"Can't Buy A Thrill"
oleander) I think
that you're missing the key point to Steely Dan lyrics. Yes, I'm one of
those annoying ones who thinks he's "got it all figured out"... well,
all, but a lot of it.... I'm a Dan fan from... oh, ' '73, at
and my knowledge of their stuff is fairly exhaustive. SO LETS GO!
to my interpretation is the idea that this country is nowhere, I
NOWHERE CLOSE to being as free and open as it pretends. The music
under all the hype, is but one more branch of the Millitary /
Establishment. "B--but nowadays the execs are all old hippies,
and counter-culture--" An answer to that: The fact that they're
there at all ( the Board of Directors controls everything in a
reveals the true nature of Big Business. Yeah, Socialism. Socialism IS
Big Business -a government agency (and thereby industrial contracts)
every faucet of a citizen's life. Control,
baby, and let's call it youth culture. Quickly, quickly... Now it's my contention that, under the ultra-regime that began when "youth culture" began to be so incredibly profitable, ALL major rock stars were required or persuaded or FORCED, even, to play roles and say lies and perform music that really they did not want to play. This goes beyond the mere profit motive ("suck up to top-forty because we want to recoup our investment in you"); no I think the forces behind the industry want fandom stupid and crude and sex-obsessed and desirous of the big groovy super-government. Rock history backs me up -the industry revels in and applauds and gives every possible honor to any music that 1) sticks to the above topics [crudity, sex-obsession, socialism] 2) is not overly creative [read "overwrought" "self-indulgent", and any other cliches that are routinely brought out whenever progressive rock is mentioned] 3) manages to be anti-intellectual while giving intellectual reasons for it 4) is DANCE or groove oriented -few if any changes, next-to-no solos, little drama or true romance or sense of cost -everything kept either bright and vapid or dark and unresovably despairing (except for hope of the super-government, yay!) -Record and concert sales have little to do with cracking this formula! For instance, Emerson, Lake and Palmer routinely played enormous sold-out concerts all through the 70's, sold millions of records, and yet you could not tell it by reading the rock magazines (as I did). They were busy pouring every kind of urine on ELP that they could, telling us that we didn't want any of that pretentious stuff no, what we wanted was to dance and be anti-intellectual with the Ramones or socialistic with the Clash; and both bands I'm sure combined have not sold half the discs ELP has. Anyway anyway I believe that Becker and Fagen are very intelligent men who not only spent years learning music but understanding the system they were born into. Their goal was to create musical contraband : complicated, unusual chord progressions, wonderful (gasp) jazz-oriented solos, tight, unusual arrangements, passion, drama, the whole bit! disguised as disposeable pop ditties! And those lyrics. If you want to tell fandom what is really going on, you'll have to disguise them too. Which is no new thing. I believe that every band that has not become a mere corporate shell has been trying to tell fandom the truth -for decades. But what will fandom listen to? Carefully vetted and controlled industry photo ops or song lyrics, which are more "behind the scene"? Back in the 70's, in a Rolling Stone article released shortly before "Pretzel Logic", either Becker or Fagen remarked that their music scared them more than anyone elses', because of the mixture of a menacing lyric and cheerful melody. "The fact that someone would do that" struck them as terrifying. Why, they didn't explain. But think about it. A menacing lyric, a cheerful melody. That my friend is DISGUISE. And WHY would someone do that, and WHY should it be scary, to the men who were doing it? Maybe they were saying something they couldn't say any other way! I guarantee if you begin to look at S.D.'s lyrics starting from this little proposition, they will begin to fall into strangely recogniseable patterns, and even be related to other band's lyrics, believe it or not.
Let's say my theory is true: the music industry is controlled, and
since (at least) the 60's have tried to fight it by 1) improving their
music and 2) telling the truth (albeit obliquely) in their lyrics. I
Bob Dylan said some incredibly bold things in his first eight albums
of them done before the screws were tightened), things that became the
benchmark for many artists that followed in his wake (if Bob dare say
so can we); and often they used his exact same imagery (trains, mail,
dog, etc) in hopes that by mere repitition "fandom" might catch on.
say Becker and Fagen have hopes of not only selling music but also
HOW can they get this contraband through the Industry? Let's LOOK at
album "Can't Buy A Thrill". My, not exactly glamorous, despite
the women. And such a fine, splotched stained puke-yellow color. And
liner notes -light blue on splotchy yellow- so easy to read, NOT!
focusing, requires an effort- lets say you, having never heard of the
found this by random in a store. Would you really be inclined to spend
time trying to decipher it? Now "Tristan Fabriani", as we know, is
Becker and/or Fagan, and the notes themselves are full of their odd
But there is method in their humor. Note how the piece is full of "damning by faint praise". Wouldn't you, discoverer-by-random, conclude (unless you had actually heard the music) that this band might be only odd instead of good ? There is a real distinction there. Unless one trains himself to consciously check out the unusual, the common response is to avoid it. Now, I don't expect W & B to write notes full of self-adulation, but really the common way to push a rock band's first album is to have some outside critic gush and go on about how this band changed his life etc. W & B completely avoid this; they are trying to comunicate something else. WHAT? Some of these descriptions are basic lies -"Kings" is not "vacuous"; "Turn That Heartbeat Over Again" is NOT "rhapsodic"! And why do they feel driven to "explain" each song? Of course, if this disc had to get past screening, the songs would HAVE to be explained. "Kings" would have to have the reassuring "No political significance". Two songs that have absolutely no resemblance to each other except their apparently being sung to a woman, plus a song that is certainly NOT about a woman at all except for a line completely in passing ("a woman's voice reminds
me to serve and not to speak") -all three songs are glossed over by a repititive, insinuating, mildly insulting "How's my little girl" -in no way indicating the richness of each song's individual significance. Is this really how W & B want us to think of those songs? Now, the Album's title: "Can't Buy A Thrill". It's a quote from Bob Dylan's "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry". "Well, I ride on a mailtrain, baby,Can't buy a thrill..... Well, if I dieOn top of
the hillAnd if I don't make itYou know my baby will." According to "The Glossary of Code Words" (smile) that I've assembled, "mail train" means an artist that is trying to communicate something forbidden (yes! and Steely Dan just "can't get through to you through the US mail") . Bob is saying that if he dies (looses control of his art) on "top of the hill" (Capitol Hill? I'm not sure of this... "Up on the hill, they think I'm okay -or so they say") he's hoping his
"baby" -true fans- will "make it" -understand; put their knowledge to use. Well, W & B are part of Dylan's "baby", and they're passing on what they can. And they name their album and write those cryptic lyrics in hopes that their "baby" -US- will do the same. Now (if you have the album -I don't know how the CD is laid out, alas) open that album. More pale blue, this time on dark sepia. Stinkin' hard to read! And look atthose band members. All neutral and bland on the left side-but on the right! They're looking right at you and they look pretty serious. Because on the right, the songs are about the music Industry (except "Brooklyn" -heh, that's one SD song I've never managed to figure out, though I have some odd ideas). The looks on their faces tell you how serious the material in these songs are -and yes, having studied them intensely I'm ready to agree.
"Do It Again" is a unique song; on the surface its lyrics could efortlessly pass off as C & W (in fact, a C & W artist did record it once -I forget who) -Musically it's miles ahead of its time with that deep, complex rythmn & general "murkiness". If no grunge artists have recorded it, I'm amazed! But to the point: "Do It Again"... That is a recurrant idea in SD lyrics: repitition. ("Have a feeling that I've been here before") ("My life is boiling over, its happened once before"). I believe that their core idea is similiar to what The Call said in "Modern Romans" ; that they were "Doomed to repitition. Doomed to repitition. Doomed to repitition." And this silly "pop" culture nowadays, as concieved by CEOs, analysts, social scientists ad nauseum IS doomed to repitition! Like, how many times have the 50's, 60's and 70's been recycled?? (NOT the 80's, though; they were evil, we had a republican president) Especially the 60's, where time supposedly started all over again; where a generation cut themselves off from all history and experience and thought they could remake the world... Interestingly enough, in a socialist mode, with the TV industry & Hollywood egging them on with might and main. But nowadays we have the 70's show & some ultra-"special" called (what else?) the 60's, on TV; as if the whole dreary thing hadn't been done to death enough with Woodstock II and the grunge thing as a whole... I think B & F have a different take on the 60s. I think the second set of verses of this song explained as "Traditional" apply to the experience of a lot of bands: "When you find she's no high climber then you find your only friend"(When you attempt to improve your sound and your record sales slacken you know you're not going to near your potential; the Industry will instruct you to keep with what sells)"In a room with your two timer, but you're sure you're near the end"(Some bands try to have it both ways; the shallow and the deep, but this seldom keeps because it's not a predictable market)"Then you love a little wild one, and she brings you only sorrow..."(Some bands roughen up their sound, because generally, "hard" music sells; but the "hard" music audience is notoriously unreliable) Now these explainations might seem incredibly convoluted, but a word to consider: Back in '76 (-I think- I really ought to look this up in a library) Rolling Stone had a lengthy interview with the Eagles, in which (among other things) they said that they felt the record industry was getting rougher than ever before; one of their songwriters even remarked that he had been tempted to name one song "Here's Another Song About the Industry Disguised As a Love Song". Now if this was a real dissertation I'd have that issue & the quote exact but oh well... Are you in a town with a good library? Would you like to look it up? Next song: "Dirty Work". There's no reason for me to believe that it's anything but what it is on the surace. Then again, that's not "surfacey". "Kings" -Oh, how to explain that one in a million words or less. Listen, I don't know how crazy this will sound, but I'm not alone in this political thumbnail: This country is rapidly becoming very very socialistic. And no matter how much the media rants about the evils of Nixon, Reagan, Bush, and whoever, the fact is unless we the people consistantly decide that we will pay the price of living without super-government, we will get super-government, because beauracracy grows upon itself on and on like a cancer will, and no conservative anything will stop it. How do you stop people who want to live on the mooch, or the politicos eager to exploit 'em? Now, I have come to believe that JFK was not the super-wonderful King President the media never tires of telling us he was. I believe he was to be the prototype of the Figurehead Over The Collective, american style. "Camelot" is about a king; last I heard this was supposed to be a democracy. Many major industries want a king however! And its no accident that 30 years after K's assasination we got a "baby boom" president that the media did its best to portray as another Kennedy; but Kennedy with a difference. This is how I'm convinced the media would have sold him as, had he not died, as the hero of the counterculture, against the uncool Aged... Yessiree, American Bandstand would have "rocked the vote" just like MTV did; all those kids in bells -n- beads would have flocked to the Youth Represenative just like their retread children did later. Figurehead wannabes stick to the program. So all this to say in "Kings", "good king Richard" is Richard Nixon and "good king John" is John Kennedy. It's Richard whose body is being laid down (through Watergate) and who knows, he might have orchestrated K's assasination as some claim ("blue blood [ K was very rich ] and rain") Did he "save the day" by this, if it is true? Well... I've read some things about Kennedy and about socialism and about Figureheads over the Collective and I've never been able to be so blindly enthusiastic as it seems so many are. Am I condoning assasination? No. But I have always made it point to try and face unorthodox positions and difficult questions. Yes, assasination is evil. Yet there's evidence that suggests JFK wanted to do it to Fidel Castro. We call those who attempted to do it to Hitler as heroes. What if things are much later than we suppose? What do we really know about the world of the super-rich and our government, much of whose business goes on behind closed doors? Anyway anyway yes, ol' Richard's name lives on and on in a kind of vindictive way (the media can seldom say anything remotely nice about Reagan either) but its King John whose star is on the ascent -again....
Do my politics bother you? What about B & F 's smiley-faced authoritarianism in "Only A Fool Would Say That"? Re-read that song carefully, and see if I'm not right when I say these boys are radical! But you see, I mean "radical" in the sense that democracy is when all around you people seem to be clamoring for puppethood. That song is satire.... This is what art should do, create debate! My ready-made definition of "radical" is "an extreme departure of any sort from what is normal, average, or typical" . By B & F being "radical" in Only A Fool Would Say That, I mean they are resorting to a very surreal kind of satire. The music: light, chilly, to the untutored ear inconsequential. The chorus:"I heard it was you - talking 'bout a world where all is free - it just couldn't be - and only a fool would say that" You know, I can imagine some biff-squad wannabe -extremely self-righteous and one short step away from "people's hero" "informer on thought-criminals", coming up to me on a street corner, putting an unwelcome hand on my shoulder, saying "HEY! I heard it was YOU! (mixture of sarcasm and pity and disgust) talking 'bout a world where all is free ! It just couldn't be ! And only a FOOL (condescending smile) would say that." Now, the point is not "But of course we're not children, we're not utopians, we know everything has its price" -No, the image I have in my mind is that scene in 1984 where during the Two-Minute Hate people scream and go crazy with rage at The People's Enemy, Goldstien, who tells them what they need is freedom of thought, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, etc. "An argument so flimsy a child could see through it, yet disturbing enough that you might worry that someone, less stable than yourself, might be swayed by it." (faux quote, but that is the gist of the sentence) You see, it is important that people have a TRUE idea of freedom in their hearts. A TRUE idea is worth fighting and even dying for. But what if a person is considered a fool for even considering freedom a viable possibility? HOW are we supposed to think if freedom is ruled out from the beginning? Are all our words and deeds supposed to be circumscribed, curtailed, and tamed by politics and low expectations? What exactly is a false idea of freedom? I'll give you one, a major heresy of today. It's the idea of "Freedom is doing whatever you please." Sorry, buzz buzz no door prize (a door). If someone just does whatever he pleases, then he will end up being ruled by his passions. A person ruled by his passions is a SLAVE to whoever knows how to push his buttons . That might be rule number One in the totalitarian's handbook. Be the People's Deliverer by taking away their responsibilities. Make 'em AFRAID to leave their homes! ( "everybody on the street has murder in their eyes") Dull their senses! ( "You feel no pain") and keep 'em INFANTILE ("and you're younger than you realize"). Another idea in this song that's key to several other SD songs is the "cowboy" motif. Now, to nutshell some complex ideas that I've gathered from several odd sources, I believe that behind the scenes, in the "shadow government", or whatever it is you want to call it, there is a kind of war going on between "cowboys and indians" ( a terminology not unique with SD ). The "cowboys" more or less represent traditional Western "values" - democracy, parliment, limited government, etc; and the "indians" seek a socialistic, collective, eastern-worldview-centred end. ( American and European press has been intensely "indian" for some time) SD consider themselves "cowboys", I believe (thus their last album "Guacho"). In this satiric song SD takes the side of the indians. The fool talkin' bout that free world is decieved, he thinks he's fighting a cowboy ( "a natural man wearing a white Stetson hat" -LBJ ??? ) But "there's no one to fire upon - if he's holding it high" (on a stick -old movie-cowboy trick) "he's telling a lie" I don't know if this song's about Lyndon Baines Johnson, but he is typical of the psuedo-liberal who would talk all about equal rights but whose real voting record was abysmal. You see, the "indians" might go on and on about "rights" and "freedom", but in a socialistic (or fascistic) system "rights" and "freedom" are not determined by God or nature but by an Elite, Above Which There Is No Other. Being Holistic or having Quotas does not and can not change the fact that the Elite is second to Nothing. Western Civilization's big gamble was to base government on LAW and not on MEN; this gave us limited government and responsibility, which created forms of true freedom. Unlimited government, no matter now "nice" the elite is, removes the individual's responsibility (the elite determines what "reality" is) and does NOT create freedom. "Rights" and "freedom" to a totalitarian are just politics - the "man in the street" doesn't care, and it's no big deal if he doesn't. He's to be kept "half alive" and cynical. He doesn't have time for the "man with a dream" -Martin Luther King, and in the meantime "you" had better not get too carried away with that "freedom" talk.
Are you surprised that I have so much to say about one album? I honestly believe that every SD album was made with this intent in mind. They are like "info capsules", concentrated messages to a future they fear will be lot more oppressed and primitive. Is it true that the "Citizen Dan" collection is arranged last album first, progressing down to the first? [No.--oleander] If so, then that proves an idea that came to me long ago, that if the fans of a shallower future bought "Gaucho", for instance, and decided that they liked it; maybe for reasons they themselves didn't fully understand (I mean, why SHOULD they like music that is absent of crudity, viciousness, and is certainly not The Latest Thing?) -well, maybe they would chase the band's albums back and back, encountering things forgotten (utterly foreign to their minds), things of the forbidden past, things that even reinterpreted things they saw every day and hitherto accepted as normal... If I don't make it you know my baby will... "Reelin' In The Years" -This is a direct assault on the hippy generation. "Your everlasting summer (Beach Boys album title: Endless Summer) you can see it fading fast So you grab ahold of something that you think is going to last (such as prog rock, fusion, disco, new wave, metal) But you wouldn't know a diamond if you held it in your hand! (Did many people actually catch on how good those old rock albums were? And there's always potential for improvement! Why should a band be abandonded just because execs decide some new music style is the latest thing and everything should therefore be adapted to that?) ARE YOU REELING IN THE YEARS ?? Like a fisherman with a line. Fads or genuine attempts at musical improvement will come and will go but "the 60's" will remain. In the late 70's there was a 60's revival; fusion was making too many waves and was gasp, nonpolitical as well. Real artists created New Wave, as a kind of a romantic attempt to upgrade "that 60's sound" to the current situation. In the early 80's there was a 60's revival, there was a HUGE 60's revival in the early 90's, harped on endlessly by the media, strangely coinciding blatantly with politics -surprise! We had a "youth rep" president back in those magic days and gosh if we're not going to be slackers we'd better get on the ball & hate those conservatives & whatnot just like the Media Generation did! How unique. And now the media is doing it again! That younger generation (what will it be this time - gen XX ?) has to be radicalized!! ARE YOU REELING IN THE YEARS? Are we GOING anywhere? But to the supergovernment of sponsored "rebellion" - the NBC Youth instead of the Hitler Youth? Okay that's enough rhetoric. : - ) The very title, "Fire In The Hole", is straight out of 1984. In the book there's these "memory holes" everywhere, that workers throw litter and dangerous information into, that whisk the papers away on winds down to hidden furnaces. By "dangerous info" I'm referring to the "Ministry of Truth" where the protagonist Smith works, where they continually rewrite the past to the present political position and then destroy the evidence. The song is about a musician. He doesn't want to "walk the line" -the very thin line of making music execs will approve of and that will give him an inch of true personal expression. "A woman's voice reminds me" -I don't know the significance of "woman" but it's true that what the little girls buy is what dictates about 80% of what the Industry allows. "With a cough I shake it off and work around my yellow stripe" -A 'yellow stripe' is an old sign of cowardice -you probably already know that- But this artist knows what he could say and he knows why he doesn't say it. "Should I... wait until it's good and ripe?" Should he wait until it appears its safe for him to be himself? "It's happened once before" Yep, repitition! "Don't you KNOW? There's fire in the hole! And nothing left to burn!" No memory! No more past to rewrite! Just a continual "jolly" all-consuming present. "Brooklyn..." I can't figure. Only that first line gets me: "A race of angels bound with one another" You know, I'm not kidding, that could be nazism. A race of angels -the ubermensch- bound with one another -collectivism! Yeah!
"Turn That Heartbeat Over Again" is a very surreal song, and as close
I can figure it out, its about a possible future, and quite possibly an
incredibly gruesome present. Its about a future where the Elite
conquered. Personal firearms are illegal ("With stocking face I bought
a gun") and alcohol is illegal ( " 'they' closed the
package store") but drugs -perhaps a synthetic like Huxley's soma- are legal ("stir it up nice, I'll eat it right here"). Why is the thought criminal buying a gun? He's hungry! ("The food -here- ain't so good no more") It's probably better elsewhere, in "preferred" neighborhoods... There's a place in 1984 where Smith is a child starving in a slum with his family whose father has "disappeared". Him and children like him watch a bump in the road that trucks carrying oilcake for cattle drive over, hoping the bump will spill some feed. Yessiree, feed the cattle, starve the "unsavory" families. "...make mine a double, Sam" -Who is Sam? Perhaps a reference to Cassablanca; Sam the loyal musician who hangs out with unsavory types -the ones the authorities aren't so sure they can trust.
Now comes the horror. SD are not alone in singing about such things. LISTEN to these words -they could come from a man on a torture rack, begging for mercy : "Oh Michael, oh Jesus, you know I'm not to blame... You know my reputation for playing a good clean game..." In 1984 there is "doublethink", where oftentimes words that say one thing mean the exact opposite. "Love your mama, love your brother, love 'em till they run for cover" - What kind of "love" is this? The love that keeps an open ear on them, looking for signs of unorthodoxy? When Smith asks the inquisitor O'Brian why the relentless torture he is answered WE WANT TO MAKE YOU SANE ! Gosh how loving. But in the song people can "run for cover" rather than face this "love". All they need do is submit ("Turn the light off") and be patient ("Keep your shirt on") -and isn't it all rather cynical? ("Cry a jag on me") Oh, the big shots care. Sure they do. "Oh Michael, oh Jesus, I'll keep my promise when you turn that heart beat over again" Okay, heres Bob Dylan, some six years earlier, in "Desolation Row" :
"Now at midnight all the agents
And the superhuman crew
Come out and round up everyone
That knows more than they do
Then they bring them to the factory
Where THE HEART ATTACK MACHINE
is strapped across their shoulders..."
What makes this even more scary is the reference to Paraguay. You know, I once looked through a book that detailed all the countries in the world for the sake of missionaries -what kind of government they had, how open they were to the gospel... And remembering this song, I checked out Paraguay. I could hardly believe how LITTLE was there. All the author knew (who had detailed many many countries in painstaking detail) was that Paraguay had been ruled by a right-wing dictatorship for years and that the Catholic church was the Official State Church. He had reason to believe the gov. was very brutal & repressive but facts were scarce. Ask yourself, when was the last time you heard anything about Paraguay, from our "freedom-loving, compassionate Press" ? Official State Church... that makes the repeated cries to Jesus in the song even more poignant...
In a post you seemed to see a difference between Socialism and Facism; I'm afraid I don't. If in the long run everything is owned by an elite, there is no difference. Surely the idea that "I the nobody manuel worker own this factory as much as the Party Boss who makes sure I tow the line" is only a state of mind; an illusion; the opiate of the masses. What is Facism? When Big Business and Big Government are one and the same, nothing else. Just calling it "The People's" this or that will not make the situation any different. And in a Sociofacism, music is not art or expression of a soul but rather a political tool, just like everything else. And if a person becomes famous, he becomes material to make an even more efficient tool out of; a bellweather for the rest of the sheep of society. If he won't play a "good clean game" willingly, well what then? So we come to the scariest thing of all: zombies.It's too weird, I myself wonder sometimes at myself -am I on to something or am I just crazy? But Steely Dan is not the only band to sing about zombies.
[ Second thought: "stir it up nice, I'll eat it right here" - could be the food the criminal stole ]
But anyway here we go. "We warned the corpse of William Wright not to cuss and drink all night -Ticket in hand, we saw him laid to rest; Oh, but zombie see and zombie do, he's here with me and you"... WHAT IS A ZOMBIE? Someone who once opposed the system but nowadays is quite gung-ho about it? Here are the complete lyrics to an old Brian Eno song off "Here Come The Warm Jets":
DEAD FINKS DON'T TALK
Oh cheeky cheeky Oh naughty squeaky You're so perceptive and I wonder how you knew
But these finks don't walk too well - A bad sense of direction - And so
they stumble round in threes -
Such a strange collection
Oh you headless chicken Can those broad teeth take so much kicking
always so charming
As you peck your way up there
And these finks don't dress so well - No discrimination - To be a
all the time Requires such
Oh please sir will you let it go by 'Cos I failed both tests with my
both tied - In my place the stuff is all
there I've been ever so sad for a very long time
My my they wanted the works can you this and that I never got a letter back More fool me bless my soul
More fool me bless my soul
Oh perfect masters They thrive on disasters They all look so harmless Still they find there way up here
But dead finks don't talk too well They've got a shakey sort of diction
It's not so much a living well It's just
a dying fiction
-Do you catch the same note of pleading in both songs? "You know I'm not to blame, you know my reputation... " "please sir will you let it go by..." Eno adds a sense of extorted confession and repentence: "In my place the stuff is all there -I've been ever so sad for a very long time - My my they wanted the works -" "Can those broad teeth take so much kicking" -Surely gov-industry officials wouldn't get rough with rock stars... would they?? Some strange words from ELP's "Carn Evil First Impression" :
"Suffering in silence, they've all been betrayed. They hurt them and
beat them, in a terrible way,
praying for survival at the end of the day. There is no compassion for those who stay. I'll be there.
I'll be there. I will be there."
WHO is he singing about? Interrogation victims in a prison camp? I"LL BE THERE, he repeatedly sings. Is this the situation in some third-world dictatorship? No, later on in Karn Evil Third Impression he exposes the arena of this and the rest of the song's horrors:
"Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends... You've got to see the show, its rock and roll..."
YES! Rock and roll will NEVER end - It's far too useful for the molding of kids and adults into government-approved shapes -Sex, cars, anti-intellectual craziness, fashions, fads, dope, and supergovernment to "save" us from the consequences of all of the above. Theres a multi-zillion dollar industry dedcated night and day to rock and roll never ending. Theres armies of advisors to make sure Industry creations like Madonna make no false moves; the cash cow must remain milkable. Why won't SD make another disc? They'd rather not be a cash cow. OR a collection of zombies. They might have to make a disc someday -if they do I don't know if I'd trust it.
Zombies... Every song SD has with zombies implied in it has bells somewhere in the course of the song. Like "Doctor Wu" (by the way that could be the name of a witch doctor) "Do you hear me Doctor Wu? Are you really just the shadow of the man that I once knew? She (the industry) is lovely yes she's sly and you're an ordinary guy Has she finally got to you? Can you hear me Doctor? Are you with me doctor?" That would be so scary, to have known somebody and not be sure if the person you see everyday is that person anymore. "...The crowd of people turned away - They'd seen his face before- nobody was really sure if he was from the house of Paul" (that's what the song says if you listen - it doesn't say "House of Lords". The crazy part about all this (and I'm only scratching the surface) is that if its true its something the artists would never be able to speak openly about. But sometimes even their "explanations" are phony. Asked why he wore a black carnation (or was it rose? can't remember) in the Magical Mystery Tour photo, Paul said they ran out of red flowers and so they had to run out and find him whatever they could. Uh huh. But if you look closely at the photo the red flowers the rest of the Beatles are wearing aren't real, but only sew-ons. So they "ran out" of sew-ons? Surely whoever made them knew there were four Beatles?
Its interesting that in the SD song "Heartbeat" that a South American country is mentioned along with Zombies... In the mid-eighties (not sure, might have been late seventies or early 80's), there was a book published called "The Serpent And The Rainbow" alleging that zombies are being made in South America today-Why, that there are even zombie-camps where scientist / witchdoctors try out variations of zombie-chemicals derived from blowfish; that to all appearences kill people but then "resurrect" them days later, with suppressed will power. True or not? "...this highway runs from Paraguay and I've just come all the way"
"Countdown to Ecstasy"
Now, as for the cover, I don't know what the little globes represent.
sun & Mars, I suppose. It is interesting
that the three main characters are frightened, cooly attentive, and goofily unaware. A summation of the record-buying public? I know that the two ghostly characters on the left were not in the painting at first, but were included at the label's insistence. ("There's five guys in the band, the public will be confused if there's only three on the cover" -no joke; I remember this "factoid" from SD's first Rolling Stone article) On the back of this anarchronistic LP I have before me is a picture of the band in the studio. What is the mysterious disconnected hand in the center of the group? I think, possibly, it is supposed to be a "record label official" that they ditched in the making of CTE (having hit singles were once upon time a kind of tool used to get artistic leverage -CBAT had two major hits ( ! ) and two minors ( !! ) so I think they figured they could afford to be a little pushy) -Or then again, it could symbolize that the band has run into trouble (They're only five guys now, and their pretty-boy lead singer has departed -Yes, I could easily ignore "official explanations" about his absence) Notice the crushed but still lit cigarette in the foreground. That is a symbol, albeit a strange one, used by many artists -Bob Dylan, Ian Anderson, Brian Eno- that I believe represents artists on their way out to artistic extinction. Donald Fagen is said to have been miffed after the making of this record, because it was somehow apparent that SD was not destined to become a "big" band. What made him think that? Sure, they're kinda big now (every once in a great while "fandom" shows excellent hindsight), but remember at this time, as a "pop force" SD was pretty well muffled by a lot of inferior bands -Grand Funk, Alice Cooper, Three Dog Night, etc) But you see I personally believe that this album, more than any other, represents SD as they really wanted to be! Think of it: long jams, lots of changes (what have they always done in concert?), interspersed by perfect little pop songs, with a "spacious" feel... If CBAT has any fault, it's that somehow it feels slightly "cramped" -so much said so briefly- but there's nothing like that here. These songs are long and "breathe" very well. Two of them became big FM standbys. "Bodhisattva" opens it, a crankin' surreallist pean to the Buddha, showbizzy broadway style. Now I have some pretty get down serious thoughts about this song, which I'll dive into another time... - I think SD meant the lyrics to be much more than a chuckle- though I doubt that their considerations are as serious as mine, but who knows? "Razor Boy" is what I have my eyes on tonight. This is a song directed to "pop star wannabes" who are dredging up old styles from the past and putting their own spin on them (yes, just like SD). "I hear you are singing a song from the past - I see no tears" Okay, young turk - do you really understand the value of what it is you're mining? "I know that you know it may be the last, for many years" Think about it, when was the last time you heard a new popular band basing its style on be-bop or jazz or ragtime or genuine blues (not Led Zep recyclings) or classical or soft-shoe or... What is becoming increasingly popular? Music with no roots. Hip Hop or Rap occasionally make pale reflections on Soul, but mostly its just a beat. Any false liberal who goes on about how that is just black culture ought to sit down and listen to some Charlie Parker, Ellington, Miles Davis, etc etc etc. Another rootless music is punk, 95% of which is just willful ugliness (well, Rap is too, might as well admit) "You'd gamble or give anything to be in with the better half" -I suppose "the better half" is the opposite sex, the courting of which through music is what really sells those discs -I hate being so cynical but its simply true. There are thousands out there willing to "gamble or give anything" to get a chance to prove to teen America that They Really Care. "But how many friends must I have to begin with, to make you laugh?" That is a very sensitive and touching line. Have you ever tried to convince somebody of something, to have them respond, "Don't make me laugh!" -always in a very scornful non-laugh provoking way? Well, if its true that it only matters Who You Know (to make it in the business), would a few warm bodies saying the same thing actually give that response you think yourself incapable of giving -in other words, convince you? And if you have no tears and no laughter (anachronistic things that surely belong to Those Songs From The Past) -then what kind of thing -person- are you? But whatever it is you are, "Will you still have a song to sing" -oh you might still be making music but will it be YOUR music- "when the Razor Boy comes and takes your fancy things away?" What fancy things? Well what about the ability to speak your mind, as well as sing what you want? If the corporation has invested a mint in you As Your Image Presents You To Be, then the corporation will make sure you Are The Image. Yes, from many strange hints I have encountered, I'm afraid the corporation just might be able to make you comply, one way or another. You see, one of the secrets of what was "the underground media" in the 70's was that many cartoonists, writers & musicians were trying to comunicate how insanely vicious the Industry is. I don't know if anyone "big" dares to do that anymore. Nowadays the "Radical artists" seem to me to just be saying the same thing that the rest of media chants: hate Republicans, Conservatives, and Christians. If anyone protests, the haters become instant martyrs, lauded by every left-wing magazine and TV network and Hollywood star that can get a word in.... I've a nasty suspicion that the true enemies of this society are the ones only hinted at in old satires like this one from National Lampoon, 1977. In a "Ripping The Lid Off TV" issue, they had a parody of TV Guide with "The Story Behind A Unique Special" : Bob Hope Dies." It seems that the "beloved" comedian discovers that he has a rare disease, "shrinking of the heart", and his personal physician can predict his demise to the very day -Easter Sunday (strange day, isn't it? He dies on resurrection day -what is he then? A zombie?) So why not do a last TV special on that day? Of course Bob "loves" the idea, and all his 75 writers get together to work out the show ( "We not only write his material - we write his everyday conversations as well" ), based on pure self-mockery. His TV audience will watch him die, minute by minute, as he does the show. Of course, Bob's agent asks for the biggest fee ever given to any performer in any medium ( "Bob loves money!" ) and just about "every famous person in the world" will be a guest on the show : Pope Paul, Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, Gerry Ford, Lucille Ball, Frank Sinatra ( "cowboys" all, maybe? ) and "of course, Bing Crosby, who is not in tip-top condition himself". Many of these could hardly contol their sadness at the proceedings no matter how jauntily Hope behaved. Spiro Agnew "turned into a blubbering idiot" during a skit when he was supposed to hit Hope in the head with a golf club ("rubber club, of course") and kill him. Bob's deterioration will be quite visible, what with instant replay and slow-motion techniques. He'll be "half-dead and half-okay". In the end, the drugs will be withdrawn, and Hope will do his last monologue, wisecracking and doing topical bits, trying his best to keep his body in working order. The sponsors are prepared to have the show go 4, or 5, or even 24 hours if necessary. "If Bob hangs in there, so will we." --So WHAT do you think that this writer was trying to say? WHO IS Bob Hope? A photographed face that shills for major corporations and whose "topical bits" never really contradict what the media is constantly telling us is so groovy. Is this REALLY Bob Hope? Honestly, you and I and 99.999% of the people in this countrydo NOT know. The exact same goes for Madonna, and Bruce Springsteen, and Marilyn Manson, and all the other "icons" -Funny thing that the media continually calls them "icons" -An icon is a "teaching picture". Teaching Joe and Jane America WHAT? Heh, "Razor Boy" -funny funny title. This I saw with my own eyes. Year: 1978. For some reason my roommate and I were watching a country music special featuring three sisters who were stars (the "Mandrell Sisters"? I honestly can't remember). At the end of the program, the three sisters (all with that perfect, glossy big hair that Dolly Parton
perfected) were all together chatting inanely and picking on each other. Then, one of them, when her sister's back is turned, sneaks up and actually takes her hair off. Surprise! She is bald underneath. No "bald wig", no her head is cueball bare. Then she, "realizing", retaliates. Her sister is bald. Then they both get the last. She is bald. The camera zooms in. Yep, no fakery, these women had previously been wearing wigs. My friend's and my mouths dropped open. The audience was laughing merrily, but honestly, I was so embarrassed for those ladies. It was one of the weirdest things I have ever seen. "Pure mockery" said National Lampoon. "You know that the coming is close at hand, you feel all right" -The coming of what? I guess something that only those who "sing a song of the past" would know about. Yet the object of the song only feels "all right" -an attitude the singer pities. "I guess only women in cages can play down the things they loose" -Someone might possibly think it's no big deal to be a corporate stooge; Madonna has made a living at it; yet her true thoughts are never known. She is a face and image-consultant-approved words. "You think no tomorrow will come when you lay down, you can't refuse" -"You" think you'll be left alone after you've made your pile and pleased the appropriate big shots -but you have no choice in the matter anyway."You" might be dragged back into the limelight any time the big boys decide they need a spokesperson. I notice that some bands like KISS leap at the chance; others like SD keep it very low key, delay as long as possible, and release live discs that are as anti-glamour as possible. Why should they be so obviously trying to avoid fame? Don't they want to make as much money as possible? Why shouldn't they want that? Oh, those crazy artists.
"Bring Back The Boston Rag"
This song will be difficult, because much of the terminology in it is
"lyric-speak" and will need prior-explanation. Here goes.
This song is from the perspective of a band in trouble. The "You" in it, believe it or not, is a record industry dude. "Any news was good news, and the feeling was bad at home, I was out of my mind and You were on the phone." Okay, bear up for some selected rock history. You won't find this anywhere else! -though you might have seen oblique references similar in nature.
"Any news was good news and the feeling was bad at home." Well, "any news was good news" implies that the person singing the song was very worried about someone -could be a life or death situation. But there is another rendering possible. Remember that "damning by weak praise" thing from the cover of CBAT? This could be a reference to that sort of thing. If the Industry feels a band is dangerous, the nature of their reportage changes. In a very subtle ways it
metamorposes into something around the lines of "Ain't they goofy and dumb but we (you) love 'em anyway." If somehow or another the band happens to strike a (gasp) moral stance or mood on a song or songs, the reportage will take on a tone of "They're not only goofy & dumb but perverse as well." Now, we live in a very weird day when the average teen rock fan is assumed to be a disciple of Nietzsche and the Marquis de Sade (or something) and the ressonance of
what I'm saying probably is weak. Let's go back in time.
Back in the early 70s Jethro Tull was a very popular (and in the industry's eyes, a very dangerous) band. Their music conjured up images of other lands, other times, and most alarming of all their audience just wasn't too interested in following fads and whatnot. They (I was one of them) were rejecting Top 40 because it was shallow,. pretentious, heartless, not to mention stupid -that is, on moral grounds. SO - Ian Anderson first of all had to made a gigalo. A very hilarious proposition, really, and you'll find on early Tull albums he parodies the very notion to good effect. Next, they have to pander to top 40. A bad move. JT have tons of talent, their first top 40 hits, Living In The Past, Fat Man, The Teacher, are way excellent, on SD level. Pressure increases. SO, JT puts out Thick As A Brick, a vast and subtle and powerful indictment of the whole stinkin' quasi-fascist British media machine -one long song, no top-40 possible, no nods to the kiddies. Amazing! It becomes popular! Anderson then has to be made grotesque -and man he was. The ads that came out for their next album, A Passion Play, surely would be banned today (but of course, in today's further-controlled media circus, would be exalted with ravings about Ian's "daring") -but really, is "pop society" ready even today for outright child porn? 'Cause that was what the ads were. Sure, they were wink-wink-nudge-nudge in nature, a kind of 19th
century-style parody -but they were truly sick- and as such, perhaps a further indictment of the System- but still a major turn-off for a lot of their fans. I knew a lot of folks who lost a lot of interest in JT around that time. (-Which was, paradoxically, about the time I started really getting interested -I didn't see the ads myself until decades later when I started collecting old Nat Lampoons) See, most of the old anti-establishment hippies were henceforth gone from JT's
fan base, leaving a more ignorant or hopelessly-hoping remainder like myself. And I never understood why Anderson did the things he did, the things dutifuly reported by the mags I read. The articles were full of weird statements that translated into "Look how stupidly eccentric I am" and "Really, I'm also basically rather contemptuous of my fans" -Why why WHY if his goal, also insistantly implied, was to be big in rock and make lotsa money?? You see, he was trying to tell his fans that this is what industry made him, he was not his own man. Also, I think he was also just trying to get out ( JT in 72 was playing to sold-out auditoriums -in 76 both them and Ritchie Blackmore failed to fill out the place I saw them in) but of course, getting out is not allowed -but whew that's another story.
Now, pick up your copy of Steely Dan, Alive In America (strange wordage, eh? "Alive" but look, there's a picture of a mummy -the Living Dead- on the cover) Read the opening liner notes. Take away the jokey manner in which they are written and you'll find a very vain and self-centered person, not too considerate of anyone's timetable -"Remember... I only receive calls between 3 and 4 P.M. my time" -All intended in the spirit of what Ian Anderson was doing. For us diehard longsuffering "fan's fans", "any news is good news" but for SD, who don't just deal with fans and music and whatnot but with all those faceless folks we have no idea of, "the feeling was bad at home".
"I was out of my mind and you were on the phone" These two phrases contain a wealth of allusion in rock lyrics. Where to start? I don't know how many bands have used insanity in reference to themselves... I'll stick to Tull for the nonce. Follow my thinking. Now these guys were / are excellent musicians. Albums like "Benefit", besides being full of killer melodies and riffs, have been pilfered ever since by any number of younger bands. The strum / chording style
of "Play in Time" has been used by countless "new-style" Metal bands (I've searched and I've found nothing like it on any band contemporary of Tull) -heh, if Tull had used that riffing with LOUD guitars (and kept that utterly fantastic feedback solo) they would have blown people's minds. Fans of bands like Led Zep would have been stunned. Who knows how rock would have turned out, if the idea got around that a band could be so melodic and so powerful? Now, WHY would a band so talented and chock full of ideas, consistantly give out such dopey press in the 70's -or even "rally 'round" such a dopey top-40 song like "Bungle in the Jungle"? A constant reference in songs about performers is "Dog", based I think on the old Dylan song, "If Dogs Run Free Why Not Me" (Yes! And Pink Floyd had a whole side-long song called "Dogs" -read those lyrics carefully ) Well, on "A Passion Play", Ian Anderson also make reference to "dogs", in a kind of progressive repetition, "Why the old dog howls with sadness" to "Why the old dog howls with madness" -So so so many good bands would have to be crazy -or really so stupid as to begger belief- to allow the "interviews" ascribed to them, or to have those songs on their albums. Early Queen was LOUD, super-progressive, packed with drama, guitar solos, countless changes... If they had kept that up with improvements, a whole generation would have said "Kiss? What's that?" But no, by their fifth album they were 90% foofy-do -sure, it was good foofy-do, but how many teenage boys have the patience for that? Is that the way Queen thought they were going to enter superstardom? With the really big bands like Kiss playing vastly inferior one-million db pander-rock? Queen went way down -in the 80s, when there were dozens of bands pirating their ideas, a rock magazine listed them as one of those who had "lost it". I'm skimming the surface, I could go over many band's lyrics... I wish I still had my old Circus mags with you, it's amazing the subtle messages their articles communicated; the bands on the way "out" and the ones they wanted promoted. In 75 or 76 they had a center poster of Black Sabbath with Ozzy sticking his finger up Geezer's nose. Nowadays I suppose the metalheads would cheer but not in 75, as the later letterpage attested. And would that all attract new fans? "Should I loose my mind?" Oz sings in a song that was definately supposed "to be about the industry", called "The Writ".
"You were on the phone." Another pregnant passage. Steve Morse, inteview, Guitar World: "... Nothing is worse than being in the studio and getting that phone call from the recording company suggesting a tune or requesting a tape of what we've been working on for their approval..." Could be creative life or death, I gather. Brian Eno, (The True Wheel): "For two years we've crossed the ocean in our little craft, Now we're on the telephone, making final arrangements, ding ding" Bill Nelson, (Beauty Secrets): "Drink up and let's go home, the deamon is on the phone, he's playing a dialing tone" Brian Ferry, (Street Life): "Wish everybody would leave me alone, they're always calling on my telephone..."
More later! Ta ta!
Steely Dan Songs Dealing With The Future Amerikan FÜHRER
A Short Intro
As Orwell noted somewhere in his anti-utopian classic 1984, "the shape of the world to come had long been apparent" -apparent, that is, to those who were paying attention.
I don't believe that this author, or Aldous Huxley either, were just fashioning their ghastly parables out of thin air; indeed, in a later work Huxley commented that as far as he could see, Western Civilization was traveling the road to a "Fordian" future already much faster than he anticipated at the time of his writing. And I myself have written several essays about the "Big Brotherization" of this society, essays that I sweated much over as I poured over various data -Which facts were truly important; that is, which pointed to a world where the distinction between truth and lies did not exist? A world where there were no families, no friendships, no laws, no protection from the all-knowing, pseudo-benevolent Superstate? I've come to my conclusions.
And surprisingly -honestly so- I have found that Steely Dan, as far as I can see, share much the same opinions, insofar as I have deciphered their lyrics. I know the various objections to that statement: "We all see what we want to see", etc, but what can I say? If one learns to look in the right directions -even different directions than those I have discovered- I believe the signs all lead to the same conclusion. If the West loses its freedom, it will be for a counterfeit freedom; the work of "bureaucrats, scientists, technicians, trade-union organizers, publicity experts, sociologists, teachers, journalists, and professional politicians", as Orwell foresaw.
The song "Kings" on their first album gives the first direction for recognizing the "Amerikan Fuehrer" when he comes. As discussed in my earlier interp of the song in BBB, "Good King John" is John Kennedy, who, although dead, is the template for the future "Johns" to come. Born wealthy (the family wealth acquired largely through dishonest and illegal means) thrust into public limelight by a distinctly pro-fascism father (Joe Kennedy favored giving Europe to the Nazis until he butted heads over it with FDR ) -a father who had also worked years peddling power and influence in key media (such as the Time/Life company)- John Kennedy represented the totalitarian concept of "government as Family" from start to end (and just like his father he also had many friends in another Family, the Mafia). He shamelessly sought, in many ways, to make the 60s generation "his" generation (gee, who were we supposed to think of when we so often heard about "The President's Council on Physical Fitness" ?) (and what business is it anyway for The President to worry over whether we're "physically fit" or not?) and also like his father (who tried secret meetings with Nazis while he was America's ambassador to England) he outwardly made tough anti-Communist speeches around the world while planning secret negotiations to give S. Vietnam to the North. The Left has decided to make him one of their saints because of that last fact -I pity anyone who accepts such blatant public deception a political "must".
I can hardly cover in this short space all the reasons why I disbelieve the endless media cant about how this "King" over "Camelot" was so wonderful; I can point however to a number of well-written and well-documented books that tear the myth to shreds: "It Didn't Start With Watergate" by Victor Lasky, "The Dark Side of Camelot" by Seymour M. Hersch and "The Last Days Of Marilyn Monroe" by Donald H. Wolfe. Look 'em up yourself if you're curious. There are more books besides these.
And yes, by the way, I do think Clinton was the next "John" . The media itself stopped just short of proclaiming that, anyway. Look at the official portraits and photo ops of Clinton these last three years -it's easy to see who Sleazy Bill is trying to imitate -with the mega-media-industries' full cooperation.
SD's next album was mostly about the music industry, but in the post-apocalyptic "King of the World", the chorus says, "Any man left on the Rio Grande is the king of the world as far as I know" ; that is, any government bureaucrat who survives a nuclear holocaust by hiding out in an underground, non-target, government-escape center is indeed King (not President), of the world -stripped of its history and its ability to resist totalitarianism. Orwell’s Big Brother was a post-nuclear war situation, come to think of it
"Pretzel Logic" was a very toned-down album, music and message-wise (which is not to say that it is bad; it is only more radio-oriented, the music [mostly] akin to a very quirky urban folk). The reason for the change was that songs on the radio could mean more money, more musical freedom. Take note, though there are at least six songs on this album that would glorify radio, only "Rikki" got any industry push. Can't allow too many Beatles-style multi-hit albums! In the industry's eyes, since SD has a foot in the door, they'd better pander them a little but not too much; the populace is destined for a "dumbing-down" with Disco and a 1950s revival. They can't totally stifle imagination, yet they can blunt its appeal through scarcity.
"Katy Lied" is a kind of return to the band's bebop roots, albeit in a weaker way (no long monster jams like on the second album) (the last song on Pretzel Logic sings: "Won't you turn that bebop down ; I can't hear my heartbeat" [won't the industry "turn that heartbeat over again"?] "Honey don't you think it was wrong ; to interrupt my song?" Nah, the industry interrupts artists' songs all the time). Most, if not all, the songs on "K.L." are about the Industry: "Katy" is the Industry; and funny thing, "Lied" is "Song" in German.
And that brings us to the next clue, in "Chain Lightning" : The future Fuehrer will have all the glory and glamour and Industry backing of a Pop Star. Oh yes, he'll have Kennedy's dream realized: the Youth worshipfully on his side : joining federal organizations, getting federal loans (excellent vote-buying things, those fed loans), turning everything -even (especially) rock concerts, into political events. And what is "Chain Lightning" ? Why, the SS runes the Nazi Secret Service used; the kind Kiss uses in its Industry Logo. I don't know where the slang originated, but I didn't invent this, "Chain Lightning" is SS. I once saw a cartoon of two men, all dressed up in polished black leather and gold medallions and ribbons, smiling at each other over full steins, one saying to the other, "So tell me, Harry: what do you like about being a Fascist?" and that is the guise Walt and Don wear for this song. Read the lyrics carefully:
Get with it, we'll shake his hand
Don't bother to understand
Don't question the little man
Be part of the brotherhood
Yes, it's chain lightning
it feels so good..."
Ah yes, "the Brotherhood" ; "The People" . Don't bother to understand, teenyboppers -you are so young , so naturally superior, you know dreams come true, you know that thing the oldthinking dreary conspiratory conservatives call a "ruthless, lying, vote-buying Superstate" is actually the apex of compassion, wonderfully all-inclusive (a place for everyone and everyone in their place), the true answer for world peace -That is, once we all "get together right now" and get those damned oldthinkers ("cowboys and their neighbors") out of the way!
The mid-70s were like an obliterating cyclone for so many bands. The industry simply "threw back the little ones and pan-fried the big ones". Does anyone remember Poco, Argent, J.Geils, Stories, Sparks, Be-Bop Deluxe, Little Feet? These and dozens of others, great bands all, highly progressive, full of variety and musical wizardry, vanished practically overnight. Walter and Don were swamped in the cut backs; "Katy Lied" pretends to a "band" album but it's not ; with "The Royal Scam" it's more apparent that SD is just the two songwriters with studio musicians. Why? Well, thanks to people like Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Frank Zappa, fans had gotten used to accepting more idiosyncrasy from "solo"; or "conceptual" artists. On the old record sleeve of the Scam you see a painting of Walter and Don oddly doubled, though. This strange thing, easy to overlook, is crucial. It means that the artists have completely gone to playing roles in their music -from now on, it will get harder and harder to separate "Walter and Don" from Walter and Don. Zombies? Not yet, I think.
(This "doubling" idea was used by several artists during this period -note Black Sabbath's "Sabotage" cover- it's also one of the themes of Genesis' landmark "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway" album)
"The Royal Scam" is a masterpiece. In powerful symbols it magnificently reveals the American cultural chaos of the time, created by covert corporate clampdown on the arts and the establishment of an "official" mythos -Certainly the true anti-establishment ideal of the hippies has been destroyed ("Kid Charlemagne") -and "The Man" will be and certainly is now on the lookout for those who get their opinions from other-than-official-sources -but it is ridiculous to think that "The Hippy (or 1960s) Mythos" is persecuted -naw, that's been completely swallowed, digested, and pooped out to sell everything from running shoes to life insurance. Are we supposed to think that created-edited-and-controlled-by-corporation-CEO Hollywood extravaganzas like "The Doors" really tell us something about "1960s rebellion"? I don't think so, for many reasons.
But this essay has a different topic. On the Scam the song about the future Fuehrer is "The Fez". Yes! On the song with the fewest lyrics, bounced about by a (Hah!) disco beat, the Man is telling the world of follow-that-trend dancers that he won't "Do it" until he "has the Fez on" -that is, until he becomes a Religious Figure. Why not? Hitler was. For many years occultists had predicted a "Germanic Messiah" and he was pleased to provide them one. Nowadays we have New Agers talking the same way, using the exact same concepts with slightly different phraseology -scrupulously trying to avoid a hint of racism or nationalism –but despite the media’s one-dimensional handling of current events, a person need not be racist or nationalist to persecute, enslave, or kill one's neighbor ; all one needs is a different worldview. Now, I'm aware my reasoning might be repugnant to some, but folks, another word for religious/political collectivism is Fascism. It doesn't matter that "the Nazis were them" while "we are us".
If we are all really so "alienated" by today's society (that is, the post-industrial superstate), then how are we all showing up in the tens of thousands at rock concerts, shouting the same slogans, thinking the same thoughts, wearing the same face?
Back in 1977 I thought I must have been the only Dan fan in the world who hated "Aja". Since then my feelings have softened, but in those days when these ideas we're examining were in their infancy, I was bewildered near the point of despair. This album was proof of everything I had been kicking over in my mind. Or was it some macabre joke? If so, nobody else was seeing it. First, the liner notes are led off by someone who frankly and cheerfully confesses that his presence at earlier SD recording sessions had been unwelcome; whose relationship to Walter and Don had worked its way down to "threats, insults, and rude remarks" ; a person who now rejoices that the president of ABC records informed him that W&D want him, specifically, to now write for the new album -who crows that now SD has "arrived", that they've abandoned that "puerile brooding" on earlier albums. Then he proceeds to explain the songs; to set the perimeters of listener's thoughts about them. Oboy.
Then it's the president of ABC records himself, telling us we'll "recognize" the musicianship, that it's just like SD, who never get "too, too heavy". Gosh forbid that SD would ever get "too, too heavy".
And then the photos of W&D. So phony-looking, obviously airbrushed over -both wearing black glasses, something never evidenced before.
So what song is about the Future Fuehrer? Well, its the title song, which describes not so much a person as circumstances concerning his control.
"Aja"; which could be an assonance for "Asia" (whose experiences of democracy have been few and far between) -also connotes reoccurrence -"A" dipping all the way down to "j" (like "jesus"??) but swiftly returning to that reassuring "a" -also could be a girl's name ("here's another song about the Industry masquerading as a love song" -the Eagles) -"When all my dime dancing is through" -that is, when I can no longer afford to pretend I have a date (could mean when capitalism can no longer function, strangled by corporate greed using inflation and endless regulation as weapons) -"I run to you!" Yes! Government as Family. Big Brother (defined by Orwell as "Oligarchic Collectivism" –exactly what "capitalism" means in China) surely will (hah!) "make the sidewalks safe for the little guys".
"Up on the hill (Capitol Hill) , people (legislators who are supposed to be keeping this a democracy) never stare (pay close attention to what's going on), "They just don't care". "They've got time to burn" (they [more often than not, only reps of industry] keep all society from growing out of its endless reoccurring 1960s revolutionary grind) "There's no return" (A counterfeit freedom is all but unbreakable. Many [but not all] totalitarian systems have fallen through western influence [which has ranged all the way up to actual war] -but what happens when the west -with its incredible propaganda/advertising machine- becomes even more totalitarian than it already is?)
"Double helix" (The DNA strand) "in the sky tonight". What a cryptic line. For years I puzzled over it, until I read some recent books and web sites by people convinced that space aliens have "evolved" men through the centuries by DNA manipulation. The weirdest thing about almost all these books and sites (a good book compendium to start with is "The Giant Book Of Conspiracies" by Paradox Press) is that they almost all, with the fewest nonpolitical exceptions, revere Kennedy as practically divine and present at least 50% of all American history as some giant Republican conspiracy.
But belief that e.t.s are behind mankind's evolution is not a new idea. Yes, once again a fact about Hitler: he believed in that very thing (the Aryan race was supposed to have e.t. origins in the magical pre-Flood land Hyperborea), and there are various manuscripts on record that show that he and his closest followers believed that they were in touch with e.t.s. Check out "The Nazis and the Occult", by Dusty Sklar, or "Peace, Prosperity, and the Coming Holocaust", by Dave Hunt.
"Throw out the hardware. Let's do it right." God, I don't know what that means. Since the "pure Teutonic" was "the highest evolved human", DNA manipulation for Hitler meant flat-out stud farms for the "proper" women. Are W&D being cynical here, telling those presumably messing with e.t.s to just knock it off, try it "the old-fashioned Third-Reich way"? Some Christians say that the Antichrist will probably step out of a UFO. I'm fairly certain that he will proclaim himself "evolved" in one way or another- I'll be fanciful here. With so many multi-million dollar films out there these days all but proclaiming "mutants" as gods (the X-Men film is but one example) – with most normal humans usually presented as mindless hateful bigots -what if these films were but "preparing the soil", so to speak? What if there did appear some "Super Race", ready to liberate us all from the "divided, conflicted" past to the great "SuperUnity"? With the right lying signs & wonders I think at least the kiddies (and their pandering industries) would go running to the Ubermensch. Gosh, all those left wouldn't want to be bigots, would they?
"Dude ranch above the sea" –Yeah, where the phony show-cowboys hang out.
"Gaucho" is SD's crowning moment; I believe they sincerely wanted it to be their last album, that's why the looooong pause between it and "Two Against Nature". But if you consider, there was a long pause between Gaucho and Aja as well! They were waiting for a political thaw, I believe, and yes dear liberals who have been trained to think everything was somehow so evil in the 1980s, I believe there is evidence that Life Under Reagan did loosen up the Industry’s control a little bit.
There are two songs on this disc about the F.F. So he won’t "do it" until he has "the Fez" on? What then, is the nature of this state-bred spirituality? ‘Time Out Of Mind" describes the media blitz as presented to the populace, a weird paganism masquerading as Christianity.
"Son you better be ready for love" (could be what evangelicals promise from God or what the media promised from San Francisco) "On this glory day" (Ah yes! A touch of that ol’ time religion phraseology) "Keep your eyes to the sky" (-for the return of Christ? The kind of "Christ" that might step out of a ufo?") "Put a dollar in the kitty" (certainly The Movement needs cash) "Don’t the moon look pretty" (Well here we are, the Moon, major influence on rock bands and this time mentioned in a religious context. I have half a notion that "The Moon" could be a reference to the Catholic Church, but as my reasoning on that is way convoluted, I’ll refrain) (someday I might give a study on the strange and negative references to luna in artist’s songs)
"Tonight when I chase the dragon" (Chase it? Why? Of course the dragon is revered in China, so is the religioid speaking of chasing that Chinese system, that blend of capitalism feeding the totalitarian system, allowing only "state-approved" religions –(certainly not Christianity)? The dragon is a Biblical name for Satan, and as Christianity has historically opposed totalitarian systems, it would have to be assimilated somehow) "The water may change to cherry wine" (Oh, so Christ’s miracles might be imitated? I don’t know the significance of "cherry wine" ; I truly hate to write this, but I think I have a ghost of a childhood memory of some acquaintance referring to the deflowering of a virgin involving such... As a cynical metaphor, of course the youth would have to be involved in this Latest Thing, and of course the younger the better –form their worldview before they know what one is) "And the silver will turn to gold" (a Catholic or Satanist could tell you that silver is the "satanic metal" and gold the "divine" -basically the singer is saying of course there will be many grotesque or evil things going on in The Movement –you’ll hardly be able to avoid them- ah but in the long run you’ll see it was all for a good purpose) "Time out of mind" (That is, you’ll see the Good Purpose once you put time –size and proportion- itself out of your head and just live for The Moment, The Zeitgeist.)
"Children we have it right here! It’s the light in my eyes" (those "bright eyes") "It’s perfection and grace" (Now, this phrase is the key to the whole song. Basically, for humans, perfection and grace are mutually exclusive concepts –if one has perfection, then one does not need grace, one is a perfect being, able to perfectly keep God’s law on one’s own. Now, there is One Who Is Perfect and Who gives grace : God, and His Revelation as Jesus Christ. What this person in the song is doing is claiming to be God) "It’s the smile on my face" -And since he chases the dragon –the Bible states in many places that for the Christian, the Dragon is already "caught" and defeated- and he speaks of occultic device -"I am holding the mystical sphere"-such things are tacitly forbidden in the Bible- plus, including the earlier exploitation of Christian words and events- I believe this song is simply adding up all the previous ideas in the previous songs to the coming worst F.F. of them all, the Antichrist. This is not to say that W&D are Christians (though I’ll confess at this point that that is what I myself am) but one need not even be one to see the signs of the times –most of which it seems to me most of us are actively ignoring.
The last song that W&D recorded as Steely Dan for almost a decade is kind of like the flip side of "Time Out of Mind": "Third World Man". On one hand there will be all kinds of positive-thinking media religious/political collectivist flash, but on the other will be the long-term results of disbelief: 1) in God and objective, external reality (which are the heritage of Western (cowboy) civilization, like it or not)2) in the special worth of human beings (certainly less important than all those other, endangered species) (Man as such –not counting individuals- has always shown an aptitude for surviving) 3) in Law, justice, true equality (all those go with God and objective external reality, folks)- in short, the long-term growth of every evil every tyrant bully boy "people’s hero" has ever committed- in spades, as it is said.
What is the easiest way to create "equality"? Make everyone poor! Kill that demon capitalism and all its unjust and ersatz outgrowths and we’ll all be one and very serious indeed, comrade.
What is the easiest way to destroy the powers of argumentation, logical linear thought, and all those Laws and Ideas and Beliefs that have created oh so much War over the centuries? Well, creating a Rich ruthless Intelligensia that believes in anything but Truth is the first step. Then... well, ya gotta get yer hands dirty. True comrades will have no qualms about pogroms, my friend.
"Johnny’s playroom is a bunker full of sand" (If "Johnny" is a child or a dumbed-down population’s perception of "Good King John", well it seems he’s a pretty austere dude. Toys either don’t interest him or he has his good times in a fallout shelter.
been mobilized since dawn, Now he’s crouching on the lawn"
"On the seventh day God rested" –Well, that originally meant Saturday, but Christianity changed the Western World’s concept of that, so with Antichrist turning all Christian ideas inside out, "Smoky Sunday" could be the nuclear holocaust’s "day of rest" –just waiting for realization.
"Any man left on the Rio Grande is King of the World, as far as I know"
"Soon you’ll throw down your disguise" (Such incredible accepted cynicism! We know that you need "spin-doctors" and the like for reasons of State, just like Clinton did against those "conspirators") "We’ll see behind those bright eyes ( "Children we have it right here! It’s the light in my eyes") "By and by, When the sidewalks are safe for the little guys" (This line kills me. Oh yes, though we know we are kept ignorant, we know that someday we’ll be allowed to go outside on those "public" sidewalks –once the Big Guys have made them Safe... And WHO can tell when that will be? WHAT is the definition of "safe"? When all independent thought is destroyed? Certainly there is no scrap of democratic ideal here. "Big guys" and "Little guys", the little ones accepting their lies cheerfully –straight out of Orwell) Frank Sinatra (later an ardent supporter of Kennedy, by the way –they even shared mistresses) once quipped that if "standing up for the little guy" made him a Red, then a Red he was. Ah yes, Sinatra, friend of Mafioso and known murderers, making passes at other men’s wives and sending his "body guards" on the husbands if they objected –yessiree, that was a man who understood Freedom. I definitely want Big guys like him looking out after my interests.
"I saw the fireworks" (Generally speaking, fireworks are a celebration of Revolution) "I believed that I was dreaming, Til the neighbors came out screaming, He’s a Third World Man."
These are symbols of Revolution Betrayed. The grand pop-socialist "Revoluushun", my dear friends, will not bring prosperity, peace, or any general human happiness. Just study the case histories of a few Third World countries and understand, that is the result of the collectivism that multinational corporation warfare brings: the leopard, the snake, the rat, the Royal Scam that will bring forth another King John. Will you be cheering him on?
"When he’s crying
out, I just sing..."
The last verses are a mystery to me because I do not understand the language. My wife could have translated them if I had thought about it while she was alive. I find it terribly interesting though, that they seem to be of a South American style... you know, South America, where this "Gaucho" (a cowboy in "proper" disguise?) hails from –you know, where they beg Jesus to turn the heartbeat over again, where the zombies roam.