Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Steely Dan: A Countdown to Gayness #1

This friday night I will be seeing Steely Dan at the Chicago Theater. A gorgeous venue with unheralded acoustic might, a building constructed with sonic perfection in mind, what better place to see a band who shunned touring a long time ago to devote their careers to achieving nothing less than absolute sonic perfection. Hey, Steely Dan=Sonic perfection.

Steely Dan has been playing four shows in select cities, each night a new album cover to to cover. Aja, The Royal Scam, and Gaucho. The final night is a night of requests, and they've been diving in deep, polishing off some dusty ones and playing some deep cuts with their trademark sonic perfection.

I've decided to shun the album shows. Aja would be dope, but too much of a greatest hits, Gaucho, a dream come true, but I don't need to hear side two of that album, and Royal Scam, sometimes it makes me a little nauseous. That being said, I'd kill to hear The Fez, Time Out of Mind off side tow of Guacho, and a roaring version of Deacon Blues could do me some good. No homo.

Each day before the show, I'd like to talk a little bit about this band, this Steely Dan, why I love them so much, why I don't care what people say about me anymore, and I'd like to highlight a track or two.

So without further ado, here is a short history of Steely Dan.

Met at Bard College. They bonded of a mutual love of jazz, sarcasm, and general assholeishness and a mutual disdain of hippy shit. Formed a band, a rock band with guitar players and a drummer and you know, a band. They made two albums. Can't By a Thrill was their first. Classic. They moved to LA and cut Countdown to Ecstasy. Another classic, and their most rock album to date. They disbanded the band, became a duo, and from here on out, hired session men to come in and play.
By the time they got to Aja, they rarely even played on their own songs. Rather, they hired the best session players, the most technically skilled guys out there to come in and play the music they had constructed in their own heads, but were without the prowess to play themselves. After that came Gaucho, then a twenty year hiatus and a few new albums, which aren't that bad.

Today I will discuss out loud and to whomever may listen the merits of Haitian Divorce.


There's a lot to discuss with this song. The main thing that constantly stands out and impresses me every time is the cinematic quality of the images. Once you can get past the sarcasm, there's a great story being told in this song, and it's the details, the production design that really makes the scenes pop out at you.

So boy meets girl, they fall in love, love fades, she goes to Haiti, doesn't like her all inclusive, goes to the ghetto, meets a local and carrys on with him, comes back to America, finds love with her husband again, has a baby, but the baby is born with kinky hair and so now she gets divorced.

The good parts:
1) the description of the end of the relationship "soon everyone knew the thing was dead." I love this. We don't hear why, and it's not important. And we don't hear that they think it's dead, rather everyone else does, and if everyone else thinks their relationship is over, it's over. And as evidence, "he shouts, she bites, they wrangle through the night." We don't need to hear any reasons why, he doesn't put the cap back on the toothpaste, she wants to move to Nyack, he wants to focus more on his job etc... it's not important. We are immediately transported into the bowels of their marriage by being shown an emotion. And we can relate to this emotion because we can relate to shouting and biting and fearing everyone else thinks our relationship is dead more so than we can relate to whatever specific examples Steely Dan were to give us as to why their relationship is ending.

2. The way Fagen sings the line, "she feels alright, she get it one tonight" and his yeah half whispered after that is dare I say, almost as cool as Steely Dan could ever get?

3. The idea of the nice hotel not being enough, she gets the driver to take her where the music play.

4. Charlie sitting in a greasy chair with lotion and kinky hair. This image is perfect. And to end this scene, she smiles at him, and the smile says it all. "Now we dolly back, now we fade to black." Always been a proponent for camera directions in song lyrics. But it ends this moment perfectly. We don't need to have it all spelled out for us. she looks at him and smiles, he looks back, dolly, fade to black. It says it all.

5. The guitar solo is actually played by two people, Dean Parks played the notes and Walter Becker altered them on the talk box.

6. The cover art to the song's album, "The Royal Scam" was described by Donald Fagen in 1999 as being "the most hideous album cover of the seventies, bar none (excepting perhaps Can't Buy A Thrill)." Yes, this is Steely Dan at their most bitter and cynical.

In short, this is the best song about a marriage ending because the wife has sex with a Haitian dude.

3 Comments:

Blogger orange said...

(no simeone)

9/3/09, 10:08 AM  
Blogger mayor said...

Please explain?

9/3/09, 10:09 AM  
Blogger orange said...

it's an inside joke

9/3/09, 10:11 AM  

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