The View From Faraway Farm: In memory of Walter Becker: Some Scotch whiskey all night long
Remembering Steely Dan, of which Becker and Fagen were really the only constants, I especially recall exposing my daughters to their music, and how it added a sophisticated aspect to their musical education. Interestingly, one of my prouder moments was when my oldest daughter came home from a family road trip with one of her friends while in high school. She said that her girlfriend's dad was impressed that she knew the lyrics to "Babylon Sisters" when it came up on a mix recording, and could sing the choruses just like the backup singers on the CD. That's my kid.
Cross-generational appeal wasn't the only thing that emanated from the Becker-Fagen collaboration. Sure, it was different in the sense that their specific genre has no consistent definition. Rock? Jazz? Blues? Yes. The signature sound became known for its impeccable quality of mixing, arrangement, and sonic fidelity. The lyrics were provocative and accessible. Even with a 20-year Steely Dan hiatus, Becker and Fagen came back with the album, "Two against nature," and won four Grammys, including album of the year in 2000. Their final album, "Everything must go," from 2003 was somewhat apocryphal. Much of their cynicism emanated from Becker who reportedly had a rough childhood. That would do it.
I remember bringing along a few Steely Dan CDs on a family vacation with my fiancee's children. I popped them in one by one and waited for some kind of reaction. Nothing. I suppose too much time had gone by and none of the sounds had any relevance for them.
I sent my biological father a Steely Dan mix CD that I made up especially for him along with notes. I don't recall any mention of it. OK, so sharing my all-time favorite artists hasn't struck the same chord with most of the people in my life. At some point, I had to learn this lesson. Not everyone is going to have the same appreciation for the music and lyrics that truly speak to me. What does it say? I just can't say with any accuracy.
I suppose the music and lyrics created by Becker and Fagen triggered imagery that only the listener can see and rarely explain. Here are a few lines from Babylon Sisters: "This is no one-night stand, it's a real occasion, close your eyes and you'll be there, it's everything they say, the end of a perfect day, distant lights from across the bay." There's a real blues sensibility on Deacon Blue: "I'll learn to work the saxophone, I'll play just what I feel, drink Scotch whiskey all night long and die behind the wheel. They got a name for the winners in the world, I want a name when I lose. They call Alabama the Crimson Tide, call me Deacon Blues."
From their final album, "Everything must go," a lyric from the apocalyptic song, "The Last Mall," is chilling in its jingle-like cheeriness: "Roll your cart back up the aisle, kiss the check-out girls good-bye, ride the ramp to the freeway beneath the blood orange sky. It's last call to do your shopping at the last mall."
In a Rolling Stone Magazine interview, Becker said "My primary influences were the best jazz players from the 50s and 60s and later some of the pop people from the same time period along with the better of the well-known blues musicians. All our lyrics are calculated and literary, they are not personal documents. We use autobiographical material, but the autobiography is not what the lyrics are about. I don't expect anyone to understand me the way I understand myself. Whatever people get out of these songs, it's fine."
Knowing that Becker and Fagen were still more than capable of putting out relevant, engaging music well into their sixties makes Becker's passing that much more poignant. I looked forward to more, much more. They were still able to speak to my soul in ways I can't describe. The music of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen could be a glimpse into my soul; that's how much their music has influenced me and millions of others. Walter Becker will be sorely missed. Donald Fagen was quoted on Sept. 3 as saying "I intend to keep the music we created together alive as long as I can with the Steely Dan band."
Arlo Mudgett's Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT Monday through Saturday mornings at 8:35 a.m. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.
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