...Mortal Inquiries...

Being the learned and ruminative ratiocination of Sir Peter of Q

 anent the Lyrics of the Dan

Excerpts from MORTAL INQUIRIES: The Films of David Fincher, The Novels of John
Clellon Holmes, and the Song Lyrics of Steely Dan, copyright 1999, 2000, 2001,
2002, 2003 by Peter Quinones, all rights reserved.
    Like Holmes and Fincher, the lyricists Walter Becker and Donald Fagen (Steely Dan) work within a  deliberately controlled artistic environment, with a very specific artistic toolbox and vocabulary.  The same themes are examined again and again in their songs, almost to the point of exhaustion for both the reader and the writers in certain cases; towards the end of the period of their strongest lyrical work, the series of albums beginning in 1972 and ending in 1980, they present a world of ennui, emotional uncertainly, and bleakness.  In the second period, consisting of two solo works by Fagen and one by Becker, the two distinct personalties  of the lyricists are clearly discernible but the songs still concern  themselves with the identity of the self , and with the individual's groping to come to terms with the world and with personal problems; in the third period, the albums after 2000, the lyrics start to become lighter (though still somewhat cyncical), less given to bemoaning psycho-metaphysical disaster, and take on a more marked cocnern with society, politics, and groups.  Ritual, heretofore ignored, starts to become more and more of a priority.  This is doubtless inspired by the fact that, with the rise of the Internet, Steely Dan became a touring, feel good party band, something they had never been in their early years, and with the fact that as the lyricists got older they gained more and more positive control over their own personal lives.

    For purposes of clarity I'll begin by identifying some of the more common themes that appear in all twelve albums; later, with this foundation in place, we can go into the three distinct periods in  greater detail.

    To start, then, the following themes are clearly identifiable and occur again and again in the work:   one, the identification of males with a car, or certain aspects of a car, and the use of the state of the car a  metaphorical or symbolic comment on the psychological state of the character; two, the unequivical espousal of a New York - centric lifestyle and the harsh condemnation of other lifestyles, in particular that of Southern California (there used to be an old New Yorker cartoon which showed NYC as the center of the universe - this is Steely Dan to a T); three, the placement of characters around very carefully chosen Christian imagery, which serves as a comment either in visual terms or in storytelling terms, on the story; four, the depiction of male characters as weak and indecisive in relationships, totally dominated by their women, who are often revealed to be up to no good - this goes hand in hand with:  five, a thoroughgoing misoygny; sixth, a concern with figures from history, sometimes ancient history, unheard of in most popular music; seventh, an uneasy, nervous, queasy relationship with money and economic matters (specifically transactions and exchanges); eighth, the mise-en-scene
placement of a bar or restaurant as a place of doom, shady deals, unrelenting psychological discoveries, etc, in short, a bad place; ninth, the identification of the outdoors, beaches, oceans, places of sunlight, as good places, places of repose and honor; tenth, a preoccupation with the cinema and cinematic techniques of storytelling; eleventh, the repeating of certain phrases and scenarios to emphasize the consistency of mood and character from album to album, from year to year; twelfth, the use of certain tenses of
grammar, be it first, second or third person, to correspond to certain issues and ways of seeing the world.


    Because they have mastered most of the modal possiblities inherent in the grammar and syntax of the English language, the lyricists Becker and Fagen sometimes, with just a couple of lyrical strokes, open up deep worlds of combinations and imaginative editing, spreading entire biographies before the reader/listener's eyes in a few fragments of prose.  In this sense they resemble screenwriters who write hundreds of pages of background bio on a character's life that the moviegoer never sees, hears or knows about, and I wouldn't be surprised if they use some similar method of preparation in writing their lyrics.  Nowhere is this more effectively done than in their scenes involving cars, and among the car stories perhaps no more so than in Daddy Don't Live In That New York City No More.  "Daddy don't drive in that ElDorado no more."  One assumes that Daddy, a drug lord, has been kicked out of town - what a conspicuous fool he must have been, tooling around town in an El Dorado at the start of the era when  everyone was changing over to Hondas and Toyotas.  The buffoonishness that got him bounced out of the drug game is physically manifested in his car, the rubber and metal version of his weltaanshcuung, loud, brash, tasteless.  As you  repeatedly listen to Fagen sing the song, though,  you come to realize that Daddy's dead - his drug world colleagues iced him ("We know you're smokin/Wherever you are") - where is he?  Merely run out of town?   It seems too calm a fate for a dude who plays in such rough company.  (Medellin cartel? Just five years down the line we hear about Jive Miguel, in from Bogota). 

     The use of cars and car metaphors can be  at once commonplace, everyday, and boring, though in the hands of these lyricists I don't believe that's the case.  Theirs is rich in layers of meaning and very rewarding, requiring and deserving of careful study.

    We spoke earlier of the use of a car, or the condition or use of a car, as a metaphor or symbol for the character’s inner psychological workings and processes.
“Who makes the traffic interesting,” goes a line in the tune Janie Runaway (it isn’t possible for a Steely Dan male to think traffic interesting in and of itself, because cars aren’t interesting in and of themselves to him but are, instead, always means to some other end; when these lyricists write about vehicles they aren’t embracing  pure driving pleasure).  This is a song concerning an old man and a young girl, and as usual whatever acts of volition are going on in the car that could make traffic interesting are intentionally left vague.  However, the identical invitation that was made to Rikki thirty years ago is repeated here – compare “We can go out driving on Slow Hand Row” with “ Let’s plan a weekend alone together/Drive out to Binky’s place” – what’s the difference?  Is there any?  I don’t believe so.  In both cases the slightly older male uses the car as a means of connecting with the young girl, as a tool of inquiry into the nature of the relationship.  Pursuing the comparison angle, the friend named Melanie will soon be joining Janie and our narrator, thus creating the exact same type of menage setup examined in Babylon Sisters – an older guy and two young girls in a car, on their to “try new things” both sexually and otherwise.  The car here is functioning as a symbol of a spiritual delivery system.  In other instances the implication is that any time the car is upset or displaced, or pushed into unfamiliar environs (as in My Rival – “The milk truck eased into my space”), disquiet is the result for the character (as in Things I Miss The Most, where the car is  entirely removed from his world).  Similarly, the car can sometimes function as a haven for lowlifes (as in Glamour Profession – “We’ll make some calls from my car”) or a final place of peace and solace (as in Deacon Blues – “die behind the wheel”).

    We can say with a fair measure of confidence that when the car belongs to the Steely Dan hero it is a part of the solution to a pressing material problem or psychological need (we will be looking at this  in a moment); however, when the car belongs to others or is performing some other function this is hardly ever the case.  In Haitian Divorce we see Babs taking the “taxi to the good hotel/Bon marche as far as she can tell.”  In the outrageously obscene lyric of I Got The News the Broadway Dutchess’ Lark helps her ‘hustle’.  We’ve already mentioned Glamour Profession, where the relative sanctity of the car is invaded by Hoops McCann et al.

    These are exceptions, however.  In the norm we are presented with the hero and his own car, which is used in the lyrics as a kind of percipient salvation: “Drive me to Harlem/Or somewhere the same,” Harlem of course being a hot bed of jazz, a good place for a gentleman loser to want to be; “There was nothing that I could do/So I pointed my car down/Seventh Avenue,” in which we notice that he does not say I pointed “the” car, which would indicate joint ownership and which would be the natural way to express that in vernacular American English, but he says “my” car, ie, his alone, ie, they are not  anywhere near enough of a couple to own things jointly.

...to be continued...


     It’s hard to try and imagine the number of songs in popular music that pay homage to the virtues of a given city.  There must be an infinite selection. Most of these tunes are very forthrightly laudatory and appreciative of the chosen burg (Journey’s “Lights” or Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” spring to mind, among others) but, as we know, nothing in the Steely Dan modus operandi is so (prima facie) perspicuous.   Too, American writing abounds with important works that attempt to expose southern California as a lair of lustful material excess and moral depravity.  Novels like West’s The Day of the Locust. Mailer’s The Deer Park, or Stone’s Children of Light are excellent examples, as are many of the noir detective novels that are so popular right up to this day ( those of James Ellroy  come to mind).  In song lyrics it’s not so easy to find writers who characteristically take up both of these mantles, but these leitmotifs are remarkably consistent in Becker & Fagen songs.  Sometimes they make references to New York City things and places that are so localized it’s a wonder people not familiar with the place can get a sense of what is meant at all.  (In one song the lyric refers to the “double AA down to Sheridan Square” – the double AA being the 8th Ave local subway in Manhattan, Sheridan Square being one of its stops in Greenwich Village.  On one of the posting boards I saw someone make the assertion that AA stood for Alcoholics Anonymous!  Another song makes reference to “stacking cutouts at the Strand,” that is, working the bargain racks at the Strand Bookstore on 12th Street and Broadway.  It is quite impossible to completely understand the sensibility Becker & Fagen are trying to create here without actually being at the place.  Similar nuances are probed with lyrics such as “She’s on the train/Somewhere up by Fordham Road” and “You were Lady Bayside,” imputations to the Bronx and Queens, respectively.  This technique – the assumption that the reader has some erudition of the places mentioned – is both appealing and risky, the former because it shows the lyricists are sufficiently comfortable with New York (it is so much their base) that they feel no need to explain the adducements, the latter because it invites deep confusion about what’s being talked about, as in the AA example above.  “Janie Runaway” is so New Yorkcentric that one can easily see it bordering on the incomprehensible to non New Yorkers.  In a small way, New York is Steely Dan’s “postage stamp of native soil,” to borrow William Faulkner’s phrase about his fictional Mississippi county.  In glossing briefly over the subject here we have not gotten into some of the more potent examples – Parker’s Band, Bad Sneakers, Royal Scam, Daddy Don’t Live In That New York City No More. Brooklyn, and Midnite Cruiser.  In the album by album retrospective which I’ll offer later I’ll take these up in more detail; the relationships between the “New York songs” are very flexuous and require some care.

     “Show Biz Kids” continues, and develops much more fully, a line of thought that was introduced in “Reelin’ In The Years”, that is, the inimicalness of Hollywood, LA, Southern California in general.   In the earlier song, the trip they made to Hollywood is etched upon his mind – immediately the place is linked to pain and suffering.  We note, though, the pain and suffering in Reelin’ is of an internal, visceral, personal kind while the disgust explored in Show Biz Kids is, at least on the surface, more like class warfare. 

    The lyrics to “Show Biz Kids” pose an immediate problem – is it Becker & Fagen talking directly to us, or is it a fictional narrator?  If the former it is extremely rare autobiography for these guys (the only other place it happens in all the work is on Becker’s solo album); if the latter, then the use of the reflexive reference to “the Steely Dan t-shirt”  is problematic in its own right because it’s just not believable.  Notes say “The Dan goes to LA and is forced to give an oral report,” leading one to surmise autobio – but had Donald Fagen “been around the world”?  Whatever. 

    The chorus observes a social phenomenon: the movie stars of Hollywood come out at night and party while poor people sleep.  It’s certainly true that the stars come out at night, but one has to muse here – is it not so that the poor people are out at night in equal numbers, if not quite partying at the same level as the stars, but partying nonethless?  The attempt to draw out extreme differences by means of this particular contraposition is almost a complete non sequitir, it seems to me – it would have been more effective to draw distinctions by pointing to almost anything else about the two different social classes other than their night time behavior.  Their homes, their cars, their clothes, their jewelry, their extravagances and lack of them – these things would have brought out a more convincing distinction between the haves and have nots.  Playing to the paparazzi isn’t solely an enterprise of the stars – poor people do it a little differently, but the difference is a matter of degree and not one of kind.  In any case, there is no mistaking where the lyricist’s sympathies and dislikes lie.  The outrageous behavior of the stars who come out at night is to be condemned.

    The first verse contains a thematic reference which is used elsewhere on the album, in “My Old School” – smoking upstairs, at the top of the stairs.  In this case, though, the narrator of the song is outside the circle of smokers while in the other song he is inside of it (“I was smoking with the boys upstairs” vs. “I detect the El Supremo/From the room at the top of the stairs”).  Being one of the smokers symbolizes inclusion, belonging, existing inside a circle – not being one of them means your shade is on the light.  Notice: detect.  Why detect?  Detection implies hiding, or, at the very least,  that the smokers want to keep their smoking secret.    They are aware of their own illicit actions. This was thirty years ago, when the fact that a Hollywood celeb was caught smoking herb would still have been some kind of headline.  The mention of the Washington Zoo, one can only surmise, points to some kind of vague Hollywood-Washington connection that the lyricists, very well informed indeed, may have read or heard about (the “Washington Zoo” may even refer to the mechanics of the capital city itself, and not a place to see animals) – one can easily conjure up the image of Marilyn Monroe crooning to JFK, or the Clintons’ numerous Hollywood connections.  It doesn’t really matter because the narrator is inflexible, his mind is made up and it isn’t going to change: “And in all my travels/As the facts unravel/I’ve found this to be true.”  The next two verses present a view of the “stars” that is deeply trenchant, pointing out the excesses of materialism and vanity that exist in Hollywood almost like moisture in the air.  (Steely Dan will return to this theme again many times, and not only in the context of California living although, in their next few big attacks on LA and Orange County, Kid Charlemagne, Everything You Did, and Glamour Profession, they pour it on.  (By the time we get to West Of Hollywood they’re sufficiently loathing of the whole scene that they can hate it in the abstract and don’t need to point to materialistic personnel.))

    Next let’s take a look at Glamour Profession, which is much more interesting than Show Biz Kids because it makes elegant use of the Steely Dan hero, whose heart and soul we have yet to explore.
  In later sections we’ll take up the mythos of the Steely Dan hero in more seriousness, but for purposes of introduction we can identify this hero as a smart guy whose heart is in the right place but who, at the same time, has screwed up his life virtually beyond repair with drugs, evil women, ill-advised partnerships, and just in general hanging out with the wrong crowd.  In Glamour Profession, a story about a basketball player with a nose for coke, the Dan hero watches “from the darkness/While they danced.”   Here, the principals in the story are out disco-ing (“On the town/We dress for action”) but the hero doesn’t dance, he watches.  He “drives the Chrysler,” in other words, performs actions which indicate he is AMONG these people but is not OF them.  He’s there because the mistaken-ridden path of his life had led him there, not because he wants to be. 

    As the song begins we meet Hoops McCann, a couple of hours before game time, outside the arena where, evidently, he’s meeting up with his dealer.  “Brut and charisma/Poured from the shadow where he stood” – Brut is a relatively cheap men’s cologne, so we can infer that Hoops is not as much of a stud (“Looking good’) as he thinks.  Later, after the game, calls are made from our hero-narrator’s car.  Again, the inference is that these guys can get the toys and tech right (a car phone is 1980 was certainly an expensive extravagance) but the telltale details like Brut reveal the real story.  Next comes a joyride on a boat, the “Carib Cannibal,” in which “Illegal fun/Under the sun” is evidently enjoyed at length.  This is just an exercise of the idle rich (like the stars in Show Biz Kids), an activity without any purpose beyond self indulgence.

--to be continued--


    As is so often the case with themes in the Steely Dan grain, points and beliefs, opinions and postulations, are made and then repeated or reinforced many, many years down the road.  Consider the implication from Black Friday: “The archbishop’s gonna sanctify me/And if he don’t come across I’m gonna let it roll.”  This doesn’t differ much from “In the beginning we could hang with the dude/But it’s been too much of nothing…” This is the same pair of eyes, the same perspective, the same consciousness, gazing at the world throughout all those thirty years; those years have done nothing to sway the perspective.  The observer in these lyrics is open to the idea of a benevolent caring deity looking after the silly little world down here but doesn’t see that that deity has done much in the way of positive interference in human affairs.  The archbishop doesn’t come across, it’s been too much of nothing, the world is such that Michael (the Archangel, assigned by God to be heaven’s cop) and Jesus can be given directives instead of the other way around – hope slowly drains away. Despair is the order of the day.  (In Thomas McGuane’s novel Nobody’s Angel one character asks a second what a third, not present, is up to.   The answer is “Reading a book of poems by St. John of the Cross,” to which the reply is “I thought Jesus was the one with the cross?” This is the view of religious activity the Dan offers us.) God is probably not interested in a world that allows the Show Biz Kids to cruise high and mighty while the Cuban gentlemen sleep all day (by implication, removed from their own country by the necessity to escape Fidel, a godless communist commanding earthly powers far exceeding those of the righteous).  Show Biz Kids is in itself an excellent example of the inversion of the principle “The meek shall inherit the earth” – the song, deliberately or not, mocks that principle as absurd. 
    Chronologically the first piece in the Dan legacy that takes up the issue is, slyly, set in the borough of churches, Brooklyn, said to contain the highest concentration per square mile of churches of any place in the world (and this is empirically confirmed simply by wandering around the place!)  (Notice too that it is in the beloved New York City.)  The simple phrases “A race of angels”, “A tower room at Eden Rock,” and  the use of the word “preaches”serve a painterly function here – they exist merely to make pictures in your mind’s eye.  These are all Biblically charged words and phrases, serving to remind and not necessarily functioning in a literal way.   Here and there on the various posting boards and websites one reads about a neighbor of Fagen’s in long ago, far off Brooklyn; consequently many analyses go on to attempt literal renderings.  Sometimes we see stuff like “Is it supposed to be race, as in marathon?  Or is it race, as in the human race?”  The point is, here at least, that it doesn’t matter – it is sufficient that some image has been put in your head.  A kind of mild optimism flits about the edges of the latter part of the album on which this song appears (Can’t Buy A Thrill) and this is in keeping with that general feel.

--to be continued very soon--

    However, this optimism soon disappears.  In Pearl of the Quarter a naïve and innocent gent learns that his lady has become a New Orleans prostitute and he meets up with her “by the shrine of the martyr” (what martyr?  who?) and gets rejected.  She addresses him with platitudes and leaves.  We might infer from this incident that, just as the shrine of the martyr is in the background of the visual scene but not really stepping forward into a major role in the action, so too the belief system that the shrine of the martyr represents merely lurks in the background of our consciousness, something that’s there but not really doing much.  It was something that the nuns made you learn in school and sounded nice but you just couldn’t  understand its relevance to your life.  Song after song after song is like this, where the realities that exist within the fictions are wholly at odds with Christian theory.  What in the world is the city of St. John?  Which St. John, anyway – there are dozens of saints with that name.  Whatever it stands for, it was clearly a place that the people in the tune Royal Scam felt that had to leave.  “I was halfway crucified,” is too specific a reference to be accidental, or too claim it just happens to rhyme well (died, side, ride, hide, bide, snide, guide, and others would all fit the rhyme equally well).  (Katy, by the way, is Josie – “crucified” provides a link to “prays like a Roman with her eyes on her fire,” that is to say, one of the jeering, mocking Romans who killed Christ.  (Unless you believe “Roman with her eyes on fire,” is supposed to mean she looks like a Versace model.)) 

    I want to look at a song which doesn’t delve into Christian images directly but which is so steeped in Christian concepts that it can’t be left out of this discussion, but before we do we can briefly recap.  We have seen:
    -     references to “a race of angels,” “preaches,” and “Eden Rock” from Brooklyn;        Brooklyn itself is known as the “borough of churches”
challenges to Michael and Jesus in Turn That Heartbeat Over Again
the failure of the shrine of the martyr to stop Louise from falling into a life of prostitution in Pearl Of The Quarter
the Archbishop’s failure to sanctify in Black Friday
the use of “crucified” in Dr.Wu
“city of St. John” from Royal Scam
“prays like a Roman” from Josie
 the whole of Godwhacker, which is prima facie obvious and doesn’t require much exposition
I’ll include a mysterious little one, Time Out of Mind, which contains many Biblical words  and phrases such as “glory day,” “grace,”  “keep your eyes on the sky,” an allusion to water turning into wine, etc.

    It may be, though, that the one which most strongly evokes this imagery in our minds is Charlie Freak, a tale of guilt, sorrow, charity, remorse, humility   – many of the classic Christian values. 

    “Five nights without a bite” – Charlie is evidently not easily given in to the temptation to steal or rob, as so many in his position would be.  He suffers quietly. This sort of other worldly asceticism is something not very common in twentieth century America, indeed we might say it is impossible to find at all. It’s a very Christian concept, self -denial, and one that requires incredible discipline.  The fact that Charlie has presumably been trying to break it over the five nights doesn’t change the fact that he has been able to do it. 

    Our narrator, however, is not such a beacon of morality.  He goes ahead and buys the ring rather then just charitably donating to Charlie’s cause.  In helping the freak he makes sure he gets something for himself out of it, thereby turning the interaction into a transaction rather than an act of kindness.  Upon reflection (both immediately after the event and now, in long memory) he feels guilty about the action and tries to make up for it by giving the ring back.  "And lead you home,” means what exactly what?  To heaven?  One would have to guess so.  Charlie is a hopeless sinner, however, in addition to being a saint – he uses the money from the ring to cop drugs rather than buy food.  This is probably not the right place to get into a prolonged discussion of free will and determinism, or of whether or not drug addicts are responsible for their own actions when acting out of need, but it’s sufficient to say that Charlie is the typical lying, scheming, plotting dope fiend.  This was probably obvious to our narrator, which in turn raises a new question, should a responsible citizen be doing business with someone who is obviously going to be buying drugs with the money? 

This little tale of moral questions is wide in scope and deep in implication.  It probably deserves further research into the questions it raises about actions and responsibility, and traditional Christian responses to them.


     The very first song on the very first album presents us with a lady whom we will eventually come to identify as a type – “Then you love a little wild one/And she brings you only sorrow/ All the time you know she’s smilin’/You’ll be on your knees tomorrow.”  Incredibly, the second song picks right up with this:”  “I’m a fool to do your dirty work/Oh yeah”…” I foresee terrible trouble/And I stay here just the same.”  The whole of Reelin’ In The Years continues this same theme.  The theme, of course, is that women are trouble – or, at the very least, deeply out of tune with their men and what their men want.  The whole of Reelin’ dwells on this theme, that he can’t understand anything she thinks is precious, knowledge, useless, etc.  It’s “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus,” but with negative connotations instead of motivational ones.
    The question naturally arises – What is she doing to bring him only sorrow?  Playing him dirty with his friend (a rare instance in these lyrics, it’s specifically and unambiguously stated…or is it?)  Is the “two timer” and the “little wild one” one and the same?  Maybe not.  The use of “then” to open the fifth line of the second verse indicates a chronological progression through time, so if I understand the words correctly what we are being told is that he finds his lady and only friend in bed together, and he then turns to a whore for relief and she, in turn, brings him only sorrow.  This is quite a bleak picture of relationships and the psychology of betrayal.
    Now, several leading authorities in the field have stated (in emails and phone conversations) that they don’t necessarily see this, or anything else in the lyrical work, as representing misogyny.  I wonder.  In the entire body of work it seems hard to find even one woman who is not a whore, double crossing a guy, suffering from drug problems, scheming, a risque Lolita, or otherwise engaged in the creation of turmoil and mayhem.  The narrator of Dirty Work is such a weakly developed personality it makes us sick; however, the lady in the tale is equally deplorable.  The question arises: why does she stay with her husband/live in lover?  There can only be one answer- money and material well being.  They’re living well. They have a maid.   He’s obviously not able to satisfy her as a lover, in spite of the fact that the reason given for our wimpy narrator’s involvement is “Cause your man is out of town.”  Does anybody seriously believe that this lady does not have wanton desires even when her man is in town?  Come on.  And what exactly is “the fee”?  Does she hire professional gigolos?  There is a suggestion that there is a chink in her man’s monetary armor, i.e., “Times are hard/You’re afraid to pay the fee” – the implication is that she does hire pros but can’t afford it right now.  This allows a little bit of an unexplained inconsistency because our lady and narrator have done this “a thousand times before” – but if it is her preference to have professional studly services, why or how would she have been with this fellow a thousand times?! Just how often is her man out of town ?!  Whatever; the salient point is that cheating is a way of life for her. Men are wreckage left in the wake.  And the guys take it, let themselves be controlled even though they “foresee terrible trouble.”  However the stories told on CBAT are just the warm up.
    My Old School presents the disintegration of a relationship and the humiliation and naivete of a young man amidst happy, celebratory sounding music: “It was still September/When your daddy was quite surprised/To find you with the working girls/In the county jail.”  Even her daddy knows she’s a slut, but he at least expected her to make it through the semester before trouble started to brew.  Even her dad knows her propensities and predilections, but our (by now familiarly wimpy) narrator had no clue.  He “did not think the girl could be so cruel”, but, now that he knows damn well that she can be, he wants to obliterate not only her but also the place where he met her, loved her, was betrayed by her, from all memory.  It is as if not going back somehow eases the pain of the betrayal that his college sweetheart was caught whoring around (compare another school story that Becker and Fagen were almost certainly familiar with, John Knowles’ novel A Separate Peace, in which the narrator goes back to his old school as an adult as a form of therapy, a means of releasing the terrible thing that happened – Steely Dan rejects this form of solution).  Who are Chino and Daddy Gee, and why does she have to be warned about them?  Of course, unlike he, THEY are going back to their old school, and so is she – the whole point of the song is that she’s trying to get him to go back to some kind of reunion.  Nothing’s changed, she still the same old girl – “I can’t stand her/Doing what she did before.”  And the U.S. Mail – how do we know what he means, exactly?  Are his letters returned to him, undeliverable, by the post office?  Or are his letters simply met with silence (she gets them but ignores them, does not reply (which, horrifically, would mean that he’s too stupid to realize that that is the case!)).
    As on CBAT, on CTE we get back to back evocations of a man-eater and one of her men.  The next tune, Pearl of The Quarter, takes up the same exact theme – in the French Quarter of New Orleans, perhaps the most decadent spot in all of polite civilization, a dude is in love with a prostitute.  She has, at best, some kind of nostalgic fondness for him but the poor drip holds out hope day after day with the deluded belief that she might somehow return.  The giveaway line here is “She loved the million dollar words I say.”  This is so ironic it could make you cry, because of course she doesn’t love the million dollar words – she likes feelings.  He’s a person of intellect, she’s a person of emotion.  Mind v. heart.  In some or other interview I recall Jeff Baxter saying he left Steely Dan for the Doobies because he felt the former was going for the head, the latter for the heart, and he wanted to go for the heart. You could say virtually the same exact thing about Louise in POTQ – she wants the heart and he’s giving her “million dollar words.”  Nor, of course, is she very interested in the candy and the flowers which probably don’t seem to be very genuine coming from this man.  In fact, you can easily imagine Louise viewing this as a sign of weakness – he can’t control her so he tries to buy her affections with little romantic gifts. 
    CTE contains one tune, Your Gold Teeth, with a couple of references to great blues ditties of the past, Howlin Wolf’s Killing Floor and Joe Williams Goin’ To Chicago.  Both of the quotes pertain to how the aforementioned bluesmen felt about their women, and the song means to capture the same spirit of hate and loathing.  A chick with the same type of behavior styles as the one from Dirty Work tries to get her hooks into the narrator, though here he is strong, able to stand up to her and push her away – “You don’t have to dance for me/I’ve seen your dance before”…”Dumb luck my friend/Won’t suck me in this time.”  This in-your-face rejection is a unique reaction among Steely Dan men, as far as I can see.  The song goes on to list her various dangers in more detail then we are used to in these songs.
    If I’m not mistaken Pretzel Logic marks a little bit of a shift in point of view and in the observing consciousness of the lyricists.  Rikki Don’t Lose That Number introduces the young Lolita type woman-child that many of their famed later songs will dwell on at length.  (Just as a ridiculous aside, there is a song from this general epoch that one still hears with alarming frequency on ‘lite’ or ‘soft’ FM stations today, I’d Really Love To See You Tonight by England Dan and John Ford Coley, which tells a similar story and uses some of the same imagery in a much less mysterious way. ) 
    In RDLTN we are immediately presented with a twisting, wrenching dilemma.  He says, “We hear you’re leaving, that’s OK’” but then everything he says from that point on indicates that it isn’t OK at all!  Everything in the song means virtually the opposite of what it says, for example “I have a friend in town, he’s heard your name”.  Friend?  Who is this “friend”?  Dr. Wu?  Jive Miguel?  What is he up to, and how has he heard Rikki’s name?  On one of the posting boards I had the experience of simultaneously posting, along  with someone else, the idea that Rikki and the town her song takes place in is the same town in Becker’s solo tune Junkie Girl.  Indeed, maybe Rikki is the Junkie Girl.  Whatever; the fact is, the revelation that this “friend” has heard her name can only mean that they have networked within the same circles, circles that contain reams of people who are not looking to contribute positively to society.  And our hopeless narrator is in love with this girl!!  Why is he afraid to have Rikki be caught with his phone number on her person, almost like Carl Bernstein finding Howard Hunt’s little black book with the notation “White House”? What exactly does “You don’t even know your mind” mean?  (Surely it means that she’s a junkie, just like Junkie Girl and Negative Girl – her ability to master her own volitions and cognitions have been erased by drugs).  Who the principal dealer is, exactly, is unclear, but one would have to suspect that  it is the “friend” .  The pathetic reaching of the narrator, his hopeless attempts to hold on to Rikki (but notice, “WE hear you’re leaving” – menage?) : “We can out driving on Slow Hand Row/We can stay inside and play games, I don’t know” – this is the kind of spineless whining that a woman like Rikki eats for a snack – is having the exact opposite effect of what he intends, it’s forcing her away rather than convincing her to stay.
    This kind of confusion surfaces again on the next album in greater detail and in fuller force, but before going on to Katy Lied we might recap what we have looked at so far.  We have seen that the nexus of relationships problems in SD lyrics tend to revolve around a weak guy and a strong woman, or, at the very least, a woman who is absolutely decisive about what she wants and needs, a woman who can walk away at the blink of an eye (the men cannot, with the possible (but unclear) exception of the fellow in Your Gold Teeth, who seems equal to the task); we’ve seen repeatedly that the female indulges in prostitution and promiscuity and that the poor cuckold, even thusly humiliated, still wants her back; and that the girl is frequently involved in unclear (but no doubt suspicious) ways with her man’s “friends.”  We should take note, too, that every song so far about relationships presents it in one or more of these lights, and, as is usually the case, when an author constantly depicts characters of a certain type in the same light over and over it is reasonable to assume they believe that this is how that type of person “is”. 
    Next we go on to Katy Lied…