As such, Steely Dan¹s subversive music has
the resonance to reach deep into our emotional psyche and carry us
into the noosphere.Their Apollonian perfection of musical arrangements translate into a thriving community on the
internet, comprised of a fandom that has been able to keep the fires lit since 1980, which was until February 29,
2000 the last time Steely Dan released an album.
As Euan Ferguson writes in the Guardian (2000), to Steely Dan, time doesn¹t matter;
³What the band has always set out to do......is
simple: they wanted to combine the best of the 20th century¹s
music into one fine, ever-listenable,intellectually snobbish slice. It could have been horrendous, but it is glorious.
To take the finesse of jazz without the pseudo meanderings; to take the drive of soul without the posturing; to
take the beauty of classical changes, without the wittering French longueurs; to take the snap of pop without its
zit busting immaturity...the recipe then and now, is close to perfect. Perfection is their aim and they are
unforgiving in its pursuit...Uncompromising in their conversation, which is as fiercely clever as their lyrics. It
ranges from literary influences (Burroughs, Gibson, Vonnegut) to political credo, a lengthy discourse on Herbert
Marcuse, the Frankfurt School and the dangers of repressive tolerance, all of which is fascinating . Their lyrics are
both poetic and savagely tongue in cheek, as they explore the American male psyche and the late 20th century
landscape, satirizing capitalism, trying to reflect their own sense of dislocation in America during those years,
trying to do musically what Don DeLillio has done in print²(A5).
What Steely Dan does well is craft both music and
lyrics in a way that allows the listener to become part of the
song. Every sound, every word is chiseled out of a cerebral marble block. They provide us with a slice of sociology
communicated through their own form of fiction. There music is witty, subtle and expansive. Paul Zollo writes in
Performing Songwriter Magazine (2000) of an interview with WalterBecker and Donald Fagen concerning the
specifics of their song crafting mechanism:
³The section about West of Hollywood begins
with the chorus:
I'm way deep into nothing special
Riding the crest of a wave breaking
just west of Hollywood
It's a single sentence that evolved through a profusion
of lyrical permutations before the ideal form was
discovered. "One trick of writing is to use the mechanics of typing things over and over again as a way of
exercising and developing an idea," Becker said. To illustrate this technique, he shared some of the variations that
he and Fagen generated for this line:
I'm way deep into nothing special...
...coming from a place of power just west of Hollywood.
...with a base of support located just west of Hollywood.
...in a matrix with its nexus just west of Hollywood.
...in a cluster franchise just west of Hollywood.
All of the songs on the new album went through
this lengthy process of thought and revision, each the result of
many pages of notes, character development, and explorations into the best ways to compel and conclude
narratives." In regards to West of Hollywood, Walter says "We have notes which define the idea of certain songs.
In West of Hollywood we had, 'Ideal flatness of field, leveling, nulling out, zero potential, the tyranny of the
By careful consideration of each variation in the
lyric and how it blends in with the music, Steely Dan is able to
craft a song with a number of subliminal meanings to be explored. The music is a vehicle for thought and
expansion of the mind. Things truly resonate and reach into people¹s souls when there is a message that is
subtle, when the message is multilayered.
Steely Dan seems closer to the ideals of the global heart and mind than any other musical entity to date; with
their own website, an interactive fandom and thriving community on the net , Steely Dan is situated for evolution
into popular culture via the internet and maybe reaching towards the noospheric ideal of Teilhard de Chardin.
Ironically, their latest offering, the album titled Two Against Nature, derives its title from a nineteenth century
novel about a wealthy French aristocrat who decides to retire from the world and live in the realm of the senses,
an ultimate aesthetic life, not that much different than the noospheric ideal.(Wilkinson 2000).
The Apollonian nature of Steely Dan and the Dionysian nature of Devo are an example of the duality of the musical
aesthetic. One is not possible without the other. Like a sphere, which is the perfection of form, each side is part
of the other, and needs the other to bring musical dimensions to their whole. As an evolutionary process, we can
envision Devo as the big bang at the dawn of evolution, a bright light, a supernova that is packed with energy
and ideas; then Steely Dan allowing for a slow cooling off, a quiet expansion of the galaxies; of enlightened
thinking and emotion, and refinement of ideas. Then the cycle begins anew, each time developing a bit further
until the greater global heart, Teilhard¹s Omega Point, is reached. This evolutionary process may take thousands
of years. According to Thomas A. Goudge, in his work The Ascent of Life :
One feature of man¹s evolution is that it
is certainly incomplete. Throughout history, anywhere from half a million
to a million years has been needed to produce a true species. Homo sapiens is only about 100,000 years old. Man
of today is a primitive type of moral being. Much of his personal and social behavior exhibits traces of his animal
ancestry just as his physical body does. Yet occasionally he exhibits the power to make his actions conform to
the highest moral ideals. For the most part he is indifferent to beauty, yet he can catch fleeting glimpses of it and
embody them in artistic form. Because of all this the verdict must surely be that man is still in the
making.Biologically, he is an adolescent being and does not have a fully developed set of human traits (61).
Scientist Mark Pesce discounts the idea of humans
evolving to a higher, more complicated being. He supports this
argument in an interview for the book the Soul Of Cyberspace (1997) by Jeff Zaleski; Contrary to popular belief
that evolution progresses from simplicity toward complexity, orthodox science recognizes no direction to evolution,
no end...or purpose to its movements. Steven Jay Gould argues forcefully in his book Full House: the Spread of
Excellence from Plato to Darwin, that evolution is a matter of variation of individuals within populations, and
evinces no evidence of favoring increasing complexity. As an example, Gould points to bacteria, which he declares
to be the most successful adaptation in the history of life. Future species are as likely to be simple, like bacteria,
as they are to be complex,like us. If Gould ....is right, then the ideas of Teilhard de Chardin which have inspired
much of the more speculative thinking about cyberspace and its effect on humanity are wrong (268).
This statement proposes that Teilhard de Chardin
ideas are a function of carbon- chemical evolution. But earlier in
Zaleski¹s book Tom Ray states that:
³The process of evolution is neither limited
to occurring on the earth, nor in carbon chemistry. Just as it may
occur on other planets, it may also operate in other media, such as the medium of digital computation. And just as
evolution on other planets is not a model of life on earth, nor is natural evolution in the digital medium² (Zaleski,
1997, p. 91).
Teilhard de Chardin¹s vision is one of the
far distant future of evolution, a vision that may include ideas that
heretofore are unknowable as human beings trying to envision computers only a century ago. ³We tend to project
future technological impossibilities on the basis of current fallible knowledge² (Levinson, 1995,p.99). The failure of
scientists being able to envision the mechanism for Teilhard de Chardin¹s noosphere may just be a function of the
current knowledge of evolution, ³a case of putting Descartes before the horse, attempting to create thinking
material without a necessary living substrate² (Levinson, 1995, p. 115)
³Thus, we are motivated to develop yet additional
technologies that both extend communication across biological
boundaries and retrieve elements of process and form of pyre technological communication lost in...primitive
technologies. I call this stage- and thus evolution in general-anthropotropic, or evolving toward human
The movement toward, and evolution of, communication
through music is not just a technological one. Homo
sapiens appears to be designed as a hearing machine. We have eyelids but no ear lids. Sounds are always
entering our minds even when we are asleep; our eyes our closed, but we can not close off the outer world of
The popularity of radio continues despite the internet and television. The integration of sound, specifically music,
into television shows and movies shows that music is a necessary component of the human experience. Therefore
the integration of music as a language of the future noosphere can not be discounted. The evolution may combine
the forces of biological evolution and technological evolution, again pointing to a Dionysian/Apollonian model. The
energy, drive,and emotion of humanity coupled with the perfection and logic of technology could provide the world
with a utopian noosphere. But some call this idea of an evolving utopian humanity too idealistic. As David Shenk
The misguided utopian faith in technology is as
much a part of our American history as are manifest destiny and
African -Americans¹ long struggle for civil rights, and it highlights another great paradox of the information age:
Our American democratic culture has dramatically elevated technology, but technology has not elevated
humanity...[we have] been plagued with technological utopianism: Ever on the horizon sits a wondrous technology
promising to deliver a truly equitable, educated, civil democratic society...and it never quite works out that way
[but] hope springs eternal (61).
Even Teilhard admits that the utopia of the noosphere
may have ³evil ...growing alongside the good, and it may
too attain its paroxysm at the end in some specifically new form²(1955). Yet the language that could be the
future software of the noosphere, the language of music, can offer a way to connect all of us with empathy, and
with emotion, enabling the long ago religious ideal of ³do unto others as you would yourself² to finally be realized
in the future evolution of man. Thomas A. Goudge, writes in The Ascent of Life :
The uniqueness of Human evolution, then consists
inter alia in the fact that it has been subject to a new life of
inventiveness, a new type of heredity, and a new type of speciation.....During the millennia between the
Pleistocene period and the present, there took place a gradual evolution of morality which has culminated in the
dawn of conscience. Man¹s moral sense began to operate more and more...Homo sapiens [is moving to] Homo
moralis. If [man] is ever effectively to control his own evolution, moral ideals or values will have to play a central
part in determining its direction. (61)
Music can call us to a greater morality by circumventing
the world of spoken language and objects, and doing this
outside the body, free of negative forces (Chanan 1999). As Schopenhauer writes: The unutterable depth of all
music by virtue of which it floats through our consciousness as the vision of a paradise firmly believed in, yet ever
distant from us, and by which also it is also fully understood and yet so inexplicable, rests on the the fact that
that it restores to us all the emotions of our innermost nature, but entirely without the reality and far removed
from the pain (Tillman,1969, p. 288).
Susanne Langer in her work Feeling and Form points
to music as a way to learn feeling, noting that the tonal
structures of music bear a close similarity to the form of human feeling; running through excitement and calm, and
conflict and resolution; ³music is a tonal analog of emotive life²(1953).
For the internet to touch each one of us, individually and collectively, the mechanism of music must evolve to
span the internet, perhaps via morphic resonance, perhaps through cultural memes; the music can then evolve
and able to reach into our hearts, to point us to a new humanity,homo moralis. This moral being will be able to
experience through this evolved form of music, a language of the heart that will communicate across cultural,
race, and language barriers, emoting feeling. Music will inform us. It will answer the questions: What does it feel
like to be hungry, right now, in Ethiopia? What does it feel like to be homeless, today, wandering the streets with
no way out?
Many problems of humanity can be traced to an inability
for people to understand ³the other². Communication and
negotiation through language and media are ways of connecting each of us but they fall short of providing true
insight into what ³the other² is feeling. The perception of feeling is so evident in music; it can been seen
demonstrated already on the internet within the various musical communities online. Enthusiasm to share feelings
about the music, and connections with each other to experience real time sharing of ideas while listening to
music, floods the chat room of the Steely Dan website, and probably others music sites as well.
The only way humans can hope to understand each other is through empathy of feeling, not empathy of ideas, of
words. Real time empathy, not empathy of ³I went through this too, way back when². We need to be connected
through spirit, and through the heart, yet retaining our individual identities and creative impulses. Music may be
the vehicle for bringing the heart and the spirit to each of us, and enhancing the human powers of inventiveness
and creativity. As Langer writes (1942); ³not communication but insight is the gift of music...a knowledge of how
feelings go...the real power in music lies in the fact that it can be true to the life of feeling in a way that language
Teilhard de Chardin¹s idea of the noosphere was perhaps an intangible notion of a spiritual dimension. To create
his noosphere we will have to aspire to a utopian ideal, an Agora perched above the normal human day to day
dealings, ruled by Dionysus and Apollo, reaching for empathy in humanity; combining the forces of the tangible ,
the technical, the musical, and the spiritual to bring about an evolution of morality and feeling in humanity. Agora
was the place in ancient Greece where Athenian citizens met to discuss ideas for the common good. It is an ideal
that even 21st century humanity can aspire to.
Perhaps we can begin the process of reaching towards
Agora by having more direction and feeling in our music.
For example, Steely Dan needs to be more Dionysian, looking for spontaneous inspiration in their music as well as
deliberate perfection. They have often spoken with envy of the music of early Jazz composers who were mostly
inprovisational and free form in the way that they composed music. Steely Dan could do well to incorporate these
improvisational methods into their style of composition. Steely Dan could take more risks with their lyrics to try
and craft songs describing not just fictional accounts of drug dealers and wonder waifs hanging out in Gramercy
Park, but rather morality tales espousing idealistic notions of the greater good, subtilely cloaked in fictional
accounts of drug dealers and wonder waifs hanging out in Gramercy park.
If Devo should ever perform again, they could aspire to the perfection of the Apollonian model, with a higher
technical form attracting converts to their cause with lyrics crafted in a subtle nuance, performed with the great
gusto and enthusiasm that is the hallmark of a Devo performance . Devo¹s messages are always inspired and
insightful; they have the creative impulses to craft that mass hysteria they desire if they so choose, but they
have to do it in a positive way. The idea of positive music does not mean singing ³Oh happy day, everything is
grand², more that it is a difficult incorporation of dark sarcasm blended with a message that gives us hope, again
(as with Steely Dan ) subtilely cloaked in a fictional tale of interest to the masses. This is a prescription that can
translate to folk, country, rap, classical, and all music genres.
In fact, this type of musical craftsmanship is
already evident in popular music. French economist Jacques Attali
describes in his book call Noise (1985) of seeing in figures like Miles Davis, Charlie Parker , Jimi Hendrix and Frank
Zappa the...emergence of not so much a new music but a way of making music, the advent of a radically new
form of insertion of music into communication (Chanan, 1999, p.314).
Attali discusses a view of musical history that
divides it into four stages. The first stage he calls sacrifice, where
musical codes simulate the social order, through which the hearts of people are united. The second stage, called
representation, is where the music is tied to the bourgeois society and the rise of capitalism. The third stage
appears at the end of the nineteenth century, called repetition, meaning the advent of recording and mass
production of music. The fourth stage would develop in the 21st Century, and would call into play what he
describes as the ³figure of a semidivine being...delivering forth ineffable delphic utterances². (Chanan 1999) Attali
appears to be speaking of improvisation; ³ inventing the message at the same time as the language...creating the
conditions for new communication² (Chanan 1999).
Interestingly many of these ideas for the 21st century can be seen in the performance of The Star Spangled
Banner at Woodstock in 1969 by Jimi Hendrix and reported by Samuel Floyd originally in the Jimi Hendrix
The consecutive descending third that open the
introduction, followed by Hendrix¹s unaccompanied talking guitar
passage, immediately identify this performance as ring based. As the performance progresses, Hendrix inserts
Ścalls¹ at the rockets red glare and Ścomments¹ appropriately at the bombs bursting in air and other telling
points. Here, Hendrix is a musical teller of the narrative, using his instrument in a manner similar to that of both
African callers and the tone painters of European classical tradition² (Chanan 1999).
So the precedent has thus been established for
musical communication. The grand ideas of Teilhard de Chardin
can then have seed in the creative soil of musicians and MP3 technology across the internet. A grand utopian idea
to be sure, a field of idealized dreams and metaphoric roses, but as David Shenk would say, hope springs eternal.
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