KEY WORDS:  unofficial
                       free association


Introductory notes
"Kid Charlemagne"
"The Caves Of Altamira"
"Don't Take Me Alive"
"Sign In Stranger"
"The Fez"
"Green Earrings"
"Haitian Divorce"
"Everything You Did"
"The Royal Scam"

Introductory notes

    To me, this is the darkest and most unsettling of Steely albums, from the cover on in.  Previous Steely cover art ranges from kitschy ("Can't Buy A Thrill") to cleanly expressionist ("Countdown To Ecstasy"), to realist and realist-through-Vaseline-coated-glasses ("Pretzel Logic" and "Katy Lied").  "The Royal Scam" shows this guy at the end of the end, doubly defenseless--homeless on a bench and sleeping--while the transmuted skyscrapers rear over him, ready to engulf him.  They remind me of Scylla in The Odyssey, picking off Odysseus' men one at a time from the clouds above.  And the album reminds me of Charybdis:  at first you barely know you're slowly circling its mouth, but then you find yourself spiralling faster and faster on a headlong trajectory into the abyss.  You don't know you're sucked in until it's too late.
    By the way, Brian Sweet quotes Mr. Fagen as saying that the cover art had " 'a rather delightful relation to one of the tunes on the album....'  That coincidental relation is almost certainly to the cave paintings referred to in 'The Caves of Altamira.' " (RITY, p.110)  Maybe, but my guess would have been "The Royal Scam"--how about you?

"Kid Charlemagne"

    Brian Sweet recounts:  " 'Kid Charlemagne' is set in San Francisco and is about a drug dealer who, in Fagen's words, 'had been overtaken by society and was left standing in the road with nothing.'  Becker, Fagen, and Katz variously described the main protagonist in 'Kid Charlemagne' as a maker, an artist, a chemist, and a chef:  'Someone who makes consciousness-expanding substances of the most dramatic, sensational kind no longer in vogue.'  Becker said that they didn't use any particular model for the song;  Fagen said he thought it was more about the age--the late sixties--and the reflections of someone who found himself in a decade where he's no longer of any use.  They denied that 'Kid Charlemagne' was based on a Timothy Leary or Charles Manson type character, saying that he would probably be much less of a celebrity than those two examples.  Becker claimed that there was an individual on whom the song was based, 'who hung over the song like the Sword of Damocles' but he refused to name names." (RITY, pp. 103-104)

The liner notes on "Alive In America" offer this description:  "Sixties epitaph.  Designer druggist.  Power, glory.  Running on empty."  What more can you say?  Aw, we can always say more:

J Christman (Digest, 10/15/97):  In my mind the character in "Kid Charlemagne" is most definitely Owsley [Stanley Owsley, the father of LSD], irrespective of anyone's attempts (including Walter Becker's) to throw you off the trail.
    Owsley's acid biz, in part, funded the Grateful Dead in their early years.  Owsley was their original sound man, and he helped out with their rent as well.  "your low rent friends are dead."  Owsley was busted when his car ran out of gas, "is there gas in the car?"  Owsley's product was legendaryamong acid heads because it was "kitchen clean."  The reference to "white men on the streets" refers to the growth of cocaine use and the decline in the number of people taking acid as the drug of choice.

"Whiteman" is also an R. Crumb character, a besuited mainstream zombie archetype.

    CountZiro has commented that reading Tom Wolfe's Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, an account of the life & times of The Merry Pranksters & Ken Kesey, gives this song added dimensionality.   Owsley appears in it, and the thing is crawling with "Day-Glo freaks who used to paint the face," and who did indeed evaporate eventually from the Pranksters and "join the human race," even Kesey himself.  He went to Oregon to make yogurt.

cupgoddess (5/17/99):  Being a total dan devotee, my father actually emailed Stanley Owsley to ask if he was in fact the main character of "Kid Charlemagne", probably causing the DEA to open a file on him.  The answer was something to the effect of "I am not the main character of that little pop song".  This curt little response (in which
Owsley also critiqued the grammar of the original email) is confirmation in my mind that he is the actual focus of the song, and isn't very happy about it.

tom (GB, 1/12/00):  I always thought "technicolor motorhome" lyrics were "technical m.o. tow and"
     meaning what? you ask... I reply...
     everyone stopped to stare at how incredibly well the Kid could whip up his illegal substances. M.O. being mode of operation and the 'tow" in the vocal phrasing I could never really quite understand but enjoyed, thought it a slang saying of the "hip" underground drug culture.
     I was actually quite disapppointed when I read the real lyrics as I like the M.O. imagery, a real strung out druggie, but man can he cut the stuff well.
     The technocolor motor home associates him in the hippie relm, as opposed to the outsider who supplies them. So to me my little quirky misreading in more satisfying than the original.

OMIO (GB, 2/9/00):   Since you asked.. and I'm completely unqualified to answer, but never let that stop me..
     At the 50th Anniversary Of The Discovery Of LSD Conference in SF a few years ago, there was a great deal of  discussion on that very topic.. "What Have We Wrought?!"
     Hoffman was extremely concerned that way too many people were getting into a realm they had no skills to navigate in..
     And had come to the conclusion there were some very Negative, Predatory forces involved which would prey upon them..
     Kesey has gotten a bad rap for his supposed dosing of unsuspecting people.. As far as I know, The Pranksters themselves never did that to people.. Hugh Romney concoted the infamous Electric Cool Aid, but gave enough warnings & indications to advise anyone who could Hear what the story was..
     However, the Grateful Dead & Co. were notorious for doing that..
     Which I think is pretty Goddam Criminal..
     Kesey is fond of saying that Spirits Travel On Elixers..
     The Bleak Landscape of The Un-Created is not for everyone.. Even when aware of the door you are passing through, you might not be ready to see Your Whole World Fall Apart & Fade Away..
     To become without Ego, stripped of Self, etc. ain't easy..
     And that's with the Good Stuff!
     Add a bunch of strychnine, STP, & God knows what other shit, cooked up by some borderline practioners of Black Arts trolling for Souls & you've got a bunch of psychic disasters..
     Like Haight Ashbury in The Summer Of Love.. Which is why by that time most of the original, educated, self-disciplined types who had the "Keel" to handle the Wind In The Sails, split for Marin & Eugene..
     In short, it got way out of hand, fucked up a bunch of people, and we've been paying the dues for that folly for over 30 years.
     Kid Charlamagne is a work of utter Genius.. As The Holy Roman Empire tried to blend the spiritual Truth realized by the original, early Christians with the social & civil order of the Empire into an Enlightened World, With Charles moving his Court from place to place, so that no one people or territory could lay claim to it, so it was with those who felt that Acid, as a path to Spiritual Enlightenment, should travel & reach as many people as possible.. And then it degenerated into that mess of coke, heroin, Southern Comfort, blah blah blah..
     There's a big difference between getting High & just getting Loaded.. From what I've seen, that distinction is getting more & more Lost.. Which is why I Hate Parking Lots!
     The Truth Does Not Require Your Belief In Order To Function..
     or does it? I really don't know.. do you?
     (scuffling & mumbling into Oblivion...)

Clas (GB, 6/30/00):  the Kid is obsolete, times they are changing. The "drug thing" in the song is just, well.. something to hang the issue on.

Evan (Digest, 6/22/00):  Diamond is maybe Hereoin and Pearl is coke or something like that?

Rocket J  (Digest, 7/12/00):   What are these Steely Dan song-writing guys, prescient psycho-hotline kids or something?  They wrote these lines years ago:
            While the music played you worked by candlelight
            Those San Francisco nights
            You were the best in town
            Just by chance you crossed the diamond with the pearl
            You turned it on the world
        This is dotcom genius we're talking here.  This is what the big boys at the gene labs play with when they're not importing White Cola extract.  Just don't let us go and end up King of the World.

Ahon Paul Bienaime (GB, 7/25/00):  To me, the lyrics to "Kid Charlemagne" were a running commentary on the rampant and prevailing drug culture of the
     early '70s that was swiftly loosing it's momentum. The words 'dayglow freaks' refers to the various addicts who were always hot to latch onto a quick fix. Just as 'who used to paint the face' tells me that they were often trying to conceal their additions from others, particularly their families, the Feds, narcs and others from whom they would surely try to hustle in support of their habits. The words 'semi-mojo' and 'kinky so-and-so'in "Haitian Divorce" were really more of a celebration of both cultural and racial diversity, done in improvised street language, than anything else. As a person of African-American lineage, a Creole, with his roots deep in his Haitian ancestry,and with as much caucasian blood in him as there is African, I must say that I don't feel even the slightest bit offended. No, not at all. To be sure, all of your songs are as surpassing to anything done in rap as they ever could be. Like every one of the Steely Dan lyrics, as well as just about every other song, this a wonderfully sobering reminder of just how far we have all come of late. And, a place marker in our present and steady course of our progress. Thank you for your time.

wormtom (GB, 7/25/00):  I agree that the hippy culture was loosing it's momentum, but my read was that the "dayglow freaks" had less to do with their fix and more to do with their tied dyed hippie manner of fashion sense - all of a sudden you and your peace and love crowd strand out in a world that had walked away from it. Sort of the Ken Keasey trip. As for painting the face, I thought they were referring to actual face painting - psychedelic fashion statements that started in 67 but were well out of vogue for most by 72. Translation - the love ins are dead, everyone has gone on and gotten jobs and the hippie movement lost it's momentum. It lived on in the minds and the dead heads and such but was a leftover eyesore for the mass population.
     As for Kid C, at this time he is oblivious and is still spaced out and making his living supplying others who have went well underground and are no longer flamboyantly dressed hippies. Instead they are vacationers(Every A frame) looking for a fix
     next step - the disco suff a kate shun of AMerica was already in progress

Hank Silvers (Experimental GB, 7/4/01):  On my way somewhere else this morning, I channel-surfed to the Sci-Fi Channel, saw a black-and-white show, and stopped.
    Turns out it's a Twilight Zone marathon, and the episode I stopped at is called "The Obsolete Man." A plot synopsis is at http://www.geocities.com/john_75915/links/tzeplist/obsolete.html and http://www.cfpeople.org/FrRay/3Sun01c.htm.
    At the end, the disgraced government official is adjudged "obsolete," and is surrounded by a chorus of people, all chanting "You are obsolete! You are obsolete!"

Craig (Experimental GB, 7/4/01):  I concur with Hank that indeed the Twilight Zone, not to mention Hitchcock, really seem connected on some level with Steely Dan. They all have that weird twist of consiousness and warped sense to them that borders on surreal and thrilling all at once.
    We all know that Gaslighting Abby is based on the similar Hitchcock movie. Don't Take Me Alive could be inspired by any Hitchcok thriller or even Dog Day Afternoon. King of the World and Sign In Stranger could easily be Rod Sterling classics on The Twilight Zone or Night Gallerie.
    Now I am trying to think of other movies or shows that might very closely parallel Steely Dan songs. Maybe when Becker and Fagen went back and wrote something like Gaslighting Abby, they were actually writing about those things that made their hearts go tick, as Gina puts it.

David (9/16/01):  As to what particular drug the Kid was cooking up, the thing that gets me is his title: Charlemagne = great Charlie...! Any good reasons why it's not cocaine? On the other hand, Charlemagne was solitary ruler of one of an extensive empire, so perhaps the more literal interpretation is an undermining of Donald Fagen's gift for analogy.

Reelin' In The Years, by Brian Sweet
                  The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, by Tom Wolfe (1968)
                  Whiteman Comics, by R. Crumb (If you haven't seen the superb documentary
                     "Crumb," log off, go rent it, and come back when you're done.)
           One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest and Sometimes A Great Notion, by Ken Kesey

"The Caves Of Altamira"

     This song is a special fave of mine and my (then) three-year-old's.  When I was a kid, I lived a lot in my imagination, and spent a fair amount of time in various favorite hideouts.  So I identify strongly with the first verse of this song.  Then the narrator makes an association with seeing the caves of Altamira in Spain, with their renowned cave paintings--it sounds to me as if when he sees them, he flashes on his solitary childhood imaginings and identifies with those of the cave painter's--whose drawings were left "for you and me, we understood."  "Nothing here but history"--ironic;  it's so much more than history--"can you see what has been done"--both realizing the impulsion of the ancient artist who "heard the call" and spent uncounted hours in a dark and dangerous cave to paint his/her dreams;  and feeling aghast that these private dreams are being gawked at by clueless tourists.  The "memory" that rushes over him reaches back through his childhood, to prehistoric times, to the collective unconscious;  then he steps back "into the sun," the bleached-out reality of the present.  "The fall" may refer to the biblical fall from grace of Adam and Eve after they tasted the apple, which echoes in the amoral and squalid life of the underbelly of latter-day LA/Hollywood.

    Brian Sweet said that "in the 1976 version of the song Becker and Fagen omitted the third verse in which the narrator reflects on his childhood adventures and returns to the caves only to find that many others have discovered what was once his own secret little world." (RITY, p. 105)

    The omitted verse:

                Many years have come and gone, and many miles between
                Through it all I found my way by the light of what I've seen
                On the road as I returned was a green and yellow sign
                Sayin,' "See the way it used to be," and I took my place in line.

RubyBaby (GB, 6/4/99):  Yeats wrote a poem or two about Alta Mira, being there alone with his thoughts abouthimself.

wormtom (GB, 6/19/00):
     one word song twists
     Caves of Altimira
     the word - fall
     very clever play on words
     the fall signifying the fall of man
     both past (Genesis 3 in the Garden of Eden)
     and the fall of the current society from balance grace etc
     here the young man in enthralled with a cave full of drawings of inspired dwellers who's simple pleasure of expression
     he can relate to outside of a cruel world around him
     and the irony line - "when there wasn't even any Hollywood"
     a nice stab at tinsel town
     yes we can dream, we can go back as a race and choose our own dreams rather than the fabricated celluloid offerings
     that flicker dimmly on a white screen
     we can grasp the sketches on an old cave wall
     we can get back to our primival
     we can choose our own dreams and our own little worlds
     we can dream

Parts Dept. (GB, 7/21/00):   I happened to be listening to Caves of Altamira on the way to work today. What a great story song. If I get this right, is the lead subject lamenting the disappearance of his childhood hiding spot? Is this the place for him to get away and dream of a time long ago where ancient beings have left their mark for those like him who understand his need to get away?

Stranger (GB, 7/21/00):  You may be onto something with those caves, but I doubt there's anything extraterrestrial. For instance, I can confrim Steely Dan does not believe astronauts built the Pyramids.

Dr. Mu (GB, 7/21/00):  In that seed of the imagination lies the core of art itself. A little boy crawls within himself and away from the busy human world (into his own "cave"). As he does so in body as well in spirit, he arrives

     "I recall when I was small
     How I spent my days alone
     The busy world was not for me
     So I went and found my own
     I would climb the garden wall
     With a candle in my hand
     I'd hide inside a hall of rock and sand"

     in a sanctuary, a haven against the cruel nature of pre-historic life and transcribes the figures of the mastadons and other hideous beasts that constantly disturb his mind as he sorts out the chaos of the busy world.

     "On the stone an ancient hand
     In a faded yellow-green
     Made alive a worldly wonder
     Often told but never seen
     Now and ever bound to labor
     On the sea and in the sky
     Every man and beast appeared
     A friend as real as I"

     The ancient paints because he must. It is in soul...perhaps not even not a choice. He can now hunt another day. There was no $$ or celebrity in art. It was...and it was LIFE. We all identify with the core of our fears and our being.

     "Before the fall when they wrote it on the wall
     When there wasn't even any Hollywood
     They heard the call
     And they wrote it on the wall
     For you and me we understood"

     Many lears later...We now rush to an art gallery and a post-modern expressionist exhibit. The latest "in" artist renders impressions of ancient man and his environment, supposedly as a juxtaposition against the artificiality of the modern environment suppressing the beast within. It is instantly recognized as a rehash of the escapism which drove the young by and the ancient many years before...not art, but a pale imitation of the real feelings inside the true artist who creates because they must, not because it is what is expected or unexpected...another disposable fad.

     "Can it be this sad design
     Could be the very same
     A wooly man without a face
     And a beast without a name
     Nothin' here but history
     Can you see what has been done
     Memory rush over me
     Now I step into the sun"


     A unique combination of depressing nostalgia (that's redundant, eh) and a series of guffaws of sophmoric ridicule by Walter and Donald as they stumble out of the art gallery (I can just picture them cracking up)

Ben Bizarra (GB, 7/24/00):  Mu: Thanks for bringing up the "faded yellow green". In my opinion that particular color refers to the oxidation of copper. To be specific, I date the song at about 6000 years. Of course, Donald and Walter are much younger. At least 5949 years younger! So what gives?

     "I would climb the garden wall
     With a candle in my hand"

     Not satisfied to simply exist in Eden, the boys want to find out what it's all about. They want to look over the hedge!  SCIENCE! The candle is really a torch.

     "I'd hide inside a hall of rock and sand"

     In the winter our boys enjoyed the heat of the smelter. After all, it was the ice-age and copper ore was and is extracted from rock. Besides, inhaling concentrated arsenic fumes was a huge bonus!

     "In a sanctuary, a haven against the cruel nature of pre- historic life...

     You don't miss cable if you've never had it.

     "and transcribes the figures of the mastadons and other hideous beasts that constantly disturb his mind as he sorts out
     the chaos of the busy world."

     They didn't transcribe them. They hunted them, killed them and ate them. BURP!!!

     "On the stone an ancient hand
     In a faded yellow-green
     Made alive a worldly wonder
     Often told but never seen
     Now and ever bound to labor
     On the sea and in the sky
     Every man and beast appeared
     A friend as real as I"

     Friends, unlike enemies, are predictable and can be controlled. Cave art symbolically "controlled" the beasts. Once controlled, the artist adds flourish and develops a "style". We all know how short-lived a style (fad) can be...

     "The ancient paints because he must."

     The ancients blew chewed up pigments out of their mouths because they had the time to do so. As they controlled their environment and stayed in one place long enough to note the cyclic behaviour of their prey, art was truly born. Art, I might add, is simply an un-rushed doodle embellished with the benefit of a full stomach.

     "It is in soul...perhaps not even not a choice. He can now hunt another day. There was no $$ or celebrity in art. It
     was...and it was LIFE. We all identify with the core of our fears and our being."

     Ah, but there WAS celebrity in art. You make a picture of your friends dominating animals and they're more apt to continue doing it. Art has always been a non-verbal way of perpetuating the present. It changes when the actions of the present are no longer life-sustaining. You never see art documenting the death throes of a civilization. Art thrives in gluttony.

     "Before the fall when they wrote it on the wall
     When there wasn't even any Hollywood
     They heard the call
     And they wrote it on the wall
     For you and me we understood"

     "Many lears later...We now rush to an art gallery and a post-modern expressionist exhibit. The latest "in" artist renders impressions of ancient man and his environment, supposedly as a juxtaposition against the artificiality of the modern environment suppressing the beast within. It is instantly recognized as a rehash of the escapism which drove the young by and the ancient many years before...not art, but a pale imitation of the real feelings inside the true artist who creates because they must, not because it is what is expected or unexpected...another disposable fad."
     This is much simpler than post modern expressionism. The animals we ate were descimated. We moved on. Period.

     "Can it be this sad design
     Could be the very same
     A wooly man without a face
     And a beast without a name
     Nothin' here but history
     Can you see what has been done
     Memory rush over me
     Now I step into the sun"


     "A unique combination of depressing nostalgia (that's redundant, eh) and a series of guffaws of sophmoric ridicule by Walter and Donald as they stumvle out of the art gallery (I can just picture them cracking up)"
     The sad design IS the Royal Scam. I don't think the boys laughed about it. I think they wanted you and I to understand.  Just as the cave artists had recorded their reality before they moved on to greener pastures.

Dr. Mu (GB, 7/25/00):  BB: You're only off by about 10,000 years. The cave paintings are 11,000-19,000 years old (almost pre-Flintstones) in Northern Spain (a suburb of Passaic).
     "art thrives on gluttony"??? Art obviously can come from anywhere, but is often associated with torment and difficulty.  Notice how Sting (just to pull someone's name out of the air) is better when he's more miserable. Yes, clearly the great artists from Chopin to Leonardo to Van Gogh to Fagen were fat gluttons!!;) On the other side of the coin look at the economy last year - then the 1999 Grammy's. I rest my case.
     What happened to the Mastadons and *us* moving on to greener pastures? Well, basically... the ice age ended, and the Mastadon's simply could not adapt to "global warming." You can actually find more bisons that Mastadons I believe.  Man was a puny nuisance with a big spear until we did (adapt that is) - we adapt as a species to just about anything. To suggest we were a species danger then is akin to suggesting the Eskimos could have wiped out the whales and seals. Art continued (unless were full (I've never done anything productive on an insulin rush - except observe and appreciate the finer things), but the media changed and not preservable, at least for 16,000 years. Man moved on to depend more on agriculture around the Mediterranean and tools/drawing were a little more biodegradable. Then came Imhotep (6000 years ago) architect, scientist, physician "the world's first genius" and the rest is history. Look for his vault and mummy to be discovered in the next few years near Saqqara, Egypt.
     I agree for a utilitarian role as well for art. This was also true for traditions and religious laws. For example, Kosher preparation of food was more protective than divine. Pork as a staple results is a) trichinosis or b) heart attack.

Blaise (GB, 3/6/01):  Yes Howard, the chords do spell "faded" in the fade. [FADED] Interesting trivia there considering the
     word appears in the lyrics as well. A faded yellow green fade, I like that.

Reelin' In The Years, by Brian Sweet
               "Steely Dan:  Forward Into The Past," about which I've commented before.  I feel dirty.

"Don't Take Me Alive"

    Brian Sweet says that this song "was set in mid-Seventies America;  it dealt with Fagen and Becker's unease about the regular outbreaks of violence in Los Angeles.  Gangland shootings, wanton murders and armed sieges were so commonplace that Becker and Fagen felt compelled to reflect it in a song.  They saw it as violence for its own sake, and in interviews they became involved in discussions about the relative merits of life in Los Angeles and New York.
    " 'In Los Angeles and throughout the world in general, terrorism is a way of life, actually, for a lot of people,' said Fagen.  'The song was inspired by a run of news items where people would barricade themselves inside an apartment house or a saloon with an arsenal of weapons.  It's about individual madness rather than political situations.' " (RITY, p. 105)

Bart Torvik (Digest, 12/23/97):  I remember someone long ago saying that they had figured out what was going on in "Don't Take Me Alive".... He said that the main character in the song was not a psycho like we'd always thought, but actually a robot or android gone berserk.  At the time, I, and the rest of the Digest, thought that this was a ridiculous interpretation.  It was obviously just a psycho killer song.  But every time I hear that song, I can't help but thinking about the so-called "android scenario."  Why?  Well:
    It's a book keeper's son, because the previous generation of computers just kept the books.  The fact that the song is called "Don't take me alive" brings to mind the questions about creating computers that actually come to life, and what kind of life it would be.  (Like Data on Star Trek!)  Then there's some business about a red light flashing, and the mechanized hum of another world.  So, I have to say, that I find this to be an interesting interpretation of the song;  and I've come to believe that the "android scenario" was fully intended by the songwriters, though as a subtext.  The main thrust of the song is about a psycho, there's no doubt about that.  To paraphrase Donald from last year's concert:  "Nothin' like a good old psycho song from the seventies..."

The KatyDanFan (1/17/99):  To me the narrator is not a psycho at all.  I saw him immediately as someone who, in the necessary developmental task of individuation, didn't do things in the way his father thought he should, hence, "I crossed my old man..."  From there, the consequences far outweigh the "crime."  Fearing the judgement of father/society coming down on him for doing things his own way, in his determination he gathers "dynamite," holds up "for all night" if necessary, and warns people he must be so dangerous, after all, they won't want to "take him alive."  Knowing he must accept their judgement of him as true, he concludes he surely must be of "another world," where "no sun is shining," but also "no red lights flashing" either.  So, he will stay there for as long as he needs to, a world where the "law" has put him, calling him "Mad Dog," telling him he all is forgiven, when it isn't forgiveness he needs, but permission, and so ultimately there is no way to relate to their demands for him to surrender.  The evil crowd, lies and laughter, the rage in their eyes and megaphones outside, confirm that no one is sympathetic to him, it's far more satisfying for them all to judge rather than understand him.
    He goes on to ask himself the question, who am I?  And he admits, yes, he knows who he is and what he's done.  And that simple answer is he's an ordinary person, a bookkeeper's son, who has no interest in "shooting" (or crossing) anyone.  How much more misunderstood could he be?  Yet he will bear the judgement of having gone out on his own in the world, and may never be sanctioned by the only one from whom it would mean something----his father.

golitely (3/29/99):  "No red lights flashing" says to me that he has completely lost all conscience... somehow he's been pushed that far... he knows what he did was wrong, but he doesn't feel it... there was no thought in his mind that he shouldn't do it.  "The mechanised humm of another world" ... I would imagine this to be what a truly mad person hears in his mind" ... he knows he's caught and he's really "lost it".

PretzelLogician (GB, 5/31/99):  Fagen's father's the bookkeeper.

tom (GB, 12/13/99):  I always thought DTMA's bookkeeper's son was poor preacher's son, the intent and meaning are about the same, a quiet humble father's profession contrasted to the rebellious and now wanted by the law fugative son.

Rocket J (Digest, 7/12/00):  Another psychic express here; the boys wrote this one about how many years before Columbine and the rest of the school shootings? Don't Take Me Alive.  This stuff's munchin' on our communal brains.

Reelin' In The Years, by Brian Sweet
                    "Psycho Killer," by Talking Heads;  try the live version on "Stop Making Sense"
                    "Blade Runner," the movie.  If you haven't seen it--well, you know what I'm going to
                    "Dog Day Afternoon," the movie, with Al Pacino
            "High Sierra," (1941) with Humphrey Bogart as Roy "Mad Dog" Earl (suggested by my squeeze)

"Sign In Stranger"

    According to Brian Sweet, "Fagen had been a science fiction fan since he was a kid and had once belonged to a sci-fi book club.  This was reflected in 'Sign In Stranger,' a song based on an imaginary planet where criminals, gangsters and murderers were banished for their crimes.  'That's true,' Fagen said.  'Of course, it does take place on another planet.  We sort of borrowed the Sin City/Pleasure Planet idea that's in a lot of science fiction novels, and made a song out of it.' " (RITY, p. 106)

This song also has one of the best misheard (or dysheard) lyrics:  "Do you have a dark spot on your pants?"  And zombies again.  And another Napoleon reference:  I used to think that "marengo" was a corruption of merengue, the dance--makes sense;  they're dancing--but I SHOULD KNOW BETTER.  The Battle of Marengo, June 1800, was perhaps THE decisive battle of Napoleon's young career; it was a very weird battle, won unexpectedly, and enabled Napoleon both to take power in France and inspire the invention of chicken Marengo.  Perhaps we should add the recipe to St. Al's Steely recipe page.  At any rate, it's another subtly burnished Steely double entendre.... And think of the layers:  man and woman, man versus woman, dancing and warring;  Napoleon made war like art or love--this pair is dancing like making war or love.

Mike Mullen (GB, 4/2/00):  "Sign in Stranger" refers to "Mizar 5." Am I mistaken, or is this the double star in the constellation Ursa Major? If you call the constellation the Big Dipper - it's the star that marks the crook in the handle.  [custodian's note:  Sure enough!  Though it's apparently pronounced "MYE-zar."  Check this out for more.]

St. Al & Hoops!' Fandom Q & A (5/21/00):  Some of the lyrics to "Sign in Stranger" were changed as reflected on the "Alive in America" CD. I loved the "scurvy brother" line in the original on "The Royal Scam." Why did both of you decide to change the lyrics? Thank you very much!! Have a great tour. Submitted By: "robin" "mr. lapage" "martindale"
                Answer [from Messrs. B & F]:  The lyrics were changed to advance the plot. Not usually the function of the bridge lyrics, but what the hell.

... a little update from the 1976 Metal Leg interview transcript:  Mr. Fagen --"There are some songs where I really don't like the lyrics, and I've changed lyrics that I don't like from the old stuff, like 'Sign in Stranger.' "
    Incidentally, the bridge lyrics added to the "AiA" version go like this:
        Find your fortune on this lucky star
        The chances are good
        You will thrive
        If you make it back alive
    And, in the liner notes to "Alive In America," this song is described:  "Boom planet.... Proto-cyberpunk."  As a matter of fact, remember that this song came out in 1976, long before William Gibson hit the map with "Neuromancer" (1984) and even before "Blade Runner" (1982, which could be considered early cyberpunk, and as you know was a  spin on Philip Dick's "Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?").  Now what did I say about channeling the zeitgeist and foretelling the future?

     The 'What a Shame About Me': Two drinks and you're talking to a ghost.
     The 'My Old School': Two drinks and you tumble into the sea.
     The 'Kid Charlemagne': Two drinks and you feel like Jesus.
     The 'Pretzel Logic': Two drinks and you can't remember where you got your shoes.
     The 'Gaucho': Two drinks and you ask to sleep on the floor.
     The 'Parker's Band': Two drinks and you take off your shirt and try to ride an armadillo.
     The 'Hey 19': Two drinks and you can't talk at all.
     The 'Don't Take Me Alive': Two drinks and you can't do anything.
     The 'Countermoon': Two drinks and ... I don't want to talk about it; it's never happened to ME before; I'm sure it's just the alcohol.

Liu Chang (her brother) (10/23/01):   'Zombie' is an espionage term, for an agent who is declared legally dead to be able to perform tasks that have complete plausible deniability.  This fits the song amazingly well: "You zombie, be born again my friend."  Zombies are often given new fabricated identities.  I picture a longtime agent revisiting his old haunts (maybe for the Turkish union dues that he could not collect as a legal agent) and his old contacts having to pretend that he's dead.  I always pictured a hotel clerk passing over a guest registry and winking as he said, "Won't you sign in, 'stranger?'"  Another line fits this quite well... "Do you have a dark spot on your past?  Leave it to my man he'll fix it fast."

Reelin' In The Years, by Brian Sweet (buy & read!)
               'Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy, the first in a series of very funny books of misheard rocklyrics
            "Blade Runner," the movie, with an offworld subtext
            The Fabulous Dandom Fandom Q & A:  thanx to St. Al & Hoops! for facilitating, and to The Artists and The Incomparable WebDrone for their largesse

"The Fez"

    Initially, I thought this was a fetish song, along the lines of Randy Newman's "You Can Leave Your Hat On."  But the general skinny is that the fez is a condom, making this a safe-sex song way ahead of its time.

Evelyn "Razorgirl" (4/4/99):  In Anais Nin's book of erotica short stories, "Delta of Venus," thereos a story called "Linda" in which the protagonist meets a man with a distinct, intoxicating perfume.  It "reminded Linda of her voyage to Fez, of the great beauty of the Arab men there.  It had a potent effect on her." (273)  The odorous man indeed purchased the perfume in Fez (which, incidentally, appears to be one of Morocco's four Imperial Cities, described as "Jewel of North Africa", etc.)  .  Linda goes home with the man, entranced by the perfume, and soon they are having relations.  The perfume puts a spedd over her;  it's the only reason she keeps coming back to him.  One day he runs out of it, and she no longer feels anything for him.
    "No, I'm not gonna do it without the fez on... I wanna be your holy man" could refer to this intoxicating perfume, which causes the frmale to 'worship' its wearer.  If the narrator of the song were not to wear the 'fez', the frmale wouldn't fall under quite such a spell, if any at all.  ***  Likewise, you mentioned "The Fez" could be a fetish song.  Well, a "fez" is a distinctive type of hat worn by members of an international philanthropic fraternity founded in 1872 called "the Shrine", which has a network of 'Shrine Howpitals' providing free medical care.
    The "Fez" is the best-known symbol of Shriners- it is a red upside-down flower pot shape, with a black tassel.  Its emblem is a scimitar, crescent with sphinx-head, and five-pointed star hanging down.  Its name is from the holy city of Fez, Morocco, where the hats were first manufactured.  Also called a "tarboosh", one of the earliest references to it in literature is "Arabian Nights."
    Steely Dan could be jesting of the Shriners' "holiness" - epitomized by the "Fez", as it is used to identify members.  Although the fez originates in Morocco, chapters in North America wear it as proof of their philanthropy and fraternity.  Perhaps "The Fez" is, in a way similar to the idea of "Bodhisattva" - Westerners skewing Eastern ways and/or modes of thought, using a more superficial outlook or losing something of sincerity.  "The Fez" *makes* the man holy, not vice versa;  thus the narrator of the song *must* wear the "fez" to do whatever it is he wants to be holy for.
    I'm sure Steely Dan intentionally left many details out of the song, to *make* it able to be interpreted in many ways.  Without directly saying it, they make it sound sexual, although the idea could be applied to other actions.  "The Fez" could be perfume, a condom, object fetish, etc. - but I think it's something that makes either party involved feel the action is more special, "holy".  Kind of a security object carrying a kind of significance.  IMO, Donald doesn't need a "fez" to be MY "holy man" !!  :)

Clas (GB, 10/22/00):  FEZ - got its name from the town Fés in Marocko. The red colour was ectracted from plants who grew there. The fez is/was mostly a muslim attribut.

"You Can Keep Your Hat On," by Randy Newman, on "Sail Away"

"Green Earrings"

    The liner notes for "Alive In America" offer this concise description:  "Minimalist lyrics.  Quartal harmony.  Suave criminal.  Picaresque.  Power over women.  Altered blues."

    Brian Sweet says that in this song "a story can be gleaned about a relationship blemished by a compulsive thief who shows no remorse for stealing his partner's prized jewellery." (RITY, p. 106)

The lyric is spare and almost percussive.  Interesting that this "cold, daring" guy first remembers the earrings and then the person wearing them, and how strange that he should say "I don't mind" instead of something like "I don't care," except of course that "mind" rhymes with "design."

    And now--from the Red Blazer (GB, 6/2/00), "Green Earrings" IN FRENCH!

     Boucles Vertes

     Froid, Courageux
     N'ayant pas froid aux yeux
     Pardonne-moi, mon ange
     Je dois prendre
     ce que j'ai vu

     Boucles vertes
     Je me souviens
     Les boucles au design rare
     Je me souviens
     De ton regard
     Je m'en fiche

     Le Medaillon grec
     Quand tu souris
     Pardonne-moi, mon ange
     Je deviens affame
     Tel un enfant

Reelin' In The Years, by Brian Sweet

"Haitian Divorce"

    In Reelin' In The Years, Brian Sweet gives an account of the background of this song (pp. 100 ff.).
In short, a person working with the duo went to Haiti to get a quickie divorce, and the experience became the basis of "Haitian Divorce."

RubyBaby (GB, 6/4/99):   In Hatian Divorce the kid grows up to look like that Kinky guy with whom she
     had the one- nighter. Then Clean Willy chucks her again, which... reminds me of The Scarlet Letter. I know it's subtle...

sooutrageous (4/11/00):  while listening to the guitar-work at the end of this song, i'm overwhelmed with the feeling that the heartbreakingly poignant solo is actually continuing the woeful narrative of the piece. it begins as a frenetic tete-a'-tete with all the firey latin passion of a still-bleeding, sore-to-the-touch break-up but wans to a sorrowful fade as the ache of loss and love is diminished with the passing of time. to me this is a brilliant coda, a piece of songwriting and instrumental interpretation by an amazingly insightful composer accompanied by a gifted guitarist. it provides a catharsis for the collective "us" who have loved and lost by allowing us to delve into the depths of another's heartache through it's sarcastic voyeurism. i think the germans have a word for this: schadenfreude.

steviedan (GB, 6/8/00):  I've always thought that Haitian Divorce was an exotic take on the tragedy of failed marriages. By turns light and dark harmonically with jazz voicings over the reggae percolation underneath. That's a sort of socio-musical connection...maybe.

SoulMonkey (GB, 6/18/00):  I was struck when listing to Haitian Divorce that the "Papa" referred to in the refrain is not her father, but none other than Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, the brutal Haitian dictator who died in 1971. (Why would your average father know anything about a divorce from Haiti?)  I envisioned Papa Doc greeting her plane in a fashion similar to Ricardo Montalban from Fantasy Island saying "Congratulations, this is your Haitian divorce." [ Does that mean that "some babies grow in a peculiar way" might refer to the equally loathsome Baby Doc?]

Reelin' In The Years, by Brian Sweet

"Everything You Did"

     To me, this is the most disturbing song on the album.  This is a guy who has just found some graphic evidence that his girlfriend has been fooling around with someone else (she's a "roller skater").  Furious, he begins to demand that she tell him everything that went on;  by the end of the song he demands that she do all of what went on to him.  What he says is a catalogue of abusive cues;  if you are EVER in a relationship with someone who sounds like him, GET OUT IMMEDIATELY IF YOU VALUE YOUR LIFE.  I'M NOT KIDDING.  That notwithstanding, let me be perfectly clear on one thing:  I DO NOT FOR ONE SECOND believe that the authors are recounting their own experiences;  they're just uncannily adept at nailing the dark side.  The whole album is a testament to that.

Moray Eel (GB, 6/8/98):  "Everything You Did" isn't that disturbing... is it?  A guy comes home to find his wife (significant other) with another man and requests the details of the encounter.  After hearing the particulars he becomes sexually aroused and desires her intimacy to help relieve the um...pressure?
    The fact is many men would react violently if they caught their girlfriend/wife in bed with another guy;  this guy just wants to get some loving too.
    It's ironic that he is turned on by his lady's infidelity, but I don't think that it's malicious.

    I think this must be an example of why Rickie Lee Jones called Steely Dan's works "boy music" (RITY, p. 182).  Here are a couple of females' takes which are maybe surprising:

Tomorrow's Girl/Eviva Laughs (GB, 8/8/98):  "Everything You Did" is one of my favorite Dan songs.  And, I think, one of their funniest.  IMO, "Everything" is NOT AT ALL about sexual cheating.  It's about what writers call "dramatic irony":  a character in a story is completely unaware of what is obvious to everyone in the audience.  Here's a guy who's not so much interested in the fact that he's been betrayed as in hearing all about it.  He's a voyeur, in every sense of the word;  SD undercuts even the threat to "shoot the lover down" by following it with "ARE you gonna tell me everything you did, baby?"  He's using a threat as LEVERAGE to get what he wants:  all the juicy details.  It's no accident SD ends every line that way, and the way the wording changes slightly each time emphasizes the point.  Even the neighbors aren't immune:  "You know how people talk--I wonder what they say".  And he projects his own voyeurism on them:"Turn up the Eagles:the neighbors are listening."
    The punch line of the song comes at the end when, after making it clear to everyone except himself what a filthy mind he has, gives her a catty parting shot:  "I know your filthy mind."

Rose Darling (GB, 8/8/98):  To me EYD is a song with both a wicked sense of humor and distorted mirror view of actual relationships.... The lyrics seem to me to be a tongue in cheek representation of an argument between a cuckolded one and his lover.  I can picture real people having such an encounter, sarcastic bitter ramblings and all.  Almost like a Dan portrait of "Married with Children" with less shmaltz.

Back to the guys:

Doctor Mu (GB, 8/8/98):  I think that:  1) the STANDARD interpretation would be about a guy who comes home and finds his girlfriend or wife who's obviously finished an interlope with a lover who's just left.  The narrator is furious at first, then upon finding sex toys and other parphenalia ("traces are everywhere"), gets turned on.
    Here's a couple more alternative takes:
    2) This is actually a game that both he and his girlfiriend play in order to get themselves revved up for a wild time.  In other words, She lays out clothes, bras, handcuffs all over the house and meets the narrator at the door with deliberately smeared lipstick and mostly disrobed or in a teddy or something provacative.
    3) The narrator is actually the lover on the side and he arrives joking that he's going to chase the husband away - and wryly implies that she has just finished an intiamate moment with her husband (it's the line:  "i jumped out of my easy chair, it was not my own!").  Again this could be part of a game that he or he and his lover play.
    4)  The last and sickest interpretation:  this is a rapist who's broken in and these we are hearing a combination of the sick things he is both thinking and saying.

Roy.Scam (GB, 8/9/98):  The lyrics seem straightforward to me:  The classic psychiatric male phases of sexual betrayal acknowledgement:  1) anger, 2) blame, 3) revenge, 4) ego insecurity, 5) the desire to be saturated with details, and 6) the standard male closure mechanism:  "Let's have sex."

Clas (GB, 8/9/98):  Sure, the guy is a "hanrej" (cuckold).  I've always thought that this song is one of the funniest.

Bill J. (4/16/99)Okay, the way I see it, the fella in the song is finding out about his girlfriend's past lover.  An old boyfriend he was unaware she had dated.  Possibly an acquaintance of his, because he seems personally pissed that no one has told him of this before.  And the thought of his girl with this ex makes the current boyfriend sick.  Almost like "Hell, if I'd had known you had dated him in the past, I NEVER would have gotten involved with YOU!"  And he can't resist the temptation, as many folks can't, to delve in to a past relationship with his current lover.  He doesn't wanna know, but he has to know.  "I think you'd better tell me everything you did, baby".  Like, "okay, how far did you go with him, etc."
     His violent remarks in the opening of the song are typical of a guy's first reaction to finding out something of this nature, and are not literal.  And he's looking around thinking all these things in their home might be attached to this ex:  "Traces are everywhere".  Also the line about "I jumped outta my easy chair, it was not my own" to me may be a chair she got from her ex, and he's like "well, I wouldn't have sat in it if I'd known you got it from HIM".  And as she's explaining this past situation, he's finding out things about her that he never knew: "I never knew you were a roller skater?".  He then notices they are arguing loudly, so turn up the music to swallow up our voices.  Also "You know how people talk, I wonder what they say" is maybe him reflecting on everyone else knowing about this past fling but him, possibly wondering how his circle of friends has perceived this current relationship in light of this other one.  Has he looked like a fool this whole time?  An!d "You never came to me, when you were so inclined. I know where Baby's at; I know your filthy mind." is his regret that she didn't approach him instead of this ex.  Kinda like "you know NOW that I can please you and we're a great match.  Too bad you didn't try back then."
     Who really knows, but a great song nonetheless!

fezo (GB, 7/31/99):  In that song, he does such a lousy job of playing the role of a domestic abuser I never found the threats in that song believable. He sings like such a paper tiger.

    There is one funny thing about this song:  the line, "Turn up the Eagles/ The neighbors are listening."  Brian Sweet comments that "far from being seen as a put-down, many people (The Eagles included) regarded it as a compliment.... Within a few months of hearing 'Everything You Did,' Don Henley and Glenn Frey returned the 'compliment' and included a line in 'Hotel California' to acknowledge their own namecheck and send a message back to Steely Dan.  'We liked the way they would say anything (in a song),' Glenn Frey explained.  'That's why we used the words "They stab it with their steely knives/But they just can't kill the beast." ' " (RITY, p. 109)

Chief DanJHawk (11/18/ 99):  I must admit that on first hearing, I thought that this was about a cuckold learning that his lady had just cheated him and he wanted recompense. However, I believe that I read somewhere that it is a cold reference to their record company, Asylum and to their management.  And although the line "Turn up the Eagles, the neighbors are listening," may indeed be a sort of off-hand compliment to that band, if you look back at the albums you will see that the Eagles also were under contract to Asylum records.

Steve2000 (alt.music.steely-dan, 1/15/00):  In 1975-6 the Eagles were probably America's biggest band. Steely Dan was America's best.
    Co-incidentally they had the same manager at the time- Irving Azoff, who has said his office staff listened to Steely Dan while going about the
bigger business of managing the huge hit record machine/top concert draw known as the Eagles. Doubt this had anything to do with the
cross referencing lyrics, I just always thought it was kinda funny, kinda telling.
    The first lyrical 'shot' was fired when.. Don and Walt dropped their subtle 'put down' line, insinuating the Eagles were the pop group a typical
suburban middle class young couple would have on for background music in their nice (tract?) home..as they argued (ever more loudly)
about her infidelity. Thus "Turn up the Eagles, the neighbors are listening..." in 'Everything You Did.'
    The Eagles, per Azoff's policy/powertrip, 'didn't give interviews' during their peak. When they finally did, near the end of their 70's run or maybe
individually after the breakup, Henley or Frey specifically mentioned laboring over the lyric "They stab it with their Steely Knives, but they just
can't kill the beast" in 'Hotel California' specifically as a shot back at Steely Dan....
    Steely Dan's so simple seeming 'Eagles'line is brilliant. It speaks volumes about the entire subject, setting mood, making a societal/cultural
statement etc. The classic cuckolded and now jealous husband scenario is brought very vividly and boldly to life-and given the Steely twist-in
"Everything You Did."

Razor Boy (GB, 4/17/00):  ... about the lyrics - "turn up the Eagles the neighbors are listening" and "they stab it with their Steely knife".... Sure, Hotel California is one of the most recognized songs of all time, but unless you are in the know about the Steely reference, it probably goes unnoticed in the general public. In EveryThing You Did however, the reference is very direct. There is no question about who they are speaking of. The timelessness is also greater, I believe. In reading the lyrics one can almost see the confrontation happening, the man walking into the house, the woman running from the bedroom to stop him. He paces back and forth while grilling her about the details, loudly and probably wasted, considering the times. He just keeps going looking for answers and sure to get none. Sorry, I got a little too into it there, but you get the picture, a perfect example of the era, IMHO.

|||||||| (Rumblestrip) (GB, 7/11/01):  This may be way off base but the "It" in ''I jump out of my easy chair/It was not my own'' may be analogous to the stain on Lewinsky's dress... Ewwww... I know, I know, but it makes sense given the line "Traces are everywhere/In our happy home"...

wormtom (GB, 7/12/01):  as for the "you were a rollerskater" line
    I recall mentioning this sometime last year
    Picture Don and Walt from NY transposed to the late 70's California Venice Beach type scene. Not like today where rollerblades are prevalent everywhere. Certainly they were in for a shock cultural difference. The rollerskater term is loosely applied to convey a sense of underaged, whimsical, aloof stereotypical california girl.
    No I'm not condoning this attitude but you get the idea
    The attraction is pure physical, the "I never knew you" refering to their relationship never getting deep on the mental end. The Hey 19 scenerio. The roller skater line an insult, your oneof those types. Then again the protagonist is only in it for the action and his wierd sense of jeolousy and eager curiosity are at odds. HE's offended by his lovers infidelity, but he's more concerned with what he's missing out on than anything else. "You gonna show me later"
It's a sick addiction to be sure
    anyone notice underaged rollerskater show up along with pink flamingo and deer lawn ornaments in the TaN spread
    Cousin Janine is a bit refined in contrast - she waxes skiis
    Notice the rollerskater analogy also shows up in Hey Nineteen
    and if Everything You Did's easy chair scenerio is Lewinskyesque
    certainly "Skate a little lower now" has similiar leanings
    the Cuervo GOld, the fine Columbian and don't even bother taking off your skates

In another astonishing feat of prescience, in this song the Dan prefigured the roller-skating girl in "Boogie Nights."  Or was that "Boogie Night By Nights"?

lp (GB, 7/12/01):  at the risk of being called snobby, i will take the leap:
    picture poor white trash in trailer circa 1972, guy in a ripped and dirty/greasy tank undershirt with a boxing game on the tube, no shave in weeks, holding his can of bud sitting in a brown and orange plaid wool chair, with an ottomon held together with duct tape where his holey socked foot rests upon, clutching in the other hand a bet sheet for the area race track, smelly cigar (not a cuban folks) hanging out a smelly mouth slobberly belching out "now you gonna tell me everything you did baby" to a woman with a red and white polka dot blouse buttoned down through her cleavage, tied up at the waist (she ain't marrianne, no), tight denim shorts cut off from a pair of pants, over-dyed blonde hair, gum cracking, nails in constant check status, dreamily not paying attention to the jealous but oddly turned on outrage of her husband as she is remembering the night before with a local garage mechanic on the hood of a 1972 Chevy in his garage replete with a lot of wine coolers and possibly a bottle of jack daniels and bob seeger songs (futuristic i suppose, song is too early for bob cliches) blaring from a radio set on top of a red toolbox and a tool chick poster on the wall beaming down on all....another encounter she thinks about as she strokes her neck not listening to her husband's words was at the trailer, but that's a story for another day....

Schwinnnnnnnnn (GB, 7/13/01):   I see two images simultaneously. A man exposing his indiscretions in the light of his woman's infidelity. If only he'd fessed up before. Women are more honest and he can't bear it. Forget the trailer-trash image. This twister hits all income and education groups with no regard for caste. Kind of like measels. Lost love is love lost and Don Henley can't quell the rumours.

Reelin' In The Years, by Brian Sweet
               "Hotel California," on the eponymous album by the Eagles

"The Royal Scam"

    Brian Sweet relates:  "Ostensibly, 'The Royal Scam' is about Puerto Rican immigrants coming to New York with the expectation of a better life and eventually discovering that it was nothing like they'd been led to believe, especially for Latin Americans with little or no money and poor English.
    "In an interview with Steve Clarke of NME [New Musical Express] Becker and Fagen were in their element again when it came to discussing--or refusing to discuss--their lyrics, particularly of the title cut.  A measure of the fun and revelry they enjoyed can be gauged by comparing Becker's responses to Clarke's questions.  When he was asked what 'The Royal Scam' was about, Becker set the tone for the conversation when he replied:  'About four and a half minutes'....
    "Turning serious for a moment, Becker admitted that Puerto Rico and New York City both featured in the lyric, then seemed to regret his honesty and began to argue that divulging what the song actually meant would be doing the song a disservice and would be 'lending credence to the notion that in order to enjoy a song, you have to know exactly what it means.  Or that it does mean exactly one thing.  And it doesn't really.  None of these things are true.'  Almost in the same breath Becker denied... 'that Puerto Rican nonsense that someone over here (the UK) invented' and complained that the speculation was getting out of hand.
    "When Michael Watts interviewed them for Melody Maker and asked them to confirm this Puerto Rican theory, Fagen's response was almost as if he was disappointed that their lyrical puzzle had been solved:  'Because the interpretation is so accurate, I wouldn't even want to comment further.'
    "Fagen maintained that Dan fans could enjoy the song on many different levels and that that was the biggest part of the fun anyway.  As with the word pretzel, scam wasn't an everyday word in England and Fagen was occasionally required to explain its meaning.
    " 'Particularly because that song does have a topical aspect and because of that it's dangerous to give specifics and it is an allegory and it is written in rather a Biblical argot, I can tell you that,' Fagen said.  'The song does have rather a poetic way of expressing what we wanted to express.  I'm very fond of that lyric.' "  (RITY, pp. 107-108)

     I also have always heard this as a neo-"West Side Story:"  "the city of Saint John" as San Juan, capital of Puerto Rico (so named by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to the New World, after John the Baptist).  The immigrants encounter racism and hard times at the hands of the ruling white culture ("an angry race of fallen kings").  The great line, "Every patron saint hung on the wall shared the room with twenty sinners" would refer to the miserably crowded housing conditions poor immigrants often face.  Then, out of desperation, the Borinqueno gets into drugs--"By the blackened wall he does it all/ He thinks he's died and gone to heaven"--and becomes an indentured servant to a drug dealer, or crime lord, and writes proudly home about his newfound wealth.  So, for a refugee from poverty with a vision of the City on the Hill, El Dorado del norte, the truth is a Royal Scam.

phil (GB, 5/24/99):  I had a nice E-Mail back from Pete Fogel (the one and only) confirming that St Johns is actually San Juan in Pueto Rico.

tom (GB, 2/23/00):  I absolutely love the portion of the song Royal Scam where Donald sings "see the glory.." then wham the background singers do that huge overwhelming almost Messiah like rave up accompanyment.
     Then the sarcastic twist "... of the Royal Scam" with great phrasing by our faithful narrator.
     It's such a contrast - moving musical nirvana over a lyric line that lays waste to the religious hip hop crash see (sorry, hypocracy for those without the wormbrained trans later)of the immigrants "welcome to americana" promising journey turned to cold reality

wormtom again (GB, 6/7/00):  The true genius that is Don and Walt has moments where the subtlest of musical gestures reinforces the lyrical commentary
     one fine example
     the Royal Scam
     this is perhaps subtle, but indeed intended
     what am I pontificating on?
     the use of a strongly emphasized drum beat on the 1st and 3rd beat in the song to exemplify the intense repression of the land of plenty to the tropical immigrants
     at the start of each stanza those hard beats convey this societal repression, they are loosened up in the lyrics and slammed hard again att the end of each phrase
     this was intentional, and if only on a subliminal level
      it sincerely works

Roy.Scam (GB, 6/7/00):  I like the varying drumbeat intensity in "Royal Scam"; it definitely is intentional and adds drama, but I would disagree that it's a political statement. (This isn't the Dresden Symphony.) But, if, indeed, this percussionistic nuance symbolizes societal repression, is it symbolizing the repression in NYC or in Puerto Rico? Remember, the instruments start way before the lyrics, so presumably, they're still in San Juan when this protestant drumming begins. This could re-open the argument between the ladies and the guys in the song "America" from West Side Story.

Edd (GB, 6/7/00):  "the use of a strongly emphasized drum beat on the 1st and 3rd beat in the song to exemplify the intense repression..."
     And what about that F chord? Oh, the humanity!!!

Mr. LaPage (GB, 6/20/00):   "By the blackened wall he does it all
                                                he thinks he's died and gone to heaven."
     refers to any number of 'spike houses' that were so prevelant in the Bronx and Spanish Harlem throughout the seventies.  These gutted and abandoned buildings are now generally referred to as 'crack houses' in many urban neighborhoods.
     This particular narrative refers to one of Royal Scams' 'fallen kings' who's just done a 'smoker,' a mainline shot of heroin while he's propped up against a rutted, smoke stained wall within the abyssmally depressing depths of one of the 'dark city's' lonely drug houses.  The euphoric feeling that is enjoined by heroin users is ironically the closest this displaced and thoroughly scammed soul will ever get to heaven on this earth.
     New York's not Canaan, it's certainly not the land flowing with milk and honey. There are no good-jobs-aplenty here. The living is not spacious and plush.
     His grandfather, who incidently was the only member of the family from the homeland who could read english, used to read them letters sent by aunts, uncles, cousins and such about the 'sweet life' in the new land.  They buy it! They leave the tropical splendour of their island home in their 'boats of iron' for the cold, harsh streets and tenements of Uptown Manhattan, Brooklyn, The Bronx.
     Their life on the island may not be glorious, but it is home. It is natural. It has the feel of family, safety, belonging.  The family has perpetrated this lie on them. That is the glaring travesty of this con.
     This is the Royal Scam as I see it....

     ... in many of the drug houses of the wintery world, they build little sterno-can fires to keep warm during the long cold nights of the soul. These actions could indeed be the cause of the blackened wall they speak of.

     "How they are paid in gold
     just to babble in the back room all night
     and waste their time"
     refers to the content of the letter that the 'old man back home' read to his people. It is the crux of the scam. Those that have made the voyage on 'the rising tide' to New York City' send letters telling those remaining in San Juan that life here is indeed 'sweet.' As a matter of fact, things are so incredibly cushy here that 'we are paid in gold just........" Lazyness and waste are rewarded here!
     Read the lyric, you'll see how this narrative flows.

Bob (I Am Guestbook, Blue, 7/17/01):  I've always seen the title cut from "The Royal Scam" as being sorta like an epic movie, not unlike a parrallel in mood to Cecil B Demille's "ten Commandments" when Moses leads his people from Egypt. In this case, the Puerto Ricans get led to a phony promised land. So I think the whole song reads like a grand, panoramic epic and the end does plod out, it's sorta the closing scene, panning out from New York City, back out into the ocean. Bette Midler? No way...yeah, the backing vocals are rather annoying but that seems to be intentional, sorta to augment the chaos and cynicism of the broken dreams of coming to America. It's like the anthesis of Neil Diamond's later hit, "America." What if Ron and Nancy had D + W come and perform Royal Scam at the 1986 re-unveiling of the Statue of Liberty instead of Neil and "America"??? Now there would be irony for you on so many levels.

Jungle Jim (12/21/01):  In the title song Royal Scam someone refers to the line "an angry race of fallen kings" as the ruling white culture.  I disagree.  The complete line is "they learn to fear an angry race of fallen kings,  their dark companions.  This seems to be refering to black people who the Puerto Ricans are now living with.  They may have been kings in Africa but when the slave traders rounded them up they were no different than anyone else.  The Puerto Ricans, being the newest arrivals are now a step below the blacks, who were
already there,  on the social ladder.
    The overall theme of the song seems to be bigger than just the Puerto Ricans.  I feel that it's a human trait to not want to admit that you've made a mistake when others have warned you.  I can imagine an Irishman who had immigrated here writing the same kind of letter back to his family who warned him not to leave.
    This is one of my favorite Dan songs.

Reelin' In The Years, by Brian Sweet
           "El Norte," a fine movie about the Latino immigrant experience, from a Guatemalan perspective
                    "West Side Story," still wonderful after all these years;  see it tonight, tonight