Editor’s Note: From 1987 through 1994, diehard Steely Dan fans turned to a small fanzine called Metal Leg for information about Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. Published first by England’s Brian Sweet (who went on to write the unofficial band biography Steely Dan: Reelin’ In The Years) and later by New Yorkers Pete Fogel and Bill Pascador, Metal Leg set high standards by providing solid information without resorting to paparazzi-style tactics.
Metal Leg 3 Articles:
- Feature on ‘You Gotta Walk It’ Film
- Radio Free Steely Dan
- The Very Best of Steely Dan
- Mancini’s Anomie Deluxe
Hi, there. Welcome to the third issue of Metal Leg. I hope you are enjoying reading it as much as I’m enjoying putting it all together.
Needless to say, there is still apparently no news of the album and both Walter Becker and Gary Katz have been/are busy with other projects. Walter has produced an LP called “Light and Shade” for a Norwegian duo who have encumbered themselves with the name Fra Lippo Lippi and Gary Katz is currently producing an album for Scottish band Love and Money in Greenwich Village. And while Walter Becker and Gary Katz have been poring over mixing consoles, Donald Fagen has been poring over his typewriter doing an article for a relatively new U.S. publication called “Premiere.”
It seems to me that with all this recent separate activity, it probably means there’s no likelihood of a new offering from Steely Dan themselves until perhaps, at the earliest, next summer. That is a somewhat depressing and frustrating thought, and I only hope I’m wrong.
Once again Rosie Vela was forced to cancel her scheduled U.K. dates, apparently because of prior commitments for some members of her band, so I’m looking forward to seeing her in concert next year.
Now for some good news and some bad news. First, the good news: a cassette exists of “Gaucho” outtakes — it contains slightly different versions of “Babylon Sisters,” “Glamour Profession” and “Gaucho,” plus a previously unreleased song called “The Second Arrangement.” The bad news, unfortunately, is that it’s less than two minutes long and cuts out suddenly in the middle. I suppose this is the infamous track which was inadvertently erased by a tired engineer. It’s a great shame because “The Second Arrangement” has a really catchy guitar intro and Donald’s singing on it is as good as ever.
Feature on ‘You Gotta Walk It’ Film
In 1971 Walter Becker and Donald Fagen became involved in a film entitled You Gotta Walk It Like You Talk It Or You’ll Lose That Beat, starring Zalman King, Allen Garfield, Richard Pryor and Robert Downey. It was a low-budget comedy, written, produced and directed by 27-year-old Peter Locke, and included various other members of his family in the cast.
The soundtrack album of this film, released on the Spark label, was produced by Kenny Vance, who was once a member of Jay and the Americans — and this is presumably how the two future members of Steely Dan became “embroiled in the creative process,” since they spent some time as backing musicians for Jay Black.
The group were dubbed The Original Soundtrack and consisted of Denny Dias on guitar and percussion and John Discepolo on drums, plus Becker and Fagen on bass and guitar and all keyboards respectively.
The title track, which writer-producer-director Locke is credited with having co-written, contains some nice, bluesy piano from Donald Fagen and fades out in confusion with the singer asking the listen to “clap your hands; stamp your feet.” The intro to “Flotsam and Jetsam” sounds very much like Booker T. and the MGs with its organ and gentle cymbals. “War and Peace,” written by John Discepolo, is just a one-and-a-half minute drum solo with music, randomly-struck piano chords adding to the chaos. The final song on the album, “If It Rains,” finds Kenny Vance on lead vocals.
In most early reviews of the film, a third name appeared with Walter and Donald as co-writer, Billy Cunningham. However, the latter receives no mention whatsoever on the album notes, but is listed in one cast list as playing the part of the “Fat Lady”!
Basically, the plot concerns a young idealist named Carter Fields (played by Zalman King), trying to find himself a more meaningful life in New York City. The narrator also says that the hero “didn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground.”
Carter sets out on his quest and along the way makes his girlfriend pregnant, gets mixed up with revolutionaries and goes to be with one, marries his girlfriend and goes into advertising. A born loser, he is fired for incompetence and deserted by his wife.
The critics were scathing. Ann Guarino of The Daily News wrote: “Masquerading as satire, this comedy is sophomoric and absolutely dull. The dialogue is scattered with vulgarisms and the action is spiced up with quick pornographic shots. Not even the acting is inspired.”
Variety, though, did see some signs of light: “Although some of the screwball dialogue, preposterous sight gags and bit character roles are hilarious, the film suffers from a weak storyline, comic situations that are overdone and tasteless, sloppy editing and color and camerawork that is too often blurred and shaky.
“Use of silent movie titles, mock-melodramatic narration, soap-opera organ music and other stylistic gimmicks are amusing for a while, but it all suffers from chaotic excess. Locke includes anything for a laugh and doesn’t seem to care where or how he uses it.”
The Morning Telegraph described two scenes to illustrate its own distaste for the film. The first involved “A young man in Central Park taking down his pants to bare his exotically painted derriere to the gaze of the little old lady walking along behind.” In another scene, “There’s a girl singer entertaining the patrons of the men’s room, with one of these visitors trying to drown himself in the wash basin and another seated in one of the cubicles reading a magazine with the door open.”
Overall, You Gotta Walk It Like You Talk It Or You’ll Lose That Beat does display definite signs of Fagen and Becker’s budding songwriting signs and is a very worthwhile purchase for that reason alone. Copies of the album do still occasionally appear in Goldmine.
I haven’t seen the film yet, but it does sound like just the kind of thing we might see on Channel 4 — if we’re lucky?
Side One: You Gotta Walk It; Flotsam and Jetsam; War and Peace; Roll Back The Meaning; You Gotta Walk It (Reprise)
Side Two: Dog Eat Dog; Red Giant/White Dwarf; If It Rains.
Radio Free Steely Dan
CM: Captain Midnight
HK: Harvey Kubernik
DF: Donald Fagen
RC: Richard Comelin
WB: Walter Becker
HK: We have an oddity to play.
RC: Okay, then we’re gonna let Becker and Fagen of Steely Dan completely swamp us with their goshdarn jazz.
Plays “Canyon Ladies” by Navasota, “Bring The Whole Family” by Terry Boylan and “Dallas” by Steely Dan.
HK: Some interesting goodies from the Steely Dan archives. First thing up was a song called “Cannon Ladies”…
WB: Canyon. Canyon.
HK: Canyon? As in Joni. A Fagen-Becker composition that was on a Navasota album that the duo played some bass, piano and arranged some horns…
WB: Just a minute. Just a minute. The duo did not play any bass on this album. Let’s keep our discography accurate.
HK: Okay, that was your stint with Navasota. Then there was an earlier thing with “Alias Boona” the name of the album and the guy’s name was Boylan. I guess that you played piano and organ and bass and guitar.
WB: Terry Boylan. Known to his immediate relatives as Boona. And he’s got an album coming out any year now on the, uh, Capitol label?
DF: No, I don’t know. Elektra, or something.
WB: One of those labels.
HK: Can we have any info on this guy? Did you do any live gigs with him at all?
DF: Yes, we did one live gig in Princeton, New Jersey, as I recall. That was a big thing for us. The only interesting thing about this album, I think, is that it was our first studio gig.
HK: And we also heard a song called “Dallas” with Jimmy Hodder singing lead. I guess the first single that Steely Dan as a collective unit had cut.
DF: That’s right. Absolutely right.
HK: I tell you what, why don’t we take a couple phone calls?
RC: And Becker and Fagen are starting to pick the songs now, so who knows what’s going to happen.
WB: Well, I’ll tell you what’s going to happen, you have a picture of Lester Young and it says “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” and I just happen to’ve brought an album called “Mingus Ah Um” which has a recording of “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” on it and it’s Side One, cut two. Why don’t we spin that disc?
RC: But we’ve got another one lined up. Do you wanna hit that one first?
WB: No, Richard, I think I’d rather hear “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.”
RC: You’re making things difficult.
HK: He went to Bard College.
WB: I went to Bard College — but not so’s you’d notice.
Plays “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.”
WB: Okay, that was “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” off the “Mingus Ah Um” record featuring the following musicians: John Handy and Booker Ervin, tenor solor by John Handy; Horace Parlan on piano; Booker “The Cooker” Ervin is not with us any more, by the way; Danny Richmond on drums; Jimmy Knepper and Willie Dennis on trombones; Shafi Hadi on sax and that’s the lineup and you can still buy that album on the Columbia label and it’s called “Mingus Ah Um.” And it’s got such tunes on it as “Better Git It In Your Soul,” “Boogie Stop Shuffle,” “Fables of Faubus” — not the original “Fables of Faubus,” but “Fables of Faubus” — and so on and so forth.
CM: It’s also got “Jelly Roll” on it.
WB: Formerly known as “My Jelly Roll Soul.”
CM: You guys wanna hear some blues?
DF: Sure do.
HK: We’ve got a Bobby Blue Bland record here…
WB: If you had a Bobby Blue Bland record there, I’d sure love to hear it.
Plays: Bobby Blue Bland; Charlie Parker Sextet, “Bongo Beep”; and Steely Dan, “Parker’s Band.”
WB: Right, now the first thing you heard was the Charlie Parker Sextet featuring Charlie Parker on alto sax as almost always; Miles Davis on trumpet fresh out of St. Louis; J.J. Johnson on trombone, although he doesn’t always get an album credit on many bootleg editions of this record — taking the second solo before Miles Davis’ trumpet solo; Duke Jordan, fine piano player; Tommy Potter on bass and Max Roach on drums. And the tune was called “Bongo Beep.” And after that you heard Steely Dan doing “Parker’s Band.” And the real-life discography — no calls please — on that one was that there were two drummers on the album, one named Jeff Porcaro, one named Jim Gordon; yours truly Walter Becker on bass; Donald Fagen on vocals; Walter Becker on vocals; Jimmy Hodder on vocals and Plas Johnson on the alto saxophones at the end. Both pieces in the key of C.
RC: And of course Charlie Parker the inspiration. If you haven’t gathered, these guys are from Steely Dan…
DF: Excuse me, that’s B flat, I’m sorry. Walter erred.
RC: Okay, B flat, got that?
WB: I think the piece is in the key of C.
DF: No, I’m sure it was B flat.
RC: Well, there’s a piano in the next room.
WB: Why don’t we just have you run up to the piano and check it in the next room?
DF: I’ll be right back.
WB: Okay. I’ll be waiting right here. When I’m wrong, I’m wrong, folks.
RC: If anybody else wants to talk to the reclusive kings of rock ‘n’ roll…
HK: You know what was really good? The New Times article. Did you like that article?
WB: What is New Times? Oh, where they got William Burroughs to say something besides “mmmm”!
HK: That was kind of interesting.
WB: Yes, I would like to point out that for those people who did read the New Times article that, well, there was a reference in there to a tune which had something to do with Hitler and the tune was incorrectly identified… and the piece is in the key of…
DF: What? Oh, I can’t find the piano! (Laughter)
CM: I got the key if it’s locked up.
WB: Okay, piano’s locked up so we can’t find the key.
RC: … tune about Hitler incorrectly identified what?
WB: He incorrectly identified “Pretzel Logic” as a tune about Adolf Hitler, which is not the case whatsoever, since you mentioned that article. Why isn’t my theme music playing, here?
HK: Our journalistic question of the night. What kind of fan mail that you guys get — you must get all kinds of lyrical dissections and what do the songs mean and things like that?
WB: We get a lot of questions. The thing is, we don’t get to ask a lot of questions, especially of journalists like Richard Cromelin, who’s interviewed us — Richard, how many times have you interviewed us?
RC: Counting on the phone?
WB: Counting on the phone.
RC: Counting brush-offs?
WB: Counting brush-offs.
RC: Downright orneriness?
WB: Downright orneriness, and occasions when one but not both of us showed up.
WB: Five times. Have you promised not to interview us any further?
RC: Well, I didn’t realize it was on the oath-taking level.
Caller: Hello to Donald and Walter.
DF: Hi, there.
Caller: Yes, I’d like to ask a few things. First, how did Wayne Shorter become involved with the new record and if that was a particularly gratifying musical experience. And second, if you are at all familiar with his music, could you give me your impression of Keith Jarrett as a composer and pianist?
DF: Okay, the answer to both your first two questions are yes. And…
RC: No, the first question can’t be answered yes. That was how did Wayne Shorter come to play on the new album.
DF: Oh, is that what he said?
HK: How many songs does he play on?
WB: At great length. He plays on only one song.
DF: Yeah, what was the final question? I didn’t quite catch that.
Caller: I was curious as to your impression of Keith Jarrett as a composer and pianist.
DF: Yeah, love ‘im, love ‘im.
Caller: Have you ever seen him live?
DF: Yes, I saw him many years ago when he was a sideman with — what was the name of that crazy guy?
WB: Oh, the tenor player? Charles Lloyd. Yeah, that was too bad.
Caller: Are you familiar with his solo piano records on ECM?
DF: No, I’ve heard several other of his records, though.
WB: I heard one of them once. It’s very good, very boring type of music.
CM: No, no, no, no, no.
DF: He’s sort of unpredictable. You never know what’s going to be on a Keith Jarrett record.
WB: He really hits the keys hard. He must have a very strong pinkie.
CM: Check out the Bremen concerts. ECM double album.
Caller: Okay, that’s all I wanted to know, thank you.
CM: We got Richard Cromelin and Steely Dan and Harvey Kubernik from Melody Maker here. We’re making some melodies from Yvette Mimieux in the background.
RC: While we’re in the midst of all this jazz, I’d like to ask a pertinent question. How come you guys just didn’t start a jazz group? What made you want to get into the pop area?
DF: Well, we’re not good enough, Richard. We can’t play that fast, you see. So we had to start a rock ‘n’ roll group.
RC: So Steely Dan is a great compromise?
DF: Yeah, you might say that. We know our limitations, let’s put it that way.
RC: Okay, fair enough. Wanna hear some more jazz?
DF: Yeah, let’s hear some jazz.
Plays “Aja” by Steely Dan, “East St. Louis Toodle-Oo” by Duke Ellington and Steely Dan’s version of the same song.
DF: The first version of “East St. Louis Toodle-Oo” you heard was Duke Ellington and his Washingtonians from 1927 and then the next version you heard was Steely Dan. Jim Gordon on drums, Donald Fagen on piano, Walter Becker on guitar, Dean Parks on banjo, I believe, and Jeff “Skunk” Baxter on pedal steel guitar.
WB: And Roger Nichols on gong.
CM: Where was that recorded?
DF: At Village Recorders here in west L.A.
HK: So there’s three or four different versions, right, which you were mentioning?
WB: There were four versions recorded by Duke Ellington and a few of them are still available and we did obtain the three available versions and collate from them the best parts of each, since they varied slightly in detail and in arrangement.
Caller: Good morning. Okay, this is for Donald Fagen, that’s the keyboardist, right? After Keith Jarrett left Miles Davis in 1970-71, he recorded two albums in Oslo. They’re called Piano Improvisations Volumes One and Two. Are you familiar with them?
DF: No, but the Captain is here. But I trust that they’re absolutely wonderful.
Caller: They’re on acoustic piano, none of the electric stuff. Also, how about playing some Cecil Taylor?
DF: Cecil Taylor?
CM: Nefertiti, yeah.
WB: No, Cecil Taylor is not on Nefertiti. Cecil Taylor can’t play at all, as far as I can tell, but I hope he’s not listening.
Caller: Well, I’m listening and I think that’s a terrible thing to say.
WB: Are you Cecil Taylor? Is this Cecil Taylor I’m talking to?
Caller: No, I’m white.
WB: You’re who?
DF: Get this guy off the air.
WB: Hey, you’re cancelled.
Caller: I waited 20 minutes…
WB: We’re refunding your $25. Your 40 minutes is being refunded.
DF: Listen, one thing, can you please send back the folio? (Laughter.)
WB: We need all the folios we can get here.
CM: You’re right about Cecil Taylor. Could I ask a question?
WB: Just ’cause it’s your show I suppose you can ask one. Hey, that’s Yvette that you knew when she was 11 years old and very nubile.
HK: Did you ever see her in Dr. Kildare and the Tiger Tiger?
CM: No, I lost interest when she turned 12.
RC: You wanted to ask a question?
CM: Yeah, right, you said Keith Jarrett played too slow for you. You said jazz was too fast, you couldn’t be jazz musicians because you couldn’t keep up, and Keith Jarrett plays too slow.
DF: No, I didn’t say he played too slow, did you?
WB: I don’t remember saying that.
CM: Well, what have you got against him musicially?
WB: Oh, solo piano. You mentioned solo piano and that’s inherently a hard thing to sustain, even for a master pianist like Keith Jarrett.
CM: Not enough goin’ on, huh?
WB: It’s just a toughie and he tends to be very diatonic, I’ve noticed.
DF: I think he’s a very fine composer.
RC: What’s wrong with Cecil Taylor?
WB: I don’t know — that’s between him and his psychiatrist. And Mr. White who just called in.
RC: Was that Terry White?
WB: I don’t know. It wasn’t Barry White!
DF: We could really explode some avant garde myths here tonight. You know, there’s a lot of jazz that’s really terrible that seems to come out of New York mostly. You know guys playing the inside of the piano and so on and not to take away from the guys who are good at it, but there’s a lot of stuff that people tend to think is good just because it’s out of the sewers of New York.
CM: You’ve heard of Anthony Braxton?
DF: Yeah, I’ve heard about him.
WB: He’s a good example of …
DF: …just what I’m talking about, really.
WB: …a saxophone owner. But that’s a matter of opinion again. I mean, there are people who think he’s the finest.
HK: There was a time when you two were staff writers for Wingate Music, part of the ABC publishing house and you wrote a couple of things that John Kay recorded, a song on a Barbra Joan Streisand album.
WB: We’re not actually at liberty to discuss Wingate Music.
HK: You’re gonna hear the records, though.
WB: … because of the pending litigation, but okay, go ahead.
HK: Okay, we’ve got a couple things, a couple of cover versions of lyrics that you had written and maybe you’d like to comment on…
WB: Well, they may be cover versions, but I dont think we ever did the undercover versions of the things you’re about to play. I’m not sure what you have there. If you have a Barbra Joan Steisand record then it’s not a cover version, it’s just a …
CM: That’s what I got.
HK: How about filling us up on the hitory of that? How she obtained the lyrics?
WB: Oh, I’ll tell you how she obtained the lyrics. Oh, Don, would you like to?
RC: Since Don played organ on the cut.
WB: Yeah, Don, why don’t you tell ’em the complete story?
HK: Don, clad in gray corduroy pants and black T-shirt.
DF: What is this, fashion central or something?
WB: Disco fashion.
HK: No baseball jersey, or anything.
DF: No, this was recorded in the ’60s by Barbra Streisand. We were trying at the time to get anybody to do our songs and she seemed like a likely suspect to us and here it is. It’s called “I Mean To Shine.”
Plays “Barbra Joan Streisand”
RC: Actually, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen should explain exactly the make-up of this group, Steely Dan, because people seem to get confused about who is in the group, who isn’t in the group. What is the group?
DF: Okay. Here’s the story, folks. We used to be a rock ‘n’ roll group and now we’re not. We fired all the rest of the guys and now it’s just Walter and me.
WB: And Denny.
DF: And Denny, and we have the musicians we think will perform well in individual songs and that’s the score. And Jimmy Johnstone does our lights. He’s an English guy — is that his name, Jimmy Johnstone?
WB: Jimmy Something.
DF: Jimmy… I can’t remember his name.
WB: I know he has a nunchuk in his briefcase. He’s this short English guy.
RC: Some of the musicians you hire are very gifted and expensive.
WB: All of the musicians we hire are very gifted and expensive. Time is money to them.
RC: Tell us a little about the album you’ve just finished. It’s called “Aja.”
DF: Right, “Aja,” which is the name of a Korean colleen, if you will.
CM: Must be a lady, huh?
RC: This is the album that you started when … about a year ago?
DF: Yeah, we started this about a year ago.
WB: A little less than a year ago.
DF: I don’t know, these things take a long time.
RC: Why do your albums take so long?
DF: That’s a good question, you know. Just the other day, I saw what the date was and realized that a year had indeed passed since the release of our last album and I don’t know, I guess maybe we’re too leisurely about the pace, although it seems like we work very hard on it.
RC: If everything is planned out and arranged in advance…
DF: You would think it would go pretty quick, wouldn’t you?
RC: Is it hard to play? Do you have to do a lot of takes?
DF: Yeah, it’s hard to play. We throw away a lot of stuff. We do a lot of stuff over and it takes a long time.
RC: What sort of new approaches might we hear in this new album, which was originally supposed to be out this month but will be out when — in August?
DF: I think the release date is August.
RC: Any new nuances?
DF: Not really. We worked the way we have been for the last couple albums.
WB: Actually, if we answered that question we’d be putting you out of a job, wouldn’t we?
RC: Would you?
WB: Wouldn’t we?
HK: If you’d like to speak to Steely Dan — Donald Fagen and Walter Becker…
WB: Stevie. Stevie Dan.
HK: Mr. Stevie Dan.
RC: Tell us about this character who the last time we saw you on stage live in person with all your complement of musicians, etc. A nice gentleman came out and gave you a rousing introduction.
DF: Yes, that was Jerome. Jerome Amaton.
WB: Aniton. A-N-I-T-O-N.
DF: Right. He introduced us every night and he actually drove the truck with the sound equipment in it, and he was quite a cowboy at the wheel, as I recall.
WB: He was a helluva driver. He drove from Baltimore to Minneapolis with no headlights on.
DF: Not to mention the two fifteen-year-old girls in the front seat — BUT we’ll get to that another night.
WB: That’s definitely the main act for you.
HK: Looking back a few years when you did tour, do you have any tour highlights, any favorite shows or maybe something…
WB: Lemme look back. (Laughter.)
HK: He’s looking back at the clock on the wall.
WB: All I see is a bottle of alcohol and that’s hardly a tour highlight, except for maybe Jerome Aniton.
RC: Well, what was your most disastrous show ever, let’s put it that way?
HK: Couple of firecrackers at the Long Beach Auditorium?
WB: No, no, you weren’t there at our most disastrous show. Our most disastrous show was somewhere in North Carolina. Remember the show you wanted to go home after? When the truck arrived two and a half hours late ’cause of the rainstorm.
DF: No, I remember the one where I plunged a speaker screw about three inches into my skull and got onto the stage and bled through the set. That was in Philadelphia.
RC: Did the audience appreciate that?
DF: It did give a sort of Grand Guignol effect.
WB: They thought it was part of the show. And there was a show once in Philadelphia at a nightclub where a former lead singer of ours did sing an entire set a half-tone flat.
RC: But he was consistent.
WB: Consistent. And if that wasn’t enough, he did see fit to split his pants — and it was a nightclub so there were people sitting at a table right in front of him.
DF: I thought it was a helluva show.
WB: It was a helluva show until they taped his pants up. Oh, we’ve got a phone call. Oh, we’re hot, hot, hot.
CM: I think we have a gentleman of European persuasion on the phone.
Caller: Speaking of live gigs, is Steely Dan planning to have a live album perhaps in the near future?
DF: We’ve been thinking of perhaps recording on our next tour, but comme ci, comme ca.
RC: I heard that last year.
DF: Richard’ll have the lowdown on this for the next six months.
WB: Richard Cromelin could probably answer that question because he seems to know more about our troop movements than we do.
RC: Another question please, listener?
Caller: I would like to place a request, if that’s possible. Could you play something off the new record?
WB: We already did.
Caller: Oh, you did. Was that Wayne Shorter playing?
DF: You betcha.
CM: Hey, there’s an observant listener.
WB: Those European-persuaded gentlemen are really acute on their discography.
RC: Why do they like you so much in Europe, do you suppose?
DF: We’re homosexuals! (Laughter.) No, that’s not true. I don’t know, they tend to like more cerebral music in Europe.
RC: Do they understand the words? Do they learn English so they can…?
WB: No, not even the English understand the words. For example, the English don’t know what a pretzel is; they don’t know what a scam is.
CM: Like Japan, those Europeans are so fast. Get off a plane in Paris, hop in a cab and you get Creedence Clearwater on the radio.
WB: And a machine gun in your suitcase.
Plays Bill Evan Trio, Steely Dan, Beach Boys and Charlie Parker.
RC: We heard the Bill Evans Trio — what was the cut, do you remember?
WB: Nordis was the cut.
RC: Something called “Black Cow” by tonight’s mystery group, then for some reason we heard “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?” by the Beach Boys, which did fit somehow, and then Charlie Parker with a cut called…
WB: Charlie Parker Quintet featuring Miles “Dewey” Davis, Duke Jordan on piano…
DF: And the rest of the guys.
WF: And the rest of the guys.
RC: Okay, as we come up on four o’clock we’re gonna say goodnight to Don Fagen and Walter Becker now that we’ve revived Steely Dan’s career.
The Very Best of Steely Dan
Yet another compilation LP of Steely Dan material has appeared here in England, backed by television advertising. I didn’t see the ads but I’m told that they were very brief and uninspired. The album is on the Telstar label and is available on vinyl, cassette and compact disc. The track listing is as follows:
Side One: Rikki Don’t Lose That Number; Reelin’ In The Years; Kid Charlemagne; Dirty Work; FM; My Old School; The Fez.
Side Two: Do It Again; Pretzel Logic; Any Major Dude Will Tell You; Black Friday; Show Biz Kids; Peg; Haitian Divorce.
Like the television ad, the album packaging is poor: there are no sleeve notes or even any worthwhile photographs.
Mancini’s Anomie Deluxe
In the October issue of Premiere, a new U.S. film magazine, Donald Fagen wrote the following article about his love for the music of Henry Mancini and how significant a contribution it made towards the formation of his own ideas and attitudes. Dig this style!
I must have been about 8 years old when my father, like so many second generation American dads, decided to get his family the hell out of the city and make a run at upward mobility in the suburbs. After a couple of false starts, we finally settled into a ranch-style home nestled among hundreds of its near-identical brothers in Kendall Park, N.J., a typical housing development circa 1957. The development was not very fully developed. I was not amused.
Sawdust still hung in the air. To walk out of the sliding glass doors onto the slab of concrete that was the patio and gaze across an ocean of mud at one’s doppelganger neighbors was, well, awesome. For my parents, the open space, the kitchen of the future, and the streamlined look of the place with that cream Olds Dynamic 88 purring in the driveway had a lot going for it. But for me, already a subterranean in gestation with a real nasty case of otherness, it was the perfect setting for a nice, hot mushroom cloud and concomitant firestorms. My parents had sentenced me to a long stretch in Squaresville and I was looking for an out.
The days were filled with whatever a fifth grader’s days are filled with. In the evening, after wolfing down a few servings of fish sticks, we’d lounge around the “family room.” My dad would sit at the card table doing take-home work with his yellow accounting pad; my mother would be somehow eliminating microscopic particles of dirt from the kitchen counters; my baby sister would be flinging Play-Doh at the wall; and, of course, the TV would be on. Monday nights at 9, we watched Peter Gunn.
Beatsters! My brothers in the subculture of the Early Resigned! Remember it now. You lie if you say you don’t. First, we’re enticed by a suspenseful, highly stylized teaser. And then we thrill to that drivinh boogie ostinato on bass, doubled in the lowest octaves of the piano and tripled by a raunchily picked electric guitar, the same bar repeated throughout, never changing; the drummer is on auto-cook. Brass, voiced close and tight, plays the angular, blues-based theme. On the screen, we see the title animation: a pseudo abstract expressionist canvas with cryptic, splattery forms pulsing in the foreground. Even then we may have suspected it was jive, but who cared? The titles, action-painted on top of all this, told us the show was created by Blake Edwards and that the music was by Henry Mancini.
During the ’50s there had been a number of films and TV shows that exploited the combination of film noir and jazz-based music, but the 1958 Gunn series was the iciest to date. Edwards’ update of the Hammett-Chandler detective story, with its tense visual style, demanded a suitably chilled-out soundtrack, and Mancini, who scored Orson Welles’ “Touch of Evil” that same year, seemed to understand what this show was all about: style, and nothing much else in particular. “The Miami Vice of its time,” a friend of mine remarked. Craig Stevens as Gunn would cruise around a narcotized and vulgarly luxurious L.A. like Cary Grant on Miltown, doing his job of detection and alighting at Mother’s, a nightclub where his main squeeze, Edie, worked as a jazz singer. (The slow make-out scenes between Gunn and Edie seemed not to belong in the family room, and it was no cinch trying to conceal my early erotic dithers from my parents.) Every so often he’d check in with his pal, Lieutenant Jacoby, the good cop. But Gunn may as well have been drifting through a landscape of boomerangs and parallelograms, so little did the plots matter. What counted was the sense that these people had been around the block a few times, had found a way to live amid the stultifying chaos of the modern world, keeping their emotions under control except for the occasional spasms of sex and violence.
But so strong was the pull toward an alternate way of life in the repressive climate of the late ’50s that, at least to a hyperesthetic 10-year-old, the show’s whole gestalt made a lot of sense. It spoke to my condition. Edwards’ camera eye seemed to take a carnal interest in the luxe and leisure objects of the period, focusing on Swedish furniture, potted palms, light wood panelling and sleek shark-finned convertibles. It was, in fact, all the things my parents adored but darkened with a tablespoon of alienation and danger.
There were a lot of very talented players on the West Coast at the time and Mancini was canny enough to bring them into the studio to record the Gunn scores. The idiom he used was largely out of Gil Evans and other progressive arrangers plus the odd shot of rhythm and blues, and it utilized the unconventional, spare instrumentation associated with the cool school; French horns, vibraphone, electric guitar and — Mancini’s specialty — a very active flute section, including alto and bass flutes. Instruments were often individually miked to bring out detail. There was a lot of empty space. It was real cool.
Mancini’s albums of music from the Peter Gunn series and the spin-off show Mr. Lucky sold in the zillions, and I was one of the proud consumers. The tunes had titles like Dreamsville and A Profound Gass. I became more interested in jazz and the extra-musical artifacts of the jazz life. I listened to late-night jazz jocks broadcasting from Manhattan. I got a subscription to “DownBeat,” which had lots of live-action photos of the top players. I read some Kerouac novels.
The next time I saw Henry Mancini’s name was in the credit roll of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” which was directed by our man Blake Edwards. I was 13 and ready for love. When Audrey Hepburn as the venal waif Holly Golightly got out of that cab on Fifth Avenue in a black dress and pearls in the early morning, I wanted to sip her through a straw.
Edwards’ special interest in marginality and very expensive objects made him a good choice for this urban romance, but it’s his huckleberry friend, Hank, who really came through. We may long ago have had enough of “Moon River,” but as played on a harmonica behind that opening scene, the tune can still tear your heart out. The harmonica, an instrument associated with children, stands in for Holly’s rural origins (innocence) and contrasts with the rich orchestration and what you’re seeing on the screen (Tiffany’s, Givenchy shades, sophistication). It’s a great effect, much imitated afterward in other films. Later on Hepburn sits on the fire escape and sings “Moon River” while accompanying herself on the guitar. In Capote’s novella she sings, more appropriately, a mournful country ballad, but why quibble with perfection?
Mancini underscored the scenes in which Holly and Paul goof around town with a mixed chorus singing in a skee-doo-doot scat style, similar to that of the Modernaires or perhaps the Mel-Tones. This was almost a little too spreem for me. By 1961, I was starting to wise up about jazz, and I felt that Mancini had come down on the wrong side of what was to become known as elevator music.
During the early ’60s I listened to progressively more authentic jazz: classic Ellington, Charlie Parker, Miles, Mingus and Sonny Rollins were among my favorites. Eventually my quest for relevance and directness plus a not unsound instinct as to where the most desirable girls were gathering took me through a brief period when even this heartfelt music seemed slick and sexually coy, and I turned to blues and soul music and Bob Dylan. I started reading about pop art and Timothy Leary’s experiments at Harvard. I went to a lot of British movies. The language of hip was changing.
By the time I left suburbia to go off to college in ’65, Mancini seemed a quaint enthusiasm. If I thought about him at all, he would have seemed, at best, a popularizer of jazz, a dependable Hollywood professional. I’m sure some guys in my dorm would have seen him as an insidious agent of the “culture industry” devouring America’s native art form and music from the Third World, scrubbing the stuff up and packaging it for mass consumption. Although I didn’t think in those terms, by the late ’60s he had metamorphosed, certainly in my mind, into an incredible square. His popular standards from films, his recordings and Pops concert appearances had made him into a Grammy-laden institution of middle American entertainment. The concept of hip had exploded into the culture in a new manifestation, and Mancini (and mainstream jazz in general) was definitely not part of it, despite all those boogaloo beats that started creeping into his scores. For a while Mancini and the younger contender Burt Bacharach (who arguably was to soul music what Mancini was to jazz) seemed to be engaged in a series of Bossa Nova Wars. (Bacharach may have won at least one round with the Manciniesque “The Look of Love,” sung by Dusty Springfield in the film “Casino Royale.” Occasionally, I’d see a photo of Mancini in those days, looking amiably affluent in a Hatari! bush jacket with epaulettes, fashionably long sidebars, a Rodeo Drive smile and a very expensive watch: a pleasant, cheerful-looking California person. Somewhere in there he had a TV show, “The Mancini Generation.” Well, I don’t know.
In the last decade, though, New Wavers and punk bands from a generation even more tube-irradiated than mine have made the Peter Gunn theme a kind of No Wave national anthem. Bands like the Lounge Lizards play “fake jazz” on purpose. And Blake Edwards? As any astute young film person knows, he and Mancini have maintained their creative relationship — it should be 30 years in 1988 by my calculations. Someone ought to send a telegram or something.
Lately I’ll be sitting at the piano and find myself picking out one of those tunes from Peter Gunn, not the title song but one of the sweet, boppy numbers, or “Days of Wine and Roses” (great changes), or even “Moon River.” And I’ll start thinking about a late summer sun setting over 1,500 identical rooftops and my family and bop glasses and Holly Golightly, about being lonesome out there in America and how that swank music connected up with so many things. Maybe I ought to get my bongos out of the attic. And in case I’ve given you the impression that Mancini isn’t a totally happening cat, I offer you a maxim from his excellent textbook on arranging and orchestration, “Sounds and Scores,” concerning the professional’s obligation to avoid falling behind the times, musically speaking:
The milk of the sacred cows has a way of turning sour.
Not yours, my man. It’s strictly, like, solid.