Q&A: Steely Dan Aims to Reel in Audience

By Kevin Coffey

OMAHA — Steely Dan, known for songs such as “Reelin’ in the Years” and “Hey Nineteen,” will perform at the Orpheum Theater.

Before the band made its way to Omaha, we talked to band leaders Donald Fagen and Walter Becker about their songwriting style.

The World-Herald: A lot of the stuff in your lyrics, including the name of the band, include a lot of references to places, drinks and other cultural touchstones. Is it something you find interesting or humorous?

Donald Fagen: I think maybe we were sort of at the time when we wrote the songs, we were using details of certain things in a way that people rarely did for songs. In other words, most of the songs were written about the same three or four subjects, which were all generalities or sort of abstract.

A few different things and we ended up writing songs that were unlikely things. It’s also a way of bringing more into the song because you have a reference that has some real resonance and that gets people thinking about a whole other thing.

Walter Becker: It could be a cultural reference. It’s one of the things you find in a short story or it’s more of a literary device than a …

Fagen: Objective?

Becker: That’s right. And we could have taken that and we could be doing product placements beyond imagination.

Fagen: Maybe we should start charging a fee to some of these like Dean and Deluca.

Becker: Yes, we tried that. Don’t you remember?

Fagen: Yes.

Becker: But the other good thing is that we do have songs that are connected to particular cities and different parts of the country and particular events, and so that makes people in those places feel particularly connected I think.

Fagen: There is a tradition of that. Chuck Berry used to do things like that. He used to mix in lots of cities, cars.

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