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A Short Note: Walter Becker (1950-2017)


Steely Dan: (L to R) Walter Becker, Donald Fagen

Woke up this morning to texts from friends sharing the news that Walter Becker, co-founder of Steely Dan, had passed away. The news is seemingly confirmed by his website.

This hits hard. Steely Dan easily situates at the top of any list where I name favorite bands, albums, songs, &c. I was fortunate to have caught them live a few times in the past decade, each concert surely an indelible musical experience.

We live in a time when irony and hipsterism have been co-opted by the corporate-consumer complex so pervasively that to call it "cliché" is an understatement. Hard, then, to understand that when Steely Dan established themselves at the forefront of the first (and, thus, most impactful) generation of postmodern artists in rock, it was miles away from the ethos nowadays whereby people spend way too much on clothes that are way too shitty to make sure everyone knows they way-too-much don't care. (The inevitable heat-death of irony is a topic of discussion for a later date here). Steely Dan, by all accounts, just didn't care. Apart from songwriting, the only endeavor they committed to with outward sincerity was eschewing the spotlight throughout what Tom Wolfe called the "Me" Decade. And so, that disenfranchisement from the obligatory rebellion of the late 60's-early 70's - cast in sophisticated harmonies, slick, well-played arrangements, glistening studio production, and lyrics that balanced a heightened literary sensibility with a deep, dark survey of societal malcontents-cum-unreliable narrators - became a unique act of rebellion against rebellion in and of itself. Speaking personally: rediscovering this music during the infancy of social media could not have come at a better time for me. Fortunately, the songs of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen stand on their own, as little "art-for-art's sake" monuments that need not depend on any style or scene to make one's head bop along to their unignorable groove and feel. Here's a few a few of my favorites, which feature Walter: "Home At Last" from Aja, which celebrates the 40th anniversary of release on the 23rd of this month. (WB plays the solo)

"Book Of Liars", a song from Walter Becker's first solo album 11 Tracks of Whack (1994). This live performance is similar to the one heard on Steely Dan's only live release, Alive In America. A rare opportunity to hear WB on lead vocals. The lyrics on this tune kill me.

WB's second (and now, seemingly, last) solo album, the dub-reggae influenced Circus Money, was released in 2008. "Bob Is Not Your Uncle Anymore" is a terrific tune from that release - the feel centered around WB's solid bass performance.

One last one - a portrait of the Dan at their prime. "Haitian Divorce" from The Royal Scam (1976). WB's appearance here is an example of the Dan's studio genius - Dean Parks plays lead guitar, but WB applies the "talkbox" effect to his lines for an almost scat-singing vocal result.

If Donald Fagen's eloquent, sincere statement on the passing of his partner is any indicator, he intends to keep the music of Steely Dan alive as a testament to his musical partner, which is good news to me. RIP Walter Becker - and many thanks.


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