Steely Dan: Gaucho

By Mitchell Cohen

She stomped into the living room, as much as one can stomp in pink slippers and an extra-large Close Encounters t-shirt, and conspicuously clicked the “stop” button of the cassette machine.

I continued to write.

“Steely Dan,” she announced, “are a symptom of everything that is wrong with our relationship.”

Conversations that start with sentences that include the words “our relationship” are invariably not fun. I put my Pilot Fineliner down.

She continued, “Those noodle-headed pseuds take four years – ”


“Three years to concoct their little jazzoid meanderings that any junked-up tenorman in 1954 could have spun in a three hour session. And you sit there and take notes on them. How can you even pay attention at a time like this?” She was visibly upset. The date was December 10, 1980, which accounts for a lot.

“Sharon,” I said, “I’m as distressed as you are. I’ve had no sleep in two days. This is work. As in deadline.”

“This is folderol for college juniors who are in poetry workshops and think that lines about ‘bodacious cowboys in spangled leather ponchos’ are profoundly something or other, and I’m aghast that you seriously consider Fagen and Becker hotshot songwriters.”

“Wait a minute. You’re the one who puttered around the house for days singing ‘They call Alabama the Crimson Tide, call me Deacon Blues,’ and you think the NCAA is a black militant organization.”

“I also sing ‘Catch that Pepsi spirit, drink it in, drink it in.’ Catchy little phrases, so what? Steely Dan haven’t made a decent record since Pretzel Logic. ‘Rikki Don’t LOSE That Number.’ There was a neat song. Gaucho tries so hard to be Duke Ellington 1980, and it’s more like Sergio Mendez with a headcold. Give me a break, kid.”

“You talk like a rock cirtic.”

“Heaven forbid.”

I got off the couch, grabbed a pint of chocolate chocolate chip ice cream from the fridge, and turned on the TV. Geraldo Rivera. I turned off the TV. Sharon sat in the director’s chair next to the stereo and smoked a Camel Light.

“The only reason you like Steely Dan is because you used to be a hippie. Maybe if I’d taken as much mescaline as you did in 1969, I’d find Fagen’s drippy little voice appealing. Enough hashish and, what’s that song where he keeps singing ‘jolly roger’?”

“‘My Rival’.”

“Yeah. Maybe that would make sense.”

“Hey. That’s a cool song. Wait, Sharon, I’ll read some of the lyrics to you.”

“Don’t Bother.”

“No. Wait. Here: ‘I struck a match against the door/Of Anthony’s Bar and Grill/I was the whining stranger/A fool in love with time to kill’.”

Wrong choice. Sharon was in hysterics. “Oh, perfect. Perfect! Of course. Springsteen on ludes. You would think whining fools are something to sing about. Dearest, when it comes to kvetching – ”

“Look, Sharon, it’s only a record. Not as good as Aja, I guess, not as many memorable tunes, but – ”

“We’re not talking about tunes here, bozo. We’re talking about you wallowing in narcissistic despair over your thirtieth birthday. We’re talking about ‘woe-is-me’ and ‘woe-are-us.’ Gaucho reminds me of Welcome To L.A. for goodness sake.”

“I liked Welcome To L.A.


“I like you.”

“I know.”

“What are we going to do?”

“About what?”

“Carrying on, finding a way to cope. I’ve been crying a lot lately. Even before this – ”

“I noticed. I don’t know. I just don’t want to think that this album” – she reached over and hit the “play” button and ‘Glamour Profession’ came on – “has anything to say to you. Emptiness is not something to celebrate. Meticulousness is not rock ‘n’ roll. Well-placed notes are not going to wake you up.”

“We have a difference of opinion.”

“As always. Finish the piece, o.k.? Don’t let me influence you.” She smiled as she left the room.

I poured some Jim Beam and wrote: Pessimism is appropriate. We play out our dramas in Chinese restaurants, on long-distance telephone calls from the beach, and it gets harder and harder to get a grip. The new Steely Dan album is so in control that, naturally, it sounds ready to snap. Beneath the precision, the effort to make it Right, is a recognition of how bizarre, how out of hand it’s all getting. Why do I like Steely Dan, and Gaucho? Because there are lyrics like “It’s hard times befallen/The sole survivors/She thinks I’m crazy/But I’m just growing old.” And because they’re in a hit single.



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