KEY WORDS:  unofficial
                       trance state


Introductory notes
"Down In The Bottom"
"Junkie Girl"
"Surf and/ or Die"
"Book of Liars"
"Lucky Henry"
"Hard Up Case"
"My Waterloo"
"This Moody Bastard"
"Hat Too Flat"
"Little Kawai"

Introductory notes

William Gibson (on his blog at williamgibsonbooks.com, 3/1/03):
                WALTER BECKER -- 11 Tracks of Whack
                Hard to find '94 solo album. Brilliant.

This is an album which seems to grow on people gradually.  I am absolutely nuts about it, and it took me two years to get there.  It also appears to be a fairly personal work, which I think makes it hard to write about, but so easy to wrap myself up in.  I am hoping that a person I know will be contributing his customary probing takes on this, Mr. Becker's welcome solo journey.

    Some time ago, someone commented on the GB that he was disappointed in Mr. Becker's repetition of "pride and joy" and "golden boy" in "Book Of Liars" and "Hard Up Case."  Since I believe that virtually nothing in any Steely Dan release is unpremeditated, not only do I think that this particular repetition is purposeful, but that there are many other phrase echoes.  That is, I don't think Mr. Becker suffers from lack of imagination;instead, he is stealthily weaving these tunes together, letting us know surreptitiously that they're all related somehow.  Notice that sometimes the echoes are in contiguous or nearby songs, like a fugue.  Here are some examples:

            variations on "make your play":  "Down In The Bottom"
                                                          "Hat Too Flat"

            "down in the bottom":              "Down In The Bottom"

            lifeline(s) (cheiromancy):           "Down In The Bottom"
                                                          "Lucky Henry"

            variations on "run for cover":     "Down In The Bottom"
                                                          "Girlfriend" ("hide here")
                                                          "Cringemaker" ("where am I
                                                              gonna hide")

            Christmas:                               "Surf And/ Or Die"
                                                         "Book Of Liars"

            space (and) time:                     "Surf And/ Or Die"
                                                         "Lucky Henry"
                                                         "Hat Too Flat"

           Eldon:                                    "Surf And/ Or Die"
                                                         "Little Kawai"

 Hank Silvers (6/5/98):  WB does tend to repeat himself in more ways than one.
    Well, here's still one more (of a sort):  Steamer Heaven appears in Walter's producer's thanks on Kama and also in the lyrics of Wet Side Story.  Oh, and I read that he's got an unreleased song called Cinder Annie, too.

For some rich and detailed notes on 11TOW, proceed directly to Hank's Corner.

"Down In The Bottom"

    What a beginning:  "In case you're wondering, it's alive and well/ That little habit that you left with me...."  Mr. Becker lets us know he's still got it, and gives it to us.  I take the "habit" to be his unerring drive to pour out gritty, imaginative lyrics and cookin' music.

    "The bottom of the wine-dark sea" is a reference to The Odyssey:

            Bright-eyed Athena sent them a stiff following wind
            rippling out of the west, ruffling over the wine-dark sea....
                                                                        (Homer, The Odyssey, Book 2, 461-462)

stevevdan, GB (6/16/98):  I believe... DITB is about a man trying to "balance" his first chakra.

The Odyssey, by Homer;  Robert Fagles' 1996 translation (Viking) is terrific.
                     "Home At Last," on "Aja," for more Homer

"Junkie Girl"

    The verse structure of this song is gripping.  In the first two verses, the narrator acknowledges that he still wants his "junkie girl"--an anthropomorphized habit, or a real woman?--however impersonal ("you take their money just like you take mine") or frighteningly deathlike ("you come up blazing like an open sore").  In the last verse, she starts to recede, dissolve, fade as he realizes that to follow her further is to choose death;  he can watch her wave from "another world" and wish her a heartfelt (and relieved?) "good luck."

    The Stanyan Street I know is in San Francisco--a college town?

"Surf And/ Or Die"

   Have you ever been so undone, so shook up that you just had to keep talking to keep from falling apart?  That's how this song sounds to me, after the sudden death of a young friend in a hang-glider accident.  Especially if you've just gotten home with the news and heard his voice on your answering machine.

    Mr. Becker combines the imagery of quantum physics and Greek mythology:  Icarus flies too close to the sun, and fatally defies not only the gods but "the laws of curved spacetime."

    I feel a longing, almost an envy, in this song for a life lived all out, with abandon and in defiance of "many perils, in the face of all reason," even though death is always over your left shoulder:  "there was never any question, it was always all or nothing/ Surf and/ or die."  Sung by one of the upturned faces below.  Jack London said he'd rather go up in flames than fade out like an ember.

    Hank Silvers notes that the "white nylon shroud" may be a reference to Allen Ginsberg's "White Shroud."  Hank also finds that "zero crossing" is a term both in sound and in computer imaging.  I am a little baffled myself by what it is exactly, but we're working on it.  However, when two sound waves with opposite amplitudes are superimposed, the intersection is silence--a kind of zero crossing.  This could certainly be a metaphor for the intersection of two mutually exclusive paths in life.

    One of the most riveting things about this song is the woven-in prayer by the Tibetan lamas.  It's perfect, and solemn, and holy.  Mr. Becker comments:
    " 'Surf and/or Die' was a song that I wrote about an incident that happened with some friends of ours in Hawaii where a young guy was killed in an accident and it was very shocking, for a young, healthy person that you know well,  and that you loved the family, and everything, to suddenly not be there one day.  And I remember going to the, they had a little sort of a memorial service for him, and one of the Tibetan lamas from the Dharma Center in Paea, the town I live in in Hawaii, came and said a little piece there.  And it was very moving, and I could see how his perspective on the continuum of life and death and the whole Tibetan Buddhist thing kind of made the whole thing a little less meaningless and senseless-seeming.  And anyway, I wrote this poem about it later and it became the song... At some point after that, my wife said, hey, she had met four of these monks that were hanging out in Paea, a couple had come over from Tibet, and said how'd you like these guys to come up and say a prayer or blessing in your studio?  And I said, great.  And I started thinking, well, I've got this track here, I'll just, why don't we just record the blessing, I thought.  And I thought, why don't I just record the blessing right on this piece of tape with the song on it and see what happens, and not play the song for them or anything, but let's just let them go in and do the chant.  And then they went in and they did these prayers, it's actually a series of prayers that they do, and we recorded them.  And then after they left, we listened to the track with the prayers on it along with the rest of the music, right, just to see what it sounded like, and it was in the same key, and it was right in rhythm with the track, and everything else.  And it was the prayer for the departed and so on, so I figured, great.... And the song itself is basically a kind of a pedal point bassline, drone underneath there and everything, so we ended up using it."

Diane (Newsgroup, 2/14/00):  it's walter's 'aja,' in some ways. his use of complex lyrics that seem impossible to fit into any melodic song is amazing.

"Walter Becker Words + Music," copyright 1994, Warner Bros. Records.

"Book Of Liars"

    The liner notes for "Alive In America" give this description:  "Betrayal in the 'burbs.  Blue Xmas.  Faux Afrique, c'est chic.  Triadic.  Tribadic."

I love the image of the "book of liars."
    Interesting:  the lyrics of the last verse in the insert are different from what's sung:  "stars imploding" vs. "stars exploding," and "the hole in it's half-life left to carry on" vs. "the whole of his half-life left to carry on."  With respect to the latter:  "the hole in its half-life" speaks to me of a great loss that one has to carry around forever;  the "whole of his half-life" makes me remember when I turned forty and realized that I was only halfway through my allotted span.  Scary;  dispiriting and a relief at the same time.  (There are some other differences between the written & sung lyrics in this and other songs.  Take a look and a listen.)
    Do you hear the giggle under the sax solo?  Now why is a child's giggle in a song about betrayal and uncertainty?  To underscore dissonance?  To show the "liar" what he/ she is missing?

Schwinn (GB, 12/24/98):  "Book of Liars" does not condemn the liar at all.  Take a moment and put the disk on.  I'll wait...
    Can a drunken Santa discern a liar?  Is Santa himself a liar?  Can lying be in degrees?  If an adult masquerades as Santa, is his name in the book?
    That star by your name may not be a black mark at all...

"Lucky Henry"

    A quick "Hamlet" reference:  "From Bakersfield to Elsinore...."

"Hard Up Case"

    What an eloquently bitter tune.  Here's another gambling reference:  "You put some other joker in my place/ They dealt us houses full with the queens and kings/ And now they're calling out our bluff..."


   I pair this tune with "On The Dunes" as another tune about grown-ups (as opposed to adolescents) wrestling with love.  I used to think this was another whiny-guy song, but when I really listen, it's a very astute and pungent (and funny) take on the difficulties of staying in a long-term relationship.  "It's such a bumpy ride."  The argument in the background in counterpoint to the guitar solo really punches the point home.

    A couple of really apt things Mr. Becker says:

            "Nobody told us when we started out/ Just what this life was really all about...."
            "I guess we always knew... who we would turn into...."
            "Whatever happened to my ha-ha yeah...."

"On The Dunes," on "Kamakiriad"


    Is "Up off my back pages" a reference to Dylan's "My Back Pages?"  (A line in "Only A Fool Would Say That" reminds me of "Ah, but I was so much older then,/ I'm younger than that now.")

"My Back Pages," by Bob Dylan, on "Another Side of Bob Dylan."  If you haven't listened
                        to Dylan in a while, put this thing to sleep and go do so right now.  Especially his most
                     recent work, "Time Out Of Mind," which of course we all think is a nod to the Dan.
                    "Only A Fool Would Say That," on "Can't Buy A Thrill"

"My Waterloo"

   As you might remember, there's another Napoleon reference in "Pretzel Logic."

Jackofdaze (alt.music, 2/20/00):  Got some lyrics for you. The ... tune was recorded by Cab Calloway in 1931.   Here goes:

  Kickin' the Gong Around [Arlen-Koehler]

  It was down in Chinatown, All the cokies laid around,
  Some were high and some were mighty low;
  There were millions on the floor
  When a knock came on the door,
  And there stood old Smoky Joe.

  He was sweatin', cold and pale, He was lookin' for his frail,
  He was broke and all his junk ran out;
  Nobody made a sound,
  As he stood and looked around,
  And then you hear old Smoky shout:

  Saying, "Tell me where is Minnie? My poor Minnie!
  Has she been here,
Kicking the gong around?"

"If you don't know Minnie, She's tall and skinny,
She gets her pleasure
Kicking the gong around!"

"Just tell her Smoky Joe Was here and had to go."
And as he departed,
The curtains parted,
And there stood Minnie
Kicking the gong around!

    IN THE CAB CALLOWAY song, the theme is of a man looking for a woman who's gone to score heroin. In Walter's song, the protagonist is at a crossroads of sorts.
    I don't know when the term, 'kickin' that gong around' has been used musically, except in these two songs. But that's not saying much; I'm not exactly a
musical encyclopedia. So I have no idea if Walter was influenced by this song, or just caught on to the term during some of the darker days of his existence.
    I do, however, think the use, in both cases, is fascinating, and I also think there may be parallels, if only in the implied struggle with addiction.
    It's not clear to me if WB's Waterloo is the person, the stranger he's met, or the slip he's trying to keep from having. We all know what happened to Napoleon at Waterloo, so is the character of the song telling us that failure is a forgone conclusion? Is the stranger holding? What will happen next?

Dave Moore (alt.music, 2/20/00):  "Kickin' the Gong Around" was a slang term in the 1920s/30s, meaning the recreational use of opium. Since that drug was usually obtained, in those times, in the Chinese quarter of town, maybe that's how the Gong reference got there.
    In music, the term was used by Louis Armstrong, Nat Gonella, and others, although, as you say, Di, it's Cab Calloway's version that is best known.
    Didn't William Burroughs use the term in one of his books? Or maybe I'm thinking of Jack Black's "You Can't Win" (1926), the book that was such a big influence on young William.

"Pretzel Logic," on the eponymous album.

"This Moody Bastard"

    "Our salad days" reminds me of "Only A Fool Would Say That":  "A world become one/ Of salads and sun."
    You bet I'm still smiling.

stevevdan (GB, 10/15/98):  a Becker remenisce (sic)... about his college days (daze?)...but is this "little friend of mine" a person or a pot pipe??? Great song either way.....

miz ducky (GB, 11/5/99):  I'll reveal one unworthy thought of my own: a nagging conviction that Walter's "This Moody Bastard"...is really about the history of his friendship/partnership with Donald. So sue me if I obsess too long....  The lines in question in "This Moody Bastard," according to the eye-strain-o-vision print liner notes, go as follows:

     You on the bottom
     Me on top

... and, according to my whacked interpretation, I read them as referring to how Walt and Don sang harmony when they were just two lone songwriters starting out (Walt's on record in some damn interview somewhere as saying Don would take the melody lead, and then Walt, despite his being a baritone, would endeavor to crank up and sing the harmony above that).
     My perhaps-delusional interpretation is nonetheless more strongly sustained by the opening lines:

     Little friend of mine
     Can you still recall
     Our salad days
     Between the ivy walls?

... i.e. their college days at Bard ... reinforced by Walt calling them "good clean fun" ... yeah right, coupla crazed music geeks hanging out together and writing rilly rilly *rilly* strange songs. Makes *me* smile just thinking about it.  ... and then the long middle section, when Walter goes on about a period of long lonely days

    ... and this moody bastard remembers
     you were some kind of friend even then

... refering perhaps to the lousy times around the turn of the 80s....
            Nu, so if Walter ever reads this he might be rolling on the floor laughing at how far afield I am ... but I know that, when I first listened to 11TOW and hit that song, I got an instant chill down my spine as my brain immediately insisted that was what Walt was singing about. God knows it's not the only totally raw and vulnerable lyric on the disc -- "Surf And/Or Die" practically made me sob out loud on that first listen ...

"Only A Fool Would Say That," on "Can't Buy A Thrill"

"Hat Too Flat"

Dr. Mu (GB, 11/28/98):  In actuality, neither HTF nor "Tomorrow's Girls" are of course really about aliens - the Sci-fi construct is just an interesting vehicle to talk about fitting in, and today's vs. yesterday's girls (See Pleasantville), respectively...also, the Kama theme is Sci-Fi the way Gibson is sci-fi - warped near future tekkie twist... a little imagination, y'know.  And again the real theme is not what will happen in the future, but how Fagen feels about.... True Companion:  well, the movie WAS a sci-fi cartoon.... One image that comes to mind was one of immigrants who come to this country from the old world.... Some were big shots, some weren't it didn't matter for most as it was a struggle to fit in.  Indeed, the closed doors were a lot of it.  Of course the lines about how little work they had to do on their own planet kinda disavows a real direct connection...or how about the notion of artists trying to blend in to the real world or Walter and Donald trying (probably not hard or at all) to make progress with the LA music industry and social scene?  Mostly, the song's funny as hell.

Big Fan (GB, 11/28/98):  I always thought that Hat To Flat was about predujice.  A group of people comes to smewhere and tries to fit in, they can't figure out why they are not treated fairly or the same or are ostricised (sp?)  They can't comprehend that it is their race or skin color or accent, whatever that is causing this, so they balme their hat (clothes), tons of metaphors, etc.

"Tomorrow's Girls," on "Kamakiriad"
            "Pleasantville," the movie, 1998
               "True Companion," on "Steely Dan Gold"--expanded version (see &c.)

"Little Kawai"

    As a mother rich with sons, this song just makes me grin.  This is just a regular boy, doing what comes naturally, who's lucky enough to have a dad who can find the boy within himself and share it with his son.