The Music Meme: Finale

Day 30: A song that you haven't listened to in awhile

The terrible irony of the rock listener's life cycle is that one's teenage years are defined by the music of the time, but that music is mostly made by people who were teenagers some time before. And now, here we are, watching the musicians most important to us dying off, being instructed by them in matters of mortality just as we were once instructed by them in matters of growing up. Where once upon a time dead rock stars came in only two categories--drug overdose or plane crash--there are now a host of them dead from the ailments of the elderly and middle-aged: heart disease, cancer, depression. And we can't look away--these people are important to us. All we can do is see the name, feel a pang of grief, and play the record.

That's what happened to me over the weekend when I saw the name of Walter Becker, already celebrated in this venue as a founder and driving member of Steely Dan, once my Favorite Band. He was only 13 years older than I, but that decade and a bit gave him a leg up on establishing a music career that changed me and thousands like me. Since hearing about his death, I've read articles about the band's career, grumbled over lists ranking their albums, watched video clips of interviews and speeches (Becker's and musical partner Donald Fagen's Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction speech is well worth the two minutes you'll need to view it), but in some ways, I was most moved by a single image:

steely brown.jpgHere was Steely Dan reduced to its core members--Fagen sporting Joe Cool's shades at Schroeder's piano, the balding Becker as Charlie Brown--and somehow captured perfectly. Of course this is where they came from. But while Charles Schulz's school-age characters never grew up, instead philosophizing wistfully about the isolation and frustration of a never-ending childhood, Becker and Fagen had grown up and found a way to channel that isolation and frustration into smart, self-aware, and drily ironic art. The passage of time had not broken them; it had sharpened them, and their cold, keen edge gave a generation of nerds hope that they too could use wit and craft to get them through adulthood. I saw the image, and I felt the pang.

There was nothing left to do, then, but play the record. I hadn't listened to it in years, but I thought it would be appropriate to spin the first Dan album I learned to love, 1977's Aja. This is the opening number, a clean, carefully perfected track full of unlikely treasures. It's not my favorite Dan song. It's certainly not my favorite song on this record, and Becker doesn't even play on it. But he made it for me, and long ago it gave me pleasure, and peace, and a little hope. And I thank him for it. 

Similarly, as I come to the end of this meme, I give thanks to Q for posing these questions some time ago. They've given me pleasure, and peace, and a little hope that I can still get something written when I need to. Ultimately, though we make art for ourselves, we depend on other artists to show us how; indeed, we learn most of what we know about art by being members of their audiences. I'll never be able to pen a song or bend a note like Walter Becker, but perhaps by thinking about his songs and his notes, I'll better understand what I do and how to do it.

So: let's go do what we do, people. Drink up and get out of here.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on September 5, 2017 6:45 PM.

The Music Meme: Day 29 was the previous entry in this blog.

The Bird Meme: Day 1 is the next entry in this blog.

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