"On the Dunes"

   This is another one that really sends me.  The kind of song you slow-dance to with that special someone.... I used to think of it as a whiny-guy song, but these days I really feel for the narrator;  I just acknowledge that he's a New Yorker, and that's why the comments about high rents, etc.  The song evokes that numb, unreal feeling you get when you've been dumped, and the entire world seems to conspire to rub your face in it.  I pair this with "Cringemaker," which I also used to find whiny until I listened better.
    This song has what has to be the champ of Steely alliteration:  "In the summer all the swells join in the search for sun and sand...."
     "The city's twitch and smoke,"  "the faltering light"--great images.  I know this isn't lyrical, but I love the way it sounds like somebody dropped the tambourine on the floor when he says "homicide," like something breaking.  I also love the long, drifting denouement, like a moody walk along the beach.

Clas (GB, 7/31/99):Fagen is an actor, he never gets personal! "On the Dunes", for examples, only mirrors the narrators "mind-ghosts", the lyrics is not much about the pain when the lover has left him, it's more about the fact that he can't stand to be alone. He needs someone to be close to him.  And the song is sung in such way that it's clear that Fagen is pretending to "be" someone. Like an actor.   I don't believe for a minute that Fagen EVER has shown any real emotions in any of the songs he's singing.

wormtom (GB, 5/2/00):  speaking of tear jerkers
     saddest dan song

     drum roll please

     on the dunes

     nothing is worse than being miserable in paradise
     you can really feel his longing, foreboding and loneliness

     one word which twists and makes the song

     In the faltering light

     he deals with things okay in the daylight but as the sun goes down his emptyness is overly apparent as couples catch the sunset and run off for enchanting  evenings.

     the music so reflects that late light beach feeling and magnifies his pain

     a sad song indeed - been there

     but when you can overcome that feeling
     then life begins to open up and become your oyster

Dunks (10/15/00):  "On The Dunes"
* Another waterside locale (cf Countermoon, Snowbound, Florida Room).  There's an awful lot of water on this album.
* Possibly a long bow to draw, but the title suggests the acclaimed 1964 Japanese feature, "Woman In The Dunes", by Hiroshi Teshigahara. To quote
Andrea Chase's review:
    "An amateur entomologist is on vacation from the oppressively mechanized urban world. While searching for a bug to make him famous, he misses the
last train back to anywhere and becomes stuck in a remote area of Japan made entirely of sand. And not just any sand, as envisioned by director Hiroshi
Teshigahara, this sand is a living thing, rolling, flowing, and engulfing.  It's a dynamic character, menacing in its complete indifference to the puny humans in the way of its shifting dunes."
* a delicious sense of 'Great Gatsby' ennui about this one, reinforced by the gentrified setting (Cape Cod?). In every holiday home, a heartache -- it has the same langurous beau-monde melancholy of Bryan Ferry's work with Roxy Music (e.g. 'Song For Europe')
* Probably one of Don's more conventional songs, lyrically (basic theme: She Dumped Me) but there's always a twist of course and there's an undercurrent
of violence and even death ("Homicide on the dunes"). Counters the previous happy memory of "Florida Room"
* "Pretty women with their lovers by their sides"..." Cf Joe Jackson's "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" - "Pretty women out walking with gorillas down my street". Joe's take is is a lot angrier and more direct, but it has that same sense of the hurt generated by the betrayed narrator seeing lovers together. A pretty common device over the years.
* the wordplay in the last verse is delightful: "In the summer all the swells join in the  search for sun and sand" - and ANOTHER dream, this time awful
* the extended instrumental coda is really eloquent. I love the way the music evokes the rise and fall of the sand dunes and the waves, building up to a small crescendo and then falling back. I also love how it tricks our expectations - it's one of those outros that just would conventionally launch into a heartrending saxophone solo, but DF cleverly defers the solo until almost the very end, and then keeps it deliberately low key (perhaps to contrast the jumpin' jive of the  solo breaks in the following track)

[Oh. My. God.  That's what I love about this page.  People come swirling out of the collective unconscious and just whack into the deepest recesses of your recesses.  "Woman In The Dunes" is one of my favorite movies ever.  I saw it about five times in the early 70's and still love it.  Very Japanese, surreal, and allegorical, and beautiful b&w cinematography.  It was based on the eponymous novel by Kobo Abe, who penned various surreal stories in the '60's and '70's.  As soon as I read the title above I could hear those drums and see those masks.... And, amazingly enough, I never thought of OTD in the same breath.  From now on I will....]

Mexuine (2/13/02):  I always thought of "On the Dunes" as a take on Chris Rea's "On the Beach".
There are some great lines, yes, but on the whole, the naïve melody, constantly bordering on cliché, and the easy listening quasi-bossa type of arrangement suggest an irony (like in so many Becker/Fagen songs):
- How Deep Is Your Love, if you can treat it like schmaltz? Well, the feelings may be as deep as the next guy's, of course, but we'll never know that, because the expression of it is painfully shallow (and, for the record: In this particular case intended to be so, which is what makes the song interesting, in my opinion). So to rephrase the question:
- How deep is pop music? The answer, my friend, is a) Bob Dylan, b) love (Todd Rundgren) or c) not Chris Rea.
"On the Dunes" deals with a certain type of Pretentious Popsongs by Pedestrian Philosophers who would benefit greatly from the advice of the late Frank Zappa: "Shut up and play yer guitar!"
To quote Leonard Cohen, who is also great with this kind of lyrics vs/music ironies: "The maestro says it's Mozart/but it sounds like bubble gum."
Or maybe it's just me...

"Florida Room""Teahouse On The Tracks"