KEY WORDS:  unofficial
                       Conjugate IHO (IMHO, IYHO, IH/HHO, IOHO, IYHO, ITHO)


Introductory Notes
"Do It Again"
"Dirty Work"
"Midnite Cruiser"
"Only A Fool Would Say That"
"Reelin' In The Years"
"Fire In The Hole"
"Change Of The Guard"
"Turn That Heartbeat Over Again"

Introductory Notes

Roy.Scam (GB, 12/9/98):  Reason #235 to listen to Steely Dan:  Better grammar.  The power, prurience, irony, and wit of Becker & Fagen's lyrics aren't their only good features.  They also promote respect for the King's English.  Whilst other rockers are saying grammatically reckless things like "Don't Come Around Here No More", "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" and "Me and you and a dog named Boo", the Dan only violate the laws of proper structure for legitimate artistically valid reasons.  To wit, it was necessary, in the interest of rhyme and meter, to do grammatical downgrades on the following original phrases:
"over there in Barrytown, they do things very strangely."
"she doesn't remember the Queen of soul"
"any world to which I am welcome."

fez o'north (GB, 12/10/98):  i figured out this morning on the drive in one of the reasons i'm so drawn to SD;  it's the lyrics.  there's a certain succinctness throughout--or to steal a line from "1776", a felicity of expression--that really pulls the listener in.

For a detailed and mindbending take on CBAT, see Breck's Bodacious Broadsides in Hear My Ax Declaim.

Daddy G (GB, 2/9/00):  Speaking of CBAT, I just hauled out the vinyl and read the words, "Remember this one from college?" on the back cover. The first time I read those words, I actually *was* in college, so my reaction at the time was, "Wha? What do they mean? I *am* in college!" Now I get it. It just took me twenty-seven years to get their little time bomb of a joke, that's all.

offleash (Digest, 10/14/00):  I think the hoopla about the lyrics being inscrutable is nonsense.  They follow a Rimbaud/Dylan tradition (and owe to Dylan - I don't know if they publicly administer that).  They're impressionistic.  I LOVE it that their willing to leave things unstated and to occupy the grey zone, to
refuse to give the answer.

"Do It Again"

    Brian Sweet describes "DIA" as "long and rambling... a story of murder, lynch mobs, and card sharps.  The lyrics conjure up cinema-style images (as would many Becker/Fagen compositions) of a Sergio Leone spaghetti Western and could easily be a synopsis to one of his films." (RITY, p. 49)

    Betrayal;  frustration;  bitterness;  the sense that if you do not learn from your mistakes you are doomed to repeat them.Another turn on the wheel.
    "A handle in your hand"--a slot machine.  There are many gambling references in Steely lyrics. "The land of milk and honey" is of course a reference to the Biblical land of Canaan, promised to the Jews in Exodus 3: 8.  It also can be seen as a bitterly ironic reference to twentieth-century America, which promises something other than what it gives.
    One of my favorite rhymes--"beg us" and "Vegas."

Not My Nancy (6/10/98):  "Wheel turning round and round" is a nearly explicit reference to the Buddhist wheel of life, which (I think--no scholar on the topic) is what one ascends, incarnation-by-incarnation, through truer adherence to the middle way.  Thus, if you fail to get to Nirvana on this go, you..."go back, Jack, do it again."
    Interesting to think that both CBAT and Countdown start with a nod to Buddhism--the first sincere (though realistic), the second tongue-in-cheek.

The Nightfly (8/9/99):This is in my opinion the most dark and mysterious SD song of all. It starts out referring to the obvious literal, and then moves toward a more spiritual connotation. The man oviously commits murder, and is apprehended.  He is then released because the executioner is unavailable.  The wheel referred to may in fact be an explicit reference to the Buddhist Wheel of Life, in which there are animals in the center, and Nirvana as the outer ring, with all manner of humans in between; or perhaps it is simply another way of saying "what goes around comes around" since the man obviously does evil, and then receives evil.  I think the land of milk and honey is referring to the final Judgement Day when all deeds good and bad by every person are revealed. "Land of Milk & Honey" is commonly used by the evangelical Christian sector as another name for Heaven.

Reelin' In The Years, by Brian Sweet
               "Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts" by Bob Dylan, on "Blood On The Tracks" reminds me of this Western-themed romance/ tragedy

"Dirty Work"

    Brian Sweet says, "Beneath the sweet and almost sentimental music, there were hidden barbs in the song.  The narrator realises he is merely a sexual plaything at the beck and call of his lover, but is so infatuated he is powerless to bring their lusty trysts to an end.  In the second verse Becker included a reference to the game of chess ('Like the castle in its corner/ In a medieval game')." (RITY, p. 49)

Kim (Digest, 6/16/00):  [on hearing The Bare Midriff Section do this tune in concert]  I always felt it was a "girls" song!

Reelin' In The Years, by Brian Sweet


    As quoted by Brian Sweet, Messrs. Becker & Fagen describe this as "a 'vacuous historical romance.' " (RITY, p. 50)

Daddy G (GB, 2/10/00):  This one always seemed to be the most straightforward to me —  it’s about King Richard I (AKA Richard Coeur de Lion), from the late 12th Century. This book on this guy was that he was so busy running around the world fighting the Crusades (remember, “the sun never sets on the British Empire”), that he was hardly ever home. In fact, he spent only six months of his ten-year reign actually on the island of England. That’s the reference for the line:

     While he plundered far and wide,
     All his starving children cried.

     Interestingly (or not), this was not the only song that came out in ’72 that referenced Richard I. Al Stewart, best known for his hit “Year of the Cat,” had a song on “Past, Present, and Future” called Soho that also gives a nod to this ambitious monarch. In Soho, Stewart laments the decline of Western civilization thusly:

     The sun goes down on a neon eon
     Though you’d have a job explaining it to Richard Coeur de Lion

     Good King Richard was succeeded by John Lackland. (Raise up your glass to Good King John.)
     When Kings first appeared on CBAT in ’72, this track featured the following disclaimer on the back cover: “No political significance.” Guess D&W didn’t want the protagonist confused with the other Richard in the news that year.

Luke (8/31/00)  I always thought there was resonance with Richard Nixon and John Kennedy in "Kings," but I've never been able to pin it down. Historically tricky as well--John was the bad Brit king and Dick was the good (could the Dan be engaging in *gasp* irony?!?).  But I always get that vibe when I hear it.  "No political significance" indeed!

Dr. Mu (GB, 9/30 & 10/1/00):

     Richard I Coeur de Lion (The Lionhearted) (1189-99 AD)

     Born: 8 September 1157 at Beaumont Palace, Oxford

     Died: 6 April 1199 at Chalus, Aquitaine

     Buried: Fontevrault Abbey, Anjou

     Parents: Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitane

     Siblings: William, Henry, Matilda, Geoffrey, Eleanor, Joan & John

     Crowned: 2 September 1189 at Westminster Abbey, Middlesex

     Married: 12 May 1191 at Limassol, Cyprus

     Spouse: Berengia daughter of Sancho VI, King of Navarre

     Offspring: None

     Contemporaries: Philip II (King of France, 1180-1223); Saladin (sultan of Egypt and Syria); Henry VI (Holy Roman Emperor, 1190-1197)

     Richard I, the Lion-hearted, spent much of his youth in his mother's court at Poitiers. Richard cared much more for the continental possessions of his mother than for England - he also cared much more for his mother than for his father.  Family considerations influenced much of his life: he fought along side of his brothers Prince Henry and Geoffrey in their rebellion of 1173-4; he fought for his father against his brothers when they supported an 1183 revolt in Aquitane;  and he joined Philip II of France against his father in 1188, defeating Henry in 1189.

     Richard spent but six months of his ten-year reign in England. He acted upon a promise to his father to join the Third Crusade and departed for the Holy Land in 1190 (accompanied by his partner-rival Philip II of France). In 1191, he conquered Cyprus en route to Jerusalem and performed admirably against Saladin, nearly taking the holy city twice.   Philip II, in the meantime, returned to France and schemed with Richard's brother John. The Crusade failed in its     primary objective of liberating the Holy Land from Moslem Turks, but did have a positive result - easier access to the  region for Christian pilgrims through a truce with Saladin.

     Richard received word of John's treachery and decided to return home; he was captured by Leopold V of Austria and imprisoned by Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI. The administrative machinery of Henry II insured the continuance of royal authority, as Richard was unable to return to his realm until 1194. Upon his return, he crushed a coup attempt by John and regained lands lost to Philip II during the German captivity. Richard's war with Philip continued sporadically  until the French were finally defeated near Gisors in 1198.

     Richard died April 6, 1199, from a wound received in a skirmish at the castle of Chalus in the Limousin. Near his death, Richard finally reconciled his position with his late father, as evidenced by Sir Richard Baker in A Chronicle of the Kings of England: "The remorse for his undutifulness towards his father, was living in him till he died; for at his death he remembered it with bewailing, and desired to be buried as near him as might be, perhaps as thinking they should meet the sooner, that he might ask him forgiveness in another world."

     Richard's prowess and courage in battle earned him the nickname Coeur De Lion ("heart of the lion"), but the training of his mother's court is revealed in a verse Richard composed during his german captivity:
     No one will tell me the cause of my sorrow Why they have made me a prisoner here. Wherefore with dolour I now make my moan; Friends had I many but help have I none. Shameful it is that they leave me to ransom, To languish here two winters long.

... [ Mu continues] ...

     I'm going to play Devil's Advocate and assert that The King Richard I saga was given a twist. The Kennedy/Nixon  analogy is allowed to be assumed, but does not fit the lyrics directly. I think we all know the legend of king Richard I (the Lionhearted) who left England to lead the Crusades while his conniving brother Prince John usurped the throne after a lengthy abondonment. Lord Loxley (Robin Hood) represented (whether real or not) the underground movement against King John's "reign of terror" and the Sheriff of Nottingham. Eventually King Richard arrives back into the country under wraps when he discovers the state that King John has put the country in and that King Richard himself has a price on his head. Steely Dan puts their signature twist on the myth.

     "Now they lay his body down
     Sad old men who run this town"

     King Richard is laid to rest - did his life live up to the legend?

     "I still recall the way
     He led the charge and saved the day
     Blue blood and rain
     I can hear the bugle playin'"

     King Richard left for the Crusades with great fanfare

     We seen the last of Good King Richard
     Ring out the past his name lives on
     Roll out the bones and raise up your pitcher
     Raise up your glass to Good King John"

     King Richard's journey takes many more years than expected. The people and Prince John turn to each other

     "While he plundered far and wide
     All his starving children cried
     And though we sung his fame
     We all went hungry just the same"

     Sure, King Richard was a hero, but we peasants are left without leadership, substance. Without that CNN and FoxNews feed every day, can we really continue to celebrate the "victories" over the Moslem Infidels in the Middle East, the Balkans, and modern day Turkey?

     "He meant to shine
     To the end of the line"

     It's the end of the line for peasants as they begin to run out of patience and

     We seen the last of Good King Richard
     Ring out the past his name lives on
     Roll out the bones and raise up your pitcher
     Raise up your glass to Good King John"

     King John is here - how little did we know?

     In a sense desperation of the people often leads to an ascent to power by despots - Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Mao. The case could be made for Nixon at the height of the Vietnam War. Thus Good King John, not Good King Richard might better represent Richard Nixon...just my late night take...

Reelin' In The Years, by Brian Sweet

"Midnite Cruiser"

"Felonious" is a punny reference to Thelonious Monk.  If you haven't listened to him, log off and go do so right now.  Try "Monk's Dream," "Blue Monk," "Monk's Music," or "Underground" for an intro.  Yes, I know this isn't a lyrical comment.  So sue me.

    I think of this as something of a prelude to "Deacon Blues."

    This song has an interesting literary link:  In his fabulous Neuromancer (1984), William Gibson names a bar "The Gentleman Loser."  There are numerous other Dan references in Gibson's works;  part of what Ursula Hegi calls "unearned pleasures" is finding them as you go.  In fact, in Idoru (1996) a group called Lo/Rez is central to the plot--a two-man band, around for decades, who employ various studio musicians in their releases.  We see "Lo/Rez in all their Dog Soup [early label--DS<=>SD?] glory.  Rez with his shirt open (but entirely ironically) and Lo with his grin and a prototype mustache that hadn't quite grown in" (Idoru, p. 18).  In another chapter, the heroine finds in her hotel bathroom three shelves of shrink-wrapped dildos.  Coincidence?  I don't think so.  Reportedly, Gibson and Messrs. Fagen & Becker are mutual fans.  There has been some comment in the Guestbook and the Digest on Gibson links, and I'll mention more as we proceed.

stevevdan (GB, 6/16/98):  For some reason people think this song is about Thelonious Monk... but I never knew why... to me it sounds like a song about someone (a political agitator of some sort, maybe one of Becker's friends in college) who hadn't realized times had changed...

Reelin' (9/1/99):  I've always seen Felonious as the singer/writers alter ego. The name alone seems to confirm that. It reminds me of my grandmother from Brooklyn. When I misbehaved it was Tommy McGillicuddy who was the miscreant, not I.
     I regularly thank God that I developed my musical sensibilities before music videos. I still invision a knight in full regalia when I listen to the Moody
Blue's Nights in White Satin, though I'm fully aware of the spelling difficulties.

Breck (11/5/00):  "Midnight Cruiser" is about two  artificially-aged pop stars meeting:1) who, past ditched by the industry for being too musically-minded or political in the wrong way 2) are aware that too much "pushing the enelope" might make too many enemies 3) are unwilling to be zombified and mouth whatever "counter-cultural" phrases are currently demanded 4) and who would still  like to play music to some large audiences and possibly make a living thereby.
  "Felonius my old friend" -"Felonius", a pun combining "Felony" and "Thelonius", as in "Thelonius Monk", legendary be-bop enemy of the top-40 status quo.  True art is  a felony in the "Art / Empire / Industry" (quoting quote Bill Nelson).
  "Streets still unseen we'll find somehow" -"Streets" a euphemism for music style; as in U2's "Where The Streets Have No Name", for example. Look and you'll find other examples.
  "Midnight Cruiser" -Now, to say this briefly, rebellious pop artists often refer to times of the day in regards to how much musical freedom they have. The late 60s and early 70s were a time of great freedom; new and exciting music forms were popping up BIG everywhere; the Beatles saw it coming ("Here comes the Sun -it's alright- Sun sun sun here we come) -but knew that as "Dinosaurs" they'd be forced to sell out completely so they broke up while they could. When "Night" comes to the music scene you'll find many references to the "Moon" [often in very disparging ways -I think "Moon" is the industry forcing artificial roles on the musicians]. Good God, there's many examples of what I describe -look for them if you dare or challenge me for a special e-mail message.
  But these outcast musicians are "Midnight Cruisers"; like, say New Wavers in today's Rap/Soulless Pop scene. They are "Gentlemen Losers" -They wanted to play music, not fight City Hall; they backed out gracefully from superstar zombiehood. There's a similar concept in Brian Eno's old song, "Cindy Tells Me" ["Cindy", by the way, being short for Cynthia, which means "Moon"] -"Some of them lose and some of them lose - But that's what they want, that's what they choose -It's such a burden, such a burden, to be so relied upon".
  "The world that we used to know, people tell me it don't turn no more." WHAT? There is NO LONGER a morning coming?? No more chance of a truly
spontaneous "happening"? All musical or cultural events just a product of corporate "Synergy", planning and manipulation?
  Oh you musicians who thought you would be doing things "your way". Well, morning may never come; the industries who originally used you to make their
piles have found other dupes, and you're forever cruising "Harlem" -a dangerous slum now but once a rich international culture spot- yes, Harlem "or
somewhere the same."

See above for Monk directions.  There are many more.  For a great Monk page, go here.
                     "Deacon Blues," on "Aja"
              Neuromancer and Idoru, (among other works) by William Gibson, who
                      singlehandedly revolutionized science fiction in the year immortalized by George
                      Orwell.  If you haven't read him, put your browser to bed immediately, seek out his
                      books, and return when you're done.
              "Here At The Western World," from "Greatest Hits," in &c. for more Gibson links.

"Only A Fool Would Say That"

This is the song that made me fall in love with the Dan more than two decades ago.  it begins with a simple two-line evocation of utopia, and then backhands it with a sarcastic put-down.  Who is the "boy with a plan"?  I have a montage of the Lone Ranger, John Wayne, and JFK.  The next lines remind me of a Zen koan--what is the sound of a gun with no one to fire it on?  Then, if this "natural man" is raising his gun-encumbered hands in the air, he's making a fake gesture to us, to the Fool, to life as it could be.  He is, after all, still holding it.  This is quite an apropos phallic image.

     Then the singer accosts us with "I heard it was you"--scorning us for considering the possibility of Utopia.  And here comes one of the loveliest Steely double entendres:  only a fool would say that utopia is possible--or would only a fool say "it just couldn't be"?  They've got us coming and going.

    Then there's a vignette of the average working Joe--see R. Crumb's "Whiteman," perhaps revisited in "Kid Charlemagne."  The brown shoes may be a nod to Frank Zappa's "Brown Shoes Don't Make It."  Put yourself in this guy's place--many of us don't have to stretch much.... He comes home, clicks the remote, and who's on the screen?  THE man with a dream, Martin Luther King, Jr.?  An adman pitching a materialist fantasy?  An artist with an irrelevant but beautiful vision?

    And then an (I assume) inadvertent, non-classic haiku:

anybody on
the street has murder in his
eyes.  You feel no pain

Stands great alone.  "And you're younger than you realize" is another line that cuts two ways:  is it that you're fresher, more open than you think, or does it emphasize how long a road you actually do have to walk in those brown shoes?

The Spanish at the end is a hacked-up rendition of "only a fool would say that":  "Solamente un tonto diria eso," reportedly by Skunk Baxter.

Doug (12/11/00):  I've always thought the song was about John Lennon and his politics of the late 60's / early 70's.  "Natural man" makes me think of the bed-in and the Lennon & Ono naked portraits; "white Stetson hat" makes me think of Lennon's white suit and hat of the period;  and "brown shoes" reminds of the Beatles "Old Brown Shoe".   Any one else ever raise this possiblity?  Any record of Becker and Fagen's relationshhip with, or views on Lennon?

Sis Sparki (!/3/02):  I think "a world become one, of salads and sun," is a reference to the hippie ideal, and to California, where everyone would sit in the sun and eat natural vegetarian foods and live an earthy and idealistic lifestyle.  ( Be sure to check out Sparki's Dan Noir Vignettes)

Jazem (4/12/04):  New spin on a great old song!
A world become one
Of salads and sun
Jehovah's Witness at door explaining to the home owner the Bible's hope of paradise on earth
Only a fool would say that
Home owners response
A boy with a plan
JW explaining Jesus as the Son of God
A natural man
JW explains that Jesus was fully human when on earth
Wearing a white stetson hat
JW explains that salvation can only come through Jesus, the good guy in a white hat
Unhand that gun begone
There's no one to fire upon
JW explains his peaceful mission, put away hatred. We are all brothers, all one family, descendants of Adam and Eve. Violence and warfare are not the answer.
If he's holding it high
He's telling a lie
JW explains that anyone professing to be a Christian that carries on warfare in the flesh, still holding onto his gun, is a false religious teacher. He highlights Christendom's blood guilt in the recent wars!

I heard it was you
Talkin' 'bout a world
Where all is free
It just couldn't be
And only a fool would say that
Home owner knows that year after year they call at his door, he wants something better, but just can't believe that God would use this simple man to reach him with this message, and so he dismisses the JW as a fool.

The man in the street
Draggin' his feet
Don't wanna hear the bad news
JW musing as he leaves the man's door to go talk to his neighbor. Realizing that the  home owner doesn't want to change his life style to bring it in harmony with God's will, so the home owner sees the message as "Bad News" a twist on the gospels "Good News".
Imagine your face
There is his place
Standing inside his brown shoes
You do his nine to five
Drag yourself home half alive
And there on the screen
A man with a dream
JW reflects on the life of those he meets in his ministry. Most people work hard all day, come home tired, the last thing they want to do is study the Bible. They would rather turn on the tube and watch a TV evangelizer to tickle their ears.

Anybody on the street
Has murder in his eyes
Home owner distrusts anyone on the street, must have alterior motives, even JW's
You feel no pain
Homeowner sees their joy, but comes to a conclusion.
And you're younger
Then you realize
Those JW's are immature, They just don't understand the real world.

"Kid Charlemagne" on "The Royal Scam"
               "Book of Liars" on "11 Tracks of Whack"
               "Brown Shoes Don't Make It," by Frank Zappa, on "Tinseltown Rebellion"
               "Brazil," the movie (1984)
               "Old Brown Shoe," the Beatles, available on the humongous Box Set

"Reelin' In The Years"

    The liner notes for "Alive In America" offer a rare and spare exegesis:  "Reclaimed juvenilia.  'Infernal woman.'  Escape from relationship."

diggy (9/17/99):  Reelin in the Years has one of the greatest guitar intros in music history. I used to think the narrator was talking to his girlfriend, but now I realize it is a father talking to his daughter. (CBAT sleeve notes: "How's my little girl?") The three verses are in chronological order. First, she is a teenager and doesn't know the difference between reality and a fantasy. Ask a thirteen year old girl is she "LOVES" her boyfriend at school. She will say yes and babble on about him for an hour. But next week she "LOVES" a different guy. To quote from Bread, teenagers "change their partners like they change their underwear."
   In the second verse, she is a college student and quite full of herself. In the third, she gets married and daddy feels left behind.  The song points out that a young girl/woman runs through life at a rapid pace and rarely notices the years reelin' by. But the father watches his little girl and wishes she and time would slow down --- they grow up too fast.

Daily Steve (4/13/00):  The truth is, somehow, Walter and Donald watched as my folks went through their divorce, and expressed all the personal anger in the single best pop-rock diddy ever written. The pain is gone, has been for nearly 30 years (LIAR my therapist yells), taken flight on a riproaring riff and
questioning chorus.  I've learned my mantra is Paul (McCartney)'s advice to another only child of divorce, Jude (Julian Lennon); hey, I've taken a sad
song and made it better.  Mamma's remarried, Dad's remarried, even I'm remarried!  But a big part of the healing is this bitchslap of a song.

"Fire In The Hole"

    Brian Sweet comments that this is "a very strange old song.... The title was taken from a phrase used by American soldiers in Vietnam.  When raiding a Vietcong village and uncovering a hidden bunker, the camouflage matting would be lifted and a grenade thrown down into the pit with the comment "Fire in the hole".... The song also alludes to how so many students succeeded in dodging the draft back in the late Sixties and early Seventies." (RITY, p. 49)

    I don't have a clue as to what he means by that last sentence.  What I hear in this song is a young man whose life is exploding, as if he were in a hole with figurative napalm all over him--it doesn't just blow up, it keeps on burning, and he has nowhere to flee.  He's full of angst as to his identity and his place in this society, regarding himself from a distance ("am I myself or just another freak?"), and yearning for escape or someone to "open up the door."   I love the lines "With a cough I shake it off/ And work around my yellow stripe."  (hi jon!) He squares his hunched shoulders and cops to his fears--doesn't battle them but sidles by them;  doesn't pretend to be something he's not.

Matt D (Digest, 2/21/99):  The song always seemed Orwellian to me, despite Brian Sweet.

Slither (6/27/00):  Does anyone else think the lyrics of "Fire in The Hole" are from the perspective of Winston Smith from Orwell's 1984?  The hole being the incendiary "Memory Hole" where Winston throws his doctored newspaper articles.
    The verses, although sparse, roughly follow the first half of the book.   In particular the line "A woman's voice reminds me to serve and not to speak" in remeniscent of the telescreen and "with a cough I shake it off" is almost a line in the book, in reference to the protagonist's persistant cough.

Third World Man (1/17/01):  Did you know that Fagen tried hard not to sing during the first tour?  He hated singing in front of crowds.  The song seems to be about Fagen, who realizes the craziness of all around him (fans?), while everyone else thinks he's lazy (not willing to sing on tour?).  Fagen acknowledges his fear, his cowardice, his yellow stripe.  He exclaims, Fire in the hole, a typical military phrase warning sailors about fire in the sub, soldiers about fire in bunkers, etc, signifying trouble in himself/his band.  Then he realizes he wants to leave, but (as co-leader of the band and main lyricist) he has nowhere to turn but to assume the lead singing role.  Fagen sings about his own fear and realization about what he has gotten himself into (the record label agreed to cut and distribute the record as long as the band toured).

Gabe (4/5/01):  Fire in the Hole

I decline, to walk the line
they tell me that I'm lazy
Worldly wise, I realize
that everybody's crazy
A womans voice reminds me
to serve and not to speak
Am I myself, or just another freak?

- okay, so he turns 18.  He gets drafted, but tells everyone he doesn't want to do it, so they say he's lazy.  He thinks everybody is insane for going to war, until a soldier (the woman) comes and tells him to get his butt into the army and dont say anything.  He starts to wonder if he is still himself, or just a puppet to the military

Don't you know
There's fire in the hole
And nothing left to burn
I'd like to run out now
There's nowhere left to turn

- He is fighting a war that was over when it started.  Throwing napalm into a hole where there is no one to kill.  Seeing his friends die around him is too much, so he wants to leave, yet there is no where to go.

With a cough I shake it off
And work around my yellow stripe
Should I hide And eat my pride
Or wait until it's good and ripe
My life is boiling over
It's happened once before
I wish someone would open up the door

- He merely forgets all his dead friends as easily as a cough.  I dont know what they mean by yellow stripe.  he then asks himself Should he go home and think about the army himself, or tell others he was the hero and become proud.  Later in life, it just all comes down on him.  He realizes everything he did on the war.  it has happened before.  He wishes someone would help him.

Don't you know
There's fire in the hole
And nothing left to burn
I'd like to run out now
There's nowhere left to turn

angel (4/15/01):  My Yellow Stripe.  Going with  Gabe's interpretation of it, that would be that he is a coward or just plain scared.

angel (is back) (GB, 8/12/02):   I finally remembered what I learned on my summer vacation!  We spent a day in the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.  What a
fantastic place to explore.  One of the highlights of the museum is a display of a "working coalmine".  Of course it is not real, but they actually bring you down an old elevator shaft and show you old mining tools, etc.  One of the things they mentioned was that the way you used to dig for coal was drilling holes in the rock face and then placing dynamite into the hole.  Just before they set the charge off, they would call out  "FIRE IN THE HOLE".   I don't know if this applies to the song, but I thought you might like to know.

Alan B (3/6/03):  I noticed that the various opinions of the meaning of "Fire in the Hole" did not touch on oral sex i.e. cunnilingus.  If my memory serves me correctly I read at some point in the seventies an interview with Becker and Fagen where they said that the inspiration for this song came from the exploits of a fellow student who could perform this sexual act with such efficiency that he turned into an art-form and became something of a very minor celebrity.  Apparently, he felt that he had transformed himself into something of a freak and later regretted the reputation he had made for himself. Thus the "fire in the hole" is the woman's desire, both virtually literal if you want to be crude, and metaphorical; and "nothing left to burn" the man's inability or unwillingness to satisfy such needs any more.  This makes the meaning of "a woman's voice reminds me to serve and not to speak" clear. Of course this metaphor can be taken much less explicitly as the general inability to satisfy a demand that has been created and the millstone around the neck that fame can bring.
    The oral sex story of course may be just another of Becker and Fagen's deceptions and should be taken with a pinch of salt.  I am sure that I did not imagine reading this although I have no idea exactly when the interview took place, who it was with or where I read it. Had I realised at the time that Dan's lyrics would lead to such fascination and frustration I would have kept the article for posterity....

Reelin' In The Years, by Brian Sweet


    According to Brian Sweet, Mr. Becker said that "the 'charmer under me' was indeed the character mentioned in their cryptic sleeve notes:  'President Street Pete is the beneficiary here.'  He and his family had lived in the apartment below Donald Fagen.  'The song is just a bunch of things that the guy and his wife had coming to them, you know, for the indignities that they had suffered living in Brooklyn, living on the stoop and just shooting the shit about the Mets and that kind of thing for twenty years.  So as you see the song does yield to a valid interpretation." (RITY, p. 50)

    This is really a sweet song, with that kind of melancholy melody, a gift to a working-class guy with a lot of dreams and not much wherewithal.  Messrs. Becker & Fagen come up with a great catalogue of wishes they would give him if they could.

    Is "a race of angels" a choir announcing Pete's arrival?  Or the group he should be part of? 

    Then they wish him "a dish of dollars, laid out for all to see"--so much ready cash that he can leave it around without a care.  In Bellow's The Adventures of Augie March, Augie's relatives with money to spare did just that:  "There was always much money in sight, in cups, glasses, and jars and spread on Coblin's desk.  They seemed sure I wouldn't take any, and probably because everything was so lavish I never did." (p. 26, Crest '65 edition)  And they wish him a suite at Eden Roc, a hotel symbolic of Miami extravagance of the era.  And what could be more luxurious than golf--for free--in the middle of the day?

    Second verse:  his wife is always nagging at him about what they should have or be.  Mr. F & Mr. B wish him an unfettered, voluptuous evening with "a movie queen."

    I think the images in the last verse are breathtaking.  Another card-playing image (one of many gambling images), for a guy who plays who knows what, a little poker, a little euchre, but might imagine himself a swell at a posh casino with a slick new deck, from which aces leap out for him as from their loosened traces.  And the "piece of island"--what urban Northerner doesn't have one in his/her dream life?  The last wish is utterly poignant, and a dazzling send-off:  all the time in the world, and the power to do anything with it.

Roy.Scam (GB, 3/19/98):  One of my all time favorites is Bob Seager's "Fire Down Below" a series of glimpses at urban characters and situations interrupted by a catchy refrain about something down underneath;  a definite lyrical similarity to Steely Dan's "Brooklyn."  I'm wondering if, at least subliminally, the 'fire down below' represents the same entity as the 'charmer under me.'  Possibilities:  the psychosis that hides in every id, the muse that inspires creativity, man's inhumanity to man, passion, the devil (or as we say in the south, Beezle-bubbah), the primitive Altamira man trying to break his civilized shell, or maybe it's that same neighbor that inspired Paul Simon to write "One Man's Ceiling Is Another Man's Floor."

Hank Silvers (GB, 3/19/98):  It assumes WB was telling the whole truth, but that quote [from Sweet] does sound like a straight answer.  (At least we can be sure he's not referring to Mitch Miller.)

Roy.Scam (GB, 5/31/98):  Did anyone but me think that the line in "Brooklyn" was "..a piece of IRON cooling in the sea." ?
as in 'a recently discarded pistol' ?  Seems to me that would succinctly capsulize one of those 8 million stories in the Naked City.

    There is a verse that was edited from the demo:

      My sentry trembles, he feels the end is coming
            His face is scowling, inside he's on his knees
            If looks and dreams could surely kill
            He'd long be gone from here
            Brooklyn owes the charmer under me

... a lovely verse, brought to my attention and corrected from my notoriously bad hearing by minor World.

The Nightfly (9/1/99):  After reading several other interpretations, and then closely listening to the song again, I have come to the conclusion that Brooklyn
is the name of a man, and that he owes his wealth and prosperity to the narrator of the song.  Hence "Brooklyn owes the charmer under me."  This seems to be a song describing the narrator helping Brooklyn to become a successful individual, and then left out in the cold when he isn't needed any longer. Now Brooklyn has it all, a skyscraper apartment, mid-day golf for free, money enough to throw around (dish of dollars), dating a movie queen, and perhaps even owning his  own tropic island. But it seems that all is not well... Brooklyn seems to have a nagging ladyfriend, who is forever complaining that she is not where she wants to be. Perhaps he turns to a mistress (the movie queen) for consolation. I've always had the suspicion this song refers to John F Kennedy and Marilyn  Monroe, but you never know.

Steely1 (GB, 9/7/00):  "A race of angels bound with one another
     A dish of dollars laid out for all to see"
     do these opening lines of "Brooklyn" remind anybody else of Michael's high-rise commune/compound in Stranger in a Strange Land?
     just something I mused upon last night as I blissed my way through my favorite 5-disc shuffle: Citizen Dan and 2VN.  probably unintentional on the
    Boys' part, but nevertheless an interesting association.

Reelin' In The Years, by Brian Sweet
                   "Steely Dan:  Forward Into The Past"--much as I loathe the idea of these tunes
                      being out there not under the control (nor redounding to the profit) of Mr.
                      Becker and Mr. Fagen, they are of archival and prurient interest.
           Check out Mr. LaPage's association of this song with "What A Shame About Me" on "Two Against Nature"
           Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein.  A sixties cult favorite, pedantic but notable for its twist on the Messiah theme and for the origin
                      of the word "grok"

"Change of the Guard"

Breck (11/5/00):  Now "Change Of The Guard" ("Remember this one from college?") is profoundly frightening under its bland-as-a-Barbie-Doll surface(GREAT guitar solo, though). Let's examine it line by line.
    "If you listen you can hear it" [implied: Aren't you listening? Pay attention to what I describe] "it's the laughter in the street" [you do know all about 'the
street', don't you? Well I do and it's so happy] "It's the motion in the music, and the fire beneath your feet" [ -strange the reference to 'music' -and the
insinuation that the listener is affected whether he knows it or not -actually, setting aside the immediate notion of 'dancing', "fire beneath your feet" could be
quite dangerous] [from "Mother England Reverie" by Jethro Tull: "There was a little boy stood on a burning log, rubbing his hands with glee. He said, "Oh
Mother England did you light my smile; or did you light this fire under me?"]
     "All the signs are right this time" [WHAT signs? Do we need "signs" to have "laughter in the street"? Again there is the assumption that the listener is an
outsider who ought to be initiated] "You don't have to try so very hard" [to do WHAT? Okay, tell me whatever it is that I can do easily now that once I
couldn't {you who know so much more than me}]
     "If you live in THIS world" [Well DON"T you, poor fool?] [or, to consider it another way, "if you accept this concept of the world that I'm presenting you"] "You're feeling the change of the guard" A guard is a MILITARY concept, someone who either keeps something out or something in. Are you telling me, the ignorant, that there is a change of "the guard" that affects the way people are supposed to view reality ["THIS world"] ? WELL, the Nazis or Communists
would have insisted on that.
     Now it gets specific. "All you cowboys and your neighbors" [Ah! 'cowboys' again. Setting aside the political notions mentioned in "Only A Fool Would Say That" -but in no way simply disregarding them-, let us consider that 'cowboys and {their} neighbors' might represent... say, anachronistic peoples... {in the New World Order Future there will be no 'cowboys' -only 'bovine engineers' :-)} Yes, anachronistic peoples, like the "Guachos" down in South America -where the zombies keep emerging from-
      "can you swallow up your pride?" [ Oh- it might not just be the kind of person you are that makes you anachronistic- it might mean your opinions as well... The insinuation is that 'you' political / anachronistic whatevers have LOST -a Loser would never ask a winner that]
     "Take your guns off if you're willin' " [Hah! I have friends who, understanding my interp, would say this means the Left persuading America to repeal the
second Amendment] "and you know we're on your side" [DO the "cowboys and their neighbors" know that? Sounds too much like an easy slogan to me, for
the next line is a thinly veiled threat]:
     "If you wanna get through the years" [WHAT? Does the singer mean that unreconcilable opponents will not  "get through the years"? What would happen to them? Here's a PC phrase: "Cultural Dysenfranchisement"] "It's high time you played your card" [ Yes, all this is  a gamble for the cowboys, etc. The person singing is claiming pocession of the whole world and the means to imprision or kick out those who disagree] The stinkin' chorus is a taunt : "Na na na na...." that gets fiercer and fiercer as the song progresses.

"Turn That Heartbeat over Again"

This sounds like another gritty urban drama:  the singer is a petty thief who is getting ready to do another job in "stocking face" and with a gun.  He bemoans the disintegration of his neighborhood--even the package store has left the sinking ship with all the other rats.

    To me, the chorus sounds like the guy is with a friend who has o.d.'d, and is praying in his rough way for his friend to come around--"turn that heartbeat over again."  He's also trying to absolve himself of blame for the o.d., since he has a "reputation for playing a good clean game"--i.e., not trying to pass off bad shit.

    I really like "love your mama,... "  It's advice from a rough mug:  love 'em so hard they run screaming in the other direction.  "Turn the light off"--to throw off the cops?  Then he tries to calm us down ("keep your shirt on") and lets us cry on his shoulder ("cry a jag on me").  A "jag" is a bout or spell, as a drinking jag or crying jag.

    Wonder if "Sam" the barkeep is a ref to Sam in "Casablanca."  Sounds like the singer's celebrating a successful drug run from Paraguay.

    I'm stumped by the William Wright part.  Some alert listener (identify yourself!) says he's the guy who built the Panama Canal.  But see below for a fabulous Mark Twain link!

    "Zombies" are a recurring Steely theme.

Michael C. Packard (GB, 11/2/98):  Wow, the key changes in this song----I think it's one big prayer, sort of...young people, doing everything they shouldn't, then praying at night..."love your Mama, love your brother..." etc., parroting what parents tell you to say...saying that the wrong things they do are never their fault, and they're making promises to be good, but these are mose easily kept when they feel the fear of the consequences, when "their hearts turn over."  So, they'll especially keep their promises when God reminds them of his power by scaring them into it.  So, the name "Michael", being in the same line as "Jesus", must be the archangel Michael...because that is Michael and Gabriel...

Slint (10/4/99):   I was just reading about "Turn that Heartbeat Over Again" ... I really felt the meaning of that song when I finally bought the album,
because I was having problems with drugs and the law as well...I was shunned by my old friends and in with a new crowd of depraved ones. Someone
asked who William Wright was in this song. I don't know why it's so hard to see. He's a cohort who dies early, maybe fast, but certainly not by natural
means. He was in this vicious circle with the narrator, who doesn't belong where he is, and most importantly, KNOWS it. I used to listen to this song over and over again when I got Can't Buy a Thrill. It's such a cry for help. I felt they had written it about me. I never started out this way, I just took a wrong turn and ended up in the wrong light, just like the narrator, and found it hard to reclaim myself. There are references here to heroin as well as crime "stir it up nice, I'll eat it right here" .. "This highway runs from Paraguay, and I've just come all the way" ... I had two good friends (I thought they were good friends at the time)... both from good homes like myself, die of heroin overdoses... This is what started bringing me around, as well as a small stint in jail. And then I discovered the electric guitar :] In this song tho, the nararator can't seem to find a way out, he feels guilty, he wants what he once had "Oh Michael, oh Jesus, you know I'm not to blame....you know my reputation for playing a good clean game...." Crime and drugs ... an interesting form of life, if you can turn around and actually gain by the experience...only, what does it take? The narrator doesn't seem to find out in this song...we're left with a feeling of pity for him; he's NOT a
real criminal at heart.

Super Will (GB, 2/9/00):  Fast forward in your minds to the last phase of the song when the speaker is telling of William Wright....."we warned the corpse of William Wright not to cuss and drink all night". It seems as though the speaker and the friend warned this Wright fellow, yet the advice obviously went unheeded--"ticket in hand, we saw him laid to rest"--I take this to mean they saw Mr. Wright die or perhaps attended the funeral. The next line is CRUCIAL; "BUT ZOMBIE SEE and ZOMBIE DO. HE'S HERE WITH ME AND YOU." This is an obvious play on the monkey see, monkey do bit in which one     thoughtlessly repeats the observed actions of another. The speaker and the friend must have followed in Mr. Wright's footsteps and performed the same senseless actions and died themselves. That's how, although dead, Mr. Wright is now with them.
     Am I even warm on this one?

Steely Dan DeQuille (Blue Book, 1/14/02):  Actually, Walter Becker appears to be a Mark Twain fan. At least he thanks Twain in the acknowledgments to 11ToW. Moreover, on "Turn That Heartbeat Over Again" (CBAT) there's an insider's reference to Mark Twain -- the lyric beginning "We warned the ghost of William Wright...".. William Wright was the actual name of Dan De Quille, Twain's fellow reporter on the Virginia City Enterprise in the 1860s. Wright/De Quille was a rather obscure character, so Becker and Fagen would have had to be pretty familiar with Twain's life in order to namecheck Wright specifically. Too bad Ken Burns didn't interview Becker and Fagen for his Twain bio!

"Casablanca," the movie (1943).  Unmissable.
               "Sign In Stranger" and "Haitian Divorce" on "The Royal Scam" for other zombie mentions