Hank's Corner Hank's Corner

Hank Silvers is a pseudopseudonymous lyric maven and frequent fever dreamer in the various provinces of Dandom.  His occasional outbursts will nestle in here.





Alienation, Without the Hard Edge
- Digest, November 1996 -

"Ladies, gentlemen, good morning.  The reason we're here today:  It is not too soon here at Time Warner to begin planning the marketing push for the next Steely Dan release.  I think we all remember that the sales of 'Alive in America' were somewhat disappointing.  We can't afford to have that happen again.

"The success of their tours may have misled some of us into believing otherwise, but it has become clear that it is no longer enough merely to say, 'The new album by Steely Dan is here,' and step out of the way to avoid being trampled by fans with cash or credit cards in hand.

"You've heard, and I've heard that their best days are behind them.  Point taken, but look what we did with The Eagles!  If we could do it for them, we can 'do it again' with Steely Dan.  Get it?  Do It Again?  Come on, people, don't you ever listen to Classic Rock?

"Well, that just proves my point.  They were a little before my time, too;  probably before the time of almost everyone in this room, but a tried and true formula for success has been and will continue to be:  a penetrating verse, a rousing chorus, an inspired bridge, a no-holds barred instrumental of some sort;  and above all else, hype, hype, hype.  With that in mind, here are a few modest proposals for promotion of the upcoming release:

"First, we all know about the Macarena phenomenon.  There is a timely lesson there about the value of a dance craze in the sale of product.  I believe that the same thing can be accomplished with Steely Dan.

"If we can get a fad started, product will literally dance off the shelves.  We have several staffers working on the creation of a dance to be known as the Jack of Speed.  We'd hoped to have something to show you today, but it's taking them longer than they thought it would.

"Next, it is useful to note that the Sheryl Crow issue is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Wal-Mart's power in the music marketplace.  The small mama-and-papa record store as we know it is rapidly disappearing, and the reason is because they are being mowed under by the purchasing power of larger chains like Wal-Mart that are aggressively competitive and extremely willing to sell at or even below cost.  No small store that buys CD's in the dozens, rather than the thousands, can match that.

"With that power, Wal-Mart is able to dictate to record companies like us the content of the product they sell.  They refuse to sell anything with a Parental Advisory sticker, so we have to put out one version for the general marketplace, and a sanitized version using electronic masking for Wal-Mart and other stores with a similar policy.

"Our challenge is to turn that to our advantage.  Here's how i feel we can do it:  Suppose we put out new Steely Dan product with a Parental Advisory sticker, and it gets banned.  Now, our research has turned up the epithet commonly known as 'the f-word' in a song on one of the existing albums in the catalog, Countdown to Ecstasy.  It begs the question:  Is Countdown sold at Wal-Mart?  Is the offending word snipped?  And how about the cover of Can't Buy a Thrill, with a photo representing prostitution?  If we make a public stink about consistency, we generate controversy.  Controversy will get us free publicity, and publicity will translate directly to the bottom line.

"Everyone who wants the old albums already owns them, so it's no great loss if they are banned.  If Wal-Mart keeps them, people come in and buy them, and presumably, the new one.  Either way, we make out like bandits.

"Finally, it's been shown time and again that image is everything.  I believe that if we market Steely Dan as renegades or bad boys, we will reach today's teen market.  History tells us that they once aggressively cultivated that image, but more recent events demonstrate otherwise.  We frequently hear examples of them being gracious to fans, or giving straight answers to interviewers -- we can't have that.

"Our Mr. Spitnale here has been attempting to contact Messrs. Becker and Fagen in order to secure their cooperation.  Tell me, Spitz, is Walter's fax machine working yet?"



Guestbook, March 1998:

Enervated after watching the Weird Al Yankovic special on the Disney Channel, Hank Silvers sheds his outer defenses and stands revealed as a Weird Al Fan.

Yo, Tariq and Gunz -- y'all can have this one for free. . .

Some payoff
A hundred grand
Much higher
Than you had planned
You're dealing
With Steely Dan
Try sampling
A different band

You're boyz in another hood
This is just business -- it pays so good


11 Tracks of Whack:  WB Sings (And More)
- Digest, June 1998 -

Try to put yourself in his place.  Walter Becker, age 40-something, having earned both his fortune and his place in 20th-century popular music history (if not yet its Hall of Fame), long satisfied with celebrity within relative anonymity, found the musician's equivalent of the biological clock telling him he really did want to put out a solo album.

His partner's solo releases had sounded like Steely Dan, if you didn't pay close attention to the lyrics.  So despite years of hard work and late, late nights, people were saying that Fagen was the main man in Steely Dan -- and what DID Becker really do, anyway?

Still, any PR pro could have seen that coming from years away.  This is the man who claimed he didn't want to play on his own band's albums; who preferred the rear of the stage to the spotlight;  who was once asked by a band member, maybe only half kidding, why he didn't just get an extra-long cord and play from the dressing room.  But some things are different now with Walter Becker, and in 1994 he released "11 Tracks of Whack."

One early clue that this was going to be different is found in two words, shouted at us from the tiny type of the lyric sheet:  FREE TIBET.  Overt political advocacy was unheard of on SD albums.  In the songs of 11ToW as well, there are moralistic themes that the average listener might not associate with SD:  rejecting the destructive power of drugs (Junkie Girl);  taking personal responsibility for ruined relationships (Girlfriend, This Moody Bastard);  happiness in everyday family life (Little Kawai).

And where Fagen admittedly distanced himself from the characters portrayed in Steely Dan songs, Becker chooses to go in the opposite direction with the intensely personal Surf and/or Die.  In it, he describes the immediate aftermath of the accidental sudden death of a friend, and only after the practical, necessary matters like car keys are taken care of, then Walter releases his emotions in a section of wordless vocalizing;  wailing, mourning the loss, finally accepting it with a simple, matter-of-fact "Bye."  The instruments drop away one by one, and only the chanting Tibetan lamas are left to finish the song.  It is a fascinating experiment, and it is not "Steely Dan."

With the wailing out of his system, Becker lashes out with old-time venom on the deceptively gentle-sounding Book of Liars.  Sweet music, bitter words:  irony that has always been the stock in trade of SD.  The live version on Alive In America is less satisfying, despite the splendid Warren Bernhardt piano solo, because Walter tries to SING to the big audience, and he doesn't have the voice for it.  On 11ToW, it's stronger because he doesn't try so hard.

Even in songs that do call SD to mind, WB takes chances.  On Down in the Bottom, a bouncy pop tune about unhealthy personal and chemical relationships, he risks using another generation's jargon.  "Dopest" coming from a 40-something may not be as jarring as, say, Bing Crosby singing "groovy," but WB must have been aware of the possible consequences. *

On that song and several others, WB added some little extra touches allowed by a multi-track recorder and the freedom of his own recording.  He especially showed a tendency toward layering in complementary background sounds:  the conversation on Down in the Bottom;  daughter Sayan's giggles on Book of Liars;  the argument on Cringemaker, to name a few.

Aside from those touches, however, the CD is intentionally underproduced, especially when compared to releases from his band and his partner.  As a veteran of both quick-and-dirty work producing pop and jazz CD's and the extended, sometimes excruciating late-SD productions, Walter chose a less-is-best approach for his own CD.

Upon its release, 11ToW received critical praise, but not commercial success.  Even under the best of circumstances, it's difficult to establish a lasting solo presence after years of being in a band.  (Heard any Glenn Frey or Don Henley solo albums lately?)  Becker's lack of public recognition certainly worked against him there.

As irritating as it may have been to have his contributions called into question, Becker never broke silence over the years.  Instead, this CD will be his document, his answer to the questioners.  The quality of the songs in it suggests strongly that future Steely Dan releases, as before, will be worth the wait.

* - Many months later, it occurred to me what he might have been doing.  First, in "Through With Buzz," a song about a boy-girl-dope love triangle, there's the line:

I remember when he stole my girl / Drug her all around the world
Call it Walter's little joke:  the whole song revolves around drugs, he uses the word "drug" in the song, but it's not in reference to an illegal pharmaceutical.

This happens again, I believe, in "The Second Arrangement," where you hear:

It's a sticky situation / A serious affair
The song's about extramarital involvements, and lyricist Walter uses the word "affair," but not in the way you'd expect.

The use of "dopest" in Down in the Bottom looks to me as though it is that same kind of reference.  The song's about another boy-girl-drug love triangle, and he's using the word "dope," but not in the way you'd expect from another songwriter.



The Purloined Memo
- Digest, March 1999 -

TO:   I. A--------, Executive - PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL

FR:   H. S------, Marketing / x18258

DATE:   22 February 1999

SUBJ:   Steely Dan – The New One

SUMMARY:   The purpose of this memo is to inform you of progress toward pre-planning for SD'99 release.  We are cautiously optimistic about its chances for a successful outcome.

That the product is not ready yet should come as no surprise.  I firmly believe, however, that 1999 could easily turn out to be the Year of Steely Dan.  Just run down the list:  Nominated for the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame; a new album; a tour -- it's all coming together.

That the hard-core SD fan will buy is a given.  Our challenge is:  How to reach the under-30 market, the generation that buys music?

Our solution:  Market them as the original Old School!  Yes, the time *may* be right; although the Top Ten Singles are saturated with disposable pop music and Top Ten Albums are chock-full of misogynist rap, we are seeing a growing preference for old-fashioned tunes:  Squirrel Nut Zippers, Cherry Poppin' Daddies, Brian Setzer Orchestra, Burt Bacharach, even Tony Bennett for godsake!

You think you've heard this one before?  You bet you have:  Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz, All Saints, Super Furry Creatures, Tatyana Ali have all had hits with Steely Dan hooks. Then there was Drew Carey doing Dirty Work on TV –- you can't buy that kind of publicity.

Putting it another way:  "Talk about your Old School -- we got your Old School right here. These guys *are* Old School."

But music is only half the battle.  I think they have been reluctant to leverage their brand name, limiting outside income to licensing music for broadcast and sheet music.

In this respect, Becker and Fagen appear to have followed the early example of Bob Dylan and The Beatles.  The songs were always listed as Becker and Fagen, just like Beatles songs were always Lennon and McCartney, although you know they made it known after a few years that Yesterday was all Paul's and Strawberry Fields was all John's and We Can Work it Out had Paul's chorus and John's verse, and so on.

While I'm sure you'll agree it's a noble sentiment, Becker and Fagen are not with some two-bit record company anymore.  This is Time Warner.  We have marketing muscle.  We have Push and we have Pull.

I believe that if we show them the benefits, they can be persuaded to expand their horizons.  They know how to compromise, Fagen especially – he's got a reputation as a tough customer, but look at the facts.  He's changed songs, he's taken singing lessons, he's built up his body, he even played Do It Again and Rikki on the last tour.  For his last solo release, not only did we get him to do a video, we also got him to lip-synch in it.

And we can now hold up The Beatles as an example.  They didn't get it right the first time with Apple, but perhaps you saw in the Times, the surviving three have licensed the name The Yellow Submarine for a line of furniture and other interior accessories.

There's no reason Steely Dan cannot join in and cash in on this.  I can envision adding Steely Dan to this growing number, for we can count on the fanaticism of the true believer to move these products:  soothing studio-quality leather chairs, track lighting that dims; we just tell the buyer that they're the things "DF and WB enjoyed as they created this timeless and durable music," and so on.  Pitch it that way, and I can easily see it working for us.

And Bob Dylan?  Well, Dylan's songs can be heard in commercials, and Bob himself makes appearances before corporate audiences for substantially larger sums than he could expect doing the regular concert tour grind. We know how much Fagen and Becker would appreciate that.

Motivation?  Position them as elder statesmen:  I think they'll agree that they want one last big score, and then stand back to survey what they've created, because both men are at the point in life where they want to enjoy the fruits of their labor with their loved ones, and not spend those years sweating out long hours in the studio, or composing, or going through the promotions grind.  And oh by the way, fellas, think how much more money that can go into a tour!  New York City and Hawaii ain't cheap places to live. Artistic integrity and corporate sponsorship need not be incompatible phrases.

The artists themselves are a paradox:  although they don't do endorsements or license their songs for commercials, you may notice brand names often find their way into Steely Dan lyrics.  The makers of Ambush and Brut may have recognized some benefit, and certainly Heublein must have smacked their lips at the reality of a free commercial for Jose Cuervo Gold tequila playing daily in the U.S. Top Ten.  The next step seems obvious -- product placement fees, like in the movies.  For a price, Steely Dan will mention your product in a song on their next release.  We just need buy-in from the artists.

Also on the subject of maximizing revenue:  We are aware of the success of the so-called "Bowie bonds," named for David Bowie, who issued bonds totaling $50 million, in essence borrowing against future sales of product.  We are looking into duplicating this success with Steely Dan.

The answer to this is simple--come up with yet another new format for music. That's right, make the CD obsolete!  Promise the public "the durability of CD's and the warmth of vinyl."  The substantial R&D expenses in creating the format can be recouped from fanatical followers of Steely Dan.  They'll buy 'em all over again, again.

Next, how else can we tap this market?  We know the profile:  Upscale and intelligent, they are mostly discriminating in the way they spend for necessities, but when it comes to the "luxury necessity" like the first Steely Dan release of new music in a generation; well, they're the fiscal equivalent of drunken sailors on shore leave.

And for them I propose two words:  affinity Visa!  That's right, an affinity Steely Dan Visa card, to be issued through a South Dakota bank (usury laws are less onerous there); no annual fee, interest rate of prime plus 8.99 percent, holders earn 1% cash back yearly *and* discounts on SD CD's and music books; along with officially licensed sportswear; and especially, concert tickets.

We have still more options and other fresh ideas.  Our fallback position, should they decline to cooperate with the above, and if they won't cooperate with the hip-hop bunch, is to at least get them to agree to something *country*!  It worked for the Beatles and the Eagles!  Imagine "I Would Love To Tour The Southland: Country Salutes the Music of Steely Dan"!

If that sounds unlikely at first, remember a few years back, Red Hot and Country?  Country acts doing duets with soul singers – I mean, Tanya Tucker and Little Richard?  Al Green and Lyle Lovett?  Conway Twitty and what's-his-name?

Yes, bring back the steel guitar!  There is already cross format respect:  Clint Black has been quoted as saying he owns everything SD ever did.  Imagine Dwight Yoakum covering Pearl of the Quarter, Trisha Yearwood covering Any World (they wrote that for Barbra, you know) or one of those crossover types.  Willie Nelson doing Deacon Blues!  Brooks and Dunn doing With A Gun!  (Note: Just keep them away from Lucinda Williams -- she's great, don't get me wrong, but you could never get all of them to be satisfied with a song at one time.)

In conclusion, I think we can make this one a hit, and who knows, stranger things have happened, we could have a monster on our hands.  If that happens, the possibilities to cash in are just about limitless:  the Christmas album, the TV docu-bio-drama, the visit to the White House. . .the gig singing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl!  Let's dream big!  We won't even need the dance for the Jack of Speed, and that's probably just as well.

I am available at your convenience to discuss this further.



- January 2000 -
Well, I've owned a lot of cars since high school
I drove some junk along the way
From a rusty Ford with a broken taillight
To the minivan I've got today

Now I feel an itch and I've got the scratch
'Cause my stocks are flying high right now
When I saw this little honey on the showroom floor
Well, all I could say was "Wow!"

I tell you she's the one
For the road
Well, unlock the door, hand me the key
Gonna rule the road in my S.U.V.
Gonna rule the road in my S.U.V.

I've never seen such a cool machine
It's got a stack of standard luxuries
Like heated seats and four-wheel drive
And a rack on top to haul my skis

Well the salesman asked if I want to take a drive
I told the man, "You bet your life"
After 15 minutes I said, "Where do I sign?
I don't think I even need to call my wife."

I tell you she's the one
For the road
Well, I'll buckle up and turn the key
Gonna rule the road in my S.U.V.
Gonna rule the road in my S.U.V.

There's room for everything I own
You know I want to make this deal
Can you throw in the mobile phone?
Oh all right, but even at that price, it's a steal

The wife just stared when I brought it home
She went in to pour herself a drink
I gave her a grin and a peck on the cheek
And said, "Now tell me, sugar, what you think"

She said, "The payments are going to break your back;
You got a lousy trade-in on the Dodge;
It takes 42 gallons to fill the tank up;
It doesn't even fit in our garage!"

Then I'll park The Beast
On the road
'Cause those puny cars look up to me
Now I rule the road in my S.U.V.
Now I rule the road in my S.U.V.
Now I rule the road in my S.U.V.
(Gotta get some gas for my S.U.V.)


In the song "What A Shame About Me," a man is minding his own business, when suddenly a woman from his past reappears.  Sound familiar?  It did to me, which soon led to this heavily abridged version of a famous movie:

- January 2001 -

I was down in Casablanca at my Cafe Americain
Sam starts playing "As Time Goes By," I said "Sam, don't play it again"
But there stood Ilsa, a dame I loved -- once upon a time
Of all the gin joints in all the world, and she walks into mine

Long ago I thought we'd marry and leave Paris on the train
But she sent a Dear John note and left me standing in the rain
I came here, it was all I could do
Here's looking at you

She said, Now this is Viktor Laszlo and he's with the Underground
Captain Renault and the Nazis, they mean to keep him here in town
I hear you have a pair of exit visas -- with them, we could leave tonight
If we're on board the next plane to Lisbon, the Resistance gains the will to fight
Well, I risk my neck for no one, that's my policy in life
And you didn't say back then that you were Viktor Laszlo's wife
Now I feel like a sap that you knew
Here's looking at you

Here's looking at you
I'm thinking of the way we loved in Paris
Me at the wheel and you right by my side

Well, Ilsa swore she loved me, though I'm glad no one overheard
I guess it only proves I'm a born romantic, but I took her at her word
The next stop was the airport, where she said she'd stay with me
I said take the visas and go with him, because we'll always have Paree

And now doll, you need to leave or you'll regret you didn't go
They got on just in time and then I walked off with Renault
Turned our backs on the plane as it flew
Here's looking at you
Here's looking at you

"Steely Dan: band/source of good vocabulary words."  
  -- Alton Brown, "I'm Just Here for the Food"

- September 2003 -

I used to be a nothing
I couldn't boil an egg
I didn't know a buffalo wing
From a Cajun-spiced chicken leg
Then I was channel surfing with the volume down
When I saw this guy named Alton Brown on

Good Eats
He's frying
Cooking stuff in interesting ways
He's got a short sweet message:
"I'm just here for the food."

I learned of making pasta
With a simple ironing board
And thanks to Alton I know how
To keep spices properly stored
Yes and I can find out what's good for me
Every Wednesday night watching Food TV and

Good Eats
I'm brining
A salt solution makes a moist bird
Remember, good things happen
When you play with your food
Alton goes to W for hardware
She answers all that he asks
Then he finds ways so it multi-tasks

Want pigs in a blanket?
He's got all you need to know
He'd teach you how to do tofu
But then, that's another show
Now I'm going shopping at the mall
'Cause I love to cook and I owe it all to

Good Eats
I'm buying
A Viking range and kosher salt too
Of course I own his 'cookbook':
"I'm Just Here for the Food."

Research source


Copyright © 1996-2003 John E. Moore.  All rights reserved.
As always, thanks to oleander for providing this sliver of cyberspace.