Coca cola

A few years later I found out “Steely Dan” was actually Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, and that their name was lifted from a William S. Burroughs novel (it’s a dildo), a discovery made while ditching seventh-grade social studies to read back issues of Rolling Stone in the public library. (I also learned that that the insect on the cover of Katy Lied was a katydid, not a praying mantis.) As an only child growing up in an unincorporated townlet in Wisconsin, there were many nights when it was just me in the chair and the Dan on the turntable and a few owls hooting in the woods. The sound of Dan music became as natural and enveloping to me to as the countryside itself. It led me to champion the songs of Becker and Fagen among the self-styled punks I later started hanging out with, provoking j’accuse-like denunciations: I was the enemy within, the guy who liked easy listening. I found disses among learned rock pedants in the magazines, too, which I began to catalog: Steely Dan was “hippie Muzak” and “Valium jazz”; their music “sounded like it was recorded in a hospital ward” and was “exemplarily well-crafted schlock”; they were a “brain without a body.” How could these people say such things about songs that were so deviant and bizarre and yet so warm and often staggeringly musical? The fact that the Dan had hits—really huge hits, actually, like “Do It Again,” and “Reelin’ in the Years,” and “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” and “Peg”—only made the whiff of some lurid, freaky luxury in the music seem more pronounced. You could be lyrically weird and musically oblique and still have lots of people like it. A mystery lurked at the center of it all. And the uncut essence of that mystery—the distillation of Dan music, the point beyond which the aesthetic cannot be pushed any further—is their airless, lacquered Masterwerk, Gaucho.