RIP Walter Becker from a Steely Dan Man
Steely Dan's Walt Becker died recently at 67. I don’t know if it will surprise you to discover that I was not just a Steely Dan fan but also, on a deeper, cultural and intellectual level, a Steely Dan man. At this point, you might be asking, “Hey Nathan,” (to which I can only retort, “What’s with the informality, bub? You’ll address me as Mr. Rabin, Sir, and like it!”), aren’t you on record as being a huge fan of every musical act in existence?" Yes, I suppose so. I tend towards obsession and while Steely Dan isn’t a band a listen to every day, it is a band I have been obsessed with, to the point where it defines, if not my whole personality, than at least part of it. The Steely Dan-shaped part of it.
My intense emotional and intellectual connection to Steely Dan is inextricably intertwined with my white male middle-agedness. You don’t have to be a middle aged or older white dude with at least one post graduate degree to be down with the Dan until you’re 6 feet under in a designated plot of land, but it sure does help. Hip hop has more than its share of Steely Dan lovers but the Steely Dan man is an overwhelmingly white, male, middle-aged-or-older phenomenon.
What is a Steely Dan man? The Steely Dan man is culturally Jewish, regardless of their actual religion, although being good assimilated American Jews, their Holy Land is a really good Jewish deli in Brooklyn rather than a war-torn country in the Middle East. Like all good assimilated American Jews, they’re secular to the point that they sometimes forget they’re even Jewish until a Reuben sandwich and Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda reminds them.
I didn’t age into being a Steely Dan man, chronologically and life-stage-wise, until I was a good three years into the mortgage of my first condo and a good decade into my 401K. Steely Dan men don’t have to be a certain age, necessarily, but spiritually, they need to be at least in their mid to late thirties.
The Steely Dan man is enraged by people unfairly stereotyping them as soulless, rich, jaded, detached yuppies, who care only about themselves and exist in a baby boomer cocoon of pampered self-absorption when they are so much more. They’re soulless, rich, detached yuppies who care only about themselves and exist in a baby boomer cocoon of pampered self-absorption, sure. But they also have refined literary sensibilities, according to themselves, and are more than willing to show you their well-worn collection of paperbacks by all the (overwhelmingly male) authors you would expect to be in the Steely Dan man’s library.
Did you know that Steely Dan took its name from a William S. Burroughs novel? The Steely Dan man sure does and will be only too happy to share this information with you.
The Steely Dan man has a Kindle but he also has a complicated and ambivalent relationship with contemporary technology, and does, indeed, think that vinyl just sounds warmer.
The Steely Dan man is very impressed by the complicated time signatures and jazz elements of Steely Dan’s music even if he doesn’t necessarily know what either of those things mean, except that, when combined with Steely Dan’s famously wry, darkly comic lyrical sensibility, Steely Dan is clearly superior to all of those lesser acts people like to associate them with, like, (egads!) the Eagles or Jimmy Buffet.
The Steely Dan man never tires of discussing how subversive and misunderstood Dan’s lyrics are, especially when combined with the band’s incongruously mellow grooves and seductive choruses, radio-friendly choruses and how the group Trojan-horsed all manner of trippy, subversive darkness in perfect pop packages, and were only understood by really smart fans and critics, deep thinkers able to look beyond the slick surface.
The Steely Dan man never takes the glazed expression of pure boredom on the face of whoever he's trying to impress with this carefully rehearsed spiel as a sign to stop, nor does he realize that monologuing this way makes him seem like a more boring, less murderous, middle-aged version of Patrick Bateman.
Finally, the Steely Dan man has a weird enough sense of humor that he thinks he can write a snarky take-down of a certain mindset and personality from within and somehow have it count as a loving tribute to a divisive but widely beloved cultural icon. But I really do mean this is a valentine to the man and his music. Steely Dan fans are annoying. I know. I’m one of them, but the music Steely Dan created was brilliant and enduring and unique enough to forgive everything, including their unusually irritating, self-regarding fanbase.
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