JIVE PRINCE (Walter Becker, R.I.P.)

(For my more expansive thoughts on Steely Dan, you can go here.)

Steely Dan were rock’s consummate pedants, the kind the music was liable to produce if it stayed around long enough–which, rock and roll being what it was, and Rock and Roll America being what it was–meant too good to be ignored.

In the world that came spinning out of the 50’s revolution (the real revolution college bound white boys were bound to take credit for sooner or later, even if they had to draft working class Brits for front men–at a certain point, anyone would do, as long as they weren’t blacks or hillbillies, it was only a fluke that the Beatles really were geniuses), even the pedants were better than anyone had a right to expect.

I never shared the thrill so many others bought when Walter Becker and his partner, Donald Fagen, started releasing their pointillist masterworks in the seventies. I loved a few of their records (the musical highlights of which–David Palmer’s haunted vocal on “Dirty Work,” Elliot Randall’s cascading guitar line on “Reelin’ in the Years,” Skunk Baxter’s stinging/healing licks on “Change of the Guard” and “Old School”–were provided by someone other than Becker and his partner, who soon turned exclusively to hired guns anyway), but, really, their entire essence was in their first album’s two lead cuts.

Not to say the essence didn’t have it’s merits–considerable even–but, despite all the accolades, the only thing that reached deeper than a mordant surface after the first album-and-a-half was a cover by the sort of group Steely Dan was meant to erase from history.

I can’t offer the kind of love Becker is getting elsewhere on the occasion of his passing (Terry Teachout called Becker and Fagen “the Stephen Sondheims of rock”…God love him, he meant it as a compliment).

But this is enough to stand for any man’s epitaph….

5 thoughts on “JIVE PRINCE (Walter Becker, R.I.P.)

  1. Coincidentally, I was in a deli last Saturday night and “Don’t Take Me Alive” came up on their video jukebox. The place was empty so I stood there for a few minutes and just soaked up that tune and how much I love it. It reminded me that while I’m not much of a jazz fan and I like my lyrics pretty straight up, Steely Dan is one of my fave bands, and have been for decades.

    The next day I saw Walter passed away. That’s the first musician death to hit me in a good while, but it probably didn’t help that I was still in the mood from the night before.

    I can see why some people don’t care much for the Dan, but they’ll always have a special place in my heart.

    • That’s a nice memory Mack (can I call you Mack?)…Thanks for sharing. Obviously I have mixed feelings about the band, though more about how some critics perceive them, I think, than the music itself. The first four albums are all excellent and this is one case where I do get what others love about them, even if I don’t share the love all the way. Feel the same about James Joyce and Marlon Brando, so don’t go by me!

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