Steely Dan in mourning
The passing of Walter Becker - Donald Fagens eternal accomplice...
In the world of music, there are those with unanimous support all around the globe. The Rolling Stones, Bowie, the Beatles and Hendrix, among others. And then there are the oddballs. Those who have a devoted fan base but who also attract a lot of enemies. Steely Dan is from this second family. The group, made up of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, has closed up shop once and for all, with Becker breathing his last on 3rd September 2017 at the age of 67. This New Yorker, born in Queens on 20th February 1950 met his future accomplice on the benches outside Bard College in 1967.
But it was under the Californian sun that the two musicians would start their business in the company of guitarists Jeff “Skunk” Baxter and Denny Dias, drummer Jim Hodder and the singer David Palmer (who would in fact share the mic with Fagen). Steely Dan quickly flew to the top of the charts thanks to their mix of rock, blues and smooth jazz, with singles such as Dirty Work, Do It Again and Reelin’ In The Years from their first album in 1972 Can’t Buy a Thrill, as well as Rikki Don’t Lose That Number on the following album that they released in 1974, Pretzel Logic. It’s the sophistication of this music and its excursions into the world of jazz that irritated certain ‘pure rock’ fans. But this music, that the latter found too plain, offered hilarious lyrics with an unparalleled cynicism. Like a kind of subversive pop…
Becker and Fagen would keep the ball rolling with the albums Katy Lied in 1975, The Royal Scam in 1976, Aja in 1977 and Gaucho in 1980. After taking a break for a few years, they patched things up again in 1993 and would go on to record their last two works: Two Against Nature in 2000 and Everything Must Go three years later…
In an official announcement, Donald Fagen wrote these touching lines: “We liked a lot of the same things: jazz (from the twenties through the mid-sixties), W.C. Fields, the Marx brothers, science fiction, Nabokov, Kurt Vonnegut, Thomas Berger, and Robert Altman films come to mind. Also soul music and Chicago blues. Walter had a very rough childhood – I’ll spare you the details. Luckily, he was smart as a whip, an excellent guitarist and a great songwriter. He was cynical about human nature, including his own, and hysterically funny. Like a lot of kids from fractured families, he had the knack of creative mimicry, reading people’s hidden psychology and transforming what he saw into bubbly, incisive art. He used to write letters (never meant to be sent) in my wife Libby’s singular voice that made the three of us collapse with laughter.”
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