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Lunch tonight was: Carnitas, carnne asada and pollo tacos from the place by the Harley Davidson store. Washed down with a half litre Mexican coke!

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Alex V. Cook is an author, journalist and music critic living Baton Rouge, LA. His work has appeared in The Believer, The Oxford American, DownBeat, Paste Magazine, Hails and Horns and The Wire, and his first collection of essays Darkness, Racket and Twang: Essential Listening from the Fringes of Popular and Unpopular Culture was published by Side Cartel in 2006.

He is the music editor for, editor for Sweet Tooth, and a frequent contributor to 225 Magazine, OffBeat and Country Roads.

He is a founding contributor to the Badasses of Contemporary Composition blog.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Monkey in My Soul, part 2

I think the biggest culprit in Steely Dan's crimes against culture was "Hey Nineteen," the queen bee of what I considered their defining honeycomb of shit - Gaucho from 1980. The guitar jerk at the beginning, the cheeziest of blues hammer-on's acted for me in exactly the opposite of the opening drum crack of Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" (described by Greil Marcus as sounding like a gunshot) or the opening guitar riff of Iggy and the Stooges' "Search and Destroy" which is what I suspect Gabriel's trumpet would sound like if I believed in such things. No, that but of guitar wank hit me like the click of a hotel room door, where you knew once the lock engaged, humliating and levelling things were going to occurr. The old fart telling the 19-year old to skate lower and chuckling how she doesn't know 'Retha Franklin when she hears her. When I was 19, this song still skulked around FM radio, and it epitomized the creepiness of adulthood into which I was poised to plunge. Cuervo Gold, some fine Columbian, and skeezing on barely legals - it all looked horribly unglamorous from the precipice.

So it was here I started my trek into the catalog. Now with nearly two decades of hindsight, I can see what Becker and Fagen were getting at. It is almost a default position we take on in our decrepitude. We think, I was just there! I still know what's cool! I'm hipper than my peers! whereas the reality is that our intersection with cultural currency can only be spoken of in dusty past tense, and at best, we can be daring observers, willing to sheild derision with our accepted shame of not growing up. Willing to possibly adopt a little patina of creepiness just so we can stay in the game and not be ensconsed in the forts we build with age. The embarassment I feel for them when Fagen proclaims

Way back when
In Sixty-seven
I was the dandy
Of Gamma Chi

is the same cringiness I feel radiating off some kid at the club that notes my trying-too-hard-for-compliments t-shirt and endures the similar history lesson about when I was a college DJ or saw the Cramps in '88. or whatever.

I'd heard over the years that the secret to Steely Dan is that its all ironic: the slickness, the ambience of creepiness that embodies most of their later catalog - its all ironic, but that didn't sell me on it. To me, irony is the trickiest form of humor because at its root, its not funny. Its only in adopting the distance on which it stakes its claim can it tickle your funny bone, and farnkly I was on the ground floor for the beginning and end of Seinfeld, and that killed the potency of irony for me. That scene in the last episode where they were all jailed for being assholes was a wet blanket. I get it, we are all assholes. Thanks Jerry. Thanks Larry David. I had forgotten that everyone is a piece of shit at their core since I stopped watching Woody Allen movies after Mighty Aphrodite.

"Hey Nineteen" still hits me in much the same way it always did. Everything about it rubs me the wrong way, like when you brush against something wet and sticky, and you cannot physically or psychologically shake it off you. Its the kind of song that people that can't dance are summoned to the floor for. Its the soundtrack of a bad time from the get-go, where your credit card is declined after buying a couple rounds of embarrassing rum drinks. Its like trying to anchor your ageing ship in a sea teeming with life, hoping that if you stay in one spot long enough, you will stop sinking. The difference now is: I get it. Much as I don't want to admit it, I am that narrator to some degree, even if my ever-increasing creepiness is unvoiced and not acted upon, its still there. And to completely deny its existence is deny oneself. The trick lies in how its titrated and channeled off so it doesn't swell up and explode in a popped boil of Corvettes, hookers and hairpieces. Which is precisely the terrain Steely Dan treads.

So either I am so desperate to have a blinking light against the skyline of opinion and will adpot anything to myself (which is at least 50% true) or this stuff against which I've defined a lot of my parameters of taste is speaking to me not in an ironic way, but directly, sending a flare up saying: You know who you are. Either way, please take me along when you slide on down.


Blogger William K. Scurry Jr. said...

I like Steely Dan, but even I thought this was awesome.

10:56 PM  

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