John Darnielle on Steely Dan (from five years ago)

Excerpts from a discussion on Brent Dicrescenzo’s assessment of Two Against Nature:

“Steely Dan’s name has been popping up as a hip musical crush. Remember, this glossy bop-pop was the indifferent aristocracy to punk rock’s stone-throwing in the late 70’s. People fought and died so our generation could listen to something better”


(DiCrescenzo’s “concept” for this review being, apparently, vengeance toward the band that deservedly won a Grammy over Kid A, his hyperbolized little favourite)

And after the standard accusations against the band are laid out:

“aor at its most unimaginative…”

…a plea for help!

“where the fuck is d4rn1elle when we need him?”

Darnielle hears the cry, comes to the rescue!

ha, I’m here – it’s just that when someone busts out the “SD is boring”/aor/what-punk-was-against/et al I feel this crushing weight that must be what freshman Survey of English Lit. profs feel when some student who’s never read anything pre-20th century comes with the “this isn’t pertinent!” etc.: I just want to say, firmly and as calmly as I can: “Have you actually listened to the records?” because Steely Dan is so unambiguously not what their detractors almost invariably accuse them of being (“laid back,” “mellow,” etc) that there’s hardly any point in arguing about it

J0hn Darn1elle (J0hn Darn1elle), Saturday, 14 February 2004 00:04

“They ARE slick, tho”

OK. OK. OK. When you have a band like Steely Dan, whose lyrics put pretty much everybody else’s to shame, then it’s at best narrow-minded to assume that any aspect of what they’re doing isn’t meaningful. What I mean: when, say, the White Stripes rock out, I don’t think they’re trying to engage their rock with their lyrics in any particular way: they’re just doing what they like to do, approaching their craft in the way that seems best to them. The lyrics may engage with the music (more aggressive lyrics for more aggressive music, for example) but it’d take some work to suggest that the inverse was ever the case. With Steely Dan, on the other hand: the production, the melodies, the changes, all that stuff bounces off the lyrics (in markedly different ways, I might add; again, if variances in production aren’t audible to you, then you’re not listening very hard) in ridiculously pointed (and, I’d say, rather obvious) ways. “Glamor Profession” is probably the most obvious example. In a way, the snide “oooh, slick” that they sometimes get amounts to a “mission accomplished” for Becker & Fagen: they have successfully talked above their audience. That this has been their goal all along is perhaps on of the most hilariously cynical things in the history of music.

J0hn Darn1elle (J0hn Darn1elle), Saturday, 14 February 2004 00:16 (5 years ago)


John, you’ll always remain the art-music fan’s greatest asset in defending the snarkiest band in the business against hordes of ignorant hipsters.  <3 <3


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One Response to John Darnielle on Steely Dan (from five years ago)

  1. bloodoctopus says:

    Excellent post.

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