By Joel Brown
BOSTON — Next weekend, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen — better known as Steely Dan — will be in town to accept honorary degrees at the Berklee College of Music commencement. They’ll also attend a student concert in their honor at the college, which Fagen briefly attended back in the 1960s.
Well, right now we’d like to hand out an honorary Web Browser award to the two gentlemen for their terrific Web site, www.steelydan.com, which is every bit as brainy and darkly funny as their music.
If you clicked on the home page early last week, you found an artfully designed page announcing that “The bids are in,” with a shadowy picture of Becker holding what appears to be the statuette given to inductees of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where he and Fagen were enshrined this year. “And we must say it is rather impressive, indeed, what some of you were willing to offer for the little beauty. The auctioning party is considering all bids, and is expected to make a determination sometime in the near-to-middling future.”
Below was a list of the (alleged) bids, ranging from 10,473 cash bids under $100 to one offer of $8,000 to 78 offers to hand over male spouses to 12 offers of “my immortal soul.”
It’s difficult to be sure how much of this is for real. But it’s delightful anyway, in an era when rock stars and movie actors slobbering all over each other at awards ceremonies has become a painful near-weekly spectacle.
Before the Grammy-winning Two Against Nature came out last year, the duo had not made a Steely Dan album in 20 years. Before hitting the road in the 1990s, they hadn’t toured since the mid-1970s. They are perfectionists, shy, and they abhor music business hustles and much of the clamor of celebrity life. Their arcane, sardonic lyrics and polished, jazzy music sold well but won little in the way of awards back in the day. They clearly regard their current iconic status with amusement and not a little disdain.
If you click on the words “willing to offer for the little beauty” a link takes you to another page, a witty eBay parody called SDBay, where you can bid on an ultra-rare commemorative music trophy in the category “Music: Rock-n-Roll: Memorabilia: Depraved Spectacles: Televised: Morally Bankrupt Vainglories: Figurines.”
“Ultra-rare commemorative trophy from self-styled ‘official’ music honorary organization, issued to quasi-prominent and appropriately sheepish musician. Statuette approx. 4″ x 4″ x 16″, made of unidentified metal alloy mounted on a marble base (see picture below). Inscribed. Representing as it does a craven lapse of taste, judgment and self respect on his part, the owner is eager to be rid of this appalling artifact ASAP,” the site says.
Occasional visits to their site over the years have found the duo — or some witty and well-informed underlings — more engaged than you might expect in dialogue with their fans. From a distance, anyway, they seem to be restless and easily bored smart guys, and they were early to experiment with the Web, with steelydan.com going live in 1996.
The site offers everything from a discography to scrapbooks. The page for Two Against Nature includes “Lost Liner Notes” allegedly written by a Swedish studio golem built to provide rhythm tracks. There’s a mostly phony bio that Thomas Pynchon might appreciate, as well as a straight bio.
The Steely Dan News page includes an announcement of their Berklee honor, and a link to www.berklee.edu, where the concert will be webcast Friday night beginning about 7:15.
By contrast, the release about their Hall of Fame induction includes the question, Should we demand a recount? And their official statement is “Thanks!” Not to the Hall, mind you, but to a long list of musicians and others who’ve contributed to their albums. It’s clear which honor they find more worthy.
Mind you, the recent releases on the news page include this: “Honored: Becker and Fagen were voted Songwriters of the Century by the Popular Music Composition students of the Lincolnwood IL school district.”