I had been putting together a short piece about the end of summer and how many of us seem to somehow instantaneously experience a drastic moodswing at the first sign of dusk on Labor Day. The trigger used to be Jerry Lewis singing the first verse of "You'll Never Walk Alone," but that hasn't happened in some time, and with Mr. Levitch's recent passing, sure to never happen again.
As a kid, Labor Day felt like a death sentence. I was ready for bed just as the last of the closing credits of the telethon scrolled to a finish. Why bother with the rest of Monday night when I have to be in school on Tuesday morning? And still, as an adult, and I use the term loosely, my insides take a nosedive on Labor Day, even though technically, summer will be around for another three weeks, and with the current state of planet Earth, warm weather will be around until January 14th.
Yesterday, I experienced 1977 all over again. I was already in a piss poor mood for the ages, thanks to some general shopwear, when I heard the news about Walter Becker. At first, the blow wasn't as painful as the death of David Bowie, or as shocking as the death of Prince. It was only after spending some time on Facebook and seeing the posts of friends, that it hit me. Becker's death meant more to me than I thought.
One friend decided to play Steely Dan's music all day, and then rank The Dan's records from his favorite on down. I joined in on the discussion and suddenly, I fell into the rat hole, spending the latter part of a miserable afternoon, marveling at the magic emanating from my speakers. There is nothing like this band.
The difference between the music found on Steely Dan's first two records and their last two records--"Aja" and "Gaucho," I don't count those other two--is like the difference between shooting a bullet and throwing a bullet, as the expression goes. This tight, intellectual, and occasionally hilarious rock band that created "Countdown To Ecstasy" in 1973, just four years later, was now an elite duo, with a revolving door of stellar musicians from both rock and jazz, making a new kind of AM hit on "Aja." They were altogether groovy, funky, and hip. They could write three minute pop gems like "Barrytown" and "Rose Darling" and even four minute pop gems with ridiculous guitar solos, like "Reeling In The Years." BODHISATTVA?!" What the hell is that shit? Steely Dan were not of this Earth.
In 1977, I was still all about David Bowie and prog rock and just starting to find the right punk singles that were in my wheelhouse. A few Steely Dan records were in my collection, but they were collecting dust as opposed to spins. Once I heard "Aja," the pristine sound of the record, Steve Gadd's drumming on the title cut, Michael McDonald's vocals on "Peg," not to mention Jay Graydon's solo, I made a bee line for the debut, "Can't Buy A Thrill" and never looked back. Sure, I was still listening to Bowie's "Low" and "Heroes," and Iggy's "The Idiot" and "Lust For Life," but it was Fall, 1977, when I went all in with Steely Dan. A few weeks shy of 40 years to the date of "Aja's" release, I went all in again, listening to what I could before overdoing it. I hit "Countdown To Ecstasy," "Katy Lied," a much better record than I myself had ranked it on my friend's Facebook wall, "Gaucho," my least favorite, with one of my very favorite tracks, "Third World Man," and "Aja," which transported me back to my elevator-size bedroom on Broome Street, with floor to ceiling albums and just enough room for me to stand and play air instruments.
All of this music, and really, there is not much, seven records in 45 years---I don't count those other two---created by two, one of a kind musicians. Donald Fagen...