Wednesday, April 21, 2004
HE'S GOT THE STEELY DAN T-SHIRT
by Wayne Robins
I've been a fan of Steely Dan since before "Panic in the Year Zero Bossa Nova," which is what I call their second (and best?) album, "Countdown to Ecstasy." I became enamored of their first album, "Can't Buy A Thrill," after Robert Christgau took me to see them perform at Long Island's Westbury Music Fair, where they were the opening act for Cheech and Chong.
It was at that show in, what, late 1972 that I recognized Walter Becker and Donald Fagen as remote guys I used to see around the Bard College campus, no more than three years earlier, where our academic paths overlapped for one year. They had a pickup band that I saw for a few minutes at a very un-Bard-ian school dance in the old Bard gym, but I left almost immediately since there were better hallucinations to be had under the stars on that gorgeous Hudson Valley night. And for all I know, I may be confusing that night with the one Cat Mother and the All-Night Newsboys came to campus.
When I interviewed Steely Dan for Creem in 1974, they told me that "Countdown to Ecstasy" was inspired by "Panic in the Year Zero," a deliciously paranoid 1950's movie starring Ray Milland as a survivalist who leads his family into the lawless wilderness after Los Angeles is destroyed by an atomic bomb.
I've interviewed them numerous times since then, most recently in 2000 for the Los Angeles Times when "Two Against Nature" came out. So it was odd indeed that I didn't write anything about last year's "Everything Must Go." Perhaps because it too seemed to be inspired subconsciously by "Panic in the Year Zero," and my sense was, been there, done that.
Of course, a critic should never surrender easily, and I did wrestle with "Everything Must Go" for a few weeks. Here are some notes written on a cocktail lounge napkin:
"It's sci-fi meets hi-fi. Where J.G. Ballard meets Hank Ballard. Where Arthur Clarke meets Clark Terry...where Ray Bradbury meets Tiny Bradshaw. (It's here that I wrote a note to myself that said, "oh, shut up!")
One song begins with a blast of Pharaoh Sanders saxophone shakedown, before settling down into a groove as elegant as a Barry Sanders touchdown. "Everything Must Go" depicts a world where everything comes to an Enron, or at least to a K-Mart bankruptcy. It's an end of the world boogaloo. No more shopping days, period."
(c) 2004. Wayne Robins, all rights reserved. E-mail me (link to your left).