Thursday, March 22, 2012

die behind the wheel

Thanks to the continuing education provided by my girlfriend, I've become re-acquainted with contemporary music. Of course, some of it is barely contemporary, having been around 40 years or more.

Such is the case with Walter Becker and Donald Fagan, better known as Steely Dan. The quality of their output over the past four decades has a durable pop quality, and on half a dozen or so songs their combined songwriting gifts generated works of genius, modernist style.

"Deacon Blues" is a recipe for happiness in a bleak age, the age "of the expanding man," in which the alienated and rootless singer gazes through the window at "ramblers, wild gamblers." To deal with the world, he's concocted a "crazy scheme:"

I'll learn to work the saxophone
I'll play just what I feel
Drink Scotch whisky all night long
And die behind the wheel
They got a name for the winners in the world
I want a name when I lose
They call Alabama the Crimson Tide
Call me Deacon Blues (Deacon Blues).

With its reference to the death of Hank Williams and determination to put all the chips on artistry no matter where it leads, as Williams did, the singer has found his answer. And he expresses it clearly. Donald Fagan's singing style may not be for everyone, but as a songwriter he expresses complex ideas elegantly, and as a singer communicates them with perfect enunciation.

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