their own distinctive class of chords, the “mu [µ] chord” http://www.hakwright.co.uk/steelydan/mu-major.html, which would be the common thread throughout their career. It of course existed before, and was used by jazz artists and others, but picked up by the band to enrich sounds as an alternative to full jazz chords (Wikipedia). It’s defined as basically adding a “second” interval [i.e. note] between the first and third in the chord. It could also be a ninth, which is a second raised by an octave.
According to the site, there are two versions; type I, more prominent in the first four albums, which will often create part of what I’m calling a more “country” sound (the “Old Steely Dan”), and type II in the later albums (what I consider “Classic” Steely Dan, of ’76-80; and “New Steely Dan” [the group’s re-gathering in the early 2000’s]).
The difference between the two is in which note in the chord is played in a “bass” (i.e. left hand) octave. An example of the former is the country-esque “I’d like to run out there” in “Fire in The Hole”, and the intro and chorus to”Reelin'” is “built around” two of these chords. The latter is most well known in the chorus sequence “call me Deacon Blues” http://www.hakwright.co.uk/steelydan/mu_sounds/deacon_blues2.wav and always one of my favorites: “it’s over now” in “Black Cow” http://www.hakwright.co.uk/steelydan/mu_sounds/black_cow.wav This was the perennial “Steely Dan sound” to me. YouTube piano tutor Tyler Thompson says that the Dsus2/9 or DF#EAD on “camera” in “Peg” is another example of the “Steely Dan chord”. Meanwhile. “Aja” ends up as a type I mu song, with “they just don’t care” given as an example. Even though it is obviously the overall “new” sound for them, I can now see where it really consists of some of the older style chords, just played in a new way; just like its predecessor song “Rikki”).
I had marveled how vastly different, at first glance, the 1974 singles and later stuff sounded from those singles from 1972. I eventually hear this song with these soft vocals sounding something like one of the Beatles, and hard Fender Rhodes chords greatly evoking Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World”, and the country-like chorus reveals that this is “Dirty Work”, the second song on the first album. (Not sure whether I ever heard it as a child, but it sure fit in with those years. It has a totally different lead vocalist, and so doesn’t sound like them at all).
So then I’m interested in where exactly it changed. The “Bodhisattva” track (which may have been the only single from that album at Downstairs when I first looked; later had to sneak the whole album over) was like neither here nor there. It overall sounded different from either the first album or the ones after. Some aspect of the chordal structure does resemble “Pretzel Logic”; the verse chords being nearly the same, and using the same four part up and down progression, but the chorus chords, while also having a similar up and down progression, sounding totally different. It opens with these two alternating very jazzy piano chords, then a guitar solo that would evoke “Reeling”, but then becomes something like emulating a 50’s style rock or swing song (it uses the fast version of the shuffle rhythm), and its chorus (“show me the shine of your Japan, the sparkle of your China…”[??!!!]), has distinctive chordal changes that again, are different from either the works before or after, and in a way reminds me of parts of Stevie’s contemporaneous “Don’t You Worry Bout a Thing” for some reason.
So it looked like they were trying to change their sound, and since I see that that album did poorly, they continued to try to refine it. (This one seems to fall more on the side of the first album. And even some of the other songs on Pretzel Logic still follow suit). Most of them are like perhaps very primitive, rudimentary versions of “Deacon Blues” from Aja (i.e. same basic rhythm, but the earlier instrumentation); or standard contemporary 70’s soft rock (Elton John, etc.) with more of a country-rock sound, still.
The closest thing to the later sound on the first album is the closing track “Turn That Heartbeat Over Again”; especially in the instrumental interlude, which has some chordal progressions that do greatly foreshadow “Aja”, but otherwise sounds clearly like something Stevie would have done under TONTO the same year. (Also noteworthy for this song is the catchy bridge “Love your mama. Love your brother. Love ’em till they… run for cover. Turn the light off. Keep your shirt on. Cry a jag on me“). “Fire In the Hole”, while not totally like the later sound, still does sort of foreshadow it with the different chords, as does the opening chords of “Midnite Cruiser”.
(Meanwhile, Elton’s John’s contemporaneous hit “Benny and the Jets” has the key feature I would associate with the later Steely Dan sound: the up and down chordal progression in the instrumental part of the chorus, which resembles something like the instrumental interlude on “Aja”; —in addition to the obscure song title reference!)
Funny, should mention in passing, that in the 90’s, when I was inquiring about Chicago, from remembering their “Does Anyone Really Know What Time It Is” and “Beginnings” from when I was really young, one friend, who was then my supervisor, blurted out that she “hated them”, and then out of nowhere threw in Steely Dan as well. “I HATE Chicago, and I HATE Steely Dan!!!” I was surprised, as I hadn’t mentioned the latter, but had already long liked them, and I found it funny that she would throw in this other group I was into, on top of the former, like that.
I did not think of the two groups as having anything to do with each other, but thinking about it, I could see where there are some similarities, epecially earlier on. (Both were “jazzy”). Both groups changed their sound significantly, but in totally different directions; Chicago becoming a big vehicle for David Foster, with his 80’s pop sound).
The transition from a kind of countryish flavor to a jazzy sound was very interesting and somewhat unique! There were always the distinctive chordal changes from the earliest albums, but they were more subdued, and not as jazzy or refined as in Pretzel Logic and after.
The closest thing in the second album I would say is the chorus of “Your Gold Teeth”, with the verses sounding like a cross between “Do It Again”, and the Stylistic’s following year semi-hit “Heavy Falling Out”, but then has this sudden, surprise chord change with “see how they roll” (which also sounds like an obvious knockoff of the Beatles’ “Lady Madonna”; [“see how they run“], though in a totally different key). It then has a bridge (about growing tobacco in Peking) which experiments with a bunch of different chords, and each line ending in a pair of syllables he stretches out over two chords (“sad—thing”; “can’t—sing”; like “A—Ja” or “F—M” on those songs, and some half measures, to throw some extra interesting “flow” into the rhythm. This is a new technique that would become a signature sound.
These interludes and bridges are a definite part of their sound, being quite often the testing ground for all sorts of new chords and progressions.
“Razor Boy” seems to be inching toward the later sound as well. Particularly the characteristic long flowing chorus, like we would hear on later songs. That was a signature style of theirs, squeezing a lot of words in a limited number of beats or measures. That’s been the catchiest song I’ve heard in all the older stuff I’m becoming familiar with:
“Will you still have a song to sing— when the razor boy comes and takes your fancy things away?… Will you still keep singing it on that cold and windy day?”
(five measures for each question!)
Both of these songs also remind me of Stevie’s “You Are the Sunshine” with the rhythm, and especially the Rhodes in the former, and particularly the bridge (with the chords) in that song. Razor Boy, with the acoustic piano and the beat-less intro is also very similar to the song Syreeta sang for Stevie’s Journey Through The Secret Life of Plants, “Come BAck As A Flower”.
The interlude and end of album closer “King of the World” is definitely the Stevie/Syreeta/TONTO sound with both the Moog and the TONTO style up and down Fender chords. (Think “Take A Little Trip”, performed by Minnie Riperton, which was written and produced by them. Parts of the chorus, when it goes from “king of the world” to “far as I know” remind me of the later direction of the group as well, the way the words are squeezed in against the rhythm. The chord progression on “King” and “world” sound that way as well, with particularly “world” and its guitar backing sounding like one of the four chords used in the end of the intro to “Josie”. But instead of the progression continuing to ascend, giving the distinctive sound of that song, it drops back down to the “country” sound, with “far as I know”. While the above sites don’t mention either “King of the World” or “Josie” as far as the mu chords, Countdown To Ecstasy is all type I, so that’s probably what these are; and it’s similar to part of “Don’t Take Me Alive”, which is listed as using type I’s, even though it too, like “Josie” is in type II territory).
“My Old School” is the old style, but includes a few connecting piano chords that remind me of late 70’s/early 80’s harmonic techniques, as found in Brick’s “Ain’t Gonna Hurt Nobody” or Kool and the Gang’s “Get Down On It”.
In addition to the very jazzy pair of alternating chords on the opening of “Bodhisattva”, the same two chords are part of a repeating four chords (per measure; one on each beat) that make up the music for “Show Biz Kids” (The way the singing goes to this, it’s almost like a rap!)
So when initially flipping through the album years ago, and hearing these songs, that’s what gave me the impression that it was inching toward the later sound. The piano chords in other songs in these first two albums are clearly a “rock” piano style, but now, the chords are starting to get more jazzy.
So Pretzel Logic is where they found the chord change style they wanted, and they continued to refine it, leading up to Aja. But initially still with a heavier guitar presence, so the verses still resemble the grungy sound of “Reeling in the Years” a bit.
“Charlie Freak” was like a direct followup to “Reeling”; same shuffle rhythm, a bit heavier on the piano; melody sounds like an old church chant, like “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”, and with “jingle bells” replacing the tamborines of the previous song. (As there are prototypical early recordings of it on special collection albums, it was something written earlier. It’s about a homeless guy who, close to death, has his fancy 3 oz. pure gold ring altruistically bought by the singer, but then buys drugs with the money, OD’s and dies, and the buyer gives him back the ring at the wake).
“Night By Night” also has a new, jazzier sound (enough to fit on Aja, actually), with the horns, and jazzed up chorus. (I imagine its original conception might have sounded a lot like “Kings” from the first album).
East St. Louis Toodle-oo is a funny sounding instrumental with a voice-bag like sound (probably a synth) filling in for vocals. It’s actually a remake of an old Duke Ellington tune. I only knew this from seeing the songwriter credit. As with Stevie and EWF, they are so original, that there are very few remakes of others’ works.
“Parker’s Band” has an interesting succession of chords in its bridge (which resemble ones Stevie might use, but done rapidly; “We will spend a dizzy weekend smacked into a trance. Me and you will listen to a little bit of what made the preacher dance“). “With A Gun” sounds like it was straight up made for an old TV Western. “Any Major Dude Will Tell You” is also kind of neither the previous nor emerging sound, but rather resembles the contemporaneous Isleys under TONTO with the Rhodes chords. Album closer “Monkey In Your Soul” is similar with its funky Stevie-like Rhodes chords, but then has these four descending chords leading to the chorus (afterwards overlaid with horns), which is like the prototypical “Deacon Blues” sound.
The following album is where the change really occurs and takes hold. “Black Friday”, has the same “shuffle rock” style as “Reelin'” and “Charlie Freak”, but has the newer styled multiple chordal changes in the chorus. “Bad Sneakers” (“….with a pina coladamyfriend…”) strongly foreshadows “Deacon Blues”, and “Chain Lightning” has the same chords as “New Frontier”, from the 80’s solo album.
The “Your Gold Teeth” followup also sounds nothing like part 1; it actually sounds alot like “Razor Boy” or even “Reelin'”, retooled to an alternating 9/8 and 6/8 time. Same basic scale in the chorus, though with different, newer styled opening chords. This opening section uses a rhythm that would have fit in with the first “Gold Teeth”, and features the new styled jazzy (“Aja”-like) piano chord changes, but then suddenly (right in the middle of the instrumental “intro”, still) turns into the different rhythm with the older styled piano chords.
The intro was actually redone from a live performance of the new track the previous year (http://www.freshwap.us/music/119482-steely-dan-doing-it-in-california-the-1974-broadcast-collection-2015.html and that would be their last live performance until the 90’s!) The whole piece is instrumental, and basically repeats that statement (and has the same Moog sound over it), until the middle, where it becomes a mostly bass groove with guitar solo and resembles, to me, the early live versions of Stevie’s “Contusions” (being performed right around the same time). It also sounds a lot like what I call “Neo-Ellis”, which is the style cartoon scorer Ray Ellis would develop the following years in shows like “Tarzan”, the third season of “Shazam”, or “The New Adventures of Batman”.
The performance being in early ’74, around the time of the release of Pretzel Logic, it was probably conceived as expanding upon the first song (like possibly an extended jam session of it; and it did start with a Rhodes, like the first song). So when recording Katy Lied, they for some reason built it up into a new song (and it’s the only one on the album actually copyrighted 1975; the others are 1974 or older) yet oddly done in the older style they were moving away from; and then tacked on a single phrase of the original as the intro on rather than write the new words over the whole original tune.
(Perhaps that older style tune was taken from some other song idea, and they just put it all together, making it the ‘new’ “Your Gold Teeth II”. The rather short lyrics do look like something written in a hurry and then framed into the reused “throw out your gold teeth and see how they roll” plot).
“Daddy Don’t Live In That New York City No More”, at first sounds neither here nor there, when skipping through it, but upon paying more attention, is like a slower precursor to the funk sound of “Josie”.
“Rose Darling” is the square remnant of the older sound.
“Throw Back The Little Ones” has a jazzy new style horn opening in different key, which then turns into an older sounding verse and a sort of “hybrid” sounding chorus with newer sounding chords connecting them; capped off by the country-esque “and gently squeeze them”.
In “Any World That I’m Welcome To”, the chorus is definitely old style, but the piano playing in the opening chords, and the verses have been jazzed up. (An earlier “demo” of this, on a synthesizer, [oddly evoking the 80’s sound of Van Halen’s “Jump”] and missing the newer elements is on YouTube).
The verse style actually resembles “Razor Boy”, where its deeper chords centered on the first beat of the measure, and the more jazzy rhythm with heavier bass. (But the actual chords themselves are even a bit more jazzy than on “Razor Boy”).
When I first heard “Razor Boy” it echoed the new sound because the piano and vocal style I’m discussing reminded me of “Rikki”, which I considered the new style because of the chorus. But in actuality, that song is closer to the old style, outside of the more melodic “Aja”-like first line of the chorus. The verses and even the rest of the chorus are more in the vein of “Reelin'” (as is the verses of “Pretzel Logic”), and the steel pedal guitar is even still present, providing that “country” flavor. (This was so prominent on the first two albums).
I at first thought of this as totally the “new” sound, but it was actually a “transitional” style beginning with “Razor”, and basically ending with “Any World”.
Though I consider it “transitional”, from the album timeline, a few if not many “pre-band demo” songs that are presumably from before the first album, such as “A Little With Sugar”, “Stone Piano”, “Minor from China”* [which resemble Carol King’s “It’s Too Late” a bit] and especially “Old Regime” are kind of similar to this. Imagine “late 60’s” styled version of the Katy Lied album.
*Most copies of “Minor From China” on YouTube and even on the compilation CD’s available on Rhapsody are labeled “Yellow Peril”, and another one with that name is a song also known as “As Long As You Go Where I Go”. A big mistake that has appeared on nearly all the demo albums, is the labeling of the original “Caves of Altamira” as “Android Warehouse”. But as you can hear here https://youtu.be/-jUftHw2mzI, that was really a totally different song (and one that also, really sounds like their later style! Becker and Fagen: Cosmic Forces is the only collection coming up on Rhapsody that has the correct track. Legends Collection’s Steely Dan Collection (2000) also has both tracks separately).
The closest thing to this particular piano and rhythm style on the first album is “Brooklyn”, but the overall sound ends up as the most “country”-fied piece in their whole repertoire (with the steel pedal guitar, and the same vocalist who did “Dirty Work”. Ironic, that that’s how a song about Brooklyn would sound!) There’s also “Turn That Heartbeat Over Again”, but it sounds different from these other songs because it’s a Fender Rhodes rather than an acoustic piano. “Only A Fool Would Say That” has a rhythm and chordal structure similar to those songs as well, but uses jazz guitars instead of an acoustic piano, and so sounds rather different.
What I’m thinking happened, was that I’m considering the “Pretzel-Logic/Katy Lied ‘transition‘” sound was their original style all along, but to get their first record deal, they had to change it to what we got in the first album (and the two songs left off of it: the very countrified “Dallas” and the “Cheers” theme-like “Sail the Waterway”). This is likely the sort of thing they were protesting in a few songs, as we shall see. Once in the door, they then began to move back to their true style, which proved itself for them! (And then from there, they continued to move on).
The distinctive sound of these songs is created largely by the type I mu chords. (I should add that another sound some of them resembles is the Vince Guaraldi background score for Peanuts specials, which used a similar piano jazz. An example is the pair of chords after the second line in the verses of “Rikki”. “Gold Teeth II” has been compared to the “Skating” waltz used on “Charlie Brown Christmas” and “A Boy Named Charlie Brown”). In the next album, “converted” old songs will be changed even further, especially with the advent of the type II chord.
Already, with Dr. Wu, you have a totally jazzy playing, with chords spread out more, and pretty much like the upcoming “Aja” track.
The box set “Citizen Steely Dan” (which has all seven of the bands initial albums, plus the “FM” track and two others; played one album after the other on Rhapsody and had to scratch around to find “FM”; before realizing they were all on that set, in order) has both the ’75 album version of “Everyone’s Gone To the Movies”, plus an earlier demo version, and you can see right in one song, the transformation from the “Old Steely Dan” sound to the new one; updated from the old country-rock sound, to a sort of calypso style. (Even more dramatic is what would be done to another one of these songs on the following album).
The 1990’s live album Alive In America (marking the band getting back together for the new millennium) has a performance of “Reelin'” updated with type II mu chords added (in addition to horns), giving it a bit of that “Peg”/”Black Cow”/”Deacon Blues” sound (and also brings to mind EWF’s “September”, Anita Baker’s “Giving You The Best That I Got” and others), and now it clearly sounds more like the group I was familiar with. (And it’s really only a slight change in the sound of the chords. Pretty amazing!)
By the ’76 album, Royal Scam, the new sound was completely in place. The transition is still progressing, however, as you can still make out elements of the old style under the new style, particularly in the chorus vocals and the general piano playing (with chords played on the beat, which was where “Any World I’m Welcome To” had been upgraded):
The Caves of Altimira
Sign In Stranger
even the Fez; particularly the piano intro
“The Caves Of Altimira” is actually one of those ’68-71 pre-SD songs, and the original is on YouTube, and it’s of course similar to the first album, but it’s still amazing to see the transition, of how it’s the same song and basic rhythm, but the chords and vocals have been modified into the late 70’s sound (most likely type II mu’s), with a bit of that “TONTO” or “King of the World fadeout” style touch in the chorus end progression. The added horns over these chords even produce a strong “Chicago” motif; so there‘s a connection between the two groups for me! And the chorus vocals are rather EWF-ish as an added bonus! (The piano/horn chords over the first two lines of the verses is that basic “Aja album” sound, and the second pair of lines have been stepped up in key to lead to the chorus, where in the original, they sounded the same as the first two lines).
“Everything You Did” is like the opposite, where the intro and verses sound clearly like an old song, right off of the first two albums with the piano playing, and slight country feel (especially the steel pedal guitar even still being around!), but with the sudden change to new style chords added to the chorus.
“I never knewwwwwwww you; You were a rollllerskater; You gonna show me later…”
This was actually a harmonic/vocal style that would basically be expanded in the chorus of “Peg”, and then become popular in the early 80’s, like DeBarge “Can’t Stop”, or D-Train’s stuff, or especially Phil Collins’ “Easy Lover”.
The box set sticks in a song between albums, “Here in The Western World”, said to be from the same year, but not on the album. It’s clearly the older style. (Complete with the steel pedal guitar. Another example of that “transitional” style of playing I was mentioning, but without any adaptation to the new style, like the other songs from this period). Probably really something older, (though I see one site saying it was from the Royal Scam sessions, and the vocals do seem contemporary to that album).
The “Western” entry on this album (it was like a running theme in these earlier projects, like ’74’s “With A Gun”) was “Don’t Take Me Alive”. (Which is like an evolution of the “Do It Again/Your Gold Teeth” family, but with a group of ascending mu chords in the verses that would figure prominently in the upcoming “Josie”; i.e. “you’re out there… With rage in your eyes and your megaphones”.
I’m not sure if I had ever heard it back then, though the chorus sounds a bit familiar, especially “case of dynamite, I can hold up here all night”, and it clearly would have fit on the radio, as “Do it Again” was still pretty much playing a lot in those days, so that I associated it more with the middle of the decade).
By Aja, the sound was totally refined, so that any connection to the old style is completely lost. If the original version of any of these songs had been demo’d in the older style, it would be very interesting to hear what they sounded like! But already, I see that “Deacon Blues” was said to be written in ’76, so that was likely its original sound. (The old “Caves of Altamira”, whose remake resembled “Home At Last” on Aja, would give a sense of what similar new songs would have sounded like. Again, this transformation is truly fascinating!)
It seems that in the previous two albums, having found the sound they wanted, they were cleaning out the old songs they wanted to release that needed to be adapted (and there were many more that were not released), and with Aja, started afresh with the new production. Several popular jazz musicians were even brought in, to further spruce it up. (And Michael McDonald’s voice stands out in the background singing of the bridge on “I Got The News”).
This is why I found the earlier stuff so vastly different, and I still find myself in almost unbelief that “Peg” is by the same band that did “Reelin'”!
The earlier “rock” sound was of course highlighted by rock guitars (and also the group vocals). They from the beginning had acoustic piano, electric piano (likely the Fender Rhodes), and bass, but in adopting a more jazzy sound, the guitars began to fade to the background (especially with many of the original band members leaving after the first few albums) or just interlude solos, as done in other jazzy styles, and the bass and keyboards became more prominent, and horns eventually added.
In “Aja” and “Peg” and others, the earlier style guitar sound can be heard in solos during the instrumental section of the songs.
While heavily using shuffle rhythms earlier on, they had moved away from this, but drummer Bernard Purdie convinced them to record “Home At Last” in his own variation of it called the “Purdie Shuffle” which used a “cut time” (2/2) drum rhythm rather than the common time. So the groove is pretty much the regular tempoed 4/4, but the backbeat is only on beats 1 and 3 (one __ THREE ___ one ____ THREE), and the 16th notes remain triplets, of course. This would also be used on the upcoming “Babylon Sister”. (By contrast, cut time is also what’s used in many older songs, like “Fire In The Hole”, and also that slower instrumental part of “Aja” with the guitar solos, but the groove under it is regular eighths rather than 16ths triplets, so it’s not a shuffle, but it is the same tempo).
Entering the 80’s, in the final initial band album after Aja, (Gaucho), the overall style remained similar, but inching toward the IGY sound with more prominent electric (or combination of electric and acoustic) piano “whole” note chords and reggae-inspired grooves and harmonica solos.
“Babylon Sister” I first heard in one of the weeks ending ’88 and beginning ’89, in boot camp. It was a quiet Sunday, we were far along in our training enough that the instructors could take the weekends off, and the dorm chief was in charge. They had the instructor’s radio (in his little office) on, and this song with these far stretching deep Rhodes chords jumping all over the place was playing, and I at first thought to myself eagerly, “What’s that?”, but then instantly figured it was something by Steely Dan or Donald Fagen, and when it got to the chorus, I immediately recognized it as another one of those strange titles I had seen on the albums. The chords are so up and down and sideways that I have had a hard time even being able to retain the verse part of the song. It is clearly the pinnacle of the sound they developed, and light years ahead of even anything even on Aja.
The title track actually is a step back, sounding more neutral (aside from the jazzy horns), like some of the transitional period songs, until the chorus, where the chord steps up.
Otherwise, with the final polish on the sound, Fagen had hit his plateau, (basically one of common “fusion jazz”, or what would eventually be called “smooth” or “cool” jazz) and as such, this album is basically what all remaining productions (solo or the band’s regroup in the new millennium) would pretty much sound like. (Without any really commercial sounding hits like “Peg”, “Hey Nineteen” or “IGY”, with more of a heavy bass rhythm sound and the chordal “hooks” often mainly in the chorus, and the vocals greatly mellowed down as in cool jazz, compared to the almost “shouting” style in the aforementioned songs).
“Glamour Profession” was their nod to the more commercialized “disco” rhythm concluding at that time, though done in the new deep Fender chord style of the album (and like Babylon Sister, is all over the place with new chords; many of which I associate with various tunes over the next decade, in the R&B-jazz fusion style emerging then. Should be mentioned that 1976’s “Kid Charlemagne” represented the earlier slower disco groove of that period).
There’s also a bunch of unreleased stuff on Youtube from the same album session, and it too is remarkable! “Kulee Baba” is similar to “Glamour Profession”, and “Second Arrangement” is like a definite followup to “Deacon Blues”, and reportedly had a studio production tape erased, likely leading to its shelving and being replaced by the more mellow pop-sounding “Third World Man”.
This is pretty much what the name “Steely Dan” had always been associated with to me. They were initially in the same category as “Spyrogyra”, whom, recall, I first bought together. Yet, seeing their full history now, it did fit in as a “rock group” kind of name. The first album cover even had a sort of large script logo font the band name was printed in, like other rock groups pretty much (so it looked like a typical 70’s “rock” album, and the lips/mouth connected to the logo evokes the Rolling Stones), but that whole look was dropped, and in every album afterward, the band name appeared in small plan text; often the same or similar font as the album title, and often in smaller print. (Basically, like a jazz album.
So looking at it from the other angle, seeing the first album with its big logo, and hearing the songs on it, thus partially reassociating the name of the group to an old rock format; it then becomes hard to believe they would evolve into this “smooth” jazz style of Gaucho and afterward).
Also, around this time in my life was Grover Washington’s remake of “Time Out of Mind”; the original also from that album. Not sure if I had heard the original before, but this remake still sounded just like them, the giveaway being the horns over “cherry wine”, which sounded so “Deacon Blues”, “Black Cow” or “Peg”-like.
I had also actually thought Michael Frank’s “Your Secret’s Safe With Me” was Steely Dan, to the point of having even hoped to find it on Aja (or perhaps Nightfly)). I only remembered the jazzy chorus from that song, and thought I remembered the verses as sounding like Deacon Blues or perhaps Home At Last, so I listened for those songs to turn into it on the chorus, and it wouldn’t have been too surprising, with the way chords change. (It may have better been led into by “Bad Sneakers”).
I then figured it might be somewhere on the other albums, but then began hearing it frequently on CD101, which is how I found out its true artist. (Walter Becker did work with Franks, but that was later, after the album this song was on came out). Other songs I had remembered by sound and not title along with that was “New Frontier” and “The Goodbye Look” (which resembled “The Shaker Song” by Spyrogyra and Manhattan Transfer), which of course turned out to be on the first Fagen solo album.
Raps that would sample Steely Dan songs are Lord Tariq & Peter Gunz “Deja Vu” (the opening to Black Cow), and De La Soul “Eye Know”, which takes the vocal “I know I love you better” and a clip of the horns from “Peg”, and while I thought the guitar was taken from that too, it and the other horns the follow as if they were from the same source were actually from the beginning of The Mad Lads’ “Make This Young Lady Mine”, and it also includes a whistle sample from Otis Redding’s “Sittin’ On The Dock of the Bay”. Organized Konfusion’s “Walk Into the Sun” alternates the “Green Earrings” riff (rap verses) with EWF’s instrumental groove “Runnin'” (chorus).
Christian singer Gary Oliver was a bit influenced by the IGY sound, in the song “Walk in the Light (Follow the Son)”, even down to the horns.
The production of music is fascinating, and this makes me so wish I could master it, which is nearly impossible on the Autism spectrum, at least for me. Here he even shows you how he steps up the chords from something plainer! There’s even some “gospel” chords in there!
The charted hits were “Do It Again” and “Reeling In the Years” (both of which I had heard from mostly likely not ’72, but sometime heading back that way), then on the next album, “Show Biz Kids” and “My Old School”, which I never heard or don’t remember, followed by “Pretzel Logic” and “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” (both of which I heard nearly two decades later), then “Black Friday”, “Bad Sneakers”, “Kid Charlemagne”, “The Fez”, and “Haitian Divorce”; none of which I remember. (Bad Sneakers does sound a bit like something I’ve heard before, but not too long ago; at a time when I wasn’t as interested in the group, but recognized the sound, or maybe I did catch the title, and remembered seeing it on the album, and just figured that I knew that by that time the sound had changed, and then forgot it).
So basically, for me, it went straight from “Reelin'”, to “Peg”; and from “Do It Again” to “Josie” (and again; no idea that these were by the same group). But clearly, after their first two hits, they hit a slump, with one minor hit that was pretty much the old style, but music was changing, and that style was becoming outmoded. So the other hit had the more jazzy chords, and when they experimented with that more on subsequent albums, they began getting more hits.
So by Aja, they perfected the sound that made that album a pop hit, basically, whose single hits you couldn’t not hear. (Though “Deacon Blues” was also on the chart, and I’m not sure I remember it from before getting the album 10 years later. Could have, though, as it didn’t sound totally unfamiliar. It just didn’t register until then. “FM” was also on the chart in the midst of the Aja singles the following year).
Then, from Gaucho, “Hey Nineteen” was basically a “household item” type of “top 40” commercial pop hit. (The other hit from that album was “Time Out of Mind”; but I’m not sure I ever heard that back then).
In the US, the highest scoring hit was “Rikki” (#4; their top hit? Don’t know why I missed it, or at least didn’t remember it), followed by “Do It Again” (#6), and then “Hey Nineteen” (#10). “Peg” and “Reelin'” both reached #11.
80’s (end of initial run) and afterward, and raising lyrical eyebrows
Still, the problem for me, was what these cryptic titles and lyrics really meant. Like I find a song from the album before Aja; “The Fez” is about a condom! (Seems to be about safe sex. Like a precursor to BDP’s rap “Jimmy Hats”).
“Josie” I had heard somewhere was a slang for the female sex organ. So then, any time I would see or think of the popular comic book and cartoon character I grew up with, it would now bring to mind this song, and I would have to wonder if the whole name of her band (which happens to include a feline term that also subs as a common vulgar slang for the female anatomy), was a sort of sexual pun. [Though the song character may actually have been a real girl he knew, as a “Josie” is mentioned in the old previously unreleased song “Minor from China” (aka “Yellow Peril”).]
There were some good messages mixed in there, such as the album title track, “The Royal Scam”, is about Puerto Rican [or whichever country has a red and green flag; PR is a US territory, but it mentions “the city of St. John”, which is likely San Juan, PR] immigration to New York where they had still faced poverty, in addition to hostility from others. (Very relevant in today’s political landscape, where fierce battles have been raging on about immigrants from other, non-territory Latin American countries). “King of the World” is about a nuclear aftermath. “Fire In the Hole” seems to be about a misunderstood person feeling like he has “nowhere left to turn” (which I can often identify with). The title being a war term, it could have been about that as well. Similarly, “Any World (That I’m Welcome To)” is about the wish for a better existence.
So I had only the Aja LP, and eventually got the CD of that one and Fagen’s by then solo album, The Nightfly, like I did for the whole Stevie collection, and was completing for Earth Wind & Fire (who had obviously pagan themes, but at least most of the songs were pretty kosher; “Serpentine Fire” being the primary exception. Then, they even dropped the pagan imagery from the albums for a time, when they got back together, around the same time I became Christian).
So this album pretty much continues the same style and weird lyrical images. It also included “New Frontier”, which I had heard before, and the lively, Clavinet/Rhodes fused “Greenflower Street”, and the funky-chorused title track.
Fagen’s first solo project was actually a single “True Companion” for a film, the previous year (and thus between the last band album and the first solo album). This song (the first more than half of which is instrumental) has a very “otherworldly” sound that’s like an odd mix of some of the stuff on the previous album (especially the closer, “Third World Man”) and Stevie Wonder’s instrumental “Easy Going Evening” (on the EP extension of Songs In the Key of Life; particularly the Rhodes chords), and even the “water world” score of the original Super Mario Bros!
Afterwards, Fagen would appear to drop out of music for awhile, but at the end of the 80’s do a single song for a film, “Century’s End”, which basically continues the “Nightfly” sound. Then, another solo album in ’93.
Fagen basically skipped right over that purely “digital” mid-80’s sound of ’84-8 that transformed everyone else’s music. The closest we have to what he would have sounded like in that period, is “Century’s End”, at the end of this period, and its B-side “Shanghai Confidential” and which are totally electronic. (The latter song even has that digital percussion with the synth clap, that was widespread in that period up to then, so it even sounds like it’s going to be a rap track).
Afterward, popular music would enter a sort of “retro” style, leading down to the present, where older sounds were brought back (and likely influenced by the popularity of fusion jazz). The DC area’s “Go-go music” genre, Swing Out Sister’s “Twilight World”, Stock Aitken Waterman’s “Roadblock” and Soul II Soul’s “Back To Life” spearheaded this.
So by ’93, the “digital sound” revolution was basically over (and as the digital equipment could now also almost perfectly emulate the old analog sounds, including increasingly the direct “sampling” of older sounds), and Fagen’s Kamakiriad could pick up right where the “pre-digital” The Nightfly had left off. (Since that album is timewise, closest to ’84, we could try to imagine it with the acoustic piano and Rhodes replaced with the digital EP and a “beat box” or synth drum machine, but it still seems to be a stretch. We could also just get a sense of what it would have been like from Grover Washington’s rendition of “Time Out Of Mind”, which uses the digital electric piano in place of the original’s acoustic. On the other hand, Sade and most of the “fusion” performers of the time were jazz-oriented performers who held the pre-digital fort throughout the period, and so we can imagine perhaps Fagen would have done the same).
In actuality, he was not totally inactive in those years, but rather produced other acts, and so this is where we have to look to see his adaptation to the “digital” sound.
In 1983, he wrote the song “Love Will Make it Right” for Diana Ross, and not only that, but original Steely Dan producer Gary Katz (who had also done Fagen’s solo project the previous year) produced that and several other tracks on the album. (I really do not know any of her stuff from that album [only the song title “Pieces of Ice” vaguely rings a bell], as this was a slump period for her, and she came back a year later with Marvin Gaye tribute “Missing You”).
So this song, though technically before the great “digital” revolution, is nevertheless totally synthesized. Most of these other songs also bear some of the SD influence, especially “That’s How You Start Over” (written by SD ally Michael McDonald and having strong echoes of “Peg”, which McDonald was apart of), but reflect the pre-digital sound.
For 1984, he would produce Greg Phillinganes’ song “Lazy Nina”, which I know I’ve heard before, sometime.
“Back in the maaaaaaaze…with Lazy Nina. Walking the dog, and watching Soul Train. Reading the paper. And going to movies…”
It does have the typical new synth bass, and those “Minneapolis” style synths added, though the primary instrument sounds like a synthesized or processed acoustic piano. But with the title, harmonic structure, and “Deacon Blues”-esque chorus, it is clearly the perennial Fagen style.
Also, both he and Katz would receive producer credit on “The Gospel At Colonnus, Original Cast” play, which consists of black gospel music and not an electronic style. Katz would also produce Joe Cocker’s Civilized Man that year, with its heavy “Reelin’/Black Friday”-like shuffle rhythm.
In 1986, Fagen would do the Yellowjackets’ title track “Shades”, which was an instrumental jazz composition (and which does bear the digital sound, which jazz tunes usually did not). You can hear his style of choral progressions.
The same year, Katz would produce an entire album for this female I never heard of, Rosie Vela, which right from the start bears that mid-to-later ’80s version of the synth “rock” sound. Fagen played synths on several tracks, including the title tack “Zazu”, in which the band’s other founder, Walter Becker also played guitar. (So it was like a mini-SD reunion, and the collaborations would actually pick up steam in the coming years). So the Steely Dan sound is there, in places (like “Magic Smile” and “Boxs”, in terms of chordal changes) but it is very “subdued” under that 80’s rock sound. (Like Civilized Man also). Perhaps what they would have sounded like if they stuck with the sound of the first two albums and modernized from there. In the 90’s, Becker and Fagen began moving closer back together throughout the previous decade, producing each other’s solo albums and then starting to do concerts in 1995-6, with some new songs such as “Wet Side Story”, which is another one that sounds like typical 80’s rock, and what they would have sounded like if they had not become so jazzy; along with “Cash Only Island”, which is sort of inbetween, with the jazzy chordal progression at the end of the chorus.
The “cool jazz” format is what obviously worked best for them, and what Fagen would quickly return to.
So on Fagen’s second solo project; I did not pay attention to this new album, and may not have been aware of it, or just wasn’t interested in his solo work enough at the time. However, two years later, a friend (a fellow fan of Stevie and others like Fagen) makes me a Christmas tape, that included a song from this album, “Snowbound” (and also several songs by Herb Alpert, and Smokey’s “I Can Tell that Christmas Is Near”, which was written by Stevie and Syreeta).
This to me is the perennial “Friday evening after work in a club during Christmas season” sound, and features those same kinds of seeming random scene lyrics. It’s been part of my Christmas playlist (and one of my favorite “modern” holiday season songs) for 20 years now! (It was actually co-written by Becker, in addition to produced by him).
There were several other singles left off of the album, such as the piano shuffle “Confide in Me” (which is also more subdued in the chord change sound), while on the other hand, sounding as far out as the Gaucho session stuff is “Big Noise, New York”, produced for a Spike Lee movie that was never made. Another track produced around the time are “Blue Lou”, which is pure classic (instrumental) jazz. Another one, that may have been produced later is a remake of Henry Mancini’s “Hank’s Pad” (with female lyrics added).
The group got back together in 2000, and the album pretty much picked up from before. (I think I remember being in a store and hearing at least parts of the album, beginning with very funky “Gaslighting Abbie”, with it’s funny chorus chords with the vocals pitched up to the point of sounding like Take 6, and it was clear, “they’re back!”. It uses the vocal “stretching” technique first tried in the bridge to “Your Gold Teeth”, and then popularized in the chorus of “Aja”, and then stepped up in pitch in the middle of the verses of “Glamour Profession”, and just when you think they had outdone themselves there, they take it even further in this song!) I still did not push to get it, as I hadn’t fully explored their history yet (and it wasn’t until very recently, with Rhapsody, that I finally went through all their stuff).
One song that evokes the old TONTO-like early-to-mid 70’s sound in places on the first three albums is “Almost Gothic”! “What A Shame About Me” is like a latter day nod to “Do It Again” in the verses, while the chorus is like “Greenflower Street” to the third power! (The subject matter is basically like a repeat of “Deacon Blues”).
“Negative Girl” has a smooth Rhodes sound with a catchy rhythm which changes step from verse to chorus. 8 min. closer “West of Hollywood” has an interesting descending and shifting triplet chord refrain which it fades on. (Not sure if that’s a Celtic style). It otherwise sounds almost like the old sound with the rock guitar played throughout. So it actually brings to mind “Reelin’ In The Years”!
In 2003, I’m skimming through the main Sam Ash on 48th St. (would often check up on the latest synthesizers or digital pianos there), and I hear their newest album, but one of the tracks is something called “Godwhacker”, which had words that appeared to be aimed one-to-one at God Himself, and you’ll have to see them here: http://songmeanings.com/songs/view/3530822107858557176, as a few lines are so bad I cannot even bring myself to quote the most pertinently shocking words. (And I’m not usually squeamish about others’ blasphemies and such; they are the ones who will have to answer to God for it).
My friend I mentioned above, also a Christian, told me that it was really a metaphor aimed at corrupt religious leaders like Saddam Hussein; with 9-11 still fresh in everyone’s mind. That made me feel a little bit better, though I still believed using terms aimed at “the almighty” or “Daddy” was still too over the top for comfort, even if referring to humans. You’re basically still essentially blaming Him for their actions they are only doing in His name, despite whether He actually sanctioned them or not.
(The album otherwise continues with the same sound, with “Things I Miss The Most” as the “Deacon Blues” representative, “Pixeleen” with its prominent µ-II’s ringing out the syllables of the title in the chorus, “Slang of Ages” being Becker’s sole lead vocal for the band, and a part of “Blues Beach” using the old “Peanuts” style piano sound, which basically sounds like a parting nod to the old Steely Dan. Titled “Everything Must Go” and with another song, the opener, “The Last Mall”, it sounds like a theme indicating that’s completely the end for the band, though they’ve just finished a tour 12 years later, this past year [Edit: and another one, the following year, 2016]).
In passing, I should mention I would shortly afterward get rid of the CD’s of Aja, Nightfly, Abbey Road, one of those new Beatles singles released in the 90’s, my entire Earth, Wind & Fire collection, and an 80’s new wave compilation, in a musical purge sparked on by being exposed to (and starting to debate where I thought it went overboard) old-line fundamentalists’ full “philosophy” on music; and even CCM singer Carman aknowledging on the 700 Club that there’s “a spirit behind music”, and then feeling convicted, and then my wife objecting to the huge ankh that appeared on EWF’s latest CD at the time, as they now moved back to pagan imagery. Plus being basically spooked out by an obscure old song I was trying to record. (Below. And then, right after I did this, I found that they had just come out with another new album, that really maxed it with the religious imagery!)
My getting rid of the Fagen works; after I found that [in addition to the titles’ mysterious “veiled references”], the band itself’s name was said to be such a reference; taken from the name of a “dildo” (sex toy used as a penis. Just now looking this up further, I see it was not a real brand or type that ever existed, but rather a fictional one, used in an old William Burroughs novel. There were actually three of them; each one succeeding the last when it was destroyed).* And also, being still uncomfortable about “Godwhacker”, despite the mitigating intepretation of it.
*In another of the pre-band demos, “Soul Ram” (which also sounds strikingly like the later style in places), the name appears to be used as such, and possibly still before it was even adopted as the band’s name. Perhaps this song was the final inspiration for them taking the name. With several other weird names like that considered (http://www.steelydan.com/schiller1.html), I wondered if the final name was still in part settled on by the steel pedal guitar that figured strongly in the early studio recordings. I did see somewhere Becker affirm that it was.
Wrestling with God?
However, in just looking the lyrics up again, and finding the above link, I see the old “Saddam” interpretation was a common myth, and someone cited Fagen in a book he wrote, Eminent Hipsters as saying he in fact did write the song about actually going to Heaven (with Satan, “slinky red foot”) and “taking God out”, after his mother died horribly of Alzheimer’s! “‘If the Deity actually existed, what sane person wouldn’t consider this to be justifiable homocide?’ So yeah. The lyrics are kind of straight forward. However it does give a whole new philosophical dimension to the song. The concept of if a God did exist, he surely deserves punished for his blatant lack of care etc.” Another commenter suggests it’s some sort of “Manichaean fantasy”, “doing riffs on Gnosticism”, about taking out “a god (lower case)”. Still, there is a clear allusion to Genesis and the pre-Fall unity man had with the Creator as recorded there. (Like “Caves of Altamira” is also actually about the innocence of the prehistoric world “before the Fall”).
I liked the two comments:
this is a sad, sad song. i love steely dan music, in spite of their frequently perverted subject matter. but as great a groove as this is, the playing, the solos etc, to see a human being who was given life and breath by God shaking his fist at heaven and wanting to kill the Father who loves him is just a perfect picture of man’s pathetic attitude toward God since creation. Exactly the same as when Jesus came to earth to rescue man — and the very ones he came to save mocked him, spit on him, and crucified him. This is how we treat God. Donald’s mom had Alzheimers? ok, my mom died of Parkinson’s, welcome to reality in a sin-stained world. Now grow up, don’t get angry at God, get angry at slinky red foot for ruining God’s perfect sinless creation and your fellow man for gladly jumping on the bandwagon. I was going to introduce this song to my steely dan tribute band until i examined the lyrics closer. This is donald and walter at their cleverest, profoundest worst. I fear for their souls.
If the backstory on this song is accurate then it helps me understand how in the absence of empathy and grief we resort to violence; in this case it’s violence against G-d. I can’t imagine the deep sense of sadness and anger that Fagen must feel, and that his need for connection has been lost now from his mothers passing. I wonder if he had a profound need to understand why G-d allowed his mother to suffer and eventually die. And I wonder if he was disgusted with himself for not being able to deliver her from the disease. But in “Godwhacker,” Killing off G-d is actually another compounding of tragedy upon tragedy. One of the reasons being that killing G-d doesn’t liberate you from the need to grieve: so it is a powerless and tragic act.
The way back to wholeness is to repent, trust Jesus, and discover the power of good grieving which transforms your spiritual life comprehensively.
(Philip Yancey IIRC somewhere; likely Disappointment With God, cites some old writing by someone, about man being like a boy who kills his parents and then cries that he wants his mommy and daddy! The song “Don’t Take Me Alive” even seems to echo this sentiment, as the guy, cornered by the authorities, basically has a death wish because “I crossed my old man back in Oregon”, which is assumed to mean he killed him. Then, there’s two unreleased songs from the Gaucho session, “Talkin’ ‘Bout My Home”, and “Kind Spirit” which seem to look to Heaven).
Although a problem, as I’ve been discussing a lot in my writings, is that these sentiments exacerbate the problem by raising the very sorts of expectations [which are basically the sources of nearly all pain, when they are unmet] that lead people to rebel like that in the first place. “Trusting Jesus” leading to some sort of “transformation” that compensates for the loss. But to be honest, it doesn’t really work like that.
Ultimately, the goal is supposed to be to put the suffering of life in perspective, realizing that it will be more than made up for in Heaven. But in the original scriptural context, “trusting God” is to eliminate the problem of guilt from the condemnation of the Law (which did cause a lot of anxiety in Biblical times). It is opposed to trusting in our own works. Also, to deal with persecution by the Temple system (at the hands of the Romans whom they turned Christians over to).
Faith in Christ was not offered as a promise to make us feel better in general life circumstances (which include physical pain and death). But a whole massive Christian teaching industry often puts it out as such, and basically sells it to the masses (which people on the outside also see and judge our validity by).
So when it doesn’t make some people feel better (and which time the people who teach this will then come right out and clarify it’s “not about feelings”, or “feeling good”), then this will likely lead to disillusionment, and possibly even rebellion like this. (And then, we see here the way people often coldly dismiss people’s suffering; like “grow up, it’s just sin”. Many Christians don’t think this way when they are feeling mistreated by “the [sinful] world”).
I still grapple with why the world is the way it is, under a “personal” God. Not so much directly about “why pain” any more (it seems to be a apart of nature, and the preterist-based views move away from a notion of “the Fall” being physical, and affecting the physical universe; it was man’s “knowledge” which clearly, according to the text, became corrupted).
So with me, its more about why this world often seems to encourage people to follow “nature” (the survival instinct, where the powerful prosper at others’ expense; rather than “integrity”, which is about justice, care and the patience to not depend solely on nature).
I tend to look more at why man causes man pain, where Alzheimer’s is not man’s fault, and I imagine man is doing as much as he can to find cures. (There’s rumors that the medical industry and “Big Pharma” may hold back cures to diseases, for the sake of profit, of course, but then that gets right back to my query, of man and abuse of power).
Basically, it all boils down to why difficulty is “tangible” (or physical, concrete, material; basically the “Sensory” perspective), while the “hope” that is supposed to compensate it, can only be intangible (mental, abstract, immaterial; or the iNtuitive perspective. And I’m an N, so you would think this would be right up my alley, but it only led me to the philosophical questions, and purported answers, but then I eventually demanded tangible evidence to support it. ⦅Likely, at least partly because the unpreferred S perspective is my weak spot⦆. It’s ultimately the “coniunctio” we all desire, where all split polarities are harmonized, including the opposites of the polarities our egos choose to focus on).
The intangible world is filled with various “images” and “voices” saying many different things, and one particular image we may choose in “faith” is easily drowned out by the sensory world (like the survival instincts and the sex drive, which may pull us against moral convictions), which we can try to tune out, but eventually, will make itself known in a very “rude awakening”. Yet, the only solution we’re offered lies in this intangible world in our heads (or “hearts”) and we’re supposed to choose that over “what is seen”.
The understandable result of such a subjective nature of “faith”: thousands of different religious groups; including sects within religions; especially Christianity, (and even secular philosophies), claiming to have some inner-found “truth” (or even claiming it is really externally “objective” truth), yet they’re all different and conflicting. God would not be telling all these different people different things as “truth”; but then which one is right, and “what causes them to differ” from all the others? [i.e., if one says they are the ones with “the truth”, then they are “different” from all the other groups, but even among “Bible-believing” groups, where they are agreed on scripture as the standard of truth, everyone interprets it differently, claiming God led them to the true meaning, but ignoring that they are still a human claiming to be right, but no less prone to error; just like all the others].
Of course, to standard theology, even with all of this, people are still “held accountable”, to “know better”, and that’s why they will be “judged” so harshly. They use Romans 1, which seems to pitch a “general revelation” basis of “accountability”, yet general revelation seems to point to inhuman power mongering, a lot of times. (Then, they’ll try to run behind “the Fall” to say God’s creation is corrupted; to be fixed in the future. But if that’s the case, then the “general revelation” argument falls as well. In actuality, that passage is talking about specific people back then given special revelation, which they still “held in unrighteousness”).
But still, why imagine yourself going to take out the Creator of the whole universe, who created that whole big ball of glowing steel wool scientists have mapped out, in which our whole galaxy supercluster (over 100 million light years across) is an infinitessimal speck?
It obviously stems from a belief that He is not real. (It’s one thing for someone to maybe have some thoughts like that, in the most extreme bout of anger or something; but to publish it in a song?) You may argue that the religious people don’t really know for sure that He exists (like my father always said “you don’t know; the Pope don’t know…” etc,) but then are you that sure he doesn’t exist? At least respect people (including fans, as we see) who do believe in Him!
To attack God like that, obviously stems from some sort of expectation of Him, not met. If one was really sure He was non-existent, then why would someone bother getting angry at Him for pain and suffering in the first place? (I don’t think anyone actually ever gets angry at the “Flying Spaghetti Monster” skeptics created to mock theism!
Of course, in the Christian world-view, since Jesus was God in the flesh, and our sins caused Him to have to be killed on the Cross, we all in a sense have already “whacked” God. And He rose again, and forgave us. But of course, Fagen likely won’t go for that. As won’t the Church for making it unconditional to everyone. Both agree on a perpetual enmity between man and God; only one chooses to then dismiss God, while the other has exploited this to build itself up as an institution through making an individual’s release from this enmity conditional on basically joining the institution; i.e. “conversion”).
Listening to his stuff, with chord change after chord change, I keep saying this man is so talented! Pretty much up there with Stevie, even though he hasn’t quite gotten the spotlight that Stevie has. (I’ve even seen videos of him performing; singing/sitting/playing on the keyboard with shades on, and he looks just like a “white Stevie”!) So it’s like “why?”! It’s a shame that this is what he would say about God (which would definitely make it almost impossible to justify listening to him in the event I ever directly tangle with fundamentalist Christians questioning “our musical choices” again. This is especially worrisome, with inferior extraverted Feeling.
BTW, As fans of the band are often called “Danites”, it brings to mind the biblical Israelite tribe of the same name. This suggests an obvious pun, regarding the Danites being omitted from the final gathering of the “12 tribes of Israel” in Revelation. It’s said the tribe was omitted because of its greater wickedness and was replaced by splitting Menasseh off from the house of Joseph into a new tribe).
The “anima” dynamic; the sights and sounds of “life”
The whole point of all this, is how the sounds have become tied in with a sense of “life”, for me. It’s obviously some sort of “anima” dynamic, for me to sit down and pour out such a long memoir of this group I haven’t even talked about before (and pushing back other projects I was planning for this vacation). It was from when I was becoming familiar with their stuff, in my early 20’s, and had just become Christian, and longing for a partner (which now would be much harder to find, as it had to be only a Christian as mature in the faith as you were, and you couldn’t sleep with them or even do risky behaviors like heavy petting or too much time alone, until marriage).
During this time, being grown enough to explore the city on my own, I also began seeing a lot of lower Manhattan, a place I didn’t go to much, since everything I would be taken to as a child was usually further uptown. I was in the Village a lot, looking in old record stores (particlarly for non-midlined Motown albums. Midlining was where they changed all of the original sublabels like “Tamla” or “Gordy” to Motown, [5xxx series], and eliminated interior flaps with the artwork or lyrics and credits. Was at the time trying to get original versions of some of Stevie’s later contract 1 albums. Contract 2 and afterward were never midlined).
For some reason, “Peg” and especially “Josie” came to be associated with Chinatown and Little Italy. Probably from hearing them on the radio around the time I was starting to go to San Genarro (which originally extended around past the Mulberry Bend, and perhaps eating at a Chinese restaurant, and I also discovered Chinatown Fair, the only old arcade in Manhattan, to still be open today!)
Again, rather than a semitropical atmosphered lowrise “California” sound (like “surf and sun” type of stuff), these songs seem to fit in with the gritty tenement blocks of lower Manhattan. Especially the irregularly laid out West, with triangular blocks where 6th or 7th Avenues extend and cut through the below Houston (the start of the main numbered Street section) grid, with little 19th century smaller buildings with cafes, or whatever. (They also remind me of sections of uptown, on the West side).
The rich sounds are to audio what color is visually, and figuratively, and as at least my wife and I (having honeymooned in LA, and me exploring before that, in the Air Force) agree, New York is the more “colorful” place, at least as far as architecture and atmosphere. (A sound I associate more with that California “fun in the sun” atmosphere would be Fagen’s “Tomorrow’s Girls”, immediately following “Snowbound” on Kamakiriad).
Fagen and his band were originally from New York, and their songs basically were reflecting their college years adventures with wine, women and song, or whatever. (Probably drugs, too. Some of the women they were singing about, like the Babylon Sisters, were prostitutes or other shady behaviors. Or some suggest some girls they had picked up in Babylon, NY[LI] and took to the west, and driving up and down that coast. In that instance, he was not advocating whatever sex was occurring, but having apparently indulged so much already, was realizing it was not good. So that was a “learning from life” experience).
So many of them really are “New York” experience songs, despite where they were recorded! (“Babylon Sisters” does specifically mention California areas, however. But then this includes in part, San Francisco, which is culturally and visually closer to the atmosphere of NY than LA anyway). Greene St. is mentioned in “Black Cow”, and the later “What A Shame About Me” mentions Jane St.; both in the West Village, along with “Lower Broadway”.
Even vocal sounds like in the opener of the LP I bought: “…it’s over now, take your big Black Cow, and GET OUTTA HERE!” and “I take ya PICTCHA! I keep it with yo LETTA” sound so New York (particularly Brooklyn, where they were from. Reminds me of the New York baseball culture, as well; they probably played the latter at games a lot back then).
Even though as a young Christian, and a black American (secular or religious), homosexuality was the worse thing a person could be “into”, and of course, that’s what you thought about when you thought about the Village. I did not mingle with people there (so never encountered anything in that lifestyle), just browsed through, most often to check out the old record stores, maybe got something to eat (usually at Subway, which was new in NY at the time, and still pretty rare), and then headed home.
But I got this sense of “life”, in the sights and sounds there. It’s basically what I would now recognize as the “anima”; life-giving instinctual energy. My father was basically one of those 60’s bohemians (rebelling against the old societal order with all its racism, neurosis and hypocrisy) who had eventually put on a suit and joined the regular work force and the “nuclear family” life, and yet was well familiar with the Village scene, particularly for the jazz, which he was into.
And at my entry to adulthood, he was contantly pressuring me to “grow up” and experience “life”, and of course feared my new adoption of Christianity (which he was bitterly harassing me over at times) would hinder that. (He gave me his copies of The World Bible and the novel The Razor’s Edge to try to “broaden my perspective”. I did gain some comparative religion from the former, yet still convincing me that Christianity was the only one that really addressed man’s problems in any coherent way, and the latter I just could not get far into; not being into novels, and it seemed very dense. Was never even able to get into Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which I had been given years earlier, and that’s supposed to be a classic kind of INTP “nerd” book!)
Still, by 21, I just imagined myself finally fitting in this thing called “life” I felt so cast out of, and maybe finding the perfect woman out there, coming from her own difficult journey (which I take it Razor’s Edge was about), amongst all the people. (Ironically, the one I did eventually find, was probably never far away, as she and her best friend used to hang out in the Village a lot, and she too always liked something about the liberal atmosphere. We spent dating and early marriage, going to places like UNO’s and occasionally other restaurants like BBQ).
But even while believing this was the pit of “Sodom” (I joked to my wife, when passing through St Marks Pl. once; “if those walls [inside the buildings] could talk…”; —though not taking as quite a strict personally judgmental attitude against them like other Christians), there was still this sense of “life” and “freedom” in the [slightly] androgynous or artistic looking females walking around, and the scruffy male hipsters (or whatever they were called then), all often carrying around musical instruments, or [graphic] art stuff.
I’m not in the Village proper as much anymore (though I run the the train underground through it every day, and just had to visit a dermatologist there), but since it’s September, San Genarro is going on this week. Probably why that has had such an allure is just the bustle of people, on what is an “only in New York” mix of a largely residential street lined by tall (relatively speaking) old tenements (and I like the architecture of the “new law” ones), with businsses on the ground floor.
It’s a cross section of “life”.
Also significant; this stretch leading to what became the big “anima-infused” project of last year, the Five Points (—which the block between Mulberry and Mott south of Mosco[Park], is technically apart of as it was the same numbered block that made up the original southeast corner of the intersection, even after being bisected by Mulberry, and later, Worth). This area had already been significant in that way, and so the Five Points interest just reinforced it.
My first visit to San Genarro, when it extended all the way down there, my father parked on his work parking lot spot (now occupied by the Moynihan courthouse), which was just yards from the 24 Baxter site I would soon be intrigued by, but not until much later know where it was. So I’m generally in the area when I visit the festival, with Chinatown Fair being the end of my annual circuit.
So this got me thinking about the group. It’s like in one band, a little bit of all the elements of all the other music I like. I’m just coming to realize how much I would be thinking of one song or line or another over the years. It was something I really took for granted.
The parts of music, and religious criticism
All of this should shed light on why I was so adamant against the old-line fundamentalist “traditional music only” music “philosophy” I wrote about in the old CCM essay (http://www.erictb.info/ccm.html), while other “new-evangelicals” had largely ignored the criticism. As I said there, “Rejecting everything for only serene orchestras and stately hymns is like blasting away the entire earth and every city, leaving only Christian countrysides”. That was what they were essentially arguing, in not only condemning secular music, but even Christians’ adaptation of contemporary styles (embodied in “CCM”, and at least one critic even goes after “charismatics with their jazzy harmonies”).
Obviously, what I’m discussing here is primarily “harmony“. The fundamentalist music class I took discussed the three main divisions of music: melody (basically the “tune” that helps us identify the song), harmony (the chordal structure), and rhythm (the beat). The “words” were separate from these; hence, “changing the words of the same music” is seen as not making it any better, to them.
Their issue against rock and related styles is that “rhythm” is prominent (especially with the drum “backbeat” almost universal in pop music, where the heavier drum stroke is on the “down beat” [even numbers], which they then claim is what makes it “sensual” and even “demonic”. But then what is really “heavier”? It’s the [louder] snare drum that is on the down beat, while a [deeper but less prominent] bass drum is on the “proper” beats, but the bass is really the “heavier” one, so that could actually be considered the true “accent”, and right there, the entire argument against the backbeat accent would fall flat! Further evidence, as mentioned, when cut time is used, the drum beats are removed from the downbeat altogether, though it does sort of create a “new” downbeat on 3, though again, the deeper bass drum is on 1, still).
Jazz is criticized for emphasizing “harmony” too much, which they claimed “distracts with its sensuality”. (This is why one leader calls even the fairly conservative charismatics’ music “jazzy”. It has more emotion, embodied in the harmony, though most of it is still far from what I would call “jazzy”). It is what can shape mood (hence, what I’m discussing here), including sadness, which they criticized old jazz for. (And what was most of that, but blacks expressing their pain over the rough life the “exceptional” white Christian society these teachers uphold, created for them! Blacks are really supposed to have been happy under that, whistling while they work or sit enjoying watermelon, and it was the “godless”, giving them “free stuff” they didn’t deserve, or freedom they weren’t fit to receive, who created all their “problems” afterward; —and also all the nation’s problems as well!)
While all music has rhythm and harmony, these are to be put in a specific order, with melody as superior, then harmony, and then rhythm. This is done by having the words largely match the melody, which then has to be played in a more plain fashion, to be easily singable by everyone in the congregation.
This is what you hear in the simple church songs they use (in addition to the songs taught young children in nursery or grammar school), where the primary sound is the singing of the words, and the instrument being played is a background, pretty much following the melody, and providing some harmony and tempo (rhythm), for the singers to follow.
While it’s true that harmony and rhythm can distract from worship (the main purpose of singing in church), their whole jihad against contemporary music goes way beyond that; as much of CCM is marketed for enjoyment, and they don’t only condemn it in church. Their whole philosophy is that the harmony and especially rhythm are leading to “sin”, and even destroying the “culture” (in addition to bringing God’s judgment on the nation, on top of all the other sins! At least one writer I ran across actually blamed 9-11 on CCM in church!)
What I think is happening, is they’ve recognized the affect of music on the emotions (as I’m discussing here), and assume this is always, and in itself bad. Their typical argument against those who do answer them is that they are “making music neutral“; which has been elevated to a cardinal error.
A University of Seattle study is cited by CCM critics acknowledging that rock is based on “mathematical formulae” and “calculated frequencies” that affect the body as well as the mind. This is what it has made it as well as jazz and other forms so catchy. This is obviously what Fagen (and others like Stevie, etc.) has mastered.*
The assumption then is that this is necessarily and deliberately being used for “mind-bending” or “indoctrination”. (i.e. again, the pleasing rhythms and harmonies are being used to lead the youth into sexual sin and “rebellion” against God).
*(Where my introverted Thinking with extraverted iNtuition leads to a mastery of analyzing and synthesizing concepts, introverted Thinking with extraverted Sensing; which these musicians likely prefer, leads to a mastery of more sensory things, like sounds and visuals. So both will deal in technical or “mathematical” elements. I’ll deal in ‘abstract’ symmetries such as personality matrices, while the music has audible symmetries, such as the arrangements of different tones like the chordal changes, and I greatly admire the symmetries because of the Ti, but because of Se being “shadow” (less conscious) for me, it takes me a while to be able to put my finger on them and decipher what makes them stand out, and it seems to be virtually impossible for me to come up with any music of my own. Meanwhile, as for our tertiary functions, which are less developed and reverse of our S/N preferences, introverted Sensing for me is nostalgic about individually recalled facts and sensations, such as this music from the past, while the tertiary introverted iNtuition of artists like this playfully encrypts the recollections into the deep meanings of songs and album concepts, rather than just taking the events for what they were, like I do).
The overall insinuation is that the pleasure itself is bad (always connected to those sins, or just the plain “hedonism” of “self-gratification” as they call it). But of course, most (at least, not anymore) would never own such an idea to that extreme. They just see pleasure for its own sake (even so much as tapping feet to the rhythm, as some will mention), as being too potentially “sensuous”, and then they do see many in the “world” using music for sexuality, which builds the case.
On the other end of the emotional spectrum, it can convey and/or produce sadness and anger, and those negative emotions they also see as “sensual” or “of the flesh“. (And then they key it into the scant scriptural references they can find, like the “music that sounds like war” the Israelites were using with the golden calf). Man’s emotion is to be “joy” in “Christ”. He’s a sinner who has no recourse but to give God back what He is due (since God is really the only legitimately “offended” party in life), and Christ paid to provide the way for man to be saved.
So anger is only for the righteous preacher thundering at those who are not in Christ (and are destroying “godly Christian culture”), or those within the Church, “compromising” with “the world”. Sadness is to only be over one’s own “sin”. Once all of that is cleaned up, then what really is left for us, but “joy”?
So any music that produces or reflects any emotion besides that is seen as “sensual”, and “feeding the flesh”. Hence, one leader even says the only acceptable rhythm is “marching”, which many of the 4/4 timed hymns do lead to, and even some 6/8. (You can even look at the common “battle”-themed songs “Onward Christian Soldier” and “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory”. Not sure what that teacher said about the many 3/4 “waltz”-timed hymns, but I imagine the “marching” criteria is probably only for 4/4. And then doesn’t “marching” also “sound like war“?).
It’s obvious that this is all about CONTROL. And as such, it’s not any biblical concern, despite how much wisdom there may be in some amount of musical “discernment”.*
They’ll deny they are only pushing one culture over others, but as in many issues, they are known “more for what they are against, than what they are for”. Their philosophy as to what should be played in church (and even what’s “good” even for entertainment) seems to default to what you hear them play, which is the old hymns, and maybe something symphonic (including secular classical, among some. The “culture” that produced that is seen as “Christian”, and so falls under the category of “sacred” culture even if every artist in it was not a born again Christian).
The original full basis of their teaching is that Africa is cursed, and anything the people there produce is spiritually bad, and “worldly, sensuous, demonic”. (And math, as we see is involved in music, was a great gift of early African culture, as can be seen in the pyramids and other creations. But this is here yet something else demonized).
True religious “cuckservatives” as most of them are [i.e. indirect in their ideology, instead of openly naming the perceived racialized threats, as more radical supremacists labeling them as such desire], they try to hide the full implications of this with extensive code language [they’re worse than Steely Dan in that regard!], yet hold onto the censure of contemporary Christians who are seen as “compromising” just for using some of the same sounds.
(A couple of teachers I’ve seen, “Brother” Mike O’Neal, and Mike Paulson, retain and boldly affirm the full racial underpinning of the teaching, framing it around the sons of Noah. Which as it was, was totally misread in assuming it taught that a whole “race” of people, down to the present, were “cursed”, any more than any other people apart from God.
Yet people calling this out to those who hide the true meaning will be accused of “playing the race card”. The very first time I ever heard that all too common catch phrase in fact, was when calling this teaching out on a Christian board).
Music and the unconscious; questions over “discernment”
But music is very important, providing a “background” to life, and capturing many moods and sentiments. The critics appeal to this, when they talk about “influence of music” to prove that their traditional sounds are good, while anything black-influenced is bad. (Their only tack is a bunch of “scientific studies” one leader completely misconstrued [and he being recently exposed as having likely more definite “sensuality” problems himself!], or just looking at the often troubled and sometimes fatal lifestyles of rock stars, to prove “guilt by association”, and “that’s what the music leads to”).
Often helping their arguments, are that many “good” (aesthetically pleasing) sounds were produced when the artists were high or something (you hear this with the likes of Sly Stone, and Jimi Hendrix, who eventually died from his lifestyle). So I’m sure this may have had an influence on Fagen and his associates (Dr. Wu was even reportedly a real-life Chinese Medicine practitioner [Jing Nuan Wu (1933-2002)] who helped treat him).
What I think this might be, from knowing something about the “unconscious” now, is that the altered states of consciousness probably do give you access to ego-states that might otherwise be drowned out by all the other “chatter” in our heads. So that would be why drugs might seem to produce greater creativity. (Stevie never needed drugs, though!) But then that means it doesn’t prove that the sounds produced in those states are necessarily bad themselves.
I’m addressing this, because many Christians (from fundamentalists to charismatics) believe this opens you up to “demons”.
In passing, I’ve heard that Jung claimed demons were really only “autonomous complexes”, which are ego states that take executive control, as happens in addictions and such. Seeing how the notion of demons as what amounts to these invisible “people” who walk around causing various trouble for no reason, sometimes gets tossed around too much or overdone; some saying they even “cling onto” physical items (Chick & company used this as an argument against “rock music” records, IIRC); I considered the “autonomous complex” idea, but demons as an individual’s ego-states doesn’t square with Christ casting them out of one person, and into a herd of pigs, who then run to their demise from it!
(In the Fulfilled view, Satan is primarily an “accuser”, who tries to torment believers with the Law, being we all hopelessly fall short. This is pretty much opposite of what much of doctrinally conservative Christianity assumes; thinking Satan aims to lead people into sinful pleasures, where God is still commanding us the Law, and thus it’s essentially a tug of war between God and Satan in trying to get as many souls as they can, into either Heaven or Hell, respectively; their bliss or suffering in the afterlife, determined by their delaying of pleasure and suffering the “hard walk” of following the Law, or not, here and now. Hence, leaders like this are “doing the work of the Kingdom” in condemning everyone’s “fun”, including even more moderate Christians; ⦅and trying to “take back” or maintain as much of this “Kingdom” in American culture as possible⦆.
But when the Law system was completely ended in AD70, he finally lost any real power, though it’s many religions that actually continue his mission, through effort-based distortions of the Gospel message, and resultant accusations of the Law in various ways, including what I’m discussing about music. ⦅i.e. any “pagan origin” and “sensuality” would ultimately violate the commandments against idolatry and adultery⦆.
All of this leads to both distress among believers seeking to be “right” with God, and even discord amongst different groups, such as “old line fundamentalists” vs “new evangelicals”, as each side, or perhaps a more zealous detracting side, claims they are following “all of God’s Word” and the other is not. Clearly, “by their fruit do we know them”, and we can see as Paul shows, the Law can only bring “death”.
So perhaps now in this post-Law age, it’s possible that much of what people call “demons” might be deeply repressed ego-states, which are lesser senses of “I” in the psyche, that can come up and even take control of us. We don’t see any being cast into animals now, though many different religious groups will claim many sensational things are occuring in their services).
Chick had published one book on the “planned destruction of our children” (echoing the typical conspiratorial mindset of those who believe they created an “exceptional” Christian society that everyone else is ruining with “sin”). One chapter was “Don’t Mess With My Music”, which is what teens often said to their parents trying to throw out their records. The verdict was that it was “demons” attached to the music, capturing these kids’ minds, and making them rebel and say this. (Just like one Chick tract showing a baby in a “backslidden” household yelling because a demon pinches him!)
All of this is like trying to grab onto smoke. Tossing around something you read about in scripture, but extending it way beyond what is actually printed there, in trying to stretch it to apply to our experience.
So in actual practice, you can’t prove it or disprove the alleged invisible “cause”, but the teachers think they have the upper hand because they take the “rebellion” (supposed effect) itself as the proof; basically putting the cart before the horse. (“Confirmation bias”. Then they lament society and even the contemporary Church continuing to turn from their “values”; as they no longer take them seriously, from them using such twisted rhetoric and lines of reasoning).
But music obviously taps into various ego states, which include ones that like whatever it is that the music represents to them and want to identify with. So of course they will react that way. The fundamentalists and other cultural conservatives are constantly, and very loudly telling others to stop messing with or “taking away” things of theirs (or that they think are theirs; including “society” itself, as well as “their music”, the old hymns). And as this includes control over others through fear in the name of God, this is actually more in line with what Satan’s ploy is!
But as I said in the psychology essay (when addressing Jung and his teachings on the unconscious), I still believe we still should not mess around with the unconscious. (My discussions of it [aka the “shadow”], in connection with Jung’s typology, and the complexes that connect with the cognitive functions of typology, involves being aware of it, because it does come up and affect us, and can even be seen by others and not ourselves at times, as the “Johari Window” points out. But not to deliberately tap into it (which occultists do, often using drugs, and shamans even do something called “disintegrating the ego” which gets you in touch with a deeply suppressed complex called, interestingly enough, the “Demonic Personality”, which they then remain partly in touch with. —And these are often the sort of religious guides telling southern Africans that raping virgins, including newborn baby girls will cure AIDS).
If these deeply “shadow” ego states take control, then it doesn’t matter whether it’s just a “complex” within the individual psyche, or an actual living “fallen angel” from outside, when it creates behaviors like that, or other problems you then cannot control.
*As for Carman’s statement about the “spirit behind the music”, I would say there is still something to that, but it’s very difficult to determine it in practice. I would say people with sexual or dark spiritual themes are definitely suspect, and then groups like Steely Dan and Earth Wind & Fire are reasonably questionable; but then as the “spirit behind the music” is not really a biblically developed concept, it can get into speculation of some “bad effect”, which may or may not occur, with any given listener, and that’s what we see when the [more fundamentalistic] rock music condemners point at the deaths of rock stars (including Christian ones like Rich Mullins, who did not die from the same sort of “lifestyle” cause many secular stars died from. The critics will also go back and forth as to whether “negative effects” are the basis for “discernment in music”, or whether it’s the “style” by “association” issue, that determines its “offensiveness to God”).
Like some have this fully developed concept called “doorways”, based largely from taking God’s condemnation of pagan worship, and pairing it with demon possession or “attacks” against Christians recorded in places. (And related further developed concepts like “eye gates”, “ear gates”, etc. among those with charismatic leanings, built up from passages like Luke 11:34 and Prov.4:23. So various things you do might supposedly lead to possession or Satan “winning” over us somehow. Often it might be little more than “becoming less usable by God in His work [of building the Kingdom]”, or behaving “less like Christ” or just Him frowning upon us).
But Paul’s treatments of meats offered to idols (which you would think would be something demons would definitely be “clinging to”, if they did any such thing, and thus a “doorway”, as it’s taken right to inside of us) should have shown that the real problem is in man’s “knowledge” [perception of good/neutral or evil]—which was precisely what was involved in the original Fall to begin with, and which is internal [i.e. starts out as such], rather than external forces like “demons”, or “Satan”, taken inside. This is precisely what Christ had to explain to the Pharisees who similarly took the Law, (with its “touch not, taste not” as Paul scolded Christians for falling back into in Col.2:20-1) and went beyond it. (“the commandments and doctrines of men” are foremost the demand for continued Lawkeeping, in addition to whatever new “commandments” they added to it).
Even the world has acknowledged that Satan often gets blamed too much for people’s own shortcomings. (And the same fundamentalists, when next going after psychology, criticize blaming external things rather than internal sin).
Satan is supposed to be “defeated”, as acknowledged in Christian teaching, but in practice, he and his minions are ascribed all of this active power everywhere, and all tied in with human “choices”, especially behavior. (This gets into the question of when the “age”, recorded in the NT, when Satan was still “walking about like a lion seeking whom he may devour” ended, and what his “devouring” of people really meant. But he is really portrayed throughout the NT as attacking with “condemnation”, and is resisted by trusting in Christ instead of our own efforts).
Then, from there, in many people’s “concerns”, it’s as if the listener somehow [spiritually] takes on [becomes charged with before God] all the sin the artists or even the other listeners have referenced or done with the music; based largely on the speculation that “what you ‘take in’ will lead you further and further into it”. There are scriptures used to support this (such as 1 Cor.15:33 or Gal.6:7-8), but the problem becomes when they try to stretch them beyond their original contexts [usually in the name of what they call “principles”] to teach general spiritual “philosophies”. (Like in the latter, the context, regarding “flesh” is actually the Law, and in v.13, we even have revealed that their desire to enforce the Law on others is “that they may glory in your flesh”).
But the problem is too many people trying to control others’ behavior too much (thinking that’s what creates “holiness” or spirituality or “builds the kingdom”, and this is what religion has become all about, though the Gospel made it clear that that was the problem, not the solution. That is the “flesh”!) That does not mean that those who don’t follow other’s rules or “principles” have no “discernment”, as is basically claimed.
Like for me, I get a funny feeling from the unreleased song “the Bear” (apparently from the Gaucho sessions, though Wikipedia says it was actually produced for Aja!), which starts with it being so cool in sound, with it’s harmonies, done in Clavinet; the keyboard Stevie had made famous, but stopped using by that time. (It uses their typical techniques, but still sounds different from what was on most their albums. That adds to its sense of intrigue. It does have more of the feel of the previous album, The Royal Scam, and is particularly similar to the title track).
But then it starts seeming “too good”, like when everything seems so cool and perfect, then disaster happens. (Like “when they shall say ‘peace and safety‘…” 1 Thess.5:3). The lyrics are pretty haunting, with the chorus starting “There’s a bear that walks like a man; better shake him fast. Better hide yourself while you can, ’cause he wants your ___”. In addition to this, a part of this may have been from the scenery the video showed, which reminded me of WTC (as the song was said to be about Wall St. which is in the same area), and from there, 9-11; especially this being right after the anniversary, and having watched a documentary that showed footage we had never seen, with those images still in my head. (Though other interpreters say it is about drug smuggling, which makes more sense as “bear” is traditionally slang for state troopers, and it also mentions something about traveling “15,000 miles”. “Bear” is also used for Wall st.; “the bear and the bull”; so it could still hold to some extent. In any case, it speaks of impending doom).
So it comes off as something fitting the last thing you listen to the day you head up into the towers and then become trapped; like the soundtrack for the whole scene leading up to the tragedy, and the chorus (with these two high pitched chords over “walks” and “man” sticking out) would play while looking up at the tower one last time. Maybe even looking up at it on fire already. (Something about the sound gives an image of height or tall things. Even the tone of the vocals sounds like something blaring from a loud speaker perched high up on something). It also sounds like the type of thing that would be playing in a drama, and fade out, leading up to someone like possibly a bride, gone in a room by themselves away from the action, taking out the gun to kill themselves. That’s probably where I get this sense from.
The same thing had happened with an old Earth Wind and Fire song, when I completed the entire collection with the somewhat rare second album that I had just put on CD. It seemed so perfect to complete the whole collection, but then I got this very strong negative sense about this one song in particular (“I Can Feel It In My Bones”; a title that certainly doesn’t help; and then a nice sounding one after it, and a later one called “Energy”. It gave me the sense of a ritual ground then covered over with a garden or something, or a mother turning one child up for sacrifice, but then nurturing his sibling), and led to me giving away the whole collection! (What made it worse, is that I was trying out this new food, duck bacon, but apparently cooking it wrong, and ended up with this strange looking black meat, while making the transfer to the CD, and then the song wouldn’t record after several tries. I’m usually suspicious of “coincidences” like that that the charismatics around me would hold up as definite “signs” from God; but I was just totally spooked by the whole sequence).
This is an example of “introverted iNtuition”, especially for me, where it shadows the extraverted iNtuition I normally see life through. Music fits an external (environmental) pattern I compare other music with, enjoying the discovery of the multitude of possibilities with it; but now, some imaginal impressions are coming up from an individual unconscious sense (which is considered internal), and imagining some very dark possibility. And so thus (for my type), the functional perspective is generally associated with very negative ego states like this.
And again, this negative dynamic is likely also colored by things the bands do, like EWF’s pagan themes, or Fagen’s constant veiled sexual themes and later song against God. It could also tie in with something I heard when really young and frightened by something, perhaps in a strange place with tall buildings; so a sound I hear now will subconsciously remind me of that. Which is why it won’t affect others in the same way, and thus can’t always be made into something intrinsic in the music itself. There are a lot of different possible factors in something like this, so it’s not right to seize upon one and generalize it. Though it is possible for certain elements of music to have a common affect on nearly everyone, like well-familiar “sad” sounds.
Also, something like more explicit sexual imagery or sounds, social pressure, etc. which will have a similar, physiological or emotional effect on nearly everyone. The problem, again, is when this same “principle” is attempted to be extended beyond this to other alleged “affects”, especially “spiritual” ones, which are not expounded in scripture as much as many teachers have done themselves, and not readily provable or disprovable.
So that’s how I practice “discernment” in music. Of course, the anti-CCM Christians are also anti-psychology, and would condemn all of this Jungian stuff on top of the music. What we always end up with; just do what they say, because they are always right. Slap a “Bible chapter:verse” on a teaching, find a bit of empirical supposed “evidence”, and you have heard the clear “truth” as if from God Himself! (Of course, no “grey areas” either, one prominent Chick-affiliated writer said.
They also don’t realize that their “the music will lead you to…” or “fill your heart with…” claims is a form of psychology, appealing directly to the “unconscious”! They use the different concepts when it suits their argument, and they can key it into a scripture passage here and there that looks like it pertains. Some things might fit to some extent, but most of the time it doesn’t address their specific “standards“, so they have to create broad generalizations into distinct “principles” or even “laws”. Using scripture like that and keying it all into man’s “choices” turns it into psychology!)
Some will then say it’s not really about “negative effects”, but rather simply “pleasing God”. But God is not displeased with us for what others (who are not our children) do, though stuff like “Godwhackers” I definitely won’t listen to. (It’s about loving God, who’s being attacked in that case, not trying to gain favor through fear, or promise of reward, or any other such self-involved motivation). But much of the argument is “guilt by association”, which is getting away from any solid biblical argument, and when they try to tie it to scriptures like 1 Cor. 15:33 (whose context is the denial of the resurrection negating the practice of the faith), then it ultimately leads back to assumptions of spiritual “affects” again!
Many Christians have made it all about a “culture war” based on “morality”, with these people as the “enemies”, and therefore we should have nothing to do with them, and not even acknowledge any good they do; else, we somehow take on their sins. But as Horton’s Beyond Culture Wars points out (p.70), what they are fighting in stuff like this is “a generation merely acting out its beliefs“, and this “war” is already lost when it comes to that point. So all we can really do is be salt and light ourselves, not run from the world —out of anger at not being able to take it over.
Where all of this highlights the “sinfulness” of man, it’s like “what can you do?” You can become “contrary to all men” (1 Thess.2:15), which seems to be what many Christians, particularly “old-line” conservatives, think we should be. But Paul was referring to those advocates of the Law who opposed the “freedom” of Grace, through Christ. The ones who were actually being reserved for the condemnation they tried to place on everyone else!
All apart of the thing called “life”
I once believed all these people were condemned; judged under the Law, basically (though evangelicals won’t usually put it that way, since “the Law” conveys the notion of certain Old Testament commandments even they don’t keep). I now believe Grace is unconditional, and that makes me feel better about their “fate”, and that God would forgive them (even Fagen’s words), without demanding something in return, as common teaching insists. Many are just trying to get through life, like anyone else, and thus sharing their experience through entertainment people find enjoyable.
So all of the stuff Fagen sings about is a slice of “life”, and coupled with the sound, that is why it has come to be so significant to me. When he jumps from image to image in his unique “storytelling” style (like all the places he mentions in “Snowbound”, or from “up on the hill” to “Chinese music under banyan trees”, to whatever club he does his “dime dancing”, to the arms of the woman he then “runs to”, and the police whistle in the park [during the interlude]), it’s just all pictures of “life” (and love). Just like the bustling “free” living people of the Village. And hence, the connection. (The Stylistics’ “People Make the World Go Round” might also have the police whistle IIRC, and what I know it does have that sounds like this song is that Asian sounding marimba playing, used in the chorus of that song, and the instrumental interlude of this one).
Songs by other people that remind me of this sense of “life” embodied in Manhattan, are “Rosalinda’s Eyes”, by Billy Joel, which has a lot of rich Fender Rhodes chordal progressions and varied “life experience” and “New York” imagery like Steely Dan (“Crazy Latin dancing solo down in Herald Square…”. It may also have that “police whistle” effect, like “Aja”); Edie Brickell & New Bohemians “What I Am”, which with it’s somewhat Steely Dan-like all over the place lyrics (“Philosophy is the talk on a cereal box…”) is like a late 80’s Village “proto-hipster” song that reminded me of walking down Broadway through Soho with all those shops of theirs during that time (and was like the last moments of “freedom” right before I hit boot camp), Sade’s “Keep Looking” from the same time reminded me of a late sunny weekend afternoon in the Village, feeling lonely (as well as her earlier “Maureen”, about the loss of a close friend, remembering good times together, and wondering what it would be like if the person were still in her life), and then later, Susanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner”, which is about another similar kind of person recounting the imagery of an average day’s life in an urban diner like the ones you find in the area. Another one that reminded me of a sunny afternoon in the Village is CeCe Peniston’s “I’m Not Over You”. (There was a particular mix that KISS used to play, which I’m not finding now but have on my old CD-RW, and it was a rich Fender Rhodes melody, where the other versions use a less melodic acoustic piano sound. Not sure if it was sampled from something else, as most things like that were at that time, but it really evoked, not only the 70’s in general, but this and all the other versions of it have a harmony that sounds a lot like Steely Dan, with the back and forth “mu”-like chords on the alternate beats. It actually resembles Becker’s solo song “Book of Liars” from the same year!)
A song that brings up general images of the city is All 4 One’s rendition of “Something’s Coming” from the 1996 “West Side Story” CD. It perfectly captures the anticipation of waiting for love, in how the songs begs for this “something” to finally show up, and even pondering on where it could appear from. (“Around the corner, or whistling at the river…”).
(A few tunes not associated with the urban scene, but picture an otherworldly serenity I associate with the anima, are the “Cosmic Cove Galaxy” background score, from Super Mario Galaxy 2, and EWF’s instrumental “Splashes” from their last album. While the sound doesn’t match the sentiment, I like the second verse of WAR’s “the World is A Ghetto”: Wonder when I’ll find … paradise. Somewhere* there’s a home … sweet and nice.” [*sung with real emotion, like sighing the word!] Someone tells me “that’s a lie; the world is not a ghetto”, and they are an “orthodox” evangelical whose theology is the one that teaches that the world is still “lost” and “condemned” with all the increasing “sin” and unbelief in it. But don’t be so “negative” as to sing in terms of it being a “ghetto”! Go figure!)
It’s a shame that the Church historically made it a choice between their controlled culture, and the rest of the “world”. And that stuff like “Godwhackers”, on top of all the drugs, sex and even false religion in secular music, further makes it seem like this, and questions the “goodness” of their artistry. I just wish we were in a physical, millennial or eternal “Kingdom” already, where people’s talents would be redeemed, and God would be at the center of it all, and unmistakably seen and known by all. (Which is one of the things that had lured me to the “futurist” soteriology in the first place).
Again, if you look, dispersed through this 40 year run of song titles, you will see an underlying theme of the Fall, and the troubled sort of lives/lifestyles that have resulted in it, and even hope for a better world. (In addition to “Any World” is the unreleased Gaucho session demo “Talkin’ Bout My Home”, which epitomizes the sound and seems to be about heaven. “Turn This Heartbeat Over Again” seems to be a story of people in lives of crime and substance abuse praying to Jesus [—and Michael; actually one in the same if you’re an Adventist or Jehovah’s Witness!] for another chance. The 2000 comeback title track “Two Against Nature” is supposed to be about how Becker and Fagen are going against the grain of the way “nature” has pulled the music industry and thus how hard it is for them and their sound to thrive in today’s generation).
It seems Fagen, as much as he enjoyed the physical pleasures of the world, was someone very distressed by [what the church considers, and he even addressed it as such a couple of times] its “fallen” state (which is what I struggle with, but our paths through it have been very different. He turning against God and just drowning himself in the pleasures of the world, following “nature” to the hilt; and me turning to God, but still having to struggle with all the difficulties of trying to go against “nature”, and the struggle with other aspects of the faith).
For now, I really wish he would rescind that stuff about God, and find some other way to voice his frustration about His place in a world with painful death. He has still lived the colorful life he sings about, and no religious movement or leader has apparently stopped him and brought him under their control. “Live and let live” (or “believe and let believe”) goes both ways.
I should make clear I’m not saying the lifestyles known by the Church as “sinful” (including stuff like the “free living” of the Village, for instance) are good or “OK”. But they are apart of life as we know it, and which we have to navigate through (see 1 Cor.5:1) as well as dealing with our own sins.
The Gospel is supposed to be about “freedom”, but the church turned it essentially back into Law (greatly modified, and even stepped up in many ways, though), with “grace” as some sort of “help” God now gives us to keep this “magnified” Law. God does not want people just doing whatever they want out there, but our motivation is to be love (to Him, and towards other people, which includes realizing that they are their own living souls, like us, and not objects merely for our own pleasure; see just published https://erictb.wordpress.com/2015/09/16/a-new-look-at-the-survival-instinct) rather than the fear and control religion has often used. Having tempered my whole “prime of life” based in large point on that, that’s why at midlife, this stuff is figuring strongly in my reflecting.
I just hope God is true, and that He does forgive all men [unconditionally], (including even Fagen), and that there is something better beyond this, that these “life” feelings points to. (That “Any World” even he would be welcome to, that’s “better than where I come from”). Where good things will be truly good, with no hidden dangers behind them, talents like this will always be used for good, and everyone can recognize everything good is from Him.