"Babylon Sisters"

The liner notes for "Alive In America" offer this description:  "Late-seventies L.A. noir.  Apocalyptic.  Burned out.  Slide into decadence or healing
regression?  Cool beat."

Hank Silvers (GB, 4/10/97) points out that kirschwasser is a cherry liqueur.

A shell is a bowl-shaped wineglass;  it gives me images of something that is all appearance, empty inside.
        "Tell me I'm the only one"--that lie-to-me ethos.  "TJ" is Tijuana, just across the Mexican border from LA, where Angelenos go for cheap stuff--alcohol,
drugs, whatever--but there are always strings attached.

Babylon Sistah (GB, 5/21/98):  What's up with the words in Babylon Sister?  It says "turn that jungle music down, just until we're out of town".  Is this an
instance of HIDDEN racism.

Hank Silvers points out a couple of references to Duke Ellington's self-styled "jungle music," which is the most likely reference here: http://vervemusicgroup.com/artist.aspx?aid=2670 or

Milkman (GB, 5/21/98):  I think the *character* singing the lines in "Babylon Sisters" is being portrayed as somewhat racist.  In general, he's not a very likable
character:  shmoozing opportunist out to be seen with his young girlfriend.  But I doubt with all my heart that D&W could in any way be construed as racists

Roy.Scam (GB, 5/21/98):  I would say that if the song hasn't shown up on Tom Joyner's HIDDEN-IDDEN-IDDEN-IDDEN RACISM-ISM-ISM-ISM
feature, then it's probably O.K.

TheStranger (GB, 5/21/98):  Does jungle music refer to some kind of black music? Probably.  But note that they are going to turn it back up as soon as they're
safely out of town, indulging themselves in what's cool when no one can catch them.  Where I live we have an ordinance against jungle music played during
surgery or carjackings & it really cuts down on mistakes.

YGK (GB, 5/21/98):  My take on Babylon Sisters was always that when he turned 'that jungle music down', it was to sneak out of town.  There was something
taboo about being seen with this person, and that always seemed to me to be about age....
    The "Jungle Music" refers to music with a beat, and in my interpretation, was HER music, another reference to age difference, in that HIS music wouldn't be
jungle music.  Also, as we age, music, younger music, seems to sound louder, so, by the narrator directing his young charge to turn it down, could be another
indication that he's robbin' the old cradle.  I think it may look racist, if the lyric was "turn that jungle music OFF!"
    So, my personal sub-text would go something like this:
    "Turn that Jungle Music Down (so we can sneak out of town without the public noticing that I'm with someone who could be my daughter)
    Just Until We're Out of Town" (where we can crank it up - you'll be happy to be with me, and me, you, without any public embarrassment.
    "This is no One Night Stand" (I'm not just going to screw you and leave you)
    "It's a real occasion" (it's important to me)

Worsmith (GB, 5/21/98):  ...please kids....Donald Fagen...the brooding urbanite..immersed in Ellington, Monk, and Bird in his youth and hip enough to play on
the same bill as Oakland's very own Charles Brown.....is not a rascist....in fact an argument could be made that Steely Dan circa 1980 was in fact a "black"
    :drums:  Bernard Purdie
    bass:  Chuck Rainey
    guitar:  Hiram Bullock
    piano:  Joe Sample.....need I go own.....
    sax:  Wayne Shorter, Wilton Felder
    vocals:  Patti Austin (Long Island native), Valerie Simpson

Glamour Professor (GB, 5/22/98):  "Jungle Music" = The tycophany of the city.  Any city.

Rigs (GB, 5/22/98):  I find the essence here, is not racism.  It appears to me that, DF and WB were misinterpted.  Jungle music, is not a racial term.  There was
a movie called (The Blackboard Jungle)!  I recommend renting it!
    It came out in the late 1950's, and was a parody of what the elder masses thought of rock"n"roll.  "The kids must be insane."  DF and WB were adolescents
in this time period.  For example, on the song Pretel Logic, they say, "you must be joking son, where did you get those (blue swede) shoes.(Elvis)
    The jungle music time period, thus...and most of the selctions on New York Rock and Soul Revue, represent jungle music.  It' not Frank, Dean, or Glenn
Miller.  It's bad.

Dr. Mu (GB, 5/23/98):  Rigs--You are correct, sir.  My grandfather, from Queens, would call anything that wans't big band, especially rockn'roll, jungle
music...and the previous generation looked down their prospective noses at jazz...and ther previous generation looked down their prospective noses at ragtime
and John Philip Sousa for cryin' out loud.

Michael C. Packard (1/14/99):  I think the bit about the older man and younger woman is obvious.  Also, I think the "jungle music" has nothing to do with
    However, when they mention "here come those Santa Ana winds again...", means the reality of the situation these two people are in.  Remember, the "Santa
Ana" winds, in California, are also called the "Devil Winds", as when they (California) was suffering from the five-year drought a few years ago, these Santa
Ana winds, which are howling through the mountain passes, usually accentuate the fires which proceed to the Laguna Beach area, and other Orange County
homes, and set them on fire.  Remember the videos a few years back??

Paul Jones (1/28/99):  I think that the term "jungle music" might refer to the fact that the girl listening to the music is black herself, its her own music.  Maybe
he doesnt want to be seen with a young girl on his arm, especially black hence the line "just until were out of town"  I love the line she says "Here comes those
Santa Ana winds again"  I think she says this line matter of factly to him, and I get the feeling that it demonstrates they have really nothing to say on their drive
north.  Similarities here to "Hey Nineteen" when all they share is tequilla (Cuervo Gold) and cocaine (Fine Columbian) together.  "Well I should know by now /
That it's just a spasm" - Menopause??  "Loves not a game for three" - Menopause and extramarital affairs??

Steve Hosford (GB, 6/7/99):  "Babylon Sisters"...sounds to me like The Donald is singing about a couple of West
Coast "sisters": San Francisco and Los Angeles - both are unarguably Babylonian in their decadence; both are notorious for "shaking" it (earthquakes). "Drive
west down Sunset to the sea"...LA's Sunset does go East/West, but SF's almost equally well-known boulevard does not - it goes North/South. Then you've also
got Santa Ana
winds, jogging with show folk on the sand, etc. Meanwhile, farther North..."San Francisco show and tell"...this brings the other sister into the mix, as does
"Distant lights from across the bay," a vista which, while technically possible I guess, doesn't exactly invoke anything LA-related to leap to mind. "Love's not a
game for three"...translation, Mr. Spock: Take your pick...LA or San Fran. But you can't split your allegience. To love one is to shun the other. Friends of the
narrator, favoring one (SF, I would guess) over the other, caution him not to "go for that cotton candy." "So fine, so young": SFand LA both are fine in the
seductive sense, and certainly the youngest of all major world cities. "Tell me I'm the only one," sung by two equally beckoning female sirens,
each competing for the narrator's attentions.

Johannes (Digest, 5/6/00):  Ok, to be correct:  Kirschwasser is indeed cherry brandy but has nothing to do with Kirchwasser (holy water) - there is no german
word like this.  Is is produced in the south of Germany and not in Austria (by the way, there is no language called austrian, in fact they speak german in
Austria, too) and used for example for Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (which is known in the US, too -at least I was told so) and as a drink.

Clas (GB, 11/15/00):  I am sitting here wondering.
    The Babylon Sisters lyrics are very confusing. The guy drives west on Sunset. We assume it's Sunset Boulevard, right? He is driving west on Sunset to the
sea. So he'll end up in Santa Monica or Malibu, depending on if he's turning left or right on Pacific Coastway.
    They jog with showfolk on the sea, and here comes the tricky part, for ME it's a VERY tricky part; I have always thought that "...distant lights from across
the bay..." placed the guy somewhere up in the bay-area, San Fransisco. For 20 years I have thought that the guy drove up to San Fransisco.
    Now, when I am writing this down it seems like there is no problem. The guy is jogging down in Malibu and is seing the lights from across the bay, away
over to Venice, Long Beach and so.
    Help me out here you Los Angelinos....
    PS/ But then again, think if it is so, that he means that he is driving west on SUNSET. The sinking sun.
    The guy is maybe in San Diego or whatever.
    Hell, I'll be sleepless tonite.

wormtom (GB, 11/15/00):  Clas - Sunset to the sea - then off to Venice is the way I see it, but one could be looking south from Malibu just as easily (although
Venice is more cheap but it's not free)

The One, The Only Stranger (GB, 11/15/00):  Geography For out Swedish Friends:  Clas,
     When you hit the beach from Sunset you are on a bay. Not San Francisco. Santa Monica Bay. Lights to the north and south. Those are the distant lights
across the bay.

Dr. Mu (GB, 11/15/00):  Clas: You bring up a great point about the lyrics on Babylon Sisters. Some SoCal.NoCal schizophrenia. I'm not sure I
     can unravel this butterfly ballot for you - but here goes:
     Theory The protagonist is relaying the "plan" to the Bablyon Sisters OR a guy having a decadent fantasy about the sisters. Perhaps he's a lonely voyeur
who peers through a spyglass into the deliberately unshaded window where the Twin Sisters cavort half-undressed. He's seen them come and go with unsavory
or sleazy characters. They have a turnstile by the door. What if he could show them some class - a grand adventure - and of course he'd get some. Faux romance
with a known outcome. This theme gets twisted around in "Century's End."

     Drive west on Sunset
     To the sea
     Turn that jungle music down
     Just until we're out of town

     *First we'll cruise to the Pacific. Take a right turn on Ventura Highway to Malibu and north on 101. I'll set the ground
     rules. We'll pretend to have elegance and grace*

     This is no one night stand
     It's a real occasion
     Close your eyes and you'll be there

     *THIS will be a grand adventure. Road trip to San Fran. which may take more than a night and a day. A Pygmalion
     twist. Soon we'll cruise north through Santa Barbara and up beautiful Hwy 1 by the Blue Pacific to Monterey and San

     It's everything they say
     The end of a perfect day
     Distant lights from across the bay

     *There are a number of ways to interpret this. We could arrive at Monterey at night and gaze at the Santa Cruz lights
     across Monterey Bay - just goergeous as are the voluptuous twins*

     Babylon sisters shake it
     Babylon sisters shake it
     So fine so young
     Tell me I'm the only one

     *I'll have the best of both worlds: class and sass*

     Here come those Santa Ana winds again

     *The daydream is broken by those nasty Santa Ana winds as the blow that desert air in disturbing the eyeglass view..
     That'll foul up plans*

     We'll jog with show folk on the sand
     Drink kirschwasser from a shell
     San Francisco show and tell

     *Back to the daydream. We arrive at San Fran. This is where confusion sets in a bit. Not much sand on the beaches
     there. What the hell it's a fantasy. Decadence, hormones, and salt air*

     Well I should know by now
     That it's just a spasm
     Like a Sunday in T.J.
     That it's cheap but it's not free
     That I'm not what I used to be
     And that love's not a game for three

     *Starting to have some doubts now*

     Babylon sisters shake it
     Babylon sisters shake it
     So fine so young
     Tell me I'm the only one

     My friends say no don't go
     For that cotton candy
     Son you're playing with fire
     The kid will live and learn
     As he watches his bridges burn
     From the point of no return

     *self explanatory as his soft-porn dreams fade into the sunset*

     Babylon sisters shake it
     Babylon sisters shake it
     So fine so young
     Tell me I'm the only one

fezo (GB,  11/16/00):  Clas: Sunset is indeed the classic route to the Pacific in L.A. Of course, it doesn't take you directly into the water, but no route really
does, unless you're traveling the Jon Voight "Coming Home" way.

NotMyNancy (GB, 11/16/00):  "Distant lights from across the bay" is a Great Gatsby reference. I thiiiiiink that Nick, the narrator, has a moment when he's
staring across the East Egg-West Egg bay and he sees a far away light. It's a symbol of his longing, first for  sophistication (which dissolves to decadence), but
later for innocence and simplicity. Becker and Fagen export the same themes from Long Island in the 20s to LA in the 70s and color them appropriately. While
Great Gatsby ends in tragedy, Babylon Sisters ends a little earlier, with mere foreboding.

Of interest along these lines, to me at least, was an interview on NPR about 2VN and the tour in which Mr. Becker quoted F. Scott Fitzgerald:  "There are no second acts in American lives."

Clas (GB, 11/19/00):  The Stranger - "When you hit the beach from Sunset you are on a bay. Not San Francisco."
     FOR CHRIST SAKE, I KNOW that! I have been around the world. I have been to the Cincinnati Airport.
     My wondering was; do the guy turn right and head up to Santa Barbara and further to San Fransisco (the fucking BAY area)?
     Not my Nancy - strange, I re-read The Great Gatsby a couple of weeks ago! And sure, there's a reference, the "distant lights from across the bay" - The
Fancy Festivitas in Long Island. I think you're on something there. The fancy party, the emptyness... hell, great!

Dr. Mu (GB, 11/19/00):  The guy is day dreamin' - he's still physically in LA imagining a gand adeventure. The Santa Ana winds disturb his fantasy.

The Stranger (GB, 11/19/00):  The guy, after seeing the distant lights from across the bay, returns to his car, where there's a hugely expensive ticket on the
windshield because like most outlanders he doesn't know parking meters on the beach run 24-7. He gets onto Sunset again, heads east, turns north on a street he
thinks will take him to the Santa Monica Freeway, but gets lost in a Beverly Hills maze. A rent-a cop empties a full magazine into the rear when he slows down
in front of one of Streisand's houses. Finally he heads for the I-405, turns south, then east again, but is fooled by the Slausen cutoff and, to paraprhase Johnny
Carson, nearly gets his Slausen cut off. Etc. Life in L.A.

Mexuine (11/9/00):  How about this one:

"This is no one night stand
it's a relocation."

Works, doesn't it?

Cray Zee (GB, 5/7/01):  Babylon Sisters. No one on the Oleander site offers an interpretation which harmonizes the song as a whole. Here's my take.
    Babylon was an ancient city devoted to the pursuit of sensual pleasure, and notorious for prostitution. "Babylon Sisters" are prostitutes. The protagonist just picked one up [in Hollywood?], as is his habit, and is driving home, "west on Sunset" [you have to know L.A. geography] "to the sea." The song is the protagonist's inner monologue. At first he attempts to rationalize his habitual behavior by romanticizing the encounter ["This is no one night stand, its a real occasion" "The end of a perfect day" "We'll jog with showfolk on the sand"], but then reality sets in and results in harsh self-awareness ["Well I should know by now that its just a spasm; Like a Sunday in TJ (Tijuana); That its cheap, but its not free; That I'm not what I used to be"].
    Perhaps the recurring Santa Ana winds [which blow in unusually warm air to Southern California] are a metaphor for recurring sexual desire, which sets the process in motion.
    In the end, the protagonist admits that despite the sleeziness of what he's doing, and against other's better judgment ["My friends say no, don't go for that cotton candy; Son you're playing with fire"], he's hooked and cannot control his compulsion ["The kid will live and learn, as he watches his bridges burn, from the point of no return"].
    And lastly, he commands this evening's Babylon Sister to do what her sisters have done throughout time -- "You've got to shake it, baby, you've got to shake it."

wormtom (GB, 8/23/01):  what would it be like if the Dan wrote Hotel California?
    they did...
     It starts out
     "Drive West on Sunset to the sea...."
     a slightly different prison

Lee (The Blue GuestBook, 9/10/01):   I view it as the story of a threesome between the narrator and the two "Babylon Sisters".
     On to the lyrics, and regarding the jungle music line and racism, remember that the writers are telling a story, not necessarily giving vent to their attitudes. Plus, there is the line "just until we're out of town". If the narrator were racist, he would not want to listen to it even "out of town".

          This is no one night stand
          It's a real occasion

     To me, this refers to the fact that this will not be just an "average" one night stand. No, it will not be just a one night stand, it will be a threesome, "a real occasion".

          Babylon sisters shake it
          Babylon sisters shake it
          So fine so young
          Tell me I'm the only one

     This is a bit of knowing and witty self-deprecation. "Yeah, lie to me, baby, and tell me I'm the only one", fully knowing that his being "the only one" would be as impossible as could be with THESE two women.

          Here come those Santa Ana winds again

     The famed hot winds in L.A., directly from the desert, and yes, with the scenario written about in this song, things will surely be getting hot.

          San Francisco show and tell

     I am not totally sure, but with two women, and with every straight man's fantasy about to be played out, I think that the San Francisco show and tell (San Francisco being associated with gay culture) is the Babylon Sisters sexually performing on or with each other.

          Well I should know by now
          That it's just a spasm
          Like a Sunday in T.J.
          That it's cheap but it's not free

     Obviously, in Tijuana, things are cheap, but never free, and I think the narrator is referring to the fact that this was a "cheap" scene, i.e., sleazy, crude, etc. And maybe the line about not being free refers to the fact that these may be hookers. But, this may also refer to the possibility that even if the girls are not hookers, the narrator pays in the end, through his soul, through the cheapening of himself.

          That I'm not what I used to be
          And that love's not a game for three

     This is sort of the punchline. He's getting a little older, without that youthful ability to perform at the merest thought of sex, realizes that he probably will not perform up to the standards required when one has sex with two women, and that he should not go forward.

          My friends say no don't go
          For that cotton candy
          Son you're playing with fire
          The kid will live and learn
          As he watches his bridges burn
          From the point of no return

     His friends warn him that if he goes forward, he's "playing with fire", and maybe sex with one woman will never be satisfying again (once you try two, one will never do). Ah, but he does not listen, burns his bridges (from normal sex, the advice of friends, and his own intuition) and goes for it!

Dr. Mu (Aqua GB, 9/10/01):  Steely Dan=Nostradamus?
    Lee: Yes. The guy could be a Gary Condit type. I was going to say sleazy Gary Condit-type, then realized that would be redundant. The Babylon Sisters could be voluptous blondes, mayber even identical twins, or could simply look like twins, with braided hair and muchos T&A. But the plural has a meaning. Of course, the guy could simply be a master of his domain loser with a spyglass and an imagination, but...
    "Don't go for that cotton candy" - The Sisters, at least in this song, are not prostitutes.
    "San Francisco Show and Tell" Lee, you're a genius. I've been trying to picture them on a road trip to the Bay area for over 20 years. D&W musta been laughing their rears off when they came up with that one
     "Distant lights from across the bay" Gotta be Santa Monica Bay then looking south or possiblly towards Catalina Island.
     "We'll jog with the show folk on the beach" They took a right turn at the end of Sunset Blvd and headed toward Malibu...act like I belong here.
     "Here come those Santa Ana winds again" A dose of reality. The wind disturbs his spyglass and the fantasy? Musses that hair of the sisters as they drive with the top down, sending them into a less than receptive mood? The whole scenario, as is the album, is about style rather than substance, and style is fickle goddess subject to swirling whims and winds...

Truk (12/25/01):  This song seems to be about a small group of guys, of different ages, living in southern California, who take a weekend road-trip across the border to TJ, in order to cavort with young, beautiful prostitutes.  (Babylon:  A city devoted to materialism and sensual pleasure;  Babylon Sisters...you get the idea).  The singer's persona is that of a hip, older male who's quite experienced with the materialistic and sensual pleasures that await them as he sets forth with several young and inexperienced male friends on this road trip.  As they set out, his young companions want to listen to black urban music ("jungle music") in the car, and he finds this music to be annoying; he wants them to turn it down long enough that he can begin to tell his young and naive male
companions about the trappings and pitfalls that await them in "Babylon".  ("...Drive west on Sunset to the sea, turn that jungle music
down, just until we're out of town...This is no one-night stand, it's a real occasion...Close your eyes and you'll be there, it's everything they say, the end to a perfect day, distant lights from across the bay...").  [Personally, I don't find SD's use of the term "jungle music" to
be "racist"; rather, I feel it is an entirely acceptable use of culturally modern slang and vernacular, i.e., it is tastefully protected by poetic
license, and if you don't agree, then don't buy or listen to this album cut].   As an aging male who's acutely aware of his faded youth, as well as his aging body, looks, and inner emotional landscape, the persona of the singer has also come to know full-well the longings and emotional consequences that may stem from being an aging male who still indulges himself in sex-for-hire with women young enough to be his children.  ("...Like a Sunday in TJ, it's cheap but it's not free, I'm not what I used to be, and that love's not a game for-free...Babylon Sisters...shake it...So fine, so young, tell me "I'm the only one...").  This theme is vaguely reminiscent of Cole Porter's song, ""Love for Sale".  ("...Who's prepared to pay the price, take a trip to paradise, love...for...sale...").  Steely Dan's "Hey Nineteen", also from their Gaucho LP, has a similar themes the dilemmas of fading or lost male youth, male mid-life angst, as well as perhaps the situations that many famous, older celebrities may find themselves in when it comes to sex and companionship; that is, such "old-timers" may find plenty of very "willing" and gorgeous young women for a romp in the hay, but after the bloom is off the fantasy, these relationships are often not emotionally satisfying, and due to age the profound age differences, such trysts often never move beyond shallowness and self-inflicted narcissism, and in fact such trysts may ultimately serve only to exacerbate and make more poignant, a mid-life crisis.   ("...She thinks I'm crazy, but I'm just growing old....Hey 'Nineteen'... no, we've got nothing in common...no, we've got nothing to say...please take me along when you slide on down...").

"Hey Nineteen"